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.


Shark Diving

I have done some scuba diving. One of the few high-risk activities I have done since I tend to be Cathy Cautious in most other things in my life. I was fortunate enough to get scuba certified in Australia when I was there for business and had a few free days before I had to fly to the next country. I was out on a boat filled with other scuba divers. Most were already certified and doing fun dives with guides. I was with a small group getting this certification. On the 3rd night when I had finally received the certification, I was allowed to sign up for one of these "fun dives". This included a night dive that the other divers had raved about. Everyone knows that sharks live in the ocean. And of course, the ocean around Australia is no exception. But up until this day, I had not seen any. Then on the evening of the night dive, while looking over the side of the boat, I saw a shark for the first time. Actually, I saw several sharks. You see, they shine a big bright light off the boat in order to make this dive safe for all of us. This attracts fish and the fish attract sharks. So here I was committed to doing this and now getting ready to dive into the water right next to these sharks. I reassured myself that they did this dive every night and nothing bad happened, so of course, I did the dive. Nothing bad happened. Then a few years later while in the Bahamas, my oldest daughter and I signed up specifically to dive with sharks. This time we went down with the guides who instructed us to form a big circle and told us what we needed to do to stay safe while they placed themselves in the center of this circle with food for the sharks. It did not take long for tons of sharks to appear. They gladly accepted the food as well as allowing the guides to pet their snouts. These guides had clearly developed a close bond and relationship with these beautiful creatures. The sharks also swam close to all of us. Touching us at times.  These experiences were very impactful in my life. Sure, we know that sharks have the potential to cause harm and even death to humans, but the reality is that this is very rare. I gained huge respect and love for these creatures through these experiences.

Each time right before I go into the infusion center for chemo, I have a similar feeling before knowingly jumping in and diving with the sharks. And much like the measures used by the dive guides to keep us safe, there is a lot of work to keep me safe from side effects of the chemo. Also similar to these shark diving experiences, I found out with the first cycle, that it wasn't too had. This resulted in less fear going into this second cycle yesterday. And I have huge respect for these good old drugs that I am receiving. They have been around for a really long time, but more recent clinical trials have figured out how to give these old drugs in the most beneficial way and also adding the more recently discovered drug taxol onto the second half of this treatment has resulted in even better outcomes for patients who receive this treatment.

So here I am this morning, up way too early thanks to dexamethasone, my scuba dive instructor on this journey keeping me safe from nausea, but taking away my ability to sleep for as long as I would like. I woke feeling not quite myself. It took a few moments to remember that I just received chemo yesterday morning, and duh, that is why I didn't feel myself. I had enjoyed the previous 10 days where I had been feeling completely normal. But I am happy to have started this second 5K of this chemo marathon. Almost halfway done with the hilly part!

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