Cancer and Exercise: Exercise during chemo and bad table manners
Posted: Thu, 13 Sep 2018 16:31 by Mr Tom Harwood
Read my first blog here. *photo caption below, best to read the blog first!
BLOG 2: First Exercise during Chemo – Realisation, falling asleep at the dinner table & coming to terms with tiredness
I thought it would be important to add a little more context around how I felt during my treatment. This really did shape how much exercise I could do and impacts how I feel now.
When they told me I needed chemotherapy, the doctors run through all the possible side effects, what to expect and they make it clear what the worst-case scenarios are. The big ones are hair loss, sickness and fatigue. Luckily I wasn't sick at all, the hair went after roughly four weeks, but the fatigue hit me the most.
What the guidance says…
Normal, healthy adults should try and get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week (the official guidelines). This should help with everyday stuff more easily, helps prevent certain diseases, but importantly it makes you feel loads better and improves your mental wellbeing. I always tried to achieve this before cancer got me. Some weeks I did, some weeks I didn't, but I made the effort nonetheless. Without realising, those 150 minutes become so important when your body feels as low as it can feel.
During chemo however, your immune system is low, you body feels tired after doing the smallest of tasks and things suddenly become much harder. Chemo affects everyone differently. Two people can be on the same medicine, but, as with life, people can take to things better or worse than others. This limits what you can do during chemo and that scared me. Not because I'm a gym fanatic or running record breaking times, because I really enjoy exercise and I understand how good it is for me.
The guidance is – listen to you body. That's all I was told by the experts. There is not a huge amount of information around how much exercise you can and can't do. Saying that, there really isn't any better advice. I was exhausted at the start of my treatment and it took me nearly two weeks before I felt I could exercise at all.
The realisation of what your body is going through…
You take for granted what you body goes through every day, from simple things like hoovering and cooking. During my second week of treatment some friends took me out for dinner. I nearly fell asleep at the table after finishing my food because my body was so tired from digesting what I had eaten. This took me by surprise, as even eating was going to take longer than usual!
Two weeks into treatment and I felt like my body had some energy. This was a brilliant feeling, it was like I woke up and someone had flicked the energy switch. So I went for a walk around the village, which is about one and a bit miles. I got halfway around and it felt like the longest half a mile I've ever walked. The heat wave had just set in, so that added to the challenges but I was so eager to walk rather than spend another day sat inside.
Before cancer I'd felt knackered plenty of times before. Growing up I played rugby, badminton, cricket, hockey, now I run a little, so I knew what being out of breath felt like, yet this was very different. Half way around my walk it felt like my energy was zapped. It wasn't panic stations, I was able to get home, but this was a very different tired. A few moments rest during sport and you are ready to go again. But this time my whole body felt heavy, sweat was pouring down me and I just wanted to have my eyes shut.
Once I was home I dragged myself up the stairs and did exactly that. After a rest for an hour or so, I felt nearly back to normal. At this point it sunk in that exercise as I knew it before was going to be very different, at least for the next four or five months anyway. If a routine short walk was going to make me feel like this, getting fit again will be a real slog.
It all helps.
It was almost like I needed these things to happen for me to understand exactly what my body was going through. You're fighting a disease that could kill you and these medicines are so clever to be able to break it down. You can try and prepare yourself as much as you like, however you really cannot imagine the feeling of having no energy before you have none.
That first walk helped me realise what I need to do to maintain some level of fitness throughout my treatment. I tried to walk each day of my treatment; at that point I still had 80% of my treatment to come, so these walks became so important to my routine, as well as my ability to cope physically and mentally.
This was all still a huge learning curve, for me and everyone around me. However one thing I had realised was that those 150 minutes I was doing before I was diagnosed had become so valuable. My body was coping so much more efficiently with the treatment than I was told it might. I am certain this had something to do with the amount of exercise I was doing.
If you take anything away from reading this:
- You're body is incredible, but simple things can help it along the way.
- Don't underestimate how important exercise is. Your body can fight things so much easier when it is prepared for it.
- Get in you 150 minutes a week, you don't know when you'll need them!
Enough preaching from me, here's a link that might help you get the exercise you need:
*Photo caption: Determined to achieve my 150 minutes... here I am as we walked up Snowdon three weeks after my operation, just before my treatment started. Probably wasn't the best idea really... but we got most the way!