It arrived today—another message from the universe. Right after my post on the TIME article, I happen to see another scientific study on exercise. And now—ready for this? I want to ENCOURAGE people to exercise.
I’m not changing my mind—or losing it. I still stand by every word (and hand gesture). The TIME article shows that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight. But I’m not the poster girl for couch potatoes– TIME and I agree that exercise has other benefits.
I was athletic as a kid; and active as an adult; but there was a time when all the activity came to a halt. When life came to a halt.
Cancer does that. A couple months after my diagnosis, I was at a low point. I had two small children, a new husband, living in a new community where I had no support system. I had a complex case with a terrible prognosis. I was sore and stiff, recovering from a mastectomy—now in the midst of intense chemotherapy. In one swell weekend I lost my ovaries and my hair. I couldn’t even lift my spirits with chocolate— I had gone on a strict cancer prevention diet— no meat, no fat, no sugar.
The result of all this was another low point—for my weight. Yeah– sometimes you get what you wish for. Only I didn’t look like a supermodel; I looked like a concentration camp victim. I never felt weaker.
It was exactly at this point that my father-in-law suggested I come into the gym with him and start lifting weights.
I’d done weight training before. But now? I could barely lift my fork. (in my world that’s a far bigger problem).
One unexpected result of our sessions was to bond me to my new father-in-law for life. For my life. And what he gave me in the fight to save my life.
We met twice a week. Not counting the talking, the exercise part took maybe twenty minutes each time. That’s it.
He started me off with what I could handle—one pound.
I made progress slowly and gradually; though I worked hard, it never felt like hard work; I never broke a sweat. I wasn’t aiming to wear a bikini or a size 0—yet ironically, within a few months I had the body I always wanted—-minus a breast and all my hair.
But it was never about my appearance.
It was never about strain.
It was never about sweat.
It was all about strength.
And not just in a physical sense. Other things seemed to grow stronger along with my body—my inner strength, my resolve, my belief in myself. I didn’t lose the fear of cancer—ever—but I did lose the feeling of being helpless. In the middle of being “victimized” by the disease I’d feared all my life, I felt oddly powerful—as if I could take on anything—doctors, the medical community, cancer itself.
I never asked my doctor if I should lift weights. Which turned out to be lucky. Because the study I read today is another one that turns conventional wisdom on its head. After 50 years of doctors telling breast cancer patients NOT to lift weights, this study proves it’s GOOD for you. (Even if you have lymphedema–which I was lucky never to get and possibly prevented by lifting weights.)
I won’t even start on the subject of how to know when to listen to your doctor’s advice. But since I wasn’t a doctor, and I didn’t know any better, for 15 years I’ve been urging women with breast cancer to do weight training of any kind —if not for the physiology, then for the psychology.
As Deborah ponted out in yesterday’s comments, fitness is holistic—- physical, mental, and emotional. It’s something you do for yourself—and that means at your own comfort level, and for your own needs. I don’t sweat—or stress about it. But I exercise—because I learned from cancer what motivates me— not how I LOOK but how I FEEL.