Exercising, eating…and chemotherapy

ruthAn inspirational Monday morning post from my foodie, fitness friend and fellow blogger Ruth Chesworth on diet, exercise and chemotherapy:

So in 2011 I was diagnosed with a rare type of tumour in my abdominal wall, by that time it’d taken over the left side of my not-so-6-pack. Having had it, and the muscle it was in, removed in 2011 it recurred and in March 2013 I started IV chemotherapy. The tumour and the chemo have had a huge impact on my life but here’s a little bit about the effects it’s had on my diet and exercise.

In terms of nutrition there are two things that made the biggest difference, the most obvious being the side effects. Although I was lucky enough not to have too much nausea, my appetite disappeared and I had awful mucositis; meaning the lining of my mouth and gut were super sore all the time. I needed a way to get calories in via soft food or liquid, and to do it in small quantities. Secondly, and a little more unexpectedly, was a shift in my view of food. Prior to the chemo I’d tried to get my ‘5 a day’in but also enjoyed a good old take away and a decent amount of processed food. There is something about consciously allowing poison to be pumped through your veins that will make you think a lot more about what you put in your mouth.

ImageSo I started having smoothies in the morning, first just cucumber, kale, coconut water, banana and lemon juice, and then experimenting with spirulina, chia seeds and all sort of other goodies. It gave me energy through the morning, wasn’t too sore on my mouth and made me feel positive about what I wash putting into my body. I became totally lactose intolerant so used a lot of almond and coconut milk, something I’ve stuck with since finishing the chemo. Soups became my new best friend and, thanks to my mum, I was kept well stocked with a fresh, homemade selection. Although there were loads days when I felt lousy and missed the time before chemo, I’m incredibly grateful for the shift in my thinking it’s led to.

Six months after my last dose of chemotherapy and, although I can now chew a little better, I’ve tried to keep up with a diet that’s much healthier than before. That’s been made easier by the comparison I can now make if I do have a week where I just can’t face the food prep and end up eating badly – I immediately feel tired, sluggish and down. The final thing I find tough (and I realise some people find it hard to accept that not being able to eat enough is a problem) is the getting enough in. The tumour is currently about the size of a grapefruit and I’m pretty little. Imagine that feeling after christmas dinner; everything stretched to the uncomfortable limit. Well that’s how I feel with much more than a drink in my stomach. So working out the most nutritious and good-calorie dense food has been important.

It’s been interesting, and difficult at times, to develop a new relationship with food but it’s opened my eyes to the difference it can make.

ImageI had a real mental battle exercise-wise. Just as the poison made me reassess my diet, I felt I wanted to make my body stronger with exercise; slight problem being that I was totally and utterly knackered most of the time. There was no way I could go for a run or a swim a) I was too tired and b) some of the nasty side effects on my skin meant that tight clothing and warm water were a no go. After a couple of months I’d got into a pretty good routine thoug. I did a fair amount of searching online and found some really good resources for exercising on youtube. I’d focus on arms one day and legs the next, trying to do physio for my abdomen every day. I’ve also got a dog so there was plenty of walking to do. I think my biggest tip for anyone starting chemo would be to give yourself time, see how you feel through one cycle and then plan for the next one. By the end of my six month course I had muscle definition I’d never had before, all from 15 minutes each morning and evening with nothing but a yoga mat and some 2kg weights.

I’m still struggling with the exercise thing. I’m a real all-or-nothinger and because I know I will never be particularly good at running, cycling, yoga etc etc because of whats going on in my core I do find myself feeling pretty negatively about exercise. So I’m working on avoiding the comparison and reminding myself of the benefits for me; it’s a work in progress.

ImageSome of the changes I had to make, some of them came about because of the time I had and the situation I was in. Whether you’re gearing up for a course of chemo, you’ve just signed up for a marathon or you fancy trying to get a bit healthier, it all comes down to the same thing: Find a balance, work out what will fit in with your life and remember that if you try to change everything at once you’ll end up setting yourself up to fail and that’s no good for the psyche.

Follow my journey at rooth121.blogspot.co.uk

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