Saturday, August 11, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0623 - Cancer and Yoga

Physical exercise is therapeutic. I guess there really isn't much doubt about the benefits of exercise for cancer patients and cancer survivors in general. The trick is in finding what works for the individual.

I remember as I read about Lance Armstrong's battle with testicular cancer being amazed at his tenacity and fierceness in being as active as possible during his treatment. Reading about what worked for him inspired me to try to be as physically fit as possible before my surgery near the end of March 2006. Unfortunately, the desire to be active didn't match what was possible as I embarked on my neoadjuvant combination chemoradiotherapy in January of 2006. The burning and pain, especially in the rectum and anus, made it almost impossible to continue with the training program I had started in December 2005 to get ready for my surgery.

Then, after surgery and the hospitalization for post-surgical complications, I started adjuvant chemotherapy and had difficulty sitting down much less embark on an exercise program. Still, I kept paying my monthly gym membership dues hoping that gradually I would feel good enough to start back up with resistance training and some aerobic conditioning.

But nothing worked. Even walking became difficult. It was a vicious cycle - not feeling well enough to exercise and then feeling worse because I didn't exercise. Then, the guilt on top of it all, realizing that despite my aches and pains, more physical activity would certainly help but not having the willpower to actually do it.

Finally, I canceled my membership at the gym. If I could barely make it to the washroom some days while at work; if I wasn't getting enough sleep anyway, why would I get up early to go to the gym and become frustrated with what I couldn't do; if I couldn't even bend down to pick up heavy objects without fear of further pain or even fecal incontinence from the pressure; what was the point in gym membership?

But I still had to do something. I had to find something that worked for me. So, I dusted off the DVD instructional videos for Total Yoga and the Yoga series, only once again to meet with further frustration. Not only was I incredibly stiff and inflexible, but the sun salutations in the flow series were almost as difficult as anything else I had tried to accomplish. I was, simply put, too out of shape to do even the foundation series.

So, I went back to the very basic beginners approach, using a DVD instructional video from Yoga Journal with the renowned Iyengar teacher, Patricia Walden. Her Yoga for Beginners is gentle enough that I have been successful in doing daily workouts. The video, plus a new yoga mat and yoga bricks from Gaiam, as well as the recently published Yoga as Medicine, and it appears that I'm set with an exercise routine that I can actually do without constant failure.

The chapter on cancer is based primarily on Jnani Chapman's work with a breast cancer patient, Erin Brand, in the San Francisco area. Her approach is extremely gentle and incorporates special breathing exercises, relatively simply poses, and meditation with guided imagery. The asanas illustrated in the chapter are meant only to be indicative of the general approach she takes with her patients. The book is authored by Timothy McCall, both an M.D. and the medical editor of Yoga Journal. As McCall writes, "Yoga is strong medicine but slow medicine." (p.45)

If he's right, and if one week of daily practice means anything, then this slow, gentle approach will certainly yield results, but those results may take quite a while.

1 comment:

Robert Scholl said...

It's great to see you're blogging your experience. It's definitely cleansing and it's generous to do for our friends and loved ones.

As far as treatment, I am doing Gerson Therapy - a treatment completely opposite of the allopathic model. It's extraordinary therapy and receives immeasurable flak from the allopathic medical world.

Regardless, you and I have a powerful common denominator (besides our mutual appreciation for great movies) - a commitment to life.

God Bless you, Don.