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The Thriver's Guide to Exercise

Unconventional Means to meet the American Cancer Society's Exercise Recommendations

Exercise. It's one of those words that can either inspire motivation or induce a groan, depending on who you ask. But when you're a cancer thriver, the stakes are a bit higher. The American Cancer Society isn't just recommending exercise for the sake of fitting into a smaller dress size or achieving that summer body. No, they're recommending it because it can genuinely make a difference in the quality of life and overall health of cancer patients and survivors.

Women running in the woods.

The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week and 2-3 days of strength training. Sounds simple, right? Well, let me tell you, it's not always as easy as it sounds.

During my own journey, I tried to incorporate running and strength training as much as I could. There were days when I almost forgot I was in cancer treatment, and then there were days when getting out of bed felt like climbing Mount Everest. Especially during the active chemo weeks. But in the off-weeks, I worked hard to get my cardio back and usually was able to feel pretty normal and active by the next cycle of chemo. Then rinse and repeat.

It was tough, no doubt about it. But the most important thing you can do for yourself during treatment is to ensure your body can handle and accept the chemo treatment. If you skip a cycle or are sick, there’s a chance the treatment doesn’t work - worst case scenario…

Exercising actually helps you recover faster, ensuring you can continue with your treatment. So I kept pushing, and so do many others.

Section 1: Understanding the American Cancer Society's Exercise Recommendations

Testicular Cancer Ribbon
Testicular Cancer Ribbon

So, what exactly does the American Cancer Society recommend? As mentioned earlier, it's 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week and 2-3 days of strength training. On paper, it might seem straightforward. But in reality, it's a commitment. A commitment that can sometimes feel overwhelming, especially when you're juggling so many other aspects of post-cancer life.

As a cancer thriver, you're not just trying to incorporate exercise into your routine. You're also navigating the complexities of diet changes, managing stress, trying to regain some semblance of your previous life, and finding a new "normal". It's a lot. And if exercise wasn't a natural part of your routine before your diagnosis, it can feel like one more mountain to climb in an already challenging journey.

But here's the thing: it's not just about the physical act of exercising. It's about the mental and emotional challenges that come with it. The feeling of "it's a lot" is valid. It's real. And it's something that many cancer thrivers grapple with.

However, understanding the why behind the American Cancer Society's recommendations can be a game-changer. It's not just about building muscle or increasing stamina. It's about giving your body the tools it needs to heal, recover, and thrive. It's about taking control of your health and well-being in a world where so much feels out of control.

Know this: you're not alone in feeling overwhelmed. But with understanding, support, and a bit of humor, we can navigate this journey together.

Section 2: Cardiovascular Exercise - The Heart of the Matter

Cardiovascular exercise, or "cardio", is the heartbeat of any fitness routine. It's what gets our blood pumping, our lungs working, and our bodies moving. But when you're undergoing cancer treatment, the very idea of cardio can feel like a distant dream.

During treatment, it's not uncommon for one's cardiovascular health to take a nosedive. Simple tasks that were once taken for granted, like climbing a flight of stairs, can suddenly feel like an insurmountable challenge. And let's not even talk about the nemesis relationship some of us develop with those stairs.

Treatment Cocktail

Cancer patient receiving treatment.
CEO & Founder receiving his chemo cocktail of Cisplatin and Etoposide.

The type of chemo drug you receive or amount of radiation can play a significant role in this. For instance, I personally chose chemo cocktail #2 on my menu. This meant undergoing an extra cycle of chemo, but it also meant eliminating one particular drug, bleomycin, from my regimen.

Why? Because bleomycin is notorious for wreaking havoc on the lungs. It was a calculated decision, one that I hoped would spare me from some of the more severe cardiovascular impacts of treatment.

But here's the kicker: chemo and radiation doesn't discriminate. It's not a precision tool that targets only the bad cells. It's more like a sledgehammer, obliterating everything in its path, both the cancerous cells and the healthy ones. This means that while it's doing its job of fighting cancer, they’re taking a toll on your cardiovascular health.

Build Back, Over & Over Again

Building back that lost cardio is no walk in the park (pun intended). It requires dedication, persistence, and a whole lot of patience. And the real challenge? Having to rebuild that stamina over and over and over again. Each time you feel like you've made progress, another chemo cycle might knock you back a few steps.

But here's the silver lining: with each step, each breath, and each heartbeat, you're taking control. You're fighting back, not just against cancer, but against the limitations it tries to impose on you. Cardiovascular exercise is more than just a fitness routine; it's a testament to your resilience, your strength, and your unwavering spirit.

Chemo patient outside in warm coat in winter.
CEO & Founder building back his strength in between chemo cycles during the Minnesota winter.

Remember this: every heartbeat counts, and with each one, you're proving that you're stronger than cancer.

Section 3: Strength Training - Building Resilience

Strength training. Just the term might conjure up images of burly bodybuilders, heavy weights, and intense gym sessions. For many, it's an entirely different beast compared to cardiovascular exercise. And for someone like me, who has always leaned more towards endurance sports, diving into the world of strength training felt like venturing into uncharted territory.

Let's be honest: strength training wasn't exactly on my regular to-do list before my cancer journey. I mean, why lift weights when you can run, bike, or kayak, am I right?

But as I delved deeper into the American Cancer Society's recommendations and understood the immense benefits of strength training, especially for cancer thrivers, I realized it was time to give it a shot.

It’s Not for Everybody, But…

Now, I won't sugarcoat it. Strength training has been... challenging, to say the least. Unlike my passion for endurance sports, lifting weights and doing resistance exercises doesn’t exactly spark joy. There are days when I look at a set of dumbbells and think, "They are called dumb-bells for a reason…"

Kettle bell

But here's the thing: resilience isn't built in our comfort zones. It's built when we push ourselves, try new things, and step outside the familiar.

While I can't say I've fallen head over heels in love with strength workouts, I'm committed to incorporating them into my routine. Why? Because strength training is about more than just building muscles.

It's about building resilience, both physically and mentally. It's about giving our bodies the strength they need to recover, heal, and thrive. And it's about proving to ourselves that we can overcome any challenge, no matter how unfamiliar or daunting it may seem.

If you're like me and find strength training a tad intimidating, remember this: every rep, every set, and every weight lifted is a step towards building a stronger, more resilient you. And that's worth every ounce of effort.

Section 4: The Role of Dedication and Consistency

Dedication and consistency. Two words that, when combined, form the backbone of any successful endeavor, be it in fitness, work, or life in general. When it comes to meeting exercise goals, especially as a cancer thriver, these two elements become even more crucial.

The Importance of Dedication and Consistency

Imagine setting out on a journey with no map, no compass, and no clear direction. That's what trying to achieve fitness goals without dedication and consistency feels like.

Open road in desert.
Dedication is like moving forward on the road forever.

Dedication is the driving force that pushes us forward, even on days when motivation is scarce. It's the commitment to our health, well-being, and overall recovery. Consistency, on the other hand, is the act of showing up, day in and day out, even when progress seems slow or obstacles seem insurmountable.

Together, dedication and consistency ensure that we stay on track, make steady progress, and ultimately reach our fitness goals. They're the dynamic duo that turns our aspirations into realities.

Personal Experiences and Strategies

Throughout my journey, there have been countless times when I've questioned my dedication. Days when the weight of treatment, recovery, and life's challenges feel overly heavy. And yet, it is the unwavering dedication to my health and well-being that keeps me going.

Consistency, however, was a different ball game. There were periods of highs, where I'd be on top of my exercise routine, and then there were lows, where even the thought of a light workout seemed daunting. But over time, I developed a few strategies to stay consistent:

Chemo patient recovering in between cycles.
Recovering in between cycles.

Setting Clear Goals: Having a clear, tangible goal gave me something to work towards. Whether it was running a certain distance or lifting a specific weight, having that target in mind kept me focused.

Celebrating Small Wins: Every milestone, no matter how small, deserved celebration. It served as a reminder of how far I'd come and motivated me to keep going.

Having an Accountability Partner: Sharing my goals and progress with a friend or family member kept me accountable. Knowing that someone else was cheering me on made a world of difference.

The Role of Mental Health

Physical health and mental health are two sides of the same coin. Our mental well-being plays a pivotal role in maintaining a consistent exercise routine. On days when mental fog or emotional exhaustion set in, even the simplest tasks can feel Herculean.

Recognizing the importance of mental health and seeking support, whether through therapy, meditation, or simply talking to loved ones, can make the journey of staying dedicated and consistent much smoother.

In conclusion, while the path of dedication and consistency is not always easy, it's one that leads to resilience, strength, and triumph. As we move forward, let's remember that our mental and physical well-being are intertwined, and together, they form the foundation of our journey to recovery and beyond.

Section 5: The Odd Balls Approach to Exercise

At the heart of every Odd Ball is a spirit of adventure, resilience, and a dash of unconventional thinking. Our journey, much like the journey of staying active and healthy, is paved with challenges, triumphs, and a relentless drive to push boundaries.

Aligning Values with the Journey

The values that Odd Balls holds dear - quality, responsibility, unconventionality, and activism - are not just words on paper. They are a reflection of our collective journey.