Balancing Act: Navigating Self-Image, Autonomy and Rehabilitation After Cancer


After cancer, I've been learning to maintain a positive attitude regarding my self-image and rehabilitation.

Illustration of a man with rectangular glasses.

Before my multiple myeloma diagnosis, I traveled the world, teaching feng shui in Amsterdam and conducting retreats and workshops in Tobago, Machu Picchu, China, Brazil and Europe. My wedding was held at a beautiful resort in St Maarten, surrounded by the blue sea.

In the winter of 2017, I lay in my hospital bed with aching fractures in my spine and ribs. I surrounded myself with a sea of fluffy white pillows that engulfed my body. To alleviate the pain, I needed 12 pillows to provide softness, enveloping my body from the unbearable agony. As I gazed out the window, I saw glimpses of the birds and the blue sky, a reminder that life continued outside my four walls. But for now, I was trapped in the bedroom, my body broken but my spirit still fighting. During this time, physical therapists came to my home to help me do only breathing exercises and foot pumps. According to my doctors, they prescribed recovery in bed for a year; a simple twist of my body could result in paralysis.

But now, as I stand in the physical therapy studio, I am focused on balancing on a blue-domed sport balance ball. With precision and agility, I catch the black-and-white Wilson ball thrown to me by a tech assistant while Michaela, my therapist, stands behind me. What a difference seven years makes!

As I enter the spacious and airy sanctuary, sunlight streams through the large windows, offering breathtaking cityscape views. The warm and welcoming atmosphere envelopes me as friendly faces greet me with genuine smiles and cheerful hellos. I feel like a celebrity known for my infectious positivity toward my improvement. To me, exercise is a necessary step in my rehabilitation and a fun gym where I can continue strengthening my body. However, a downstairs neighbor who had a knee replacement has a different opinion; he sees it as a torture chamber. But this lodge represents hope, progress, and a chance at resumption.

With my physical therapist's guidance and support, I am determined to conquer this ongoing challenge of getting food from the lower shelves of the fridge or finding paperwork in the bottom file cabinet drawers. Her professionalism and dedication are evident as she guides me, constantly adjusting as I progress. Despite my back pain, I am determined to regain strength in my lower legs and glutes. Simple tasks become monumental feats, but with the help of a reacher tool, I can compensate for my limitations.

As I make my way to another session, I can't help but feel a mix of emotions. I see myself as the hunchback of Notre Dame. My reflection in their glossy facades serves as a cruel reminder of what cancer has stolen from me — my strength, mobility and my sense of self. The fractures in my spine from battling multiple myeloma have left me disfigured, a constant struggle to reconcile the sadness and anger and find peace amidst this new version of myself.

Despite my constant battle to maintain a positive attitude, I still struggle to accept the reality of my disfigured body. My reflection in the mirror is a constant reminder of the fractures that stole 6 inches of my once-tall stature. I am grateful for the rollator, a walker with wheels, and a seat. It is always there to help carry groceries or bring two pillows to support me when I go to restaurants. As I go through the crowded sidewalks, it is a protection barrier from the oblivious pedestrians too absorbed in their devices to notice their surroundings. I could use a cane to aid my mobility, but the potential hazards of uneven terrain and obstacles make me depend on my trusty urban SUV instead. Its versatility gives me the freedom and assurance to navigate through the city's constantly evolving sidewalks and neighborhoods.

My neighbor, Denise, and I have been friends for years. She even used to pick up my prescriptions from CVS during COVID-19 when I could not leave the apartment. We would laugh about her being my personal "drug mule." But now, things have changed. She broke her femur while crossing the street, and now she is a patient at the same facility that she recommended to me. It's a convenient ten-minute walk from our apartments.

But nothing can deter me from navigating the treacherous sidewalks and demonstrating my independence. In the early days, my wife would accompany me on these trips to PT, offering a reassuring hand amid uncertainty. But now, even she has complete confidence in my capabilities to conquer the obstacles and arrive at my appointments unaided.

With the support and encouragement of the beautiful team at Spear Physical Therapy, I can continue my journey towards recovery. Each exercise brings a sense of accomplishment and reinforces my determination and perseverance. Walking without any devices at home or indoors, going up and down steps, reminds me of the powerful strength within me and the unwavering resilience that guides me forward and helps me achieve greater physical and mental wellbeing.

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