Strength is a cure
I had this strange idea. I’ve been doing strength training for over 25 years. Picking up something heavy isn’t something I just give up because my situation has changed. What it does though is give me an edge in working through my current diagnosis and it’s subsequent ordeal. I might not be deadlifting 600lbs right now, but having done that in the past certainly gives me an idea of what will be required of me.
That strange idea is that strength is a cure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “the” cure. It’s only a part of the cure. In complex situations like cancer, there is no one cure. It takes doing everything right, repeatedly.
There are 3 basic types of strength that are important for what we need.
- physical strength and it’s subsets
- mental strength and what is entailed within it
- Learning new terms
- Understanding medical terminology and how they apply
- Learning new skills
- Setting new routines
- emotional strength and what that might encompass
- Managing anxiety
- Dealing with stress
- Understanding depression and early warning signs
Physical strength is more than just picking up something heavy and putting it back down. Physical strength starts with understanding movement limitations, if you have any. From there it’s a process of building a good routine that helps to promote full movements and balance. This also encompasses all the things that make doing so easier. Physical strength involves strength training, but it also involves having a good cardiovascular base. These qualities are accentuated by proper diet and nutrition. Eating right and within the parameters of your needs go a long way in helping to maintain a strong physical presence that makes it easier to fight cancer or any disease. Not only that but being properly hydrated and keeping fluids high in an effort to combat any issues that arise from being dehydrated.
Being fit to fight disease isn’t enough though. There’s more to it than just showing up. I never thought I’d need to know what my white blood cell count was. I never thought I’d learn that ANC is short for absolute neutrophil count. When I was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia even that diagnosis was new to me. I barely knew leukemia was, much less that there were different types of it. In order to really have the best concept of what I was dealing with and what I needed to do in order to get better took me really learning something new. This is part of the mental component of strength I talk about. Mentally, I had to know what I was dealing with. I also needed to know how the doctors were going to communicate all this with me. It became a task to learn all the new terminology and processes that I needed to know so that I could be my own advocate. Despite having my wife with me on a daily basis through all this, we had to be able to discuss this together and we learned as a couple. We even had to learn new routines that could include flushing my lines (either PICC or central line). I had to learn what I was able to do physically and what I needed to do to keep some semblance of a routine. It was an overhaul on what I thought I’d be learning in 2021.
As all this new information was coming my way and my physical limitations really started to set in, it became apparent that my emotions were going to be all over the place. There’s the anxiety of each new doctor’s appointment and if we’d learn anything new or instead be getting bad news. There was the depression that set in with the realization that I wasn’t able to lift as much as I used to or that my treatments were going to be extended months past the initial treatment plan . A whole slew of emotions crept in while trying to understand what was happening to me. These emotions aren’t easy to manage and it’s easy to let things spiral out of control. It’s easy to see why depression can set in. As we manage each day and try to wait patiently for new test results, dealing with these emotions is a very real thing.
“Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
We deal with the concept that there will just be things out of our control. I can’t control how quickly test results come back. I can’t control what my white blood cell count is. All these things trigger emotions. It becomes a daily chore to manage the emotions. It’s not easy. They raise their heads out like the hydra and like the hydra for every one we manage to kill, another 2 take its place. However, with daily practice, managing these emotions becomes easier and easier. It takes time and it takes practice. Just like lifting 600lbs doesn’t happen overnight, neither does ceasing to worry. Meditation and gratitude practice are just two of the many tools that I’ve used over this past year to try and keep my emotions from getting the better of me. I’m not perfect. There’s definitely days where my emotions get away from me and I’m scared, angry, and just a shitty person to be around. However, most days I can keep it under control and be a functioning member of my household.
Since time has passed from my diagnosis, I’m starting to see how all these characteristics of strength will play a part in my recovery. There’s no shortage to the benefits of physical strength. I’ve just never heard any human being say, “I’m just too strong,” and mean it. The disease and its treatments can take a huge toll on the body. Being fit to take on the challenge will always be beneficial. As physical traits give way to mental characteristics it’s clear that ignorance is not bliss. Being fit is not enough. The mind has to be active to fully comprehend what is happening and what needs to happen. This means being able to communicate with doctors and loved ones about what is happening, what has happened between visits, and what will happen in the future. This helps to minimize the shock of treatment, help to reduce potential side effects, and prepare everyone involved for what is to come. Despite being smart enough to know what’s coming and fit enough to handle it, there comes the emotional trauma of just how much changes on a daily basis. Are we capable of handling such drastic changes? The emotional toll is huge and isn’t something to be trifled. Emotion can and will come out of the woodwork to make things difficult. There’s plenty of times tears come uncontrollably, anger brings out loud shouting matches, and anxiety cripples. These are just a few of the wide ranges of things that’ll happen.
I’ve worked and worked on how to be a better patient. I’ve strived to be the best person I can be despite my entire life being turned upside down. A brief walk with the family the other day put into perspective just how different I am. I was tired, fatigued. The realization of that made me angry. Walking shouldn’t do that to me. My emotions were swirling with all kinds of different responses. Physically, I’m different. Mentally, I have to be different. Emotionally, I’m doing my best. All three add up to my overall strength in character. Do I want to be what I was or do I have to be something different in order to face my new set of circumstances? I’m in this for the long haul so I guess I have to be something new. I need to look at my longevity and figure out how to piece together all these components to be the man I need to be in order to not only survive but to thrive.