Hospital Exercise Offers Stress Relief

If you had a fitness routine before cancer, chances are you’re going to want to continue during treatment on days that you’re feeling up to it.

As a runner and tennis player, my normal routine was disrupted during hospitalizations of weeks at a time, so I had to come up with something else. Whatever your sport or activity, it’s going to be pretty hard to maintain consistently during blood cancer treatment.

To back up, I almost fell off the exam table during my intake exam in early April, 2003, when I learned the plan for getting rid of my leukemia. I would have three rounds of chemotherapy, with hospitalizations lasting seven to 10 days. Then I would have rest periods at home. The last, strongest round would deplete my bone marrow. A stem cell transplant to would regenerate it.

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My doctor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston explained that although I might go into remission after the first round (which I did), they still needed to go after leukemia cells that could be hiding. He said to imagine them as being under a carpet.

Finding new ways to relieve stress

This would definitely mess up my routine of running about 15 miles a week. And in a domino effect, the stress relief that I got from running would go out the window.

“Do they have Ativan?” I asked my doctor.

“Big jars of it,” he said.

They also had an exercise bike.

My mother took a photo of me on it while I was connected to an IV pole. I didn’t exactly work up a sweat, but it felt good to be moving.

Hospital Exercise Offers Stress Relief

I walked with my mother and whoever was visiting (often my sister) on The Pike, a corridor connecting medical offices on a lower level at Brigham and Women’s and Hospital. At each end, I stopped to do runner’s stretches.

We also walked along The Bridge of Hope, which connects the hospital with Dana-Farber. It is decorated with birds in flight and inspiring poems by Emily Dickinson.

(At first, I thought that patients were treated at Dana-Farber, but then I learned that it consists of exam rooms, offices, clinics and outpatient treatment areas; in-patient care happens at “The Brigham.”)

One time, my nurse thought I should take a wheelchair. My sister and my mother and I piled our stuff into the wheelchair and used it as a carryall.

Coping with chemo side effects

It didn’t take long for the chemotherapy to give me diarrhea. I learned the location of all the bathrooms along our walks.

Some days I just did laps around the nurses’ station. Other patients did the same. We would stop to chat, like people walking in a park. We got to know each other. A nurse told me how many laps made a mile. Occasionally, I lifted bags of saline solution. I wasn’t a big weight lifter, but I didn’t want my arms to go to flab.

On other days, nausea, diarrhea and other complications from the chemotherapy overtook me. I curled up under the quilt that I had brought from home. I fell asleep and dreamt that I was running, my ponytail flapping in the breeze. It upset me to wake up and remember that I was bald and would not be running outside for quite a while.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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