We are thrilled to introduce one of our newest contributors to the Cybex blog, Virginia Ray Harshman. Virginia resides in sunny Sarasota, Florida, and is a CPT, Certified Cancer Exercise Specialist, and holds a CISSN from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Virginia earned an MBA from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing post-graduate studies in Human Nutrition and Health Education. She is an NPC Masters’ Bikini competitor and yoga enthusiast who has also completed the Chicago Marathon twice and numerous half-marathons. Being a recent breast cancer survivor has reshaped Virginia’s fitness goals and outlook on life, as she outlines in her introductory blog.
In July, 2015, I heard those three little words that no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.” How could my body have let me down like this? I was good to her! I fed her organic, clean food. I took her to the gym and yoga classes. I fortified her with the best supplements. The feelings of loss and betrayal that a cancer diagnosis brings can be devastating. If you were an athlete, the scenario is compounded by feelings of uncertainty about your future; will you ever have the strength, endurance, power or skill that you worked so hard to develop? Will you have to turn in your “athlete card”? I was very nervous.
Immediately after surgery, you are instructed to lift nothing heavier than a gallon of milk. This is pretty demoralizing for someone like me, who used to carry and drink two gallons of water a day when preparing for an NPC Bikini competition. Yes, you can do little movement exercises and go to physical therapy, but for the most part you find yourself inactive. After about a week of this, I started to go bonkers! Not only did I rely on exercise to strengthen my body, but it was also a major part of my coping mechanism and a way to shut out the world and relax. Battling cancer is about as stressful as it gets, so I had a major dilemma to deal with. On the suggestion of my husband, I decided to try out the recumbent bike at my gym.
Generally, these apparatuses are the playground of the elderly set (I do live in Florida), or folks just trying to catch up on their reading or conversations with the person next to them. Real athletes, as I fashioned myself to be, don’t ride recumbent bikes! However, due to neuropathy in my feet, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy, even walking outside was dangerous for me. Thus, I approached the recumbent bike and tried to make friends with her. As soon as I started riding, I knew that I had found my new salvation. Over the next few weeks I rode hundreds of miles on the recumbent bike. I mastered the various programs, riding up hills and increasing my mileage. I documented my progress and really surprised myself. I felt my legs and lower body regaining strength and endurance.
If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, here are some things to remember:
- Get up and move! You can’t kick breast cancer’s butt sitting on the couch.
- If you haven’t been active previously, this is an opportunity to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
- Exercise will help you cope with the horrible emotional stress that cancer treatment creates.
- Start out slow. Ride the bike for 15-20 minutes, then increase you time and exertion.
- Record your progress. There are many apps you can do this with. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment when you see those miles start to pile up.
- Always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. They will likely be receptive as long as it is safe (can’t fall off the recumbent bike) and you are not too fatigued. Find the best time of day for you to exercise- when you are feeling energized and your stomach is settled.
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