On Monday, February 10th, I start radiation treatments and chemotherapy for esophageal cancer. My treatment plan is for five weeks. Each week I have five radiation sessions and one round of chemotherapy. On the weekend, I rest and recover to start all over again in the next week. In week five, if I’m still strong and fit, an additional week may be added. After a four to six week break to allow my immune system to return to normal, I’ll have surgery to remove my esophagus and stretch my stomach up to reattach to what’s left. I also have three more weekly iron infusions. I can already feel the benefits of having iron pumped directly into my veins through better skin colour and increased energy. Clearly, I’ll be spending a lot of time at the hospital in appointments over the next while.
Yesterday Brad announced that he plans to start a fixed exercise schedule to match my treatment schedule. In his first week he plans to run at least 10km per day. He is undecided what he will do in the remaining weeks but his plan is to increase his exercise load each week.
The expression “going alone you go faster but going together you go further” fits having Brad at my side as I head into treatment. There is plenty of evidence which demonstrates those who are more physically fit when entering cancer treatment better tolerate radiation and chemotherapy and recover more quickly after.
Thinking back three years ago when I climbed on a bicycle and rode a little further each day while Brad and his daughter Alexis were racing across America, started me on a path to transition from fat and lazy to an active and healthy lifestyle. My cancer aside, I am strong and fit, committed to a plant-based diet, avoid processed food as much as possible and remain active. I plan to continue with this lifestyle as I head into treatment, during recovery, after my surgery, and for the rest of my life.
Like many, and perhaps you, I really wasn’t happy with how I felt about the obese me or how I looked to others. And like many, I kept saying to myself, I’ll get serious about my weight later. But later may never come and if you end up in my shoes with a cancer diagnosis, you may have run out of time to make a lifestyle change to better prepare for a battle with cancer (on any disease for that matter).
With Brad’s continuous encouragement along with a number of other friends, I really am physically ready for the cancer battle ahead and my likelihood of survival is a whole lot better than it was when I was lazy and fat. All those people who encouraged me to stay on the bicycle can take credit in saving my life.
So here’s an idea I put to you and I volunteer to be at your side.
Like Brad, I invite you to consider committing to a daily realistic increase in your physical activity, a comfortable reduction in the portion size on your plate, a closer look at what your eating and share your progress with others. It was only my agreement with Brad that I kept on that bike three years ago, but to my surprise, I started to like it. It became especially rewarding as my weight started to plummet and my butt hurt less.
A warning though; although the benefits of increased exercise are indisputably important to improved health, it is really diet that has the biggest impact on weight loss. And you really double down when you both increase your activity while improving your diet.
I love that I fit in any restaurant booth and behind my steering wheel without my belly rubbing. It is gratifying that I can bend over and tie my shoes without getting dizzy and comfortably reach everywhere in the shower. It feels great to walk up steps without any pain in my knees and other joints which is a result of reduced weight. And the best benefit is seeing clothing that I know will look great on me.
So here is what I propose.
- Pick a doable exercise that you repeat every day in week 1. For example, walk a kilometre around your neighbourhood. Plan to repeat this five days in a row and take the next two days as rest.
- Reduce your portion size in every meal. Don’t starve yourself. For example, take two slices of beef instead of three, two scoops of potatoes instead of three. Have one slice of bread instead of two.
- If you’re in the habit of using sugar in coffee, consider honey instead which is typically less refined.
- In week 2, increase both the intensity and duration of your exercise. Don’t go crazy. Keep it realistic so you stick with it. Also in week 2, attempt to reduce your portion size again but take care to keep it reasonable. If you feel hungry all the time, it will make it more difficult to stay the course.
- In week 3 and so on, continue the same pattern.
What motivated me to stay committed was learning that I really enjoyed riding a bicycle, loved the smells of being in the fresh air, and the discovery that there is a remarkable engine inside me capable of more than I thought possible.
There is an application called Strava that I installed on my smartphone. There is a free version and of course a feature-rich subscription version. I have created a club called Going Together We Go Further. If you install Strava, you can record your efforts and they will be available for your review and by joining the club appear alongside others. Use the link at the end of this sentence to join.
As always, thanks for being at my side.
Peace, love and laughter