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Cancer is Sorta Like SoulCycle

I’ve never been much of an athlete. After 35 years my dad still gets a chuckle out of his joke that I’m "allergic to exercise." For the record, I’m convinced is totally genetic from his side (take that Dad!).

But a couple of years ago, I signed up for something called ClassPass. If you know what ClassPass is, you can skip to the next paragraph. If not, here’s how it works: you paid (at the time) $99 a month, and you had unlimited access to a whole bunch of different exercise classes. You could to Pilates, yoga, aqua aerobics, you name it. If you wanted to go 3 times a day, you could. It was unlimited. I started working out 4-5 times a week and started to love exercise. I liked most of classes, never got bored, and was open to trying other classes that weren't part of the ClassPass program.

One of the things I tried with my friend Tuba was SoulCycle. SoulCycle is like riding a stationary bike, but to very loud music and with candles. It’s like extreme biking with a spiritual twist. And it’s hard.

Every time I went to a SoulCycle class, my self-talk went something like this:

  1. OMG I’m scared, this is gonna be so hard.
  2. Hey, this isn’t so bad, what was I worried about?
  3. Okay, this is getting a little harder.
  4. My butt hurts.
  5. OMG what if I have an asthma attack? What if I fall off this bike?
  6. I’m not going to make it!
  7. Turn up the resistance?! NO! I’m not going to make it!
  8. Wait, there’s only 10 minutes left. I can totally do this.
  9. It’s over. I DID IT!
  10. I rock!

I wish I could tell you that I stopped having this internal dialogue and remembered how this worked the previous 5 times I’d been to SoulCycle, but I didn’t.

Instead, SoulCycle taught me a very valuable lesson that I didn’t know before: intense physical exercise is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. In fact, it might even be more of a mental challenge than it is physical. Working through the “I cants” is really hard. It take practice - lots and lots of practice - to learn that your body can do more than you think it can. If I'd gotten off the bike, I never would have learned that.

I’ve now had two cancer- related surgeries. One giant one (double mastectomy with reconstruction) and one baby one (I had a chemo port installed). Both times, I had moments where I thought, “I can’t do cancer. It’s too hard. I just can’t.”

Unlike SoulCycle, though, you can't get off the bike. You have no choice but to keep going. Truly, my only other options are jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge or dying a slow and horrible death, and I don't consider either of those options. And so I keep going.

I realized yesterday while two nurses were stabbing me eleven times trying to get a vein, that my biggest enemy is my own anxiety. My fear of the future and all it's possibilities is the cause of the vast majority of my misery right now. I couldn't calm down, was shaking like a leaf, and kept going waaaaaay too far in the future with the what if's:

  • What if I have a bad reaction to the chemo?
  • What if the double mastectomy wasn't the worst part, and the chemo is?
  • What if I have an emergency and end up in the hospital?
  • What if I have an emergency in the middle of the night and I'm alone with Charlie?
  • What if I go through all this and have a recurrence?
  • What if I have to go through this again?
  • What if I have to go through all this and die anyway?

I'm sure we can all agree, those are some pretty horrific "what ifs" compared to "what if I have an asthma attack or fall off this bike?" Needless to say, it's really hard to stay in the moment and maintain positivity when you're facing cancer instead of a 45 minute biking class.

But the lesson here is that I wasn't even having chemo in that moment, and I wasn't even going to get chemo for another week. In that moment, I was sitting in a hospital bed, surrounded by my parents, my boyfriend, and two nurses, and I was totally safe. All they were trying to do was put an IV in, which I've had done dozens of times. In that moment, my biggest problem was my own fear of the future.

I talked to a reiki healer today (because I'm a hippy in case you didn't know it), and she suggested I look at things a bit differently. Instead of thinking of chemo as a negative poison that will cause me all sorts of problems, look at chemo as a detox.

I already slew the dragon (i.e., the cancer), and I am currently cancer free to the best of anyone's knowledge. Now I'm flushing my body of any possibility of any remaining cancer cells. When they put the drugs in my port, thank them for doing their job. If I throw up, think about it as expelling the cancer. My job is to let the drugs do their job. Rest, drink vegan protein shakes, drink lots of water, and I will do very well.

I have a long, healthy life ahead of me, and this is a dark valley. I'm almost out of it.

I really liked her perspective.

By the way, I have a new mantra to replace the old one: I am cancer free, and always will be. There's something stronger about this one.

The featured photo is me, after my minor surgery yesterday. The artistic additions are by Bear. And to answer your questions: the port is basically an IV. You can have your blood drawn and drugs given through your port, but you cannot be fed mashed potatoes (or kale).