BY LIZZY SMITH In 2012, I was between tandem stem cell transplants and my doctor said I could take a vacation. I almost started crying when he said that. It was a sign that I was still a human, not just a cancer patient, and I deserved to forget about cancer for a bit and re-charge. I purchased flex Amtrak tickets for my two young daughters, parents and brother and we departed from Salt Lake City in the middle of the night. First stop: Chicago-- an 18-hour trek. I brought along electric blankets and travel pillows. We settled into our seats and slept. When I woke up, I felt tired and “strange,” dizzy. I watched a few movies, read, ate lunch in the dining car, and took long naps. We arrived in Chicago to sweltering heat and humidity. Intense fatigue and weakness set in. But sitting in our hotel was not an option for me. I was going to push beyond my comfort level and enjoy my trip. For the next 17-days, we toured Chicago, Washington, DC and New York City. And I discovered something really surprising: When I was resting, I felt all kinds of side effects—fatigue, dizziness, neuropathy, and was breathy. But when I was up and about, those symptoms nearly vanished. Here I was, just weeks post stem cell transplant and I was walking in extreme heat and humidity (temps were 110-degrees and higher) at least ten miles per day, and enjoying it. When we got back home, I started preparing for my next transplant. I wanted to be as healthy and strong as possible so I started running, albeit slowly and not very far, and power walking almost every day. My second transplant came and went and, as was expected, I felt awful afterwards. When my nursing staff basically said, “see you in 100 days, enjoy your healing break!” I was stunned. “You can’t just cut me off like that! What am I supposed to do?” Silence. Ah… the big gap in cancer health. How does one heal after treatment? After researching, it came down to this: Exercise (and eating right, which is a topic for another day). Working out helps patients heal mentally, physically (which I already covered in this article, Why Should The Myeloma Survivor Exercise? Here Are 10 AMAZING Reasons!), emotionally and spiritually. Mental Mountains of research shows that exercise is good for the brain. Patients are often left with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). One way to combat this is by moving. If you can’t run a marathon or hike a challenging mountain, start somewhere. Start with walking to your mailbox and work up to shopping Costco and walking every isle. According to Mayo Clinic, here are some of the mental health benefits cancer survivors can get from exercising:
It is incredibly empowering to finish up a workout and think, “I did that! And I can do it again!” The cancer fight is almost as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Mental strength will help you fight cancer, and heal from it. Exercise will also keep you mentally strong for any battles ahead. Physical Myeloma patients are often eligible for various treatments based on overall health. Minus the cancer, are we strong, weak or something in between? If we are too weak for a transplant, we aren’t getting one; if we are too frail for certain medications, we aren’t getting them either. Battling this disease is not just swallowing pills or enduring another needle poke (or at least it should not be!). So every morning, plan your workout. Put it on your calendar and schedule an hour or two for your physical health. That appointment is as important than anything else on your calendar. Treat it as such. There is an amazing resource brought to you by the Muscles for Myeloma program. By simply texting MUSCLES4MYELOMA from your mobile phone to (801) 742-7281, a coach will send you daily reminders and tips to keep you motivated and committed to exercise. Do it now! Emotional Exercise helps improve one emotionally. After my tandem stem cell transplants were over, I was an emotional mess. My almost daily doctor appointments made me feel proactive and powerful in my fight against cancer. Without that, what? I had panic attacks. I was afraid to sleep without the TV on all night. I was afraid to be alone. And then I discovered Bikram yoga. In those classes, I started meditating and learning how to breathe. I learned calming techniques. I worked my muscles, and I started healing my soul. The panic attacks began ebbing. I started feeling emotionally empowered and, well, at peace. I’ll tell you one thing: sitting on the couch, eating mounds of cookies, and crying did nothing for me. It didn’t change my reality and it made me feel really awful, inside and out. Exercising was not only a distraction, but a way to feel strong and powerful again. When I relapsed, I was in the best physical shape I could be in, which, I believe, helped me to survive a really tough third transplant. I can’t imagine how much worse my treatment would have been had I gone into it weak, obese, and chronically ill. Spiritual Each person walks their own spiritual path so I won’t dwell on this one. Suffice it to say that exercising became an almost spiritual experience for me. I was able to clear my head and have long talks with my Higher Power. It was my time, away from distractions, often among nature. My workout routine is a time of solace, reflection, and long talks with God. Yes, this helps me mentally and physically—and it might just do the same for you. The bottom line is this: Do what you can. And then each day, do a little more. It really is that simple. One step at a time; one day at a time. Need inspiration? Join Muscles for Myeloma! Register Today Have you joined Muscles for Myeloma yet? If not, you should! By doing so, you’ll get daily tips workout tips and join others in the myeloma community from around the country– building muscles and supporting an amazing cause. Muscles for Myeloma is helping myeloma patients, family, caregivers and friends get more fit. Fitness matters to myeloma patients who are now being segmented into fit, unfit and frail categories for treatment. The more fit the patients, the better treatments they will receive for better outcomes.
about the author
Lizzy Smith was diagnosed with myeloma in 2012 at age 44. Within days, she left her job, ended her marriage, moved, and entered treatment. "To the extent I'm able, I want to prove that despite life's biggest challenges, it is possible to survive and come out stronger than ever," she says.