Category Archives: Uncategorized

Long distance thoughts

I set out for a long run, recently, and remembered one of the virtues of a long run: pure relaxation. Planning to run an hour makes it automatic for me to relax for the first five, ten, twenty minutes. There is no pressure to do anything but find a comfortable “go all day” rhythm and relax my mind and body. Because of the distance involved, the first mile is just a happy warm-up and goes by quickly.

It’s not unlike taking a trip in the car. If you plan to go across town quickly on a short trip, it can seem to drag on because in your mind “it shouldn’t take long.” But if you plan to drive for, say, six hours to start your vacation, the first hour will go by in a snap.

So, this got me thinking two things. One: running or exercising for a long duration is easier than you might think. The mind and the body make adjustments. If not the first time, then with a little practice, it will happen that you relax into a long outing. Stay in the moment; don’t worry about how far you have yet to go.

Second thing: Cancer recovery is a long outing, an endurance event, a trip far from your normal life habits. So, too, perhaps in cancer recovery there is a need to relax as much as you can. Pace yourself to go easily. Don’t worry about how long it will all take; just stay in the moment.

That’s my thought for the day. I’m wishing all of you in cancer recovery to build up endurance and find a way to relax during your cancer challenge. Stay hopeful in the moment and try to find the positives in every day, as you make your way back to health.



Refreshing Exercise

Kayaking, Nancy Brennan, Active Against Cancer
At its best, exercise is refreshing. It can make us feel more alive, calmer, happier and more energized. I recently took a quiet one-week vacation on a Maine lake, where the emphasis was on swimming and paddling a kayak. By the end of the seven active days, that magical re-set button had been hit: I felt more energetic than in months.
Finally, after a long recovery from a knee injury, I felt “like myself” again because I increased my fitness level.
Coming back from injury or cancer ordeal, you may find that you don’t organically feel like you have enough energy to exercise. If you are new to exercising regularly, you may not feel immediately energized by one or two workouts. Fatigue (mental and physical) is also common during arduous cancer treatment.
How can you get going with scheduled exercise if you are tired to get going at all?
The first part of the answer lies in managing your expectations. Exercise certainly can be energizing on a daily basis, most of the time, for most people. But if you are new to exercising intensely or you are in cancer treatment, you may have to adjust your expectations for a time.
It’s okay. Remind yourself that exercise contributes to your health in other valuable ways even if it doesn’t make you feel all charged up. For example, you are benefiting by enhanced immune system function or by increasing the likelihood that you won’t be dogged by fatigue in your post-chemo years. Take heart, and keep up your moderate exercise program, even in the face of mild fatigue. (More details are present in my book about when exercise might be contraindicated.)
Are you just needing to become more consistent about exercising daily? If so, you can choose what exercise to do, as you ease in to a routine that will keep you feeling refreshed. Some will find that a long walk will make their energy come back up. Some will find that being consistent every day and exercising on a schedule will help them feel refreshed.
Other people will find that one activity (swimming anyone?) that works for them even if they are tired. Choose activities that you can adjust easily. You’re not going to feel motivated to exercise if you disregard how you feel and bully yourself to do an overly taxing workout that you are not ready for. Keep looking until you find the answer that is right for you. (And read my book if you need more helpful tips.)
Exercise, ultimately, is a great way to refresh your energy–and help yourself become healthy. Take yourself out for a walk, swim or paddle as soon as you can. Enjoy!

Do It for a Friend

This past Sunday, July 3rd, I read an AP story by Nancy Armour about Kevin McDowell (18 years old) and his friend Lukas Verzbicas, two talented, already accomplished, athletes who have just completed high school in Illinois. Their summer plans included Kevin preparing to race for the Bejiing junior world championships in triathlon and Lukas preparing for his middle distance running career at Univ of Oregon.

Kevin was a favorite to win the junior world championship, and Lukas has broken the 4-minute mile, in high school, one of only five to do so–ever. These boys are special.

Then, cancer dropped in to pay a visit. Kevin has Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is getting chemotherapy. His friend Lukas’ new race goal? Compete at the junior world triathlon championships, for which he had also qualified, and try to win one “for Kevin.”

If that story doesn’t get you to put your best sneakers on and get out the door, I don’t know what will. Read the rest of the story’s details here.

Best of luck to Kevin for a complete and swift recovery, and to Lukas–best of luck for a swift race! You were both my inspiration when I went for an hour-long run on the trails yesterday.



Do Everything, Don’t Do Too Much

It’s ironic. My two main tenets of cancer recovery seem to be opposite in intent. Do everything that you can to recover from cancer well, and don’t do too much of anything, including exercise. Let’s look closer at this.

I believe that a mindset of “I will do everything I can to beat cancer” is crucial. I wanted to rally; I wanted to show cancer that I was serious about my recovery. Practically speaking, I wanted to use every reasonable remedy or approach that was available.

  1. Group support.
  2. Visualizations.
  3. Herbs and supplements.
  4. Exercising moderately and cautiously.
  5. Diet modifications that favored health.
  6. Re-examine my life purpose.
  7. Positive relationships and love.
  8. Music for healing.
  9. All manner of best medical treatments.
  10. Therapy and counseling.
  11. Acupuncture.
  12. Readily admitting my “negative” emotions of fear, anger and suffering.
  13. Hope.

These were some of my tools. I took all those tools out of the toolbox to fight cancer. Even though some days it seemed like maybe I should just expect chemo and surgery to “beat cancer” for me, I wanted to use all the tools that made sense to me. I got expert advice where I could, and I was careful when I couldn’t. I didn’t do anything that seemed risky in itself. I tried to be sensible but also thorough.

For me, this “do everything” approach meant that I would have no regrets later if my cancer came back. I was doing the best that I could to fight cancer.

And along with “doing everything”, I was moderate and didn’t do too much of anything, including exercise.

You can read more about specific examples of what types and amounts of exercise are advised in my book, Active Against Cancer.

What to Say to Someone Facing Cancer

There’s a neat article in the New York Times about what to say to someone who is sick. Interesting and frank, the article talks about what to say and do and what NOT to say or do. I agree with some points and not with others, but it’s a good discussion and it’s thoughtful. Thoughtfulness, it seems to me, is what is required when talking to someone facing a life-threatening illness and treatment.

When I wrote Active Against Cancer, I thought a lot about the fact that I was writing it for a variety of people with a variety of cancer situations, a variety of physical obstacles, and the many various moods that one goes through. I worried and wondered, “How can I find the right tone for all readers?” So, I settled on just sounding like myself as much as I could.

I tried not to assume that a reader was “down” or that they were well enough to walk that day or … well, anything. It was an interesting challenge. I have been told that my tone in the book comes across as very encouraging. I like hearing that. I hope that my tone works for my readers most of the time.

I thought a lot about these issues when I was facing cancer. Then, in writing my book, I wanted to sound different than the way most doctors are somewhat forced to sound. Because doctors can not predict, most of the time, exactly what will happen to a patient, they talk in statistics and probabilities. Try as you may, it’s hard to get them to talk any other way. “What about me? What will happen to me?” They will revert to “your chances” and keep the conversation there. It’s fair, it’s their best choice, and it’s not that satisfying to most of us.

When I was in treatment, after researching statistics all that I could bear, I decided to be consciously optimistic. I quit trying to be realistic–whatever that was. It was so much easier to be optimistic. It was healthier. It made me want to get up and try to do what I could to protect my health–eat right, exercise, sleep as best I could, take care of myself emotionally, have a good day, week, life.

I hope that the people who read Active Against Cancer can intuit my belief that statistics are for doctors, but as long as you or I are still breathing, we have the choice to believe in our making a good recovery. Then, we need to go act like we believe in it. Follow doctors’ orders and also take care of ourselves in meaningful ways.

Will that guarantee our success beating cancer? Maybe not, but it is surely easier to get up in the morning if we treat ourselves as “recovering” rather than as a statistical dot on a graph. I’m not always 100% successful at not being scared or worried, but I at least know that I am committed to doing what I can as if I may live cancer-free from here on. So far, so good.

Peace on your journey, strength on your path.

Father’s Day: My Chemo-buddy

I’m a little late for Father’s Day, but I wanted to say that I missed my father yesterday.

He passed away in 2008 of cancer. He and I shared chemo struggles for 18 months or so, as his treatment ended as mine began, and then his began again. He was a doctor before he retired, and he had survived three other kinds of cancer. My father was fond of saying that he had always been very lucky and had no complaints at 83.

In his memory, then, I want to say thank you to all the doctors who help encourage their patients and who offer to do the best that they can to save lives. Too often, just as many children can take their parents for granted at times, we take our doctors for granted.

Thanks to them all for all they do.



Waterskiing Again: Comeback Two

Nancy Brennan Waterskiing During Cancer Treatment

Waterskiing in Chemo Summer

When I was getting chemotherapy four years ago, I was able to water-ski every few weeks. Thanks to the encouragement of my doctor, husband and brother-in-law, I was able to feel like an athlete, not a cancer patient, for at least the few minutes when I was carving turns on the water. I distinctly remember my first waterskiing on July 4th, the year of my April surgery. I had a memory, while skiing, of being helpless in my hospital bed post-surgery. A big grin broke out on my face, as I skied. I was back to life!

The best thing about being bald that year was that my drysuit fit over my head more easily in the cold water of fall. But, mostly, I remember feeling happy when I skied, as if I was out-smarting my cancer by being so bold and strong. It helped my morale enormously, especially in later months of treatment.

Yesterday, June 6, 2011, I was in the drysuit again and waterskiing for the first time since I broke my leg and hurt my knee in Feb. 2010. I had my ACL replaced in surgery last June. My surgeon recently pronounced my knee excellently healed, and so the water-ski drought is over. I was nervous but popped right up and let out a big “wa-hoo.” Time for more turns in 2011.

Enjoy some activity today, whether you’re 100% healthy or making a long, arduous comeback. Try to do what you can do to be active against cancer and please, have fun doing it if you can.