Being a Liberian, who are said to be able to get the right balance, you’d think I would know all about balancing things out. Generally I do, weighing things up comes naturally to me. However I do seem to have struggled lately, since being diagnosed with breast cancer.
I have been exercising at various levels (County & national) since I was 10 years old. The longest amount of time I’ve ever had off exercise is after having my two boys by C section that at the most was 5 weeks. For most of my exercise life I trained twice per day. Even now I still adopt a lot of the hardcore training and put myself through hours of intense type exercise. I just didn’t feel right unless I finish my exercise sessions, 5-6 days per week, feeling pleasantly exhausted. Knowing that I would not be able to repeat an exercise session was the aim, for example, I often did 12 x 400 metre flat out, if I was sick I was told to get up and finish.
In the last 2 months things have changed massively. This is because I have breast cancer and currently I am having chemo, it means I now have to be sensible; Jo has to listen to her body. No more living on the edge of fitness and illness. As someone who trains intensely, pushing your body that hard you are always at risk of developing some sort of infection, as a fit individual you are a good host for many illnesses. They like nothing more than a fit healthy body to hang around in.
This last 2 months has been a huge learning curve for me, I’ve had to embrace so many new ways. At first I stopped exercise- what if exercise made the cancer spread or speed up? These were the thoughts that I initially had in the “shock” couple of weeks of finding out. Now though, I am back! I have to take it steady, no more feeling nauseas from pushing myself too hard during exercise (I get enough of that post chemo). I have now learnt that immediately following chemo there is absolutely no chance of doing anything much in the first 3 days, I then take it easy for the next 4 days. Coming into work and shouting/pushing other people to exercise is the most I do. I get an awful lot of pleasure out of that, making people realise their fitness potential is great. The following 2 weeks before my next 3 week cycle of chemo I get back on with my own exercise. I am still running and doing what I love, only at a more moderate level. You will still see me pounding the streets, but not as hard, fast or for as long. I now need to be exercising for health reasons, not for pure physical fitness. It’s been hard but the last thing I want to do is push my body too hard and pick up an illness. Got to think of these white blood cells.
Lots of people have asked why I didn’t just stop exercise all together, take some time off. Exercise is what makes me tick, it keeps me mentally together. This is so important when you’re going through cancer treatment. Also by keeping my fitness levels up it’s helping me to recover stronger and hopefully quicker.
At The Christie, in Manchester where I am being treated they have signs up saying “Living with cancer”, it’s true. You have to get on, carry on as normally as you can. My personal normal is continuing to exercise; someone else’s might be cycling, walking etc. It’s whatever gets you through.
So to me exercise is a way of life, it keeps me sane. It’s my coping strategy. If I stopped exercise now I wouldn’t feel normal. I need to feel normal now, in many areas of my life at the moment normal is often difficult to feel.