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Not quite a walk in the park

When I first learned that I had cancer (while attending Campers’ Week at Pinewoods), a good friend urged me to spend as much time as possible outside, walking in the sunshine.

And when my father-in-law heard last September that I had cancer, he wrote a very supportive note with many kind thoughts. This is the most relevant today:

“There's also great expansion in studies of post-cancer rehabilitation. Getting the right kind of exercise is, none too surprisingly, hugely beneficial. I was in an experiment in which some patients received exercise and diet treatments and some not (I was in the first group). Only a year later, the benefits of exercise were so obvious they were redoing the experiment: both groups were doing the exercises, only one the diet analysis.”

And when I first met my surgeon, he told me that I should “Walk! Walk every day! Walk for at least a half hour!”

Since I wanted everything to go as well as possible, I followed their advice. In early September, when I was starting on chemo- and radiation-therapy and was weak from weight-loss, it was a bit of a challenge. But the warm September sun (literally every day in that freakishly clement September) and fresh air soon began doing their work: I looked forward to each day’s venture, walking farther and faster each day.

As the days cooled and the rains (and wind) returned in October, many of the walks were less pleasant, but it wasn’t cold — and I could tell how much good the exercise was doing me — so I persisted.

On the 27th of November, they surgified me for almost eight hours. Early the next morning, during rounds, my surgeon again told me that I should “Walk! Walk every day! Walk for at least a half hour! Start today!” Sigh. This was the last thing I felt like doing, of course, but with the help of Karen and the LNA I was able to stand up and get all (six? eight?) of the tubes and cables untangled — and headed off with Karen to do a couple of laps around the ward.

And it progressed slowly from there. By the last evening at the hospital, Karen and I walked a huge distance down the long multilevel arcade, whence passages branched making for many different departments and even entire other buildings. It felt great!

But the next day, when I came home from the hospital, things were different. There was ice! There was snow! And the wind was bitter cold! And I found that after spending two weeks at exactly 72ºF, and having re-lost all the weight that I’d gained back in the autumn, I just couldn’t stay warm enough outside no matter how quickly I walked. So after a couple of walks that first week back (at 15ºF with a nice brisk wind), I gave up. No more walks!

Fast-forward three weeks: it’s just as cold outside; there’s even more snow and ice; and I’m lethargic and achy. In my follow-up visit to the surgeon, I was told that I had to get out there and “Walk! Walk every day! Walk for at least a half hour! Drive down to The Home Depot and walk there if it’s too cold!”

The Home Depot didn’t sound very appealing — and the closest one is 90 minutes away! — but it got me thinking a little bit. I made a list of gyms to look at down in Barre, Montpelier, and Berlin (all 35 minutes away in the same vector). I wasn’t very excited about this idea. I’ve always felt that gyms were a waste of time and money — that people in need of exercise should just do more work with their bodies: climb stairs instead of taking the elevator; park further away from the store and walk; don’t drive at all if possible — walk or bicycle.... And so I don’t believe that I’ve ever been in a gym since high school (other than our local school’s gym when it’s been coöpted for the Apple Pie Festival, Town Meeting, and that kind of thing, of course).

So I had no idea where to start, other than working through the possible gyms in a logistically efficient manner. I started at the south end with a Jazzercise: it was gloomy, smelly, and unbearably loud. Ugh. The next one on my list was closed: they were only open in the early morning and from mid-afternoon into the evening. Checking them out was taking less time than I’d imagined, but I was beginning to think I might not come up with an establishment that would fit the bill.

My idea was that I’d find somewhere where they’d understand the kind of rehabilitation I wanted for my body, and give me a set of low-impact exercises designed to slowly increase my muscle mass and strengthen my trunk and just set me on a path towards again having a relatively fit middle-aged body again — and make sure that all my hopefully-coming weight gain wouldn’t end up in a big ring around my midsection!

As I drove out of the parking lot for the closed gym, I spotted a sign: “RehabGYM: Entrance at rear.” Huh. That one had not been on my list. Well, I was right here, looking for a gym. Why not take a look?

Remember the paragraph (only two up) that began “My idea was”? Well, my idea was already actualized as the RehabGYM. I’ve now been four times, and fully plan to consistently attend two or three days each week for at least the next month or two. The first month’s membership (no additional commitment) included four free hours with a personal trainer — who immediately “got” where I was coming from and why I was there. He gave me exercises which are definitely stretching things out, getting my heart rate a bit elevated, and deepening my breathing. Most of these exercises I can do (or do variants of) at home, too. But the most important thing is that the lethargy is gone. And the aches feel more healthy. And I know I’m doing the right thing. 馃憤馃徏

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Comments (14)

  • Erin Vang
    Erin Vang

    That's great, and I'm always impressed with anyone who can make themselves go into a gym. When you would rather walk outside, though, I have a tip: I'm dealing with icy everything here, too, but as soon as I put a pair of DiamondGrip YakTrax on my boots, I stopped worrying about. Seriously, glare ice feels like the most secure carpet available. Highly recommended!

    one year agoReply
  • Mike & Eileen Franch
    Mike & Eileen Franch

    There's a hymn in the Unitarian Universalist hymn book taken from the preamble of the United Mine Workers Union constitution. "Step by step, the longest march, can be won, can be one." Set to an old Welsh tune, I think. Sounds like you're on your way!

    one year agoReply
  • Jessica Noyes
    Jessica Noyes

    Dear Erik, Thank you for sharing the news of your journey with me and so many others. It sounds as if you have found the right gym, but there is still the local option. You probably know this, but on MWF the Cabot school gym is open from 6:30 AM or so to 8:00 AM or so. There is a fee-based fitness class that runs from 6:30 to 7:15, and there are a couple of men and women who walk around the gym before and after the class. It is also possible to use the treadmill, rower, and elliptic machines, which are up on the stage, while others are doing jumping jacks and lifting weights. The fitness class is run by Michelle Delaney, who is a licensed personal trainer. You probably know most of the people there. Gyms are not my happy place, and I have held my ranking at the bottom of the class for a couple of years now, but I am glad I've been doing it. So please accept my wishes for all kinds of strength.

    one year agoReply
    • Karen Mueller-Harder
      Karen Mueller-Harder

      Thanks for the suggestion; we did look into the Cabot gym, but during the basketball season the only open hours are those early ones. Although Erik's normally a morning person, at the moment he's not quite up to exercising quite that early, though that might be a good option in a few weeks!

      one year agoReply
  • Alice Clark
    Alice Clark

    Good for you Erik. You are a strong soul.

    one year agoReply
  • Ruth Hyde
    Ruth Hyde

    Keep up the good work. I was sad and tired today because I learned last night that a member of our dance community had died. But one of my dance partners wanted to dance and we did. I feel much better now and will probably sleep well too.

    one year agoReply
  • barbara grandberg
    barbara grandberg

    so happy to read about your progress....many...many...many years ago i joined my local y for the swimming pool...i now belong to a health club and while i love running outside, the variety of workouts that i do inside really helps me physically and mentally.....btw....truck day will be here soon :]

    one year agoReply
  • barbara grandberg
    barbara grandberg

    so happy to read about your progress....many...many...many years ago i joined my local y for the swimming pool...i now belong to a health club and while i love running outside, the variety of workouts that i do inside really helps me physically and mentally.....btw....truck day will be here soon :]

    one year agoReply
  • Chloe Bird
    Chloe Bird

    So glad you found what you needed and were looking for. Make sure your docs know of it as they can recommend it to others. What a fabulous resource as you get up to speed. I don't know if you have a Cancer Support Community near you, but that is another place with many free easy activities directed at folks who are recovering or living with cancer. Ours has been as source of tremendous comfort among other things.

    one year agoReply
  • Barbara Halada
    Barbara Halada

    I'm so glad to hear that! You definitely had a guide at your shoulder that day. Lots of love and happy thoughts! Barbara

    one year agoReply
  • Robin Kynoch
    Robin Kynoch

    Good for you, Erik! But don鈥檛 knock walking the aisles of Home Depot and the like. One of the women on my walk from Boston to Portland in September was from Houston. It鈥檚 apparently broiling hot and very rainy there in the summer, but she needed to get her training walks in, in preparation for the September walk (which was an average of 20 miles a day...). So she went to Home Depot and walked up and down the aisles every day, for an hour or two. It worked for her! Nevertheless, I鈥檓 so happy you found something that works for you!

    one year agoReply
  • Beth Hufford
    Beth Hufford

    Mall walking was big back after college when I worked in a mall. It has it's uses. but so great that you found the exact right thing! I know I resist the added obligation of exercise to destress, though heaven knows I could use it! Love getting these posts to keep up to date.

    one year agoReply
  • Andrew Peterson
    Andrew Peterson

    I'm so glad to hear this. While one cannot beat a walk down your country lanes I agree that any walking is just excellent. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Nature says thou shalt keep the air, skate, swim, walk, ride, run. When you have worn out your shoes, the strength of the sole leather has passed into the fibre of your body. I measure your health by the number of shoes and hats and clothes you have worn out. He is the richest man who pays the largest debt to his shoemaker."* Go wear out your shoes, my friend. * * * *1913, Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson with Annotations: 1849-1855, Edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes, (Age 48, 1851), Quote Page 232, Published by Constable & Co., London, and Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.

    one year agoReply
  • Kara Pekar
    Kara Pekar

    That's wonderful to hear, Erik, and I'm glad you found a gym that clearly supports the rehab concept! And yes; while outdoor walking is wonderful, it's not so great in ice and freezing cold weather. I'm sure it will make all the difference to you in your recovery. I've just started walking again myself, after months of inactivity. (No illness, just not putting myself and my health first.) At least we've had a break in the weather down here -- by which I mean, it's 40 instead of well below freezing like it has been! I'm looking forward to more energy, stamina, and strength the more I can get out there, and I wish you the same. And I hope that as your weather warms in spring and your body heals and regains weight, you are able to (also) walk outdoors again. Meanwhile, stay warm!

    one year agoReply

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