Should you exercise during chemo?

Let me start by saying I am only sharing from my own experience. It’s my opinion only, not medical advice.

Woman riding on bike and smiling

And the best answer I can give you is both honest yet ambiguous.

It depends.

Including the breaks between infusions, I received chemo treatment for seven months. During that time, there were days when I felt capable of riding 10 miles on my bike. There were also days when I only made it to the kitchen or bathroom by grasping the backs of furniture or family.

Fortunately, there were lots of days when I felt well enough to exercise.

To keep things interesting, I gave myself a little future treat to work toward – enter my decision to register for the Spa Girl Triathlon.

I needed something to look forward to at the end of all this. An Alaskan cruise was at the top of my list, but travel wasn’t really an option as my treatments fell at the height of pandemic shutdown.

So, I set my sights on San Antonio, framing the experience as an accountability goal, at whatever pace suited my shifting stamina levels. It became an evergreen reason to get up and out and enjoy some fresh air. Most importantly it gave me a much-needed outlet to process the emotional blows that no one likes to talk about, but that are very much a part of this dark life season.

To avoid going overboard, I also made an important promise to my doctor, my husband and my then fledgling group of pink sisters. Before logging any miles by bike or by foot, I agreed to listen to my body when it had something to say. And there were lots of days when it told me to say “no” (not just to training, but to everything), to crawl into bed, to curl up on the sofa, or to have a good cathartic cry.

Overhead shot of woman swimming freestyle

While the training was erratic to say the least, it didn’t bother me. When the universe gave me a carpe diem day, or even an hour for that matter, I seized it.

Fast forward to race day.

I really didn’t care if I was the last person out of the pool (which, to my surprise, turned out to be the most challenging of the three events), if I was the final participant pushing my bike up that agonizing final hill on the route, or if I was the caboose trailing everybody else on the running portion (which I walked, by the way, while enthusiastically singing Dua Lipa and wearing fabulously retro Wonder Woman knee high socks).

This was about closing the door on the scariest thing I’ve ever lived through, and claiming victory over the Big C.

I couldn’t even tell you the times I posted because I never checked them. I didn’t care then, and I still don’t.

In the end, I crossed the finish line (not even close to last) with my daughter beside me and my family surrounding me. We celebrated big that weekend with three awesome friends who raced too, and together we marked the formal end of that awful chapter.

I suppose my parting advice would be this.

Instead of subscribing to anybody’s hard and fast rules (including that of well-intended caregivers), see what your body will allow you to do. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Expect your fitness level to be different, but don’t be discouraged by it. Do what you feel you can, and above all else, keep making future plans.

I am rooting for you!

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