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.