Category Archives: oncology rehab

Running with Joy: Reframing Exercise for Emotional Healing

In my last blog, I promised to write about a specific technique that can help you reframe your exercise experience. Reframing is a borrowed term from psychology and it basically means shifting the context for the better. For example, saying, “I have an injured knee so I can’t run and that stinks!” That deflating way of looking at an injury can be reframed: “I have an injured knee, but I can walk and do strengthening exercises to further speed my recovery. I’m grateful that I can walk, even if I can’t run right now.” Yes, it’s a “glass half full” instead of “half emptry” approach, but oh, it does help you stay positive in the face of limitations.

So, now for the specific technique, which I developed spontaneously in 1992. That fall, I lost a really good friend to a car accident, and I was stricken with deep grief. My friend Martin, however, had been such a wonderful person that I was pretty determined to do something positive with my grieving process. For me, I made the decision to start ski racing (cross-country) so that I would have a lot of fun and some goals to meet that winter. It was instinctual, really. I just thought it would help–and it certainly did. But my first goal was to get moving and get in better shape.

Back injuries had kept me away from running for a while. I needed to start running, but I was pretty out of shape. I was doing okay, but I noticed that I called myself all sorts of negative things when I got breathless running. “Out of shape” is the only label I can share with you now. I just wasn’t being nice to myself. So, spontaneously, I stopped running and stood still, and said to myself, in my mind: I’m going to stand still until I start saying something nice to myself. I tried, “I’m getting in shape. I’m happy I can be here outdoors today. I’m lucky to be alive.” That sort of thing. I was pretty instantly cheered up.

And I started to run again, slowly. I felt a little lighter. The positive thoughts continued, briefly, then I started crabbing at myself again. I stopped, stood still, and forced myself to think of something positive. “I’m getting stronger. I’m in great shape to get stronger. I like running.” I started off, running again, trying to keep a positive thought train in my head. Eventually, all this stopping and starting led me to want to run along with a mantra or simple repetitive thought in my head. I don’t know, twenty years later, what those first mantras were, but I can tell you, I was a different person after switching my mentality, during training, from a harsh inner critic to a soothing, encouraging voice.

The sports psychology people call it “positive self-talk”. I don’t care what you call it, but if you are recovering from cancer and you are trying to do some exercise, I hope you will consider also training your mind to be kind to your body. You can applaud yourself for taking steps to be healthy. You can eliminate negative self-talk–by using my start/stop method or by using a positive mantra.

Eventually, I ski raced, that year. My results were not impressive on paper, but at every start line I said a little prayer that I could race with a good attitude of joy and gratitude at being alive and healthy. That attitude saw me through my grief and other obstacles in life. I sometimes had race goals that were secret at the time, such as to be the the most joyful racer or to have no negative thoughts all throughout the race. In a long ski race, that might be four hours or so, so you have plenty of time to either encourage or discourage yourself. I knew which I liked better.

To be honest, training with a positive attitude helped me not just go on to be a competent strong 50-km ski racer, or to run up mountains well, it helped me in my whole life. And it certainly helped me to thrive during cancer treatment. I’ll write more about my mantras during chemo in my next blog.

My advice? Start where you are and be nice to yourself. Don’t just exercise your body. Exercise your mind in a positive way at the same time, and you might get more than double the positive effects. Have your exercise hour become an hour of joy, an hour of renewal, an hour of peace. It might just become the favorite part of your day.

Peace, Nancy

Reframing Exercise: Finding the Sunshine in “Bad” Weather

I needed to walk the dog on this blustery, cool autumn day, and to be honest, I hesitated. I was wishing it was warmer outdoors. I live in Vermont and when I say “cool” I mean above freezing but not much so. There is snow on the mountaintop a couple of miles away. It’s chilly and cloudy, and by some accounts, the weather is lousy.

But, outdoors I went, wearing a windproof jacket over a fleece sweater. And a fleece hat. After a few minutes of walking, I noticed, that actually, it’s gorgeous outdoors. As someone more clever than me said: “There is no bad weather. Only bad clothes.”

The autumn leaves were blowing around and the wind was noisy. Some bright yellow aspen leaves danced on their branches in a spot of sunshine. My mind cleared, my heart pumped, and I felt glad that I went out for the short walk. My dog, we should mention, is always glad to walk.

What if we were more like our canine companions? What if we didn’t recognize “bad weather” as a deterrent? What if, instead of thinking of our exercise opportunities as “chores” or obligations, we relished them as time to be peaceful, joyful, or quiet the mind. Time to observe nature. Time to feel the sunshine or the rain. Time to stop rushing around in our cars, or surfing on the internet. We can find exercise to be time to heal. Left foot, right foot. Repeat.

The truth is that you can reframe your exercise goals any way you want to. You don’t have to use words like “training” or “workout”. You don’t need to compete in races or have goals to get faster. You can exercise for an hour a day as a meditation, as a path to inner peace, or as a way to feel joyous despite the day’s stresses.

I’ll write another post, next time, about a really specific way that I came up with years ago to help create a mood shift while you’re exercising.

For now, I will leave you with this thought: Exercise is not mechanical if you look at it broadly enough. Exercise can also be rich with meaning and with purposes like helping yourself heal or be happy. When you faced a hard disease like cancer, you can use exercise as time to heal and reconnect with your body in a nurturing time. You can set aside your suffering and try to find pleasure in your physicality. So, reframe exercise to suit your true self. Set your own goals and make them count for you!

10 Reasons to be Active in Cancer Recovery

One reason to stay physically active during cancer treatment is because it makes you feel better emotionally and physically.

In the book Active Against Cancer, you can learn more about the medical reasons that exercise helps you heal better from cancer. Being physically active may help you tolerate your cancer treatment better and may help you make a full and lasting recovery from cancer.

The reasons why exercise can help your cancer recovery are explained in easily understood language with medical accuracy. Here is a summary; the book provides further important details.

Five Reasons that Exercise Helps You Heal at a Cellular Level

1. Exercise creates an anti-inflammatory cellular environment, and this helps fight cancer.
2. Exercise boosts the activity of your immune system, and this helps fight cancer.
3. Exercise lowers your stress level and this helps to regulate chemicals like cortisol, which helps fight cancer.
4. Exercise helps to regulate levels of important sex hormones, and this can help fight certain cancers.
5. Exercise helps lower your fat burden in your body, and this can help your body fight cancer at the cellular level.


Five Reasons Exercise Helps Your Body’s Functioning as a Whole

6. Exercise improves your energy-level, reduces your sensations of fatigue, and helps improve your sense of well-being.
7. Exercise can help you sleep better and receive the therapeutic benefits of sleep.
8. Exercise encourages healthy eating helps, improves appetite, helps you to crave nutritious foods, and helps your digestive processes.
9. Exercise lifts mood which in turn helps promote healthy self-care choices, clear thinking, and reduces or avoids depression.
10. Exercise increases your fitness and strength, which can help your body fight illness and recover faster.

Bonus: Exercise is fun!

Profiled in Active Against Cancer Book

AAC Profiles: How Did Other People Stay Active During Cancer Recovery?

Ten cancer survivors who used exercise to help themselves fight against cancer are profiled in the book.

Need role models? Need inspiration? Each profile helps you understand real examples of how cancer survivors stayed motivated, stayed active, and displayed courage during their cancer recoveries.

The amount of exercise that they each did, the type, and the intensity vary, as do their ages and cancer types. What didn’t vary was their commitment to staying active in pursuit of a full recovery.

None of us facing a cancer challenge are really sure about our “outcomes.” The uncertainty can be maddening, frustrating, or frightening. What happens to someone else with your kind of cancer is not always what will happen to you.

But there is something that you can count on: If you are dedicated to doing the best you can to recover your health, then you can move forward without regrets. Get Active Against Cancer today.

Riding with Livestrong founder, Lance Armstrong, 2011

Here are some of the people who are profiled in the book.

  • A woman who was told to “get her affairs in order” after battling brain cancer, but who, many years later, in 2010, completed a run across the country from California to Florida in one summer. She is an advocate for healthy lifestyles and an author.
  • A man who lives with blood cancer, but who competes in running events including 24-hour run events–at age 69. His doctor applauds his running and healthy lifestyle.
  • A breast cancer survivor and mother who makes time for daily exercise and participated meaningfully in cancer fundraisers such as Romp to Stomp.
  • A former high school and college stand-out athlete, who underwent treatment for her cancer in high school, but whose determination to stay involved in sports and whose recovery made her college sports career possible. She is becoming an oncology nurse. She is also a TNT alum.
  • A woman who is a blood cancer survivor who uses yoga as a daily ritual and helps others in her community experience yoga therapy for the health and well-being.
  • A man who faced colon cancer treatment by including a devotion to exercising at his gym, and whose doctor applauded his activities and commended his ability to tolerate a complete, arduous course of treatment… and succeed.
  • A breast and ovarian cancer survivor who used activity during treatment, and who is a long-time survivor and founder of a foundation for cancer survivors.
  • An ovarian cancer and kidney disease (two transplants) survivor who used bike riding and other activities in her multiple comebacks, and raced in the Livestrong Challenge.
  • An ovarian cancer survivor who used hiking, walking, swimming and water-skiing during her five-month-long chemotherapy, and participated in the Relay for Life Nordicstyle by the American Cancer Society.