Kicking cancer’s sorry ass

10 Jun

I “celebrated” my one year chemoversary this week. Last year, on June 6, I was sitting in a blue Barcalounger up at Cancertown for the very first time, waiting for the nurses to flood my body with a deluge of drugs: some poisonous, some designed to help me withstand the poison.

Celebrate, of course, isn’t quite the right word. Who celebrates the onset of excrutiating bone pain, nausea, fatigue and hair loss? 

I am thrilled, of course, to be a year away from all of the pain and the powerlessness of last year’s chemotherapy. Although to be honest, I’m sort of going through it again now (sans the hair stuff) thanks to my latest obsession: boxing.

I’m not sure where my fascination with boxing came from. I used to work out at a gym where they had a speed bag tucked away in a far corner and I would play with it in between lifting weights and doing cardio, finally figuring out how to pummel the thing without having it pummel me back. It was therapeutic to pound away at all the stressors in my life — a cranky boss, a misogynistic coworker, a bad boyfriend.

After I quit the gym, I missed pounding away at the bag. So much so, that two decades later (at the age of 51 and a weight of about 190 pounds), I took a couple of boxing fitness classes at a Seattle institution known as Cappy’s. The class nearly killed me — I practically had to use the wheelchair lift to get on and off the bus afterwards — but I loved it. Unfortunately, my Achilles tendons didn’t. The jumprope warm-up exacerbated an old injury so I had to put my gloves on the shelf.

I didn’t shelve the exercise, though. I started walking and then running and then tap dancing and swing dancing. I also began watching what I put in my mouth and, to be honest, put a lot less in my mouth (I even managed to kick a lifelong friend — starchy carbs — to the curb). Within six months, I’d dropped 50 pounds and was feeling a lot better about myself and my body. At least, I was until I found a weird little tuck on one of my breasts.

Cancer had dealt me a firm left hook. And a right hook, as well, as it turned out. I had tumors in both my girls. But I made it through the surgery, the chemo, the radiation, and the recovery and now I’m hitting my one-year cancerversaries fast and furious.

You might even say, I’m knocking them out one at a time, thanks to the punches and combinations I’m learning in my new boxing class at Belltown’s Axtion Club.

That’s where I celebrated my chemoversary on Wednesday. And yesterday, I went back for my sixth session, an amazing feat considering that — just as before — the very first class nearly did me in. Each hour starts with an intense warm-up that begins with jumprope (my Achilles tendons have healed, apparently) and then folds in a slew of other exercises. There are footwork routines, medicine ball drills, punches and my personal favorite — one-handed push-ups. (The first time the trainer — a gorgeous South American demigod of a man — demonstrated these puppies, I nearly did a spit-take. Who does that?)

Thanks to the double mastectomy, the chemo, the radiation, and the fact I haven’t done a lick of upper body work for more than a year, I’m not even close to doing a one-handed push-up or these other ones that involve twisting one leg into some ungodly froglike position. I’m barely able to do two-handed push-ups. Girly style. But I give them my all. Ditto for the rest of the warm-up and the sparring that comes later. And so far, I haven’t embarrassed myself too much. Or at least I haven’t thrown up in class (according to the trainer, it’s happened).

But it ain’t easy. Nor pretty. Not knowing what I was in for, I wore makeup to my first class and by the end of the hour, my eyes were burning from a steady, sweaty stream of foundation and mascara and eyebrow powder (chemo took my brows so if I want ’em, I have to paint ’em on). These days, I go to class with only a hint of lipstick and not much else (yes, people, I am clothed). I even wear a headband, Olivia Newton-John style, because I’m such a Sweaty Betty, either due to the incredible workout my out-of-shape body is getting or the tamoxifen I take every day (it doesn’t give me hot flashes, but I’m definitely feeling the occasional hot flush). 

At the end of the hour, my head and body are sopping wet, my face is flushed and puffy and I look like a small, sweaty version of Billy Crystal, thanks to the out-of-control chemo curls. But I don’t care. Despite my long standing position as a girly girl, despite my overwhelming urge to “pass” (and trust me, the missing eyebrows are a dead giveaway), I’ve decided I’m not there to look pretty. Or normal. Or nice. I’m there to learn how to box. I’m there to get strong. I’m there to do whatever I can do to kick cancer’s sorry ass.

Am I crazy for pursuing a sport that makes me feel as nauseous, as fatigued, as overwhelmed by pain as the chemo I went through last summer? Maybe. It does feel strikingly similar to the infusion aftermath we all know so well, particularly a chemo session capped by one of those nice juicy Neulasta shots. You know, the ones that give you instant arthritis in your hands and feet.

The day after each boxing class, my hands ache from the punches I’ve given (and received). My arms can barely lift the blow dryer to dry my hair (ah, but what a miracle it is to have hair). It even hurts to pull my pants up after I pee. I’m beaten down, I’m bruised, I’m once again grabbing the furniture to hobble around my house. But then I take a few Ibuprofen and drape my body in ice packs and soak in a hot, hot bath filled with Epsom salt.

And then I get back up and do it again a couple of days later. Just as I did with the chemo. Just as we all do. Except this time, I’m going through the pain by choice. And this time, it’s not making me weaker, it’s making me stronger. This time, I’m transforming my body on my terms — through strength and endurance and sheer will as opposed to a surgeon’s scalpel. And this time, I can stop whenever I want. It’s just that I don’t want to stop — not yet anyway.

Not until I can get my scarred and poisoned and radiation-ravaged body to squeak out at least one of those wacky one-handed push-ups. Not until I can pound out a bit more of my grief and frustration and fear and, yes, pure unadulterated rage at being sucker punched by cancer.

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21 Responses to “Kicking cancer’s sorry ass”

  1. rosiebogieKim June 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    It’s poetic really…

    Whether its boxing, running, or walking…it’s all about being in control of the situation. This time around, YOU get to make the call. YOU decide if you want to go. YOU decide how hard you’ll push.

    Celebrate YOU.

    http://www.chemokimmiecupcake.blogspot.com

    • singleshot1 June 11, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      Thanks for the read and the nice comment, Rosie. Losing control is such a big part of cancer. Feels great to be grabbing the reins back again!

  2. tina kurfurst June 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    You go, D! And you’ve got an excellent bathtub for soaking.

    • singleshot1 June 11, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      Thanks Tina! Aren’t you glad you’re not living next door to me now? I’ve even got a speed bag on a pole (with a weighted bottom) that I use at home in between classes. ; )

  3. pinkunderbelly June 11, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I love every single thing about this post! The anniversary, the boxing, the persistence, the triumph! Fantastic, every bit of it. I’m a sweaty mess thanks to Tamoxifen, too, and sometimes find myself embarrassed in the gym. Then I remember a little saying that I really like: if you still look cute after a workout, you’re not working hard enough!

    • singleshot1 June 11, 2012 at 8:31 am #

      Thanks for the lovely comment, Pink. I can’t blame Tamoxifen entirely for my sweatiness. I’ve always been a bit of a head sweater. But it’s really intense now. I feel like Albert Brooks during his on-air scene in Broadcast News. ; ) BUT … it means I’m working hard, as you say!

  4. Beth L. Gainer June 11, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Yes, you have been punched by cancer, but now you are punching back!! Kudos to you for taking up boxing again. It seems so empowering and, like you said, YOUR choice. I love this posting!! You are very inspiring.

    • singleshot1 June 11, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks for the kinds words, Beth. I don’t feel particularly inspiring. I feel … sore. ; ) But I’m thrilled to have enough strength to take this class. Not too long ago, I could barely walk a mile or twist the top off of a bottled water. It’s amazing how a body is able to recover from the abuse it’s put through. I feel like I’m going through some kind of purifying ritual. A good kind of pain to wash away the bad kind of pain.

  5. Stacey (@bugoliath) June 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Awesome. I love this post so much. Good for you and thanks for the inspiration to get off the couch.

    • singleshot1 June 12, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Stacey. I love how we all provide inspiration for each other. You’ve given me plenty over the last few months!

  6. Facing Cancer (@cancer2gether) June 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    Fantastic – keep up the strength training! It sounds painful, tiring, excruciating but simultaneously empowering. Congrats on finding a new passion.

    • singleshot1 June 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

      It is TOTALLY painful, tiring, excruciating and empowering. Best of all, I get to keep my hair. ; )

  7. Jalapeno Bob June 12, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Diane,

    I am thrilled to see that you are pulling both your physical life and your emotional life back together after beating cancer. Good for you!!

    I also see that you are pulling your professional life back together, having read a number of post-cancer articles attributed to you. For many, this is the hardest because others, often well-meaning or fearful or in “it could have been me” denial, create roadblocks to the cancer victor’s progress.

    I am proud of you!

    Bob

    *** Warning – “good day spoiler” alert ***
    Did you hear about Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America”? Here is a pointer:

    • singleshot1 June 12, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      Thanks for the lovely note, Bob. So appreciate your ongoing support! I’m trying to put everything back together as best I can, although, to be honest, as the sole income earner in my one-person household, I never stopped working – even during treatment. Oops, I forgot to have a trust fund! ; )

      As for Robin Roberts from GMA, I did hear about her latest health issue, which was undoubtedly brought on by chemo. So frustrating that our “treatment” often results in more health risks/problems. Grrrrrr.

  8. Kate June 12, 2012 at 9:33 am #

    Love this Post! Good for you! I have been using exercise to get myself physically and emotionally strong again. It’s baby steps but you will get there! It really helped me to see myself getting stronger after such a rotten year. I was only 39 when I was diagnosed. I started walking. It was hard having the senior citizens lapping me at the track. I am now 7 months at the gym and started running, zumba and elliptical. I am still sore but it has been much less than in the beginning.

    • singleshot1 June 12, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      Kate, I am so thrilled for you. Running, zumba and elliptical aren’t easy for anybody – and they’re especially tough after a year of surgery/treatment/recovery. Also appreciate your advice regarding the pain. I’m dying right now from last night’s boxing class, but am determined to drag my ass back to the gym again tomorrow. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

  9. Nancy June 15, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Diane, you are my hero!

  10. Charlie Willey June 21, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    You go girl! It’s really a uplifting story. May all your stories have happy endings.
    God Bless,
    Charlie

  11. Annette Aragon June 23, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Sister Survivor, I was told that I would never have children after my treatment for Stage IV Hodgkin’s Disease in 1983 when I was 27 years old and that breast cancer could very well be in my future because of the chemo. I have three grown children and I had mastectomies five years apart in 1996 and 2002. My treatment DID result in my breast cancer AND in the life of three wonderful human beings.(Also, two grandchildren.) Keep your strength and spirit. Its beautiful. To Robin Roberts: My thought and prayers are with you. Our outcomes are not just the result of our doctors!!! P.S. I got tattoos where my eyebrows used to be and they NEVER run…………..Peace

  12. eileen@womaninthehat.com February 1, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    That’s great that you’re boxing. A few months ago, I went back to my dance class — something I did pre-cancer but was too weak to do for a long time, even after finishing chemo. I still get a “dance hangover” the next day, but even that is lessening as my body builds back up.

  13. Carolyn Blount June 24, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    Just read your blog, after reading the Columns article. Had a bilateral mastectomy Nov. 201, my second round w/ breast cancer. Good for you!. Would the U be interested in a 79 year old?
    Carolyn

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