It’s Not a Pink Ribbon!

It’s October. For months now I’ve been receiving emails alerting me to another “exciting, important event for breast cancer awareness,” which are so often just self-serving promotions, insensitive, or insulting. I’ve ignored them all. I have my own plan for October.

Every day of this month, along with Daily Tips, I will be posting names to my social media accounts. They will be names of women and men I have known personally who have died or are still living with breast cancer. The first half of the month, I will post names of people who died. The second half will be people who are living with metastatic cancer – people who’s breast cancer has spread. Today: Rosalyn #notapinkribbon.

Some people may find this kind of dark. Some may think I should be encouraging hope. Most of you know that I’m all about feeling as good as possible, and making the most of our bodies, no matter any limitations. But I also feel the need to reel in the hoopla surrounding breast cancer and October. In my own tiny way, I want to remind people that breast cancer is not just a pink ribbon, or a race, or a funny video. Breast cancer is thousands of lives.

Breast cancer is not “the good kind of cancer,” it is not a cold that you get and get over. It’s a disease that still kills far too many of us, and stays with those of us who haven’t died – in a thousand ways, every single day.

So, please, keep the people, the lives, in mind this month. Don’t just mindlessly repost funny/sad/touching pictures of pink ribbons/balloons/shirts/whatever. Don’t just mindlessly buy some product because it’s sporting a pink ribbon. Look at what they’re actually supporting (or are they truly supporting anything?). Pay attention to where the money goes if you donate – and that holds true for any cause!

And if you really want to do something useful for someone with breast cancer, cook a meal, drive her/him to doc appointments, take them out for a walk!

Julie

Posted in breast cancer, breast cancer awareness month | 1 Comment

Hello, I’ve missed you

First, I want to say thank you to the many people who reached out to me after the last Life-Cise newsletter. I stepped away from the computer (mostly) for a little while – no newsletters, no blog posts, no Daily Tips. I needed to help my parents move, work on my own projects, and just regroup. Part of that was the weird feeling of churning out material and never really knowing if it matters to anyone – hello, is anybody out there?? So it was very gratifying to when many of you responded to the newsletter explaining my absence with a big “Welcome back, we’ve missed you.”  Thank you!

I did have a little glitch in sending out Daily Tips last week because I was camping and had zero cell service. Of course, that’s not a terrible thing – getting offline is actually a good thing. And the hiking was fantastic!

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I met up with a friend in the Adirondacks, which are like home to my soul. The fiIMG_2824rst afternoon’s walk, after we got our camp set up, brought us upon fairly fresh moose tracks. Since moose are not to be trifled with, we kept a close eye out. But it was good to see signs of the animals. And good to get out into the woods I love and say, “hello, I’ve missed you.”

Hikes over the next couple of days were beautiful, steep, and super fun. Our last hike was more of rock scramble than hike, and reminded me I need to get back to rock climbing.

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It was a great trip, but almost didn’t happen. My friend and I talked a couple of days before our trip. Neither of us were particularly enthusiastic – we both wanted to just stay home, plenty of things to do at home, a long drive for just a few days, not in great shape, foot hurting, blah, blah, blah. But we talked ourselves back into it, and were so happy we did.

It’s so easy to find reasons not to do things – hike, travel, even daily exercise. We, or rather I, often want perfect or best, and miss out on good enough. Yes, it’s a long drive for just a few days. It would be so much better to have a full week. But a few days is what we had. Because of injuries and schedules, neither of us was in as great shape as we would have liked. The trip would have no epic, 15-mile, rough hikes like we’ve done in the past. But the trip did have some beautiful hikes. It may not have been perfect, it may not have been exactly what we hoped it would be, but the trip got us out into the wilds for a little bit. And a little bit is better than none.

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Nature spontaneously keeps us well. Do not resist her! ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Julie

Posted in adventure, attitude, hiking, motivation, nature, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Protect Yourself from Germs? – Get Moving!

Labor Day is over, summer has ended (even if it doesn’t feel like it here in the Northeast). Vacations are done, kids are getting back to school, and now cold and flu season approaches. With kids and adults exposed to all kinds of germs in school rooms and offices, every sniffle and cough sends many people racing for the vitamins. There are two other things, however, that all of us can do to give our immune systems a little boost: exercise and relax.

Moderate exercise is linked with a boost to the immune system. The boost is short-term; it may only last for a few hours after exercise. However, the effect is cumulative, so regular exercise can prolong the boost (Nieman, “Moderate Exercise Boosts The Immune System, Too Much Exercise Can Have the Opposite Effect,” ACSM Health and Fitness Journal, Sept/Oct 97) .

In the cancer field, we’ve known for a few years now that exercise can help boost the immune system of people going through chemotherapy. Studies have shown that moderate exercise reduces the number of infections and hospitalizations during treatment, as well as helping the immune systems of exercisers bounce back faster after treatment is finished (various studies by Mastro, Courneya, Byne, and others).

Some of that research had just started being published back when I was going through cancer treatment, but few doctors were paying attention. So many people and books said I had to be so careful about exposure to germs because of my weakened immune system that I wondered if I would be able to go to the gym or even to the store. I had to ask my oncologist if I was allowed to exercise at the gym with all those sweaty, potentially sick people. Luckily, all my doctors told me I could – I just needed to call them if I did get sick (they were far more concerned with my cancer than a cold). I exercised regularly at the gym and pool, and didn’t get sick – except for Lyme disease the following summer during a later round of chemo. And within a couple of years, more studies came out which backed up the benefits of moderate exercise during cancer treatments.

Well, what’s good for cancer patients is also good for everyone else. A major study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2010 found that adults who exercise moderately 5 times per week had about a 45% lower chance of getting a cold. And if they did get sick, the exercisers had less severe symptoms.

It’s not clear exactly how exercise boosts the immune system, but researchers have a few ideas. The temporary rise in body temperature may inhibit bacterial growth, or the activity may help flush bacteria from the lungs. Exercise sends antibodies and white blood cells through the body, and also reduces the release of stress-related hormones. Stress lowers our immunity, making us more susceptible to colds and flu, so physical activity could reverse this (National Institutes of Health, Exercise and Immunity).

This may seem counter-intuitive. It might seem like the smart option is to rest if you are concerned about your immune system. But it turns out that the best thing for protecting yourself from a nasty cold or flu might just be to get moving. The key, as with so many things, is moderation. In your newfound enthusiasm, don’t suddenly jump in and exhaust yourself with a super-intense, 3-hour workout to knock out a cold – very intense exercise can actually cause a slight dip in immune function, which is why endurance athletes are sometimes susceptible to colds after a major endurance race (Nieman, ACSM Health and Fitness Journal, Sept/Oct 97).

And relax a little. Stress lowers our immunity. Regular exercise is a great tool in managing and reducing stress, which is always good. But also, try to take a few minutes each day to relax – whatever way works for you. Take a quiet bath after the kids have gone to bed, sit quietly in your car for 5 minutes before heading in to work, turn off your phone and computer for just 10 minutes. Or just go for a walk. That way, you’ll relax and get a little moderate exercise.

Julie

Posted in chemo, chemotherapy, cold and flu, exercise and chemotherapy, exercise and immune function, immune system | 1 Comment

The Long Goodbye

Earlier today, I reached the end of an era. My oncologist said he didn’t think he needed to see me anymore. Well, actually, he asked how I felt about it, then we talked about it. And then it was decided: after 14 years, I am done with oncology followup.

We had already spent the exam talking about running, skiing, diving, and other exercise. So I said thank you – a lot of thank you’s. He gave me a last stern reminder about keeping vigilant, making sure I get colonoscopies (yes, got mine last year, I’ll get another in 7). And then I was out in the afternoon sun, fighting back tears.

I went to buy new running shoes, and stood in the running shop crying. The sales guy politely gave me my space, and then I got busy trying shoes. I couldn’t think of a better thing to do after the doc news. Exercise, and particularly running, has been such an important part of my recovery and cancer experience. No, I will not say that exercise is what saved me – no way of ever knowing that, just like there’s no way of ever knowing why I got breast cancer in the first place. But it’s been so important to me, especially during some of the darkest times. Exercise kept me feeling good about my body, helped clear my head, kept me engaged with my body and my life in a positive way. There is no way to overstate how important it has been. So buying new running shoes seemed a perfect fit.

We’ve spent a lot of years together – this is the second longest relationship I’ve had with a man. Fourteen years is a long time. I know a lot of people find it surprising that I have still been seeing my oncologist. This is just one example of how we’re all different. Just because you’ve known someone who had cancer, doesn’t mean that Uncle Jack’s, or your neighbor’s cancer treatment regimen has anything to do with mine or anyone else’s. Because of the high number of positive lymph nodes and therefore my high risk of recurrence, I continued seeing my oncologist for followup. And then there were ongoing hormonal treatments. And then there was a drug trial. And followup from the trial. And now we’ve been hanging out together for 14 years.

He was, in part, the reason I kept exercising. Back in 2001, absolutely no one talked about exercise and cancer. When I asked if I was allowed to exercise, he told me yes, but I might not be able to always keep up the same intensity. He made me promise to not rock climb during chemo (risk of infection if I scraped my hands), but told me to just listen to my body – push myself when I felt I could, rest when I needed it. Aside from any medical care, that piece of advice alone was enough to change my life. and remember, this was at a time when no one cared about exercise for cancer patients. (I’ll point out here that sadly there are still too many doctors who, despite huge amounts of evidence about the benefits of regular moderate exercise, still think their patients only need their drugs and a nap on the couch.)

He was one of the reasons I became the patient I was. He always encouraged me to do my research, and make informed decisions. He made sure I understood my risks of recurrence, and the risks of any treatments. Sometimes he was kind of a drag. At my 2 year, and again at my 5 year mark – landmarks that most people consider really important – he reminded me that, while it was great I had made it that far, I still had an “uncomfortably high risk of recurrence.” See? – a bit of a drag. But that’s what I wanted – the truth. That’s what I always loved and respected – the truth. If I don’t know the truth, how can I make a good choice?

And so, here we are at 14 years, saying goodbye. It’s kind of bittersweet. It’s good. I mean, there was a time when I thought I would be with him until I died. I haven’t died, and we’re able to part. That’s good.

But it’s also weird. I’m not really sure what to make of it. On one hand, it’s just one less appointment every year, one less blood draw. It doesn’t change my risk of recurrence (which is less with the passage of healthy time, but will never disappear). It doesn’t change anything except my schedule.

On the other hand, it feels pretty significant. I cried a lot today. Buying shoes, driving home, picking lettuce in my garden….I’m happy, I’m sad, I feel the weight of 14 years of cancer, I feel the loss of too many people. And I feel grateful.

So I don’t really know what to make of it yet. I bought running shoes. I came home and did some laundry and cleaned the bathroom because life goes on. That’s the whole point of surviving, isn’t it? That life goes on. Maybe eventually I’ll figure out what this milestone means. In the mean time, I’ll do some pushups. Because I can.

Thank you, PK, for all the time you’ve given me.

Julie

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

It Begins….

Yesterday I was supposed to go rock climbing, but it rained. I felt as logy as the weather, bummed that I wasn’t climbing. The rain was good, we need it (and a little scolding here to stupid people: when it’s dry and windy like it has been, and there’s a ban on burning, DON’T BURN TRASH IN YOUR BACKYARD, DON’T THROW CIGARETTES OUT THE WINDOW AS YOU’RE DRIVING, DON’T LIGHT A CAMPFIRE – EVEN A SMALL ONE!!) – the fire did help to contain a large fire up in the Gunks, near where I would have been climbing.

Instead, I ran a race. Just a 5K  cross country run. The weather had cleared, but I struggled to get in my car to drive there. It took serious effort to go, but so glad I did.

I’ve been struggling lately to get back to running. For a variety of reasons, including laziness, I haven’t been working out as much. I’m out of the habit. I talk a lot about the habit of exercise – building even minor exercise events into your day to help build up the habit of moving more. The reason is that habits are powerful. We are habitual creatures. But unfortunately, the habit of not exercising is just as strong, probably stronger, than good habits. Good habits take work, they take constant tending. And I have not been tending.

I feel like I’m in the worst shape of my life. I know this isn’t true. I know that after I was run down by a taxi and had a spinal injury, and after a 10-hour surgery for breast cancer, and after a full year of treatment, I was certainly in worse shape than now. But it feels like it. Every time feels like the worst time. Every time.

So, to friends and clients who think I don’t understand how hard it can be, I kind of do. It is a struggle. It’s hard to think about all you could do a few months or years ago, that you can’t do now. It’s hard to force yourself to choose to change direction, get up off the couch, turn the computer off, put down the book, do something different. It’s hard.

But the only way to change things is to change yourself. Get up and get out the door. I’ve been slowly getting back to running: short, slow, occasional runs. I’m beginning, again. Given how I was feeling yesterday, changing clothes and getting in my car to drive to a race took HUGE effort. But wow! So glad I did. I wasn’t speedy, I tried not to think about past runs when I was in better shape. I tried to just concentrate on my body right then – my heart rate, my breathing, my legs, my posture. And it was fun. Beautiful evening, nice people, nice course. But most of all, just so good to feel my body moving.

The best way to get back in shape? (and right now, with summer approaching, my email is full of messages about How to get in shape for summer….) The best way is to get started. Take a step, no matter how small. Just get started.

And if you’re in NY/NJ and want to have some fun, check out NJ Trail Series. Throughout the year, they put on trail races of varying lengths. They have 5Ks, they have 100-milers. The courses are usually challenging, but very fun. And starting now, through the summer they have Wednesday night cross country 5K races near Morristown. Runners of all abilities show up, even walkers. People are nice and encouraging; it’s lots of fun.

Julie

Posted in getting in shape, goals, motivation, running | Leave a comment

Back to the Mission

I just finished writing an article on exercise and breast health (yes, I’ll post a link when it’s up), and I realized I haven’t written a post on the subject for quite a while. I think I just got tired of feeling like I was slamming my head against a wall. Tired of people saying that, in spite of all the evidence of benefit, they just couldn’t be bothered with regular exercise. Tired of doctors who, in spite of all the evidence, say they don’t want to burden their patients by talking about exercise. Tired of feeling like not a soul in the universe cared. OK, that’s a little dramatic, but you get the point.

But then I started writing this article. And then I heard from a few different people about how I had made a difference for them. My writing, my training, my own training – what I’ve been doing actually mattered. So, enough whining. I didn’t start this website for popularity; I started it because I hoped it could make a difference. Even if it affects only a few people, it’s still worthwhile for me. Back to my mission.

First up, exercise and breast health. If you care about your breasts, get some exercise. Why? Because there is a strong link between regular, moderate exercise and breast health.

Physical inactivity and being overweight are both considered to be risk factors for developing breast cancer. The American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute both list lack of exercise and overweight as clear risk factors. But numerous studies have shown that exercising is strongly associated with a reduced risk. A large meta-analysis of existing studies found a 20-40% reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer for those who are physically active. The reduction of risk is even stronger for post-menopausal women. (Ibrahim, Al-Homaidh. Medical Oncology, Sept. 2011)

For those of us, myself included, who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, regular physical activity can be a powerful tool for us. Exercise can help improve many quality of life issues during and after treatment – reduce fatigue, promote a sense of well-being and feelings of control. More importantly, though, regular exercise has been shown to improve overall survival for breast cancer. The same study I mentioned before found an overall decrease in breast cancer deaths of 43% for women who were physically active post-diagnosis. The authors wrote, “The results are encouraging and it showed that physical activity being relatively convenient, easy, and affordable risk modifier that may be able to change breast cancer outcome for millions of women.”

Of course, these are just statistics, exercising cannot guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer, or if you do, that you will survive. Breast cancer is a complicated disease, and exercise is just one small factor. Risk is affected by our genes, possibly by nutrition and environmental factors, and also just plain luck. But the fact remains that exercise is one element that you do control which can help to reduce your risk of breast cancer, and possibly improve your odds if you are diagnosed.

Julie

Posted in breast cancer, cancer, cancer risk, cancer treatment, exercise and breast cancer, exercise and cancer | Leave a comment

Most Impressive Person of the Week

OK, so obviously, I’ve been taking a little time off from my online life. I’ve been quite sporadic about posting the Life-Cise Daily Tips over the last couple of weeks, and have hardly been on FB and Twitter. I’ve been caught up in the last throes of winter: forced to drive in the middle of blizzards, various minor house emergencies – just normal life stuff here in the Northeast this winter, but it made me shy away from my computer and want to sit quietly by myself.

Please don’t misunderstand, I have had a great time this winter. I may be the only one. But this has been one of the best winters ever. I’ve been skiing in the woods, skiing at the lifts, running in the cold. I have had a blast. But even I am happy to finally see some warmer temps settle in.

I got to indulge in some real Spring skiing on Monday. Sun, temps solidly at or above freezing – a real blue-bird day. And I got a chance to see the most impressive athlete of the past week. He was an adaptive skier – skiing on one leg with two small rails on poles for his hands. I’ve seen people skiing like this before, but this was different. This guy was good! He was skiing bumps – the biggest, steepest bumps on the hill. And he was skiing them with style.

I watched him a few times, deeply impressed. I wish I could ski that well. I am very enthusiastic, but I must admit that I am a very decidedly moderate skier. This guy was great.

Part of  what impressed me so, was the mental effort his ability must have required. When he lost his leg, he may well have thought he could never ski again. He probably thought he could never do many of his former activities because he could no longer do them the same way. But then he was willing to change. To look at his body in a fresh way. To figure out what it could do now. To find a new way.

His journey could not have been an easy one. It was probably filled with a lot of small setbacks and failures. But he accepted his body where it was, figured out ways to work with what he had, and got to work.

And now here is, flying down the slopes, slithering through the bumps, on one leg, with his pant leg pinned up at the knee. The most impressive thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Julie

 

Posted in goals, modification, motivation, skiing | Leave a comment

The Very Best Ever Workout!!

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This was my gym this morning. We got another 4+inches of snow last night, so I wanted to get out and enjoy it before it warmed up too much and started melting. I know, everyone else wants it to melt. I suspect I am the only person in the Northeast who still is enjoying winter. So, this was my gym for a couple of hours.

I get a lot of questions about what is the best exercise, type of workout, intensity? These are often fueled by the latest headline in some fitness magazine or new app offering. We are bombarded by stories practically shouting at us that this exercise will solve whatever our problems are.

But the reality is that most of those stories have only one goal – to get you to buy/post/retweet/share the magazine/subscription/download/juice/supplement/whatever….The reality is that the best exercise is the one that you will do.

Most people, unless they’re training for something specific, or have specific issues (like regaining range of motion after surgery or injury), need to improve their overall fitness. They don’t need to be doing the same workout that a professional skier is doing to get ready for competition, or the sprints of a competitive runner, or the diet of a model who’s job is to look a very specific way. Most people just need to move more, and move more often.

My advice: stop looking for the one perfect solution; stop trying to look like someone else; think less about looking a particular way and think more about your health. And do something that you enjoy, do it often, get used to the habit of moving!

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I suppose I could have a more sculpted body or look more one way or another if I worked out differently. I could spend a lot more time indoors, doing specific exercises. But I’d rather be in overall good shape, my muscles generally pretty balanced. And most of the time, I’d rather be outdoors. My favorite activities get me outdoors, very often alone. While I sometimes snap some pics or post from wherever I am, I also enjoy shutting down, enjoying my solitude. I let my mind wander as far as my feet do. It makes me happy, It brings me peace. And because I’m having fun, I try to do it more often. I am in the habit of exercising. Then, if I have something specific – like running faster or improving my technique on skis – I can work more specifically. But I start with generally being in shape because I’m in the habit of generally moving more.

So, the very best ever workout? The one you will do – and do more often.

Julie

 

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Anonymous Inspiration

Someone posted something today on one of the online running groups I’m part of. It was a picture of a very obese woman riding a bicycle, clearly outfitted for a triathlon, with a caption of something about encouragement, not negativity. It’s one of a hundred memes of that nature that we see online.

But this one got me thinking. Got me remembering. I started thinking about all the impressive, inspiring athletes I know. People who have done impressive things. People who have overcome things. There was the guy I ran with for a while in race who was running his first 50-miler; he had diabetes and had to run with an insulin pump pinned to his pack; he had also just been diagnosed with MS. There’s my friend who still rides her bike every day she can, despite her spine and femur being eaten away by a recurrent breast cancer. There’s my friend Scott, who got on a treadmill a few years ago when he was very overweight and smoking; he started walking; he kept going; he stopped smoking; he lost weight; he started running; he kept going; he now is a triathlete, and encourages anyone to get in better shape. There’s Denis, who won the Virgil Crest 100M race in a dizzying sub-20 hours. Or my friend Jim, who was the last finisher of that same race, showing admirable tenacity. There’s Charlie, of the World Tri, and Steve, who ran around Lake Michigan….And so many more. I have no shortage of inspiration when I look around me.

But the most inspiring and impressive feat of physical fitness and pure determination, is some guy I never met. Years ago, there was a guy at a pool. He was at the pool every day, walking in the shallow end. He was morbidly obese – of a scale you might see on TV as a shocking “you won’t believe this” story. But every day, he was at the pool, walking. No one spoke to him. People looked at him with horror, or mostly tried not to look. But every day, he was at the pool, walking.

He managed to get himself to the gym every day. He went into the locker room and probably struggled to change clothes. He slowly walked, holding onto whatever he could for support, and got in the pool. And he walked. Slowly. For an hour.

I have always thought the effort and determination to just get there – to endure the stares, the disgusted looks in a locker room filled with perfect (or wanna be perfect) bodies, the presumable jeers from jackasses thinking themselves to be funny – was probably equal to the physical strain.

I used to smile at him and nod if we caught each other’s eyes. But mostly, he just looked forward to where he was going. I regret that I never went out of my way to talk to him. I wonder what happened to him. I admire him – a man just trying to make his life a little better. And I remember him.

Julie

Posted in exercise, goals, inspiration | 2 Comments

Hello, 2015!

IMG_2543Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your year is off to a good start. Did you make any resolutions?

I didn’t. I don’t make resolutions at New Year’s Eve. It’s always seemed a completely weird, arbitrary reason to make a change.  Actually, I did make some resolutions. But instead of waiting until January, I just started them early. If I want something in my life to change, why wait for a particular date on a calendar?

And then I like to set the tone for my year with my New Year’s celebrations, eve and day. Sort of say “hello” to the new year. So, I got in a run, practiced the viola a bit, talked with my parents, then went to play a concert with some lovely colleagues. After my work, I joined my partner Ron and his tango quartet at a musical party dinner party (I got there just in time for a delicious dinner). Then more music – more tango from the quartet; solos, duos, trios from the host family and friends; and I joined in for some Bach Brandenburg. Very, very late night – those tangueros are a late-night kind of crowd – but lots of fun. New Year’s Day I made soup and some bread, cleaned the kitchen and one of the bathrooms, read, wrote, and went for an easy run in the woods. Mostly stayed off the computer. Oh yes, and laughed. A lot. Hello, 2015.IMG_2554

All of that fit in nicely with some changes I’ve been thinking about for the past few months, changes I started making in November and December. Be more consistent with the things that feed my life. Make time for necessities and pleasure. Spend more time with friends, go to things – music, art, theater, readings. It’s so easy for me to just come home and stay home. I like being home, but I miss a lot of good things and people. As with everything, I think balance is the key. All of my New Year’s activities fit in nicely with my priorities for the year.

But it’s not like I just started on New Year’s. As I said, these are priorities I’ve been thinking about for a while, and slowly been adding in to my schedule. And I’ve been trying to keep with them each day in these early days of the year. No, I’m not perfect, I’m not suddenly some super organized, efficient monster. I’m just trying to make a few good choices each day, and build the habit.

Hello, 2015!

Julie

 

 

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