Sport has always been an important part of my life. As a child and during my teenage years, I was raised in an environment where physical activities, and their combination of benefit and pleasure, had constantly been at the center of my personal life and our family balance. It had always brought me some peace, and it also helped me go through the chemotherapy. During my treatment, sport was one of the few salutary activities that kept me going forward and allowed me to feel “good” in my daily life during this period of time.

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The couple of days that follow a chemotherapy session are difficult. I was not in control of my own body during this lapse of time, I found myself on a remote planet. I hated this feeling. During these days, I ENDURED. I was deprived of my machine. I sometimes felt like I was beside myself, inert. The very idea of reading a book or watching a movie was unattainable. At this time the toxicity of the products that are running in my blood is so strong that both the body and mind undergo a massive attack against their usual mode of operating. When it happens, over those many long days, you just try to survive.

With chemo, everything is made to endure for months, to suffer from side effects, to feel reduced, diminished, weakened. But the less one does to put up, the worse you feel. And neither this satisfied nor fitted me. 

To explain briefly my protocol: I had 6 chemo to complete. 3 of FEC100 and 3 of Taxotere. Side effects are not the same. For the FEC100, we primarily experience massive tiredness and nausea. That was the easy part! The Taxotere is even more noxious. After a few “correct” days following injection, I underwent one week of pain in the muscles and joints (a powerful flu, with an uncomfortable feeling of needles fitted all over the body), as well as burns, aphta and lesions in the mouth and esophagi. I had difficulties feeding myself during this laps of time. 

All the energy I allocated to physical exercise allowed me to release some of the stress that build up to extreme levels when enduring such a strain. A category 1000 hurricane had stormed into my life. I was scared of dying. I felt sad. I felt at a loss. I felt physical pain. I was emotionally spent, fed up and unsure of what direction to give my life. I felt angry that this is even happening to me at all, including the physical changes that cut deep to the core of my being a woman… All in all, I felt a huge sense of injustice. Why ? I was only starting my life and I was told that I have to fight this bloody cancer! These useless yet all-encompassing feelings. 

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I knew that I had to go slowly, that all the energy I spent doing anything else than resting means less energy for my body to recover, for my white blood cells to get higher and fight against the illness. But, finally, coming back to exercising was helping me to reconnect with my body and calm my demons. Generally, D+1/2 post chemo, I walked around outside, D+4/5 I resumed jogging of 4/5 kms, and on D+6 I usually went to my Yoga session and carry on with longer runs. Then, the machine was set for two weeks of well-being! In the end, I managed the side effects well. In the end, I felt good. In the end, I made peace with my body. In the end, I was proud of what I accomplished despite the treatment. In the end, I kept going. 

The more you listen to your self-doubts, the more you dig your grave. The least you do, the more tired you are. If I were to listen to the troubles chemo creates, I would have kept lying on my sofa for days. Ah, vicious circle, when you have a hold on us...! What is the most difficult, the most tiring, requires the most effort and puts me in danger is to take that first step. Goal, motivation and assiduity are the master words to get by. And finally, a virtuous circle is being created. Physical exercise is a positive attitude to help recovering from a lethargic state. I confirm! But not only for this ... This is applicable to everything. 

Keep looking up. Keep moving up. 

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I tried my best to keep this momentum after my chemo, during the further steps of my treatment. I had another 33 sessions of radiotherapy ahead of me, which meant seven weeks of daily treatments. There are fewer side effects with radiotherapy, but the burns and the exhaustion that kick in after about two weeks into the treatment are difficult to bear. This is why I had to restore some balance between the exhaustion coming from that compulsory and unwanted radiotherapy, and my desire to live outdoor and enjoy activities that free the body and the mind. It also came with healthy eating and a balanced diet, an overdose of things that make us feel good, an optimal hydration, and more sleep than I could have dreamt of (radiotherapy was the best cure against my insomnias !)…The combination of all those things played a major part in giving me the energy that was required to make it to the end of the therapy.

In the end, sport was of essential importance, a key element during those months of fighting the disease. It allowed me to set up a dynamic of positive emotions, and to take back the few things I still had control over. It also enabled me to feel my body the way I was used to before I got sick, and to come to terms with all the strains it had imposed on me due to the disease. With the additional help of yoga and meditation, I managed to slowly recover some inner peace and accept this life trial. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, right?

Whether it was just a short walk or a something more intense, any physical activity is enough to drive the body and the mind into the right direction: that of regaining control over the body and the events, eventually leading to remission.

 

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."

- Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Lessons learnt:

1. Get screened.

2. Listen to your body.

3. Don’t over stress yourself.

4. Be conscious of your emotions and manage them.

5. Accept the events of your life.

Follow Deborah’s journey at www.sailing-upwind.com

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