Building Back One's Strength

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andrewalking.jpgBy Andrew Griffith

Andrew Griffith has mantle cell lymphoma and has had an auto (November 2009) and an allo (August 2011) stem cell transplant. He lives in Canada and is married with two young adult children. He blogs at and can be followed on Twitter @lymphomajourney.

We all grapple with what kind of recovery and rehabilitation we should follow after cancer treatment. While one's general health, age, treatment and other factors determine what's doable, the key thing is to find a program that works for you, getting you as active as possible.

In addition to keeping in touch with friends and family (so important on the emotional side), my experience during two transplants has taught me the following:

  • Know what you like to do: It's trite, but if you like doing something, you will do it. Before cancer, what was your exercise routine? What were your hobbies? Your interests?

    Assess these against what you and your medical team think is realistic. Likely, you will need to scale back and allow for more time to rest.
  • Develop a routine, but don't be slavish: I found it easier to have a general routine of regular sleep, including naps, time for working on my blog and other projects, and walking. While clinic visits and events interfered, it gave me some structure and focus.

  • Start with walking: The easiest form of exercise is walking, and all the evidence suggests that half an hour of walking each day gives most exercise benefits. Walking can be done alone or with family and friends, giving you more connection time. It's easily scalable. When I'm feeling weak, short walks just to get me out of the house help. When I'm stronger, I take longer walks for more exercise.

    Runners can scale this up as their strength allows. As I recovered, I got back into cross-country skiing and biking.

    Others may prefer stretching, yoga and Tai-chi to get the body back into shape without being overly taxing.

  • Pace yet push and allow for the bumps in the road: Find a balance. There will be some days that you don't feel well enough to do much. Accept that. When you do, push yourself to do a bit more. Recognizing the longer-term trend of building up one's strength is what's important.
    And when going through a "bump," be philosophical about it (unless your medical team gives other signals), recognizing that "this too shall pass."

    I worried about gaining too much weight, only to have a bout of stomach trouble that caused me to lose most of it and forced me to stop going walking. Building a "reserve" was a good thing.

  • Find a Project: If you don't have to go back to work early, pick a project to get your mind engaged and reduce 'chemo' brain. In my case, it was learning a language and preparing a family tree. This gave me focus, retrain my brain, and give me something concrete that I had achieved during my lengthy absence.
When thinking about my recovery, I realize that I became "cocky" about my progress and took it for granted. My stomach trouble was a forceful reminder of the need for humility, acceptance and that the journey will not be straightforward.

While these points continue to guide me, they are now tempered with more realism of what is doable, something that each of us has to work out. But, I encourage you be as active as you can be.

Read more posts by Andrew Griffith.

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