We all grapple with is what kind of recovery and rehabilitation should we follow after cancer treatment. While one’s general health, age, treatment and other factors determine what is doable, the key thing is to find a program that works for you, getting you as active as possible.
In addition to keeping in touch with friends and family, so important on the emotional side, my experience over two transplants led me to the following:
Know what you like to do
It’s trite, but if you like doing something, you will do it. Before cancer, what was your exercise routine? What were your hobbies? Your interests?
Assess these against what you and your medical team think is realistic. You will likely need to scale back and allow for more time to rest.
Develop a Routine – but don’t be slavish
I found it easier to have a general routine of regular sleep, including naps, time for working on my blog and other projects, and walking. While clinic visits and events will interfere, it gave me some structure and focus to help following through.
Start with Walking
The easiest form of exercise is walking. And all the evidence suggests that half an hour of walking each day gives most exercise benefits. Walking can be done alone or with family and friends, given more connection time. It is easily scaleable: when weak, short walks to get me out of the house, when stronger, longer walks for more exercise.
Runners can scale this up as their strength allows. As I recovered, I got back into cross-country skiing and biking.
Others may prefer stretching, yoga and Tai-chi to get the body back into shape without overly taxing one’s body.
Pace yet push – and allow for the bumps in the road
Find a balance. There will be some days that you do not feel well enough to do much. Accept that. When you do, push yourself a bit to do a bit more, recognizing the longer-term trend of building up one’s strength that is important.
And when going through a ‘bump’, be philosophical about it (unless your medical team gives other signals), recognizing that ‘this too shall pass’.
I worried about gaining too much weight only to have a bout of stomach trouble that caused me to lose most of it, and not be able to go walking. Building a ‘reserve’ was a good thing!
Find a Project
If one does not have to go back to work early, pick a project to get your mind engaged and reduce ‘chemo’ brain. In my case, it was learning a language after my auto transplant, and preparing a family tree after my allo transplant. This gave me focus, retrain my brain, and give me something concrete that I had achieved during my lengthy absence.
When thinking about my recovery, I realized that I had become ‘cocky’ about my progress and taking it for granted. My stomach trouble reminded me, forcefully, of the need for humility, acceptance, and that the journey will not be straightforward. While these points continue to guide me, they are now tempered with more realism of what is doable, something that each of us has to work out.
But be as active as one can be!