A Cancer Survivor's Guide to Working Out with Cancer
When Joshua was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he didn't know how it would affect his ability to continue working out. With determined mindset, Joshua was able to develop a regiment that kept him active and in shape while going through chemo.
When you have cancer, it's easy to make excuses as to why you shouldn't stay active. You may feel like you're too weak to get out of bed, let alone do any type of exercise. Or maybe you're afraid that exercising could hurt you in some way. I get that - when I was going through treatment for testicular cancer, there were days I barely had enough energy to get out of bed. But one day I decided that I wasn't going to let cancer stop me. It could slow me, but it could not stop me. However, I recognized that as much as I wanted to, I couldn't stick to my old, pre-cancer routine. I had to make some changes and adapt my workout to my treatments and how I felt on a daily basis.
I compiled a few tips that helped me out, in hopes that they may help you realize that you can stay active through cancer.
90% Mental and 10% Physical
The most important part of training is the not the physical aspect but rather the mental one. Even before you go train your mental aspect plays a vital role in how your training session will end up. If you stay strong and positive there is a greater chance of having a good session but if you start out negative then it is easy for things to take a downward turn. I like to think that training is 90% mental and 10% physical. That is why it is even more important for me to keep my mental aspect as sharp and positive as possible.
While working out and going through treatments to fight my cancer I had many worries. The top three on my list of worries included my red blood cell count which alters your normal oxygen levels, my white blood cell count which lowers your immune system, and the level of exertion so that you don't overuse your body. By staying mentally strong and aware I was able to end these fears.
When working out with cancer, there are may be many "what ifs" that need to be overcome. I believe the first step in doing so is to change your perspective from a state of powerless to one of powerful. Even though the decrease in red blood cells made me tired I still felt as if I was becoming more conditioned. I said to myself there are professional athletes that travel just to train at higher altitudes to make them more efficient. In my case I was learning to control my breathing and harness a new mental strength without having to even leave my house!
The white blood cell reduction is the "what if" that should be taken very seriously. If you choose to go to a public gym I would recommend a few different tactics that I found very helpful.
1) Be proactive by wearing a face mask to help filter the air in the facility.
2) Make sure to thoroughly spray and wipe down equipment with antibacterial supplies.
3) Wash your hands several times, even if it means taking a break.
For anyone who is returning to a fitness routine it is essential to ease your way back in. This means there needs to be awareness of when you are overusing your body. For someone who is dedicated to their goals there is a very fine line between being committed and being stubborn. You have to remember that your real goal is to make progress, not to go backwards. An important lesson that cancer patient fitness taught me was self control, self awareness, and the ability to understand when my body is not ready to do what my mind wanted it to.
On my journey I realized that even though I couldn't progress as much as I wanted to, slowing down actually helped me to perfect my technique. Changing my perspective from the powerless "I can't do what I used to", to a powerful "I can work on a new skill today" changed my entire view on working out.
Here is a short list of workouts that helped me focus on technique and specific skills while I slowly built my body back up.
1) Jumping rope
- - Learning the basics may be hard at first but this is very rewarding. Not only is it a great investment during treatment but it will also benefit you afterwards. (Great for coordination and cardiovascular)
2) Boxing Speed Bag
- - This exercise is great for coordination without taking a toll on you physically. The opportunity to try different techniques is almost endless and getting in a good rhythm may completely make you forget that you are even sick. The speed bag was my favorite exercise while going through chemotherapy, in fact, it was my therapy. (Great for coordination, cardiovascular, rhythm and mental stimuli)
- - This is machine was designed to create a cardiovascular exercise without the wear and tear of other exercises. If you are having a day where you know that you are tired but you still want to get to the gym, this is the best choice. One thing that I truly find beneficial is that while using these machines there are usually people around that you can talk to. Sometimes the best remedy for the soul is just to interact with people around you. (You never know who you may inspire)
- - A lot of gyms have a sit down row machine that can be used on less intense days as well. The benefit to this machine is it integrates the entire body from your toes to your fingers. The intent of this exercise focuses more on mechanics and posture rather than the speed or distance that you may be rowing. Taking workouts slow and learning the ins and out of my body is one thing that still helps me to this day.
5) Stretching and Foam Rolling
- - This aspect of training is often overlooked by athletes and active individuals. In my opinion this may be the most beneficial part of the regiment. Massaging out tension and knots from stress will alleviate both the body and the mind. Reversing all of the tension from sitting in a chair during treatment and gaining mobility of your body is also important.
If you free your mind you free your body and if you free your body you free your mind.
What has your experience been with working out with cancer? Share in the comments below.