#19 Make Use of the Good Days/Times
I’ve only been sick, really sick, a handful of times in my life. Ever since I was little, I’ve been active and actively trying to gain weight. There might have been times I didn’t quite spend enough effort on my sleep but really for the most part, health has always been a priority. Hence part of the reason why I think I never really got sick. I took pretty good care of myself. I had made a point in my life to attempt to be fairly healthy. I can’t say I always ate the best, I love pop tarts and sugar cookies. I love butter and bacon. I did however limit my consumption of these things with the end goal in mind. I wanted to be healthy for a long time. I had the end goal in mind. I wanted to be eighty years old and deadlifting more than the twenty year olds in my gym. I knew that in order to do that, I’d have to keep and maintain my
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it didn’t change much. I still didn’t really feel all that different. I worked two jobs through the first 6 months of my diagnosis all while taking some oral chemo to try and get my numbers regulated. It didn’t seem to affect me all that much. Probably due to the fact that I was already pretty healthy and trying to maintain that health. I can’t say that working two jobs afforded me a tremendous amount of sleep but I did my best. I ate well and continued to find time to exercise.
As time progressed though, my treatments got to be more aggressive and I started to find that my energy was waning. I was having a harder and harder time working two jobs. I eventually had to stop my personal training and not long after that I went on family medical leave from my full time job. My appointments at the clinic were more frequent and I was needing more blood products. Just one bag of platelets could take as much as four hours. If I needed two then I was looking at close to six hours in the clinic. Just trying to stay alive was a full time job.
I found that more and more frequently I was having bad days. My old litmus test for whether I felt bad enough to need to take off work was whether or not I could train through it. For me, working out has been a major function of my life. In college I built my class schedule around going to the gym. After graduating, I worked with my employer to get hours that benefitted my training. It was that important to me. So when I say that if I didn’t feel like training then I definitely didn’t feel like being at work. These days happened to infrequently that when I did call out of work, clients were really worried because they knew I had to be really sick.
With cancer and its treatments, I found that I was having less and less desire to train. Not because I didn’t want to but because those days were so bad. It was a struggle to get out of the chair and my lazy boy chair is a push button. It raises and lowers at the push of the button but still getting up was a chore. Moving around the house was tough. Going to the clinic, I’d have my wife drop me off because I couldn’t walk from the garage to the door. As these bad days increased, I found that I needed to take more advantage of the days when I felt good.
I might have days where I felt good. I could string together a couple workouts. I drove myself to the clinic. Do some chores around the house and play with my daughters. Other days, I might only have a few hours where I felt good. I could get a workout in, I could go for a walk, or I could help put the kids to bed. I never knew when I was going to feel bad, just like I never knew when I was going to feel good. So, I had to take advantage of the good times when they came.
Most of the time, my energy was highest first thing in the morning. I could unload the dishwasher and make breakfast for the girls. Rarely though did I feel good enough long enough to clean up when breakfast was over. Usually I was laid up on the couch before they had finished breakfast. Already I was worn out but it had afforded me a few good hours to help out and do something nice for my family. That might mean that I wouldn’t have energy later to workout but as you start to notice, priorities change and some things become more important when you’re forced to choose.
Other times I wouldn’t know what was going to make me feel bad or if I was even going to be affected. There could be mornings I made breakfast and then went for a walk. I might have to take a nap but I could recover and work out later in the afternoon. Usually, though, the later it got in the day, the worse I felt. I could be in bed most days by 7pm and that’s after getting up at 7am. I’d sleep ten to twelve hours everyday. I was that tired. Even then, getting out of bed was always a struggle. Even with all that sleep, I’d still have some days where I just couldn’t get off the couch or out of the chair. I tried my best to not get back in bed. I just felt like if I were at least in the living room then I’d have a better chance of getting up and doing something than if I were in bed. In bed I was doomed. There was little that could get me out of bed if I got back in it.
To go from working two jobs to avoiding laying down in the bed was a drastic shift for me. It wasn’t easy to watch the change. I could see it and if I could see it then I knew others could more easily. As time wore on, it got worse and worse. My first round of chemo, real chemo, was bad. It landed me in the hospital for twenty six days. I had a fever for almost ten days. Days of feeling like shit and days of being confined to the hospital room are rough. It’s rough physically, mentally, and emotionally. It saps you of energy and life. Getting home, while “better” I wasn’t much better. I was in pretty rough shape. It meant going into each subsequent chemo treatment in a little worse shape than when I started.
As my physical health deteriorated, my mental health didn’t. It only made me more determined. This at least gave me the desire to continue to take advantage of the good days. I’d do a workout with some bands in my hospital room. I’d take a walk outside if I wasn’t hooked up to my infusion pump, or, hell, take the damn things with me. I’d try to do something productive. The good times were fewer and further between which meant they were all that much more precious when I did get them. I refused to let those times go idly by while I laid up in bed watching the clock tick by or mindlessly watch tv. I saved those times for when it was really bad and I knew that getting up wasn’t going to be an option.
We take for granted just being able to do household chores and likely procrastinate doing them. I didn’t have the luxury of procrastinating. If I had a moment, I needed to take advantage of it. Just going outside and pushing my youngest daughter on the swing was challenging but worth it. Even at home, I saved the bed and the tv for only the worst of times. Otherwise, I tried to stay in the living room and at least be present.
That’s the key to it all. Be present. Be there. Understand that there are things that you get to do, not things you have to do. I don’t have to make breakfast, I get to make breakfast. I don’t have to wash the dishes, I get to wash dishes. I get to make the bed. The power of rephrasing these types of sentences has a significant impact on the mind. That impact can bring meaning to the simplest of tasks. It can be the deciding factor of whether you take advantage of the good moments or let the bad moments continue to take advantage of you.