The Cancer Journals: Baby Steps

This week, Sheelagh gets to know a little more about her own athletic ability as she pushes her body to the limit.


When your oncologist tells you that the patients of his who exercise do the best post chemo, you don’t have to be a jock to find yourself getting off the sofa.

I have never been drawn to either regular exercise, or sport-unless you count flipping through the pages of an exercise manual or watching a workout video. My past athletic history is uninspiring, if well intentioned.

I didn’t learn to swim in the fourth grade because I was smart enough to know that the good nun teaching the swimming lesson in full wimple, habit and belted rosary wasn’t about to jump into the pool to save any sinkers. My tenth grade gym teacher was overjoyed when I finally spiked a volleyball…she raced across the gym to hug me. I think it may have been the happiest day in her life. I tried ballet exercise classes, but the instructor kept rapping my abdomen and admonishing me in Teutonic overtones to “pull in zie belly!” when I was. I really was.

Thank God my oncologist just wants me to walk for 30 minutes. No sweat. I have chosen to go to an indoor track as the chemo drug, Oxaliplatin, reacts badly to cold temperatures. I only need my sneakers and tenacity.

I have chosen to dodge the university, walking track, as all those lithe young bodies might prove discouraging. I have selected the ‘people’s’ indoor tract at a local community recreation centre, where harried mums with strollers and senior citizens may be found in greater numbers. I think I may have a chance of Olympic Gold here.

The first sign this might not be true was the lane markings: Slow/Passing/Fast, two of the lanes embossed with a turtle and an hare. Take a guess which one I belonged on? Six laps of this track equaled one mile. The One Minute Mile was under absolutely no threat of falling to me. Eight laps and 30 minutes later I calculated that I had done 1.3 miles and I was wasted. Worse than wasted, I had actually been passed by a frail senior wielding a cane.

I suddenly wanted a T-shirt that shouted “GIVE ME A BREAK PEOPLE! I’M ON CHEMO!”

Five days a week at 30 minutes each session. Guess we’re about to find out if I have tenacity, if not athletic ability. All I know is that I’m passing that senior if I have to saw through her cane.

Addendum: I finally passed someone this week! He had to kneel down to tie his shoelaces and I would have lost him if he had only one shoe issue, but he was in for two! I’m sure he never even noticed the subtle fist pump as I sashayed by.

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