a bright and cheery image of a woman playing tennis with a Hickman line.

How Exercise Keeps Me Going (Part 1)

Last updated: May 2023

My perfect morning is a tennis game followed by a sour cream coffee cake from a farm stand near me. I love that I can play tennis and eat – two things that I couldn’t do immediately after each of my four stem cell transplants.

In the 3rd Annual Blood Cancer in America survey, four out of 10 of the respondents reported being fully active and able to do all activities without restriction. I’m in that fully active group. In addition to playing tennis several times a week, I also run, bike, and do yoga.

Seventeen years have passed since my first transplant, and of course, I do these things differently than I did then. I don’t bike as much as I did before cancer when I went on trips of up to 80 miles a day. My pace while running is slower, but I can jog for up to six miles. I’m not as nimble on the tennis court, but I’m known for putting it away at the net.

The changes are likely due to a combination of time and treatment.

Exercise helps me sleep better and feel better

A neurologist who watched me walk said I was actually steadier when going faster. His prescription: Play more tennis. (I also take gabapentin for the neuropathy.) He might just as well have said do more of the other things that keep me moving.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that 11 years ago I came out of a coma unable to walk and talk.

When I went to the farm stand one day in July, I eyed a mini blueberry pie. I thought someone had put it in my bag, but when I got home it wasn’t there. I decided to go back.

The doubles tennis hadn't been enough exercise, so I decided to bike. It’s only two miles, but there’s a humongous hill.

When I got to the farm stand, Evelyn, the owner, who knew I had already played tennis, started to say, “You’re nuts.” But she changed it to, “You’re funny.”

I guess you would have to say I am indeed a little nuts.

My balance isn’t as good as it was before chemotherapy. My peripheral neuropathy is a factor; the numbness in my feet sometimes makes me feel like I’m not on steady ground. And chemotherapy itself can affect balance. 1

I’ve had some spectacular falls.

I fell on the tennis court in between chemotherapy sessions. I had gone home with my Hickman catheter in and tucked it into my sports bra before a tennis game. I lunged for a ball and lost my balance. I awkwardly tried to protect the catheter... and fell on my shoulder. It was separated. I went back to the hospital with my arm in a sling.

The fall while running happened when I wasn’t paying attention… and tripped on a root and landed with a big thump on my head. I had a concussion and needed stitches around one eye.

The biking accident happened shortly after. I was in the lowest gear, going up a hill. The bike wobbled. I glanced at an approaching car... and flew across the road and hit my head on the wheel of the car.

I needed stitches around the same eye that had just healed. My knee hurt for months after, but it could have been worse.

I wasn’t even moving when I fell off a bike another time. My foot caught in the V of the tube when I was getting off. The brake cut into my shin, and guess what, I got stitches again.

My sister said after the big bike accident that she’d be angry with me if she didn’t know that my persistence has been instrumental in my survival.

I’ve stayed out of trouble for a long time. Next, I’ll tell you what accommodations I’ve made to keep myself safer.

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