Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The benefits of exercise.

Greetings, one and all!

My last post talked about how positive and how much better I felt after returning to exercise and that it meant that - at least for the moment - I don't have to take anti-depressants. My exercise regime has continued, with gym visits yesterday and today, and <drum roll> I returned today to my Zumba class, which I used to love but haven't been to for over 6 months. I was unexpectedly shaky at the start of the class, because I had to tell the instructor that I had compromised shoulder mobility so that she could keep an eye on me in case anything went badly wrong and also because a few people remembered me and were asking where I had been etc. But once the music started and we warmed up, I was fine. It was as much fun as I remembered and I surprised myself by how much I recalled - I could tell I hadn't done much running, though, as my calves really felt it when we did the jumping up and down parts! I walked most of the way home afterwards with one of the women from the class and we had a nice chat, so it set me up nicely for my appointment with my psychologist in the afternoon.

The last time I had a counselling session, I got pretty distressed. I really wanted to be able to demonstrate today that I have moved into a more positive phase, largely because of being able to exercise again. The first thing she asked me to do was complete a short questionnaire to see where I am in relation to my state of mind at the previous session and, after I filled it in, she said that my scores were well within normal range and asked if something had happened to make me so different. I talked to her about how being active was making me feel as if I can cope with everything better, partly because of producing happy hormones but also because being fit and healthy means that I am better able to cope with any possible further treatment I might need. I think that getting upset at the previous session also helped me realise that I am allowed to show my feelings and be angry, upset or frightened about what's been happening to me. It also means that if I show my feelings, I am tacitly giving Neil and the children "permission" to show theirs too and that we don't need to worry about upsetting each other. This is a difficult time for us all and it would be unrealistic if we didn't have feelings of uncertainty or fear, so it's far healthier for those feelings to come out. Otherwise, there's a risk that cancer becomes the elephant in the room that we don't want to talk about. This blog has always given me a chance to set out my feelings, which has been mightily cathartic, but sometimes you have to have face to face conversation about things.

After a long discussion about it all, the psychologist said (and I agreed) that at this stage, there's nothing that talk therapy can add to how I feel, since I now have my coping strategy sorted and have moved into a different phase. So, with the proviso that I reserve the right to contact her if I feel I would benefit from another discussion, I am "signed off". I'm really pleased at how far I've come in the three weeks since I last saw her. I have read articles about how exercise can help overcome depression and anxiety - well, I've certainly had it proved to me! Of course, I am not naive enough to think that I will never have any bad days. Everyone has them, whether they are dealing with illness or not, so I am bound to have low times. But that's normal, and I know that I will be able to get through it. I need to remember how good exercise makes me feel and realise that I can get back to that state.

Another thing that has helped me is going to a Head and Neck Cancer Support Group meeting at the weekend. Neil and I went to our first meeting, at Maidstone Hospital. I knew one other patient from the Facial Palsy Support Group and there were two HCPs from Queen Victoria Hospital whom we knew, so at least we recognised a few faces! It was a very sociable meeting - it's a well-established group and this was the Christmas Social, so we had cakes, some singing and a Christmas quiz. Those of you who know us well will know that Neil and I are very competitive about quizzes and yes, we did win! However, we did give answers to other teams who were struggling, so we weren't really tooooo competitive :-). There were quite a few people there who have far worse facial disfigurement than mine, so it gave me a different perspective on how I look. And there were people there who are 8 years or more from their original diagnosis, which is so encouraging, seeing them looking so healthy and being so involved in life. A very useful morning for  us.

We did a bit of socialising at the weekend too. My friend Lin came over for lunch on Saturday with her adorable toddler son. He is seriously cute but it made Neil and me realise just how long it has been since our children were that age! We'd forgotten that toddlers love repetitive games - seeing Lewis's whole body shake with giggles when we played a game with the fridge magnets was just lovely. We were both exhausted afterwards, though - you really do forget how full-on young children are! We had been invited to a party on Saturday evening - quite local, so not too far to drive. I was feeling a bit meh! about going, partly because I was wilting a bit but also because I was getting a little bit anxious about going into a room full of people. Looking back, I can see it was precisely because I was a bit tired that I felt anxious. We decided to go just for half an hour, but once we got there, the hosts were so pleased to see us and we ended up chatting to old friends and to some people we'd never met before and had such a nice time that we ended up staying for about two hours. It was the right decision to go and I'm glad Neil persuaded me - not only did we have a good time, but if I hadn't gone, I would possibly have started to feel more anxious about the next social event I was invited to. As it is, I went to Zumba today not thinking at all about how I looked and whether people would wonder what had happened to my face, although, as I said earlier, I did have a teeny wee wobble at the start. I recovered well and I know now that I can deal with these situations. In fact, some of the time I forget that my face is a bit different from how it was - that's progress!

I've been joining in a really interesting discussion on Mumsnet website, about the language we use around cancer patients - "fighting", "winning or losing the battle with cancer". Why do we only use that terminology for cancer? We don't say "he's fighting a broken leg", do we? Interestingly, the unanimous view on the discussion is that it can be really unhelpful if cancer patients are expected to stay positive all the time and not let it beat them - sometimes it's hard to stay positive (as I know) and sometimes you have to let it all out and show your anger and fear. But if everyone is exhorting you to stay positive and be a fighter, you can feel as if you are letting people down by not being like that. And what does it imply if someone doesn't beat their cancer? - that they didn't fight enough? They weren't enough of a warrior? I absolutely agree (and I know I have said it on here before) with Danny Baker, who also rejected the fighting analogy and said that his body was the battleground and the battle was between the cancer and the medics. I find it so interesting that there's so much more emotive language around cancer than any other illness that I can think of - is it because if we see cancer patients staying positive and upbeat, we can somehow reduce cancer to less of a frightening monster under the bed?

That was all pretty serious - and I make no apologies for it. I have used that kind of terminology in the past and genuinely didn't think I could possibly be making it harder for the cancer patient, but now I am in the position and I am that patient, I see it differently. That doesn't mean my view is the correct one, but it's how I feel and therefore it's correct for me!

Day off the gym tomorrow, I think. We went "en famille" this morning; Neil, Amy and I together, which was rather lovely. Having been to the gym for the past two mornings and having done a Zumba class, I think I might quite enjoy staying in bed tomorrow morning for a bit longer. Lazy? Moi? Never ;-p

Thanks, as always, for comments and support, both on here and via email or Facebook. And, of course, biggest thanks and love for Neil, Amy and Adam x

1 comment:

  1. Ali I so agree with your comments around fighting cancer. It makes me really angry when I hear that sort of talk.
    Brilliant news on the exercise and socialising x