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.


Last Day of Chemo!

Wednesday, August 14th was my last day of chemotherapy! I was giddy with excitement and energy in the days leading up to that day. I started the day bright and early at 5:45 am with an Equilibrium Workout at Formula Complete Fitness with my oldest daughter and many of my "Formula Friends". I was also joined by my very cool and athletic medical oncologist. The Equilibrium workout includes two 15 minute blocks on the treadmill that include brief intervals when we are encouraged to pick up the pace. For the final 30 second push, I bumped the pace up to 9 mph! This is definitely a "during chemo" record pace for me, and maybe a general treadmill PR for me. I figured, what the heck? If something bad happens, my doctor is on the treadmill next to me. :-)  Fortunately for both of us, nothing bad happened and I finished that interval with a huge smile on my face and a high five from my daughter who was also next to me on the other side and happened to notice the number on my treadmill display. Another highlight since my last post is that I went on my first business trip since starting chemo. I have been so fortunate that most of the work I do can be done from my home where I have bubble wrapped myself from unnecessary stress and germs that may be involved with air travel. But I had an important meeting with the FDA which had been on my radar since before my diagnosis. The meeting ended up going really well. I was one of many from our team at this meeting, but I had responsibility for a large percentage of the conversation. After the meeting, I received a comment from a colleague who just recently learned that I was undergoing chemo where she congratulated me for the good meeting and that she couldn't tell that I was going through chemo. For a moment I was slightly offended that she would question or assume that chemo should impact my ability in any way, but then I realized, I wasn't even sure how this would actually go for me. Although I had never wavered in my conversations with my boss that I would be able to attend this meeting and more importantly contribute in a way that would not negatively impact its success, in the back of my mind, I knew there was a possibility that chemo brain would be a real thing for me or that I would just be physically not up to this challenge. I am so grateful that on that day which was 6 days after my 7th cycle of chemo, my brain and body were still working well enough to get this job done! Now it is 6 days out from this last dose of Chemo. Looking back at my last update here where I bragged about how easy taxol was compared to the adriamycin and cytoxan (AC), I now know I was totally high on dexamethasone on that day. It turns out that there may have been some jellyfish hanging around during that otherwise nice snorkel with clownfish. Where AC seemed to grab onto my soul and temporarily paralyze me with fatigue for a few days, taxol has been more like an annoying pest that is constantly there. This pest has still allowed me to do everything I wanted, but I have been aware that it was there and it makes me grouchy at times.  Anyway, the pattern with Taxol for me has been I feel great on the day of and day after chemo, thanks no doubt to that dexamethasone. Then starting on Friday, I get muscle aches and generalized swelling. I noticed that the foods I eat make a difference in how I feel. Interestingly, again likely thanks to dexamethasone, I crave the foods that make me feel bad. Starting with the 2nd taxol, when I felt the need to reach for pizza or ice cream, I reminded myself that it was just the dexamethasone talking and that what I really needed was a kale salad. This little internal conversation was successful sometimes, but stupid dexamethasone can be pretty convincing. Taxol has not impacted my energy level in a negative way as AC did. So I never felt that I needed a mid-day nap and also noticed I started standing at my standing desk again. The best way to describe the feeling is like having the flu without fever or fatigue. And then add some total body swelling. This is certainly not life-threatening or debilitating. I think it is because I still have lots of energy that I am able to notice these things more. In a strange way, I am grateful to feel well enough to know that I am not feeling as well as I would like.  I have come to appreciate that having energy is huge to my overall sense of well being. Next up is radiation. This will likely start in mid-September. I have an appointment on Aug 22 where I will get the details on when radiation will start and for how long it will last. For now, I will enjoy this little break from treatment. I am looking forward to continuing this celebration of finishing chemo by running the Women's 4 Miler on Aug 31. :-)

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