body first

kettle bell and pill bottles

Lately it’s occurred to me that the most important thing to me – before even my creativity – is caring for the body that carries me through life. So often I put the needs of my body last, after everything else, as an afterthought.

For example, I’ve been known to go for days without “moving” my body in a healthy way – and by that I mean getting some sort of exercise, even walking. It was easy when I was still doing aikido, before my chemo started, but I haven’t done aikido now since November. (Okay, not counting the few times when one of my black belt friends from my dojo came over and walked through some techniques with me.)

When I was still working full-time (after I’d started chemo, but before I went on sick leave), I was putting in long hours, and the most exercise I got was walking to appointments at the cancer clinic (10 minutes away from where I live).

I have a gentle stretching and yoga routine that I would sometimes do in the late afternoons, but that was about it. Oh, and qigong. I would do 20 minutes of qigong many mornings, as a pick-me-up.

So I thought to myself, what if I put my body first now – gave its health precedence over everything else? Seems like a good plan for someone whose body has developed cancer. My body would have died quickly – more quickly than I might like, anyhow – if I hadn’t received treatment. Why don’t I invest some time and energy into keeping it alive and in reasonable shape?

I’ve also read recently about how exercise can boost the immune system by increasing white blood cell production. This could be very helpful to me now that my immune system’s compromised on chemo.

So anyhow, for the last few days I’ve been making a conscious choice to move my body. I walk up and down all the stairs in my building (14 stories). I do a seven-minute high intensity workout. I do my qigong and physiotherapy exercises. And I have short dance breaks throughout the day when I just have fun. (I just realized that I should add aikido basic movements to my routine!)

I read yesterday than an added benefit of all this activity is that it will help combat fatigue while on chemo. Counterintuitively, perhaps, they say that getting a bit of exercise will make you feel less tired. Not that I’ve experienced much fatigue on chemo yet, but apparently my next drug will come with more fatigue.

I’ve written about how I’ve been reflecting on wellness and sickness, and how much I appreciate feeling well after feeling really sick. Another way I felt sick – or at least uncomfortable – was when I overindulged in food in December.

I think it started with a loaf of bread that a friend brought over. I don’t normally eat bread, so it was a real treat. But I’ve come to learn – and this experience reinforced – that bread doesn’t really agree with me. My belly gets all bloated like I’m seven months pregnant, I get horrible gas, and feel really uncomfortable.

I ate a lot of bread over the holidays.

Within three days of getting back to a lower carb, moderate protein (and bread free) diet last week, my bread baby was gone and my stomach was flat again. Plus I cut way down on the sheer amount of food I was eating, from multiple snacks and meals per day, to three small meals plus snacks only if I was feeling nausea or hunger pangs.

My oncologist warned me that there was a real risk of me gaining weight on my chemotherapy. I’m hoping that by looking after my body first, I can feel even more amazing than I already do.