Hanging on to Fitness and a Few Strands of Hair Through Breast Cancer Treatment

I am a Medical Oncologist, a wife, a mother of 4, runner of 12 marathons training to run my 13th with a goal to qualify for Boston when the diagnosis of breast cancer caused a significant detour in my well-planned life. When I asked for guidance on how to continue to stay fit while receiving treatment, I received blank stares and found little data. While I never intended to be in this experiment, I find myself now generating my own data about fitness through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. I am writing this in hopes to help others who find themselves in this same situation.


First Day of Radiation

It is almost 4 weeks since my last chemotherapy and I feel great! I went back to Seattle last week to work and emotionally this was a huge step. I have been so blessed that I have been able to do my work from home while I was receiving chemotherapy. This allowed me to bubble wrap myself and avoid exposure to germs while my immune system was compromised, and minimize my overall stress. Last week seemed like the perfect window of opportunity where I was recovered from my last cycle of chemotherapy and had not yet started radiation. Although I discovered that my work badge had been deactivated when I tried to enter the elevator, the nice security guard was happy to reactivate it after informing me that I had not been in the building since April 30. "Yea, I know, it has been a long time", I said...  The other barometer I have now for how things are really going with me on the inside at a cellular level is how the running is going. I am happy to say that it is getting better every day. As I mentioned a while back, I was instructed by the physical therapist back in early July that I should do intervals which meant run for short bursts or until my heart rate got too high, and then walk until my heart rate recovered into the 130's.  Now when I am outside running, I am able to run continuously without my heart rate getting crazy high. Today at Formula Fitness I did a workout where on the treadmill we do some speedier intervals. I required fewer walk breaks and when I did have to walk, my heart rate recovered more quickly and ultimately I covered a new record distance for me during this type of workout since chemo started!  But today this break from treatment ends. I will receive my first radiation treatment this afternoon. This will continue daily, Monday-Friday for 6 weeks. As I have been thinking about this day, for some reason my mind visualizes a murky pond that I am about to jump into. First I think that it is interesting that as I have mentally prepared for each stage of my treatment, some form of jumping into water shows up in my head. I am not sure what this really means, but I have at least tried to understand what this murky water image means. Radiation is invisible. It is not going to cut me. It is not going to be infused into my veins. So maybe the murkiness is my inability to visualize how this will help or hurt me. Thankfully all of this was figured out long ago when radiation was discovered and we now have all kinds of high tech equipment to allow the beam to be aimed just where it needs to go and minimize the impact to innocent bystanders such as heart and lung. I expect that skin damage will happen. I guess it will be like going to the beach, well a topless beach, and forgetting to put sunscreen on that area that would normally be covered by my top. They say fatigue should be part of this, but I am hopeful that this will not be too bad. One thing though, is that the assault on my hair follicles is now over and I may start growing some hair again. Well, except for my right armpit. I may permanently lose the hair in my right armpit. What a tragedy!  I may ask them to swing over to the left and even things out. So yea, this radiation is starting to sound like a trip to a spa at a tropical nudist beach. Nothing to worry about!

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