Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chemotherapy and Exercise

Did you know this is breast cancer awareness month? I didn't, even though football players are wearing pink wrist bands. Truthfully, I've been especially aware of breast cancer for about the past six months.
I think it's time for Dream Girl to tell her story, but she won't write it for me, so I'll have to cobble it together the best I can.
It started for us on the running trail. I was complaining about some ache or pain when Dream Girl confessed she had a mammogram in the coming week.
"I found a lump," she said.
Now, most women have had friends who found lumps. It almost always turns out to be nothing. So that's what we told Dream Girl.
Then our conversation took a turn to the jaws of life. Dream Girl had gone to get her mammography but the machine wasn't working so she had to reschedule. We began to speculate on ways that a mammogram machine could break. What if it broke in the middle and a woman's breast was squeezed between the plates?
"They'd have to call the jaws of life!" Dream Girl said.
And we laughed imagining that call to the firefighters.
Then the next week they were scheduling a meeting with the surgeon. Dream Girl had breast cancer.
Here's what she worried about: gaining weight while on the steroids and unable to exercise. Oh, she worried about other things too, like watching her kids graduate high school, hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Rim Trail, keeping track of the birds that fluttered around her house.
After the surgery, which included some lymph nodes and drainage tubes, Dream Girl tried to run way too soon. She had to run with her arm clamped over the breast that was operated on. She came back to run with us our 7.5 miles on the trail.
She kept saying that she felt fine.
So we ran.
Oh, we shared a flurry of emails as she began her chemotherapy. Would we run without Dream Girl? No, we decided that we would walk if that was all she could do. And when she didn't even feel like walking, we'd meet at a coffee shop.
I pictured her wrapped in a blanket shivering as she lost her hair and battled cancer.
We couldn't have anticipated that Dream Girl would run through her chemotherapy with only a few extra naps on chemo day.
And, of course, she celebrated the end of her chemotherapy by running the half marathon. Here she is dwarfed by her rambunctious family after the half marathon.

Her husband apologized for not parking close by and she waved it off. It was only a half marathon.
Dream Girl doesn't want to tell her story because she doesn't want to give other women false hope. If they find out how good she felt, they might feel resentful or guilty. They might blame themselves for feeling too lethargic to move. Dream Girl feels like she did nothing special. She just got lucky.
But maybe Dream Girl buoyed herself up for those chemotherapy treatments with all of that exercising she did, not just last year, but the years before. Maybe exercise does make a difference in fighting cancer and recovering from chemotherapy. Shouldn't she tell that story. What if she could help someone else?
Before Dream Girl started chemotherapy, she was asked if she'd like to join a study about chemotherapy and exercise. She said, "Sure."
Then they found out she was a runner and said she was too fit to join the study.
Maybe someday we'll see the results of that study. Maybe it will announce that moderate exercise or intense exercise helps counteract the effects of chemotherapy on the body.
Or maybe we can just look at the results that Dream Girl had and decide that exercise makes things better, cancer or no cancer, chemotherapy or no chemotherapy.
Then again, maybe the study should be on friends and it might discover that chemotherapy is much easier to bear if it includes a weekly meeting with friends -- on the running trail or in the coffee shop.


Linda said...

My Dad was in really good shape when he developed Parkinson's. He kept it at bay for years probably because of exercise. I need to get out there and do some exercise myself.

Sheila said...

Her story does motivate one to get out and exercise. She does seem like an amazing person, I'm so glad things are going well for her.

Lucia said...

My sister in law lost her battle with breast cancer. I do not begrudge your friend only wish her health and happiness! I'm very happy for those who are able to fight and win! I only wish that our story was as happy as hers!

Sandy said...

Thanks - you brought tears to my eyes. I'm so proud to have Dream Girl as my friend and thankful she has someone like you to tell her story.

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