My Holiday Gift: Skiing Again

The day after Christmas, I received a holiday gift. I went cross-country skiing for the first time this winter. Ah, the loveliest of sports: Nordic skiing.

The winter has not been blessed with much snow where I live, so this was one of the first days for many avid skiers to get out on the skinny skis at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. We shared the trails with a variety of beginners, vacationers, and multi-generational groups. I saw intrepid skiers who might have been in their 80s or 90s, and toddlers being urged on by parents. I saw teenagers tolerating their slower parents, and adults encouraging their senior parents.

In the mix, I think I appeared to be just what I am: a slightly out-of-shape used-to-race middle-aged skier with great technique. I might have bristled at the label except for two reasons: 1) I’m a cancer survivor, so every day is a good day; and 2) I busted up my knee pretty badly in 2010 so this is actually the first winter that I can foresee getting in shape again.

I’m planning to race back into shape, which will involve some humility (timed results-wise) and some fun (everything else!).

Which reminds me of cancer. Sometimes your ego steps very far to the side. Cancer, for me, was one of the least-ego-restricted times of my life. Ego, which keeps up thinking we have a certain self-image to maintain, can not withstand being bald, having chemicals poured in through your chest’s new port, or having GI problems that you wouldn’t want to impose on anyone. Ego does not like having cancer and it does not like having cancer in public.

But, I found, once you get past the ego-blowing phase and settle into the ego-less phase, life can actually be pretty pleasant. Take the baldness thing. I like to swim. When I was bald from chemo, it was summertime. I would go to the lake late in the day, meet my husband, put on my little lycra skull-cap, and swim. After a relaxing swim (no pressure to swim fast!), I would switch into dry clothes and pop my wig on. Off to dinner. No wet hair! Bonus!

One day, I was making the transition from cap to wig when I got distracted by some little task. I was fumbling around by my car when I realized that people were staring at me, unusually. I took stock. I said, to my husband, laughing, “I forgot I was bald!”

Since my cancer ordeal nearly five years ago, I haven’t managed top fitness. I have battled insomnia and some GI troubles. I have battled post-cancer post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer-test anxiety. I have blown up my knee and had a knee surgery, with oodles of knee pain and disability. (Not as hard as cancer, I know, but it was pretty lousy.) I just have been off-my-game as an athlete. And my ego didn’t like that. Especially when my well-researched book on exercise and cancer recovery demanded that I start making public appearances. Where was my ski-racing toned self? Not available. I would have to manage on partial fitness. Sorry, ego. Best I could do.

I’m starting to sleep better lately. My knee is better. My anxiety about cancer recurrence is on low-to-no simmer on the back-most burner after 4.8 years. I’m aiming to be in roughly good shape in about ten weeks.

Cancer recovery is a years-long process for many. My two cents worth? Give yourself a break. Accept where you are. Protecting your ego isn’t as important as you might some days think. Ask for help if you need to; exercise with a tolerant friend, at whatever pace you can muster. Enjoy whatever fitness you can find.

It’s great to aim for optimal health and race-ready fitness, if that’s appropriate. But, sometimes we have to accept “pretty good” health and fitness. Just keep going. Keep going and do what you can.

It’s snowing today. I checked out the race schedules. I’m still a ski racer, at heart. It will take some time to be a pretty fast ski racer again, perhaps, but that’s okay. Lucky me. I’m 53. I’m healthy, and I’ve got some time. And my ego? Shrug. I have better things to do than worry about that.

By the way, it’s the holiday season, and I’m especially grateful for my health. I’m also thinking of those people who are facing cancer, now, holidays or not. I wish them well, and hope that they are finding strength and love. Best wishes to all.