A patient and physical therapist going through a variety of poses

Hitting Rock Bottom and Getting Up

I can honestly say I’ve hit what I thought was rock bottom many times in my chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) journey. One such incident brought changes to my lifestyle that I’d like to share.

Being sick with leukemia was bad enough

I’ve been in and out of physical therapy for nearly two years thanks to an Achilles Tendon and other tendon tears and other problems in my left foot. Being sick with leukemia was bad enough; living in a hard cast and then boots for month after month and hobbling with a cane was the pits.

During one session last fall, I was told by the therapist to walk up and down this wooden floor runway. He gave me a pole to use for balance and turned around to tend to another patient.

I took a few steps and bam... started stumbling forward, nearly crashing into the parallel bars nearby. Another patient asked me if I was okay. Embarrassed, I nodded and tried to forge on, taking a few more steps.

Then, it happened again.

Defeated, I hobbled over to a therapy table and motioned for my long-time physical therapist (PT) to come over. He hadn’t seen what happened so I told him. I was annoyed at myself for the setback and just in general for my weakened condition these past six years with blood cancer.

He knows the whole saga of my medical challenges.

“What do I do?”

A cross between physical therapy and gym class

About a year and a half ago, I was enrolled in an exercise class called Faze Four at this facility. I always referred to it as “a cross between physical therapy and gym class.” It’s for patients who need help after their insurance runs out or they are discharged but not yet in prime condition.

The program had fizzled out but was now being revised. I asked the PT if I should try it again even though I was obviously in poor physical condition, overweight (mostly thanks to the TKI I’m taking for treatment), weak, discouraged, and at the end of my rope psychologically.

Plus, we’re in a pandemic.

And so, it began. I told the new trainer/PT that I was at pre-K physical fitness level and starting at ground zero. My confidence was non-existent.

Thank God he discouraged that kind of talk and thinking and assured me I could do what everyone else was doing and if not, he would design some alternate version of the same exercise that I could manage.

I am the only person in the noon class, by the way, so far, so it works out well. I go twice per week.

I always doubted it when people said exercise helps - it seemed impossible

Despite the 30-year age gap, we both essentially have the same sarcastic personalities and share a lot of interests, namely music.

We blast the music of my choice over the speakers in the huge gym and it sometimes distracts me from the physical challenge of using weights, balls, pushing sleds, pulling ropes, walking the treadmill, and using an array of other bands and equipment to do 8-10 exercises during the hour. Those two hours per week, I laugh sometimes to the point of tears about whatever it is we are talking about.

He doesn’t let me get away with anything. I can’t pull the cancer card out because while I’m there, I’m there to work (but never to the point of pain!).

Even on days when I can barely get out of bed and I want to scream because of the side effects that go along with having blood cancer, I make myself go. I always doubted it when people said exercise helps. It seemed impossible. But it’s not.

Saturday mornings, I spend an hour in pool therapy. In this case, it's a water tank/pool for one with a treadmill. I walk and do other exercises, mainly to strengthen my legs. There is one attendant in the room, both of us masked. These activities are the only way I feel I have to “fight” my CML. It's taken a terrible toll on my 56-year-old body over six years.

But, I’m not about to let it take me down completely.

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