Wednesday, May 15, 2013

this just in: exercising is good

Kim is my hypochondriac idol because, despite years of panicking that she had ALS and getting checked for cancerous moles every six months, she is now getting a PhD in public health. Way to flip the script! Take that, hypochondria!

On good days, I think that being diagnosed with cancer might have done the same for me: The thing that I thought was the end of the world wasn’t. On bad days, I’m still a nervous wreck.

Kim and I have gone to a few seminars for breast cancer patients at USC’s medical campus. She gets course credit, and I get a vague sense that I have some control over my life. Much of the last three years of my life has been about relinquishing control—realizing that things haven’t worked out because life is random, not because I failed (not that there’s anything so wrong with failing, and I’ve done some of that too).

So it actually takes me by surprise to learn that I can control something beyond what I’m wearing today and what I’m eating for dinner tonight—the two areas I let my mind wander to instead of daydreaming/worrying about the future. But here’s what we learned at yesterday’s seminar: Studies have shown that exercising reduces the risk of recurrences in estrogen-positive breast cancers by twenty-five to thirty percent.

That’s huge, right? And that’s not some Self Magazine factoid twisting a vague statistic about pomegranates being good for you into a recipe for a pomegranatini. That’s actual science, as communicated by doctors, who said, “Well, some studies say fifty percent, but they weren’t as rigorous. The good studies say twenty-five to thirty.”

Just remember: Don't prevent cancer and drive.
The oncologist and kinesiologist on hand also said that it’s been hard to separate out diet from exercise, since the studies are usually linked to body weight. Estrogen feeds my type of cancer, and estrogen is stored in fat cells, so most of my health choices right now have to do with what Tig Notaro referred to in her now-famous cancer stand-up routine as “my forced transition.”

My glee over possibly being able to exercise my way to permanent remission was tempered by a picture of my future self as manly, with thin head-hair due to hormone therapy, extra body hair due to hormone therapy, a couple of extra pounds due to hormone therapy and a big hump on my back due to osteoporosis brought on by early menopause. Add that to my nine surgery scars and weird radiated skin.

At least the body hair and peasant blouse conceal the scars.
But all the more reason to work out and try to look hot, right?

I’ve exercised semi-regularly since I was five—even when I was a teenager and ate a half a loaf of bread and a box of Snackwells pretty much every night, I still had to step-clap my way through cheer practice every day. I’ve had periods of slackerdom, but they’ve never lasted more than a month or two.

Still, I like a reason to renew my resolve, and yesterday I found myself vowing: four times a week, no less. Lift weights, go to the hard yoga class, work my way back to circus class.

Then I started worrying: If AK and I manage to adopt a kid, won’t exercise be off the table for a while? But isn’t part of the point of trying not to die of cancer so that I can have a kid and, added bonus, watch him/her grow up? (At times my bargaining gets whittled down to just wanting some little crying thing to think of me as Mom for like fifteen minutes before I keel over. But mostly I’m more hopeful/greedy than this.) So if we have a kid, can I relax because I’ve reached the finish line? Or will that be all the more reason to work out and keep cancer at bay?

I’m guessing the latter. I’m guessing my workout routine would wilt for a while, then inch back up again. I used to worry a lot about never writing again if I had a kid, but after going through various personal hells, I realized that 1) when writing goes away, I don’t care and 2) it comes back. Exercise is probably the same. The human brain has a natural triage approach to life. And the self, like the kind of cancer no one wants, is resistant to all interventions.


Sizzle said...

When you adopt, you'll find a way to exercise. Family bike rides or walks? Swim lessons for the kiddo? Alternating being with the kid while the other goes for a run or whatever? You'll make it work.

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence, and for saying "when." :-)

Peter Varvel said...

I'm guessing that you and CC can already visualize teaching by example, that your child will grow up watching you juggle in exercise and writing and everything else that takes up more than 24 hours a day.

I'm not an athlete but I've come to realize that my obsession with working out comes from something I think I can manage, control - similar to the mentality of anorexics and bulimics, I think.

Cheryl said...

There is such a thing as "exercise bulimia".... :-) But yeah, even the serenity prayer tells us to change the things we can control, so being a tiny bit obsessive about the gym must be okay, right?