Recently, I spent a few hours talking with a cancer patient who is a friend of a friend. She had seen my book, given to her by my friend, and I was happy to try to talk with her one on one. I’m not a medical professional or a physical therapist, so I wasn’t going to give any advice beyond my authority to give, but having researched cancer and exercise, I do have some perspective to share. Here are few thoughts I want to share.
Take It Easy: During cancer treatment, “pushing yourself” to exercise more strenuously, more intensely, or more often than feels right to you and “right for your body” is probably not the best choice. Prioritize: rest enough, and then do activity that is gentle and soothing. For some, it is difficult to believe that fifteen minutes of easy walking might be sufficient to boost their immune system. It is. Far better to err on the side of gentleness than tire yourself out.
Pamper Yourself: Next, approach exercise as a way to pamper your body and rest your mind. Try to enjoy it. Try to find some activity that feels like a relief from illness, treatment and your overall experience of facing cancer. Use it as an escape.
That approach might seem subtle or picky, and maybe I’m just weird, but I believe that your “body” isn’t really separate from your mind, and your “body” doesn’t want to be pushed. It’s already in crisis mode. It wants to be addressed with kindness, with gentle activity, with soothing music in the background as you stretch and lift a few hand weights. It wants you to sink in to your breathing and be there with awareness.
Exercise can be more than another item on a cancer patient’s to-do list. It can be a time of hope.
This next thought is just from my ongoing personal recovery from cancer.
Remember to Address Your Psychosocial Needs: Here’s what I didn’t do enough of during my cancer recovery: I didn’t really get enough social support for my process. I thought that I did, but I didn’t. I didn’t join a support group. I didn’t know anyone with my type of cancer issues or spend time with similar survivors. I tried a few counseling sessions, but I dropped these after treatment ended. I should say: I thought I was taking care of myself by getting enough social help from friends and family, but looking back, I could have used more counseling, longer-term.
Obviously, I’m the type of person who might prefer to go for a walk in the woods rather than talk with counselor, but I know I would have slept better and resolved my anxiety and PTSD from my cancer experience better if I had sought out more professional help when the insomnia and other issues wouldn’t go away. And yes, being tired all the time for four years was bad for my exercise regimen and not a help to my health or happiness. I’m quietly celebrating that I have finally recovered, just shy of the 5-yr survivor anniversary.
My lesson to share is this: Even when treatment is over, don’t sell your mental health post-cancer needs short. Here’s how long I think it took me to get over the trauma, emotionally, of my cancer ordeal: Five years. I also have heard it as a benchmark that other people cite. Cancer is a big deal. You don’t just skate away, especially depending on your specific situation.
Just be good to yourself, however you need to be, for as long as you need to be. Get help, when you need it.
Wishing you peace on your path,