I am Resolved

New Year’s resolution take on new meaning and importance as I live with multiple myeloma and the side effects of treatments.

It’s the beginning of a new year and time for resolutions. I’m not actually one to make New Year’s resolutions. However, I did make one back in 2014. At the time, my body told me I was drinking too much coffee, which I was doing mostly just to give me something to do while I worked in my office. I decided two cups a day was a good limit, and I’ve been able to stay with that (with a few exceptions). My resolve has paid off.

Apparently, a New Year’s commitment to exercise is both common and com­monly broken. We hear that gym memberships jump in January and drop quickly thereafter.

This year, as boring as it sounds, I join the crowds in wanting to exercise more. As was the case with my coffee limit, the motivation for this resolution is my health. This year, how­ever, I am focused in particular on my multiple myeloma, and being better prepared to fight the disease when I need to.

Before I was diag­nosed with multiple myeloma, while I knew I needed to take better care of my body, I wasn’t ever motivated to work hard to do it. I’ve been lucky that my weight was never a problem in my life, so weight control never motivated me to exercise. I’ve always worked a sedentary job, and I’ve never been very athletic, so I just didn’t notice my lack of fitness. I guess I was fortunate that in 50 odd years this lifestyle never bit me too hard.

When I was diag­nosed, I gained a much better understanding of my body and how important my general health was to fighting this disease. This is true for more reasons than I can list, and it may be a bit dif­­fer­en­t for each of us. One important thing myeloma patients have in com­mon is our need to deal with and recover from treat­ments.

It was clear to me from the beginning of my myeloma journey I was going to undergo a stem cell trans­plant. Fortunately, I had some time to prepare for it. I learned that the stronger and healthier I was, the better my chances would be of recovering from the trans­plant. For instance, I knew the medical team wanted me up and walking as much and as soon as possible post trans­plant. If I’m not fit enough to get out and walk before the trans­plant, how hard was it going to be after the trans­plant? At that early stage of my diag­nosis, my mind was open to hearing anything, and do anything, to get better. There were enough people telling me to get healthier, and I needed to feel like I was taking steps to get better, so I committed to exercising.

Realistically, there was no way I was going to radically change my habits. Instead, I needed to find simple ways to incorporate small amounts of exercise into my daily routine. For me, walking, biking, and swimming, in small but con­sis­tent doses, met this goal.

There is plenty of advice suggesting we only need to walk 30 minutes a day to im­prove our health. This is easy to say, but until I made it part of my routine, it was hard to do. Engaging a partner helps. When the weather allowed, my wife and I went to our local school and walked around the track. When that wasn’t possible, I walked a half hour on the treadmill that had been collecting dust in our family room.

My knees have always given me a little trouble (the problem is unrelated to my myeloma), so walking for exercise can be unpleasant, making it chal­leng­ing to maintain a walking routine.

Trying to help me find another “in home” exercise, my family bought me a recumbent exercise bike for my birthday. The recumbent position is good for my back and knees. Riding is good exercise. Since I’m able to watch videos while I work out, it was easy to make riding into a routine. I also bought a pedal exerciser for my office (picture a set of pedals that sits on the floor) that I can use while sitting at my desk reading. Peddling was a big addi­tion to my daily routine and contributor to my better health.

At the time of my diag­nosis, my wife and her sister had been going to water Zumba for a few months and they talked me into joining them. I learned that water exercise is amazingly low impact while being a great workout. In addi­tion, exercising to music, with my wife and sister-in-law, was just fun. At the end of 30 minutes moving in the pool, I was exhausted, but felt no discomfort.

Through resolve and repetition, I worked each of these small exercises into a routine so that each day I got at least 30 minutes of vigorous activity. By the time I went in for my trans­plant, I had sub­stan­tially im­proved my strength and stamina. I wasn’t going to be running a marathon, but I clearly im­proved my health and my ability to face the chal­lenges ahead. While I have no proof, I am convinced that im­prov­ing my con­di­tioning through exercise helped me get through the trans­plant much more easily.

So why the New Year’s resolution?

Because I’ve grown complacent since I’m doing so well after my trans­plant.

On the plus side of my recovery, I feel today nearly as well as I did pre-diagnosis. On the downside, I’ve let myself slip back into pre-diagnosis bad habits. The routine of exercise I developed to prepare for my trans­plant has been pushed aside for more time on the couch watching TV and playing on the computer. My gains in strength and stamina have also lapsed. No doubt, I could better handle the daily fatigue from treat­ment if I exercised 30 minutes a day instead of (or in addi­tion to) napping 30 minutes a day.

Looking back, I really just “let myself recover” from the trans­plant instead of “working on my recovery.” I am where I am today because of good medical care, good fortune, and time. I have contributed minimal effort to my own recovery.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself, but I know I let my exercise routine lapse. I also know I will regret this as time goes on if I don’t change. I’m not certain what the future holds, but all myeloma patients live with the prospect of relapse. I also live with the prospect of more chal­leng­ing treat­ments in my future. Instead of waiting for relapse and gearing up for another trans­plant, I must work every day to better address the side effects of my current treat­ment and be ready for any treat­ment or chal­lenge that comes my way tomorrow or the next day.

Today I am resolved to end my complacency, be thankful for the recovery I’ve achieved, work to maintain my health, and be ready to once again fight with all I have if and when the myeloma returns.

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 Photo Credit: (c) 2018 Mark Pouley

In December 2018, I traveled to Palm Springs for a work-related conference. While there, I visited the Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. It was an amazingly clear, 65-degree day, perfect for hiking in the Mojave / Colorado Desert. I walked a total of about 5 miles, taking in the unique and glorious landscape. I could walk many, many miles a day if the view was always as inspiring as Joshua Tree.

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