After hearing Diane Keaton sing “Make new friends, but keep the old …” it made me think about where my friendships have gone the last couple of years. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery and later when I was going through chemotherapy, I had to learn to sit and allow other people to help me. It was humbling to have friends rally around when I needed them most. When my daughter graduated from high school and went off to college, I realized (as do many parents) that I suddenly had no life. Or friends. Or any of my own activities. (Those of you with young children can laugh now, but just wait!). I realized that my activities and friendships revolved around my daughter’s activities and school. The realization hit me a few weeks after she moved into the dorm – I needed to make new friends, and renew my old friendships.
Friends=Community and Accountability
The last few years have been about proving that I can do it – even if I didn’t really enjoy it (hello swimming!). And I proved to myself that I can do it. My focus this year isn’t just about seeing how many miles I can log. It is more about finding people who enjoy being active. This helps hold me accountable to getting out and moving – given a choice, I would much rather sit on my couch and watch Downton Abbey. But being of a certain age, spread happens. And I not only want to be healthy and active as I go forward, but also manage that dreaded spread. My challenge this year is to find things that help me build a community and keep me engaged in an active lifestyle. It really is all about finding things that you love and doing them … and not being afraid to try something new (with your new community) because you just might find something new you love.
I’ve been instagramming my journey the past few years. It’s a fun way to be accountable, document the fun I’m having, and see the milestones I hit along the way. My goals are small: do an event a month, run my first 5k, find new friends and activities, and encourage others to begin their own journeys.
According to Holley Mangold, her recent ouster from “The Biggest Loser” was because she was allergic to running. Let’s look at some of the core symptoms. Do you break out in a sweat when you exercise hard? (that means you are exercising your heart!) Do you have hat hair after exercise? (this is an easily remedied issue – don’t wear a hat!) Does your nose run when you exercise? (mine too! I just bring extra tissues and measure how hard I worked based on the number of tissues I used) Does the cold make you shiver? (layers, people, layers) Does the rain make you wet? (and you live in the Pacific Northwest? See hat hair and layers; if you don’t exercise because it is raining, you might as well not exercise at all)
For me, the real issue is that we are led to believe that unless we run, we aren’t exercising. And that’s just not true. I have walked 5 half marathons in the past 2-1/2 years. Didn’t run. Walked. And there were a lot of people that walked with me. And walking that half marathon made me feel like I could do anything!
Walking doesn’t require a lot of fancy gear or equipment or a special location. You can walk your neighborhood, walk the mall, walk the dog, or find a trail. I feel inspired when I take a walk with an amazing view or a new neighborhood. My favorites include Alki, Discovery Park across the Magnolia Bluff, and the Sammamish River Trail. All are paved with lots of other people. A good rain-resistant coat is a must. A hat or umbrella. And a good pair of shoes. That’s it. You just walk out your door and start.
If you aren’t up for a major walking adventure just yet (you do need to work up to the mileage), start with the mall. Do a lap or two around an indoor mall. Park far away at work or at the shopping center. I try to add in an extra set of stairs whenever I get up to get tea. And the weather. Do you ever feel like the weather is always better when you are working? If you can carve out 30 minutes in your day, get outside. Keep a pair of shoes in your desk (also good in case of natural disasters) and go out around the block. I have a standing walking meeting with a co-worker every week. Sometimes we just walk stairs. But we try to get outside and just catch up. I used to have a twice a month date with a friend and we would walk the high school track for 30 minutes. It wasn’t long, but having that date made me a lot more likely to get out there.
So suck it up and deal with your ‘allergy.’ Set a goal – walk around the block in 15 minutes; walk the dog for 30 minutes at a fast pace (choosing some good music can help keep your pace up!). Find a buddy and walk. Sing my favorite holiday song from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”: ‘Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door …’ That’s really all it takes.
To be honest, I wish there was a real reason I struggle with exercise … but let’s call it what it is – I’m not allergic, I just don’t always like it. But part of living healthy is not just eating right, but staying active. I have learned to wear layers, bring lots of tissue when it’s cold, and get outside whenever I can. And you know what? The more I get outside and walk or run or trot or wander, the more I want. I can see why people call it an addiction. So here’s to a healthy addiction to activity!
So admittedly I am not an athlete. I walk – fast – but I walk. I’m not really sure what came over me when I announced in front of a group of women cancer survivors last February that I was going to do the Danskin Triathalon in 2012. It felt great to make that statement. And then fear creeped in. This post is about that fear – recognizing it, acknowledging it, fighting it, and doing it over and over again.
I didn’t realize just how big a commitment a triathalon was when I went to the first group meeting in May 2012. I was one of two newbies and sat next to a 70+ woman who does one a month. Talk about intimidating. Still, I felt I could do anything. I made it through surgery and chemo – a triathalon should be a piece of cake! Wrong idea number 1.
Wrong idea number 2 was thinking that my 20 year old Sears bike would be just fine for my 15 mile rides. I wasn’t willing to spend a lot of money on something I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it through (fear is starting to creep in). But biking was an incredible high. I loved it and felt in control, except in traffic, on sharp curves, or steep hills. But still … I made the commitment and bought a lighter bike. Still not high end, but it made a difference to me.
Wrong idea number 3 was the one that almost put me over the edge. Swimming. I know how to swim. I swim. Just not very often and not very far. Jumped in that lake in mid-June and swam out to the kayak and grabbed a float and went right back. Made it one lap. I thought okay, I can do this. Tried it again. Started having a hard time getting my breath. Especially on Monday night swim practices and Saturday full practices. After a month of total stress, I acknowledged that I was not going to make the swim. Total relief. No more pounding heart. No more struggling to get my breath. Just relief.
But I still wanted to do the triathlon. Another training partner just found out she would not be able to run or bike due to injuries, so we partnered – she handled the swim and I did the bike and the run/walk. I felt so powerful and alive when I crossed that finish line! It didn’t matter that I ‘only’ did two of the events – I did it, I wasn’t last, I didn’t crash, I felt incredible! And I committed to doing it again in 2013. And this time, I would swim!
A Cautionary Tale
The first question most people ask when given a cancer diagnosis is: “Why Me?” My first question was: “How did that happen?”
So take a trip back with me: I’m a busy working mom. Work, travel for business, too busy to do any kind of annual check-up, and besides I had no risk factors – slightly overweight (who isn’t), ‘medicinal’ red wine and dark chocolate (my self-prescribed health program). There really was no need to go and get poked, prodded and squashed.
The economy tanks, my job gets eliminated, (it was 2009) and I all of a sudden have plenty of time to exercise and take care of myself. I keep saying it was 5 years between my last annual and the one I finally scheduled in late 2009. But that is just to make it sound better. It was a lot longer. Which just goes to show you how well my self-prescribed health plan had been working! I step into the machine, the tech looks and re-adjusts; takes another picture; re-adjusts; takes another picture. Then a biopsy. My biopsy confirmed the diagnosis: Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).
With DCIS, there are no lumps, no telltale signs; it tends to be considered a pre-cursor to full-on breast cancer. It is diagnosed through a mammogram screening. As I blithely traipsed along in my life, the thought never occurred to me that I might be at risk. After several more screenings, my doctor recommends a bilateral mastectomy as the DCIS was extensive. Instead, my post-surgery diagnosis included not only the DCIS, but two small tumors in the center of the breast – unseen, unfelt, unnoticed because of their size and placement. Good news – no radiation! Not so good – chemotherapy. Six months of a 3 blend cocktail, and then a single shot of chemo for another 12 months.
It was during this time that I made the leap to a better, healthier me and joined Team Survivor Northwest and started walking. That group of women cancer survivors knew what I was going through and kept me sane through the months of chemo-induced fatigue and bloating.
It never does any good to second guess or ask “what if” – but I do ask myself that question. What if I had continued with my own self-prescribed health program and hadn’t decided to finally get my annual? My story isn’t meant to scare you, unless it scares you right into a screening. It is a cautionary tale about the importance of annual check-ups, even when you have no risk factors and are healthy. You need to take charge – and isn’t that what thriving is all about?