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Just Do It! Staying Fit During and After Cancer

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I lived by Nike's motto, "Just do it!" and worked to gain my muscle back after cancer.

Survivor of lymphoma with a gray zip-up hoodie and a goatee with a neutral smile.

My family just celebrated the first anniversary since they watched me “Ring the Bell” on the oncology ward on Feb. 7, 2023. On that day, I was a wasted shadow of my former self. Naturally, after so many chemo cycles, I had lost all my hair (everywhere). But I had also lost almost 25 pounds of muscle. I had always been lean and muscular. My body didn’t have much of a fat reserve to lose. Instead, my muscles atrophied. Week after week, I watched my body weight plunge. Even the doctors and nurses were worried about my weight loss.

A man with a black polo shirt standing in a hospital room.

A photo of me in my hospital room during my last hospitalization.

Despite my body’s devastation, I kept my optimistic sense of humor and hope about the whole thing. I kept the sparkle in my eyes. My body was racked and tortured, but my spirit remained hopeful. All my life I had been an advocate of exercise, of maintaining a fit body. For a couple of decades in my younger life, you would have called me an athlete. Despite the obvious obstacles that come with being a cancer patient, I kept moving.

Like the old Nike tennis shoe commercial, I lived by the motto “Just do it!” I kept trying to do what I always did. Sure, I took more naps, I moved slower, I ached and there were days I laid around in a dark room watching a stack of movies (especially right after coming home from a week of chemo), but those days were few. Even in the hospital, I put in my miles walking around the building, taking advantage of those rare hours when I was in between bags of chemo when I was not connected to my IV pole, which I aptly named “Rolly.” At home, I went to the local YMCA several days a week. I lifted weights, played racquetball and sat in the sauna.

Man wearing a black Beatles shirt, flexing his muscles.

How I look now after enhancing my diet and regaining my muscle.

But after “Ringing the Bell,” I increased my exercise both in duration and intensity. I added calories and protein to my diet. Month after month, I got stronger and stronger. Slowly but surely, I put the weight and muscle back on my skeletal frame. I am happy to say that not only did I regain the lost mass, but I’m a few pounds heavier than before the cancer diagnosis and treatment. On my first anniversary of being cancer-free, I took the above photo. It’s not much to look at. I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger. But more than anything, I wanted to leave you, Reader, with the notion that no matter how dismal things seem during the often-torturous cycles of chemo and radiation (and other therapies), it’s not forever. You won’t always be in that wasted state. The old you is still in there. They say, “Time heals all wounds.” From my own experience, it doesn’t take a lot of Time. Sometimes full recovery is just around the corner. For me, one year made all the difference.

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