Cancer in Quarantine Diaries: What I Learned from Running Helped me with Cancer
You are stronger than you know
When I started running 9 years ago, I hated taking rest days. I thought rest days would make me lose my momentum. I thrived from the daily shot of endorphins. When I started running, I was a mom to three children, ages six, four, and one. I started running to lose weight, found a love for running, and never looked back. But as a novice runner, I never wanted to trade a rest day for a run day.
I developed injuries, as do most new runners who just keep running without building up the mileage slowly and don’t take time for rest days. At one point I had a bad case of plantar fasciitis that left me the inability to run for several months. I learned to take my rest days, build up the mileage gradually, and to cross-train to strengthen different muscles.
Now, I was never fast. I’m mostly a back of the pack runner. I like it there. There’s no pressure for me to keep up with the speedy folks at the front. I go at my own pace and do well. I always finish every race before cutoff. But I’m there, counting my miles like everyone else.
When I was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer in February 2020 I was worried that I would lose the ability to run regularly. However, doctor after doctor encouraged my running. I think it helped that, excluding cancer, I entered treatment fairly healthy. Despite my best efforts, about midway through chemotherapy treatment my running slowed to a walk and at times it was a very slow walk. Sometimes, I could only make it just around the block with my husband’s help, and, on good days, it was a 3 mile trek through the neighborhood. Nonetheless I kept moving.
After 3 months of weekly chemo treatments and the subsequent four weeks of daily radiation treatments, I have finally turned the corner. My treatment is far from over, but the really hard stuff is done. After six months of appointments, procedures, and treatment I’m finally feeling like myself. The chemo fog has lifted, my hair is starting to grow back, I’m resting less, and I’m laughing more.
The real indicator that I’m feeling like myself is that I’m doing more running than walking these days. Running has been my safety net and shield against depression and when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Running gives my overtaxed brain time to think when I have to work through a problem or situation. It gives me peace and makes me a better mother. I have more patience if I’ve had my chance to get in my run.
Two weeks after chemo and two weeks into radiation, I began running intervals on my treadmill. But in the beginning it was like being a novice runner all over again. I often slowed to a walk well before my Garmin beeped for me to walk again. My legs tired easily and I was winded. No lie, I was frustrated that I had lost some of the fitness I had before treatment, but I kept going because running makes me feel like I’m finding myself again.
And so it went day after day, running my intervals. Halfway through radiation treatment, I noticed that I was thinking more clearly and I had stopped napping. A lot of that had to do with the chemotherapy leaving my body. I found that I was less winded on my runs, and that I was gaining more energy throughout my day. So much so that I found that I had completed every single workout for the month of July posted by my online running group. Some days there was more walking, and other days the running intervals were longer. They might have been slower, but they were longer.
I’m in a different phase of my treatment. I no longer have daily radiation treatments, but I do have continued Herceptin treatments through my port ever three weeks. We’ve learned that they will knock me on my butt for a few days and then I’m back on feet.
What I’ve learned from running over the last 9 years is that walking can be good cross training. Strength exercises help to keep me fit, even if I’m lifting light weights. I’ve learned that strong is beautiful. I’ve learned that rest days are essential and they give my body time to heal and to be ready for the next set of miles. I’m taking those lessons and remembering them as my body heals from each treatment. Rest days are good.
Running has taught me how to approach my cancer and its treatment. It’s taught me that rest days are not a sign of weakness. It has shown that there are good days and bad days, and even after the bad days, you lace up and do it again. Running has shown me that I can do hard things, even when I didn’t think I could.