Friday, March 11, 2016

From Couch Potato To Exercise Freak: My #Fitness Journey Amid #Cancer Struggles

Origin: Rebel
Hey beautiful people!

Post didn't manage to come in on Wednesday; I hope you won't mind that I moved the day a little as it seems Fridays are/will be a bit less mad in the big scheme of things.

So it was my birthday last week, and when I turned 32 a year ago, I took a long, good look at myself and my lifestyle and I knew something had to give. The thirties were creeping up on me (slow metabolism, finding carbs to be almost toxic to my waistline, sugar making me balloon up, loss of energy, listlessness) and this was all not helped by the fact that I also take Tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker hormone therapy that is a fixture of post-estrogen-receptive cancer diagnosis. It was my fourth year on the drug, and though I'd been originally told on 2010 when I came down with breast cancer for the second time that I would need to take the drug for 5 years, in the meantime, the consensus had changed that the drug should now be taken for 10 years (!!!), to be switched after those 10 years with another drug that caters to post-menopausal women. But in my case, I had come down with this cancer at the age of 27, so 10 years onwards would make me only 37, not at all even close to 'real' menopause and certainly not post-menopausal...

But I digress. One of the side effects of Tamoxifen is (but of course!) a slower metabolism and making you put on weight all while having a sharp tendency to raise your cholesterol levels. It's literally what a woman would've gone through at menopause, when the body dwindles to a stop the production of estrogen (Tamoxifen is an estrogen inhibitor that blocks the hormone, effectively negating it, in the body).

Watch me packing on the pounds then!

Awry numbers on the scale? Check.
Spare tyre around the belly? Check.
Thicker arms that looked like wobbly salami? Check.
Thighs...well, let's not even go there, shall we?

I'll be honest with you guys. I've never been 'naturally' thin. I was a chubby kid - prolly because my mother made me drink about a pint of whole milk morning and night (right upon waking, last thing before going to bed). Then when she would take out a plate for me, the rice (we are Indians, after all, so yes, rice) would be what an adult is supposed to eat portion-wise. Add to this that I was never encouraged to exercise (Indian mums and aunties tend to think that exercising runs the risk of turning women into those body-built, steroid-enhanced women whose muscles bulge everywhere...and something else, too: too much exercise could affect your 'womanly' balance. Read by that make you a woman who doesn't like men anymore...aka a lesbian. I dunno where they got that idea, but still, I digress again.)

So I never exercised. I would run 200 yards in PE class and already have a stitch in my side. I would be among the last to cross the line at the school cross-country race (unfortunately, you couldn't bail out of participating). I remember one year we had a male PE teacher and every other week (or for as much as I could get away with it), when asked why I wasn't in my PE clothes, I would use the classic excuse, "Got my period." Being a man, he would look away and never call me or my friends on our BS with this excuse, so there you have it. I even faked pain in my knee and got a medical certificate once to be excused from PE class for a few months.

That's the extent I ran away from exercise...without actually running away, if you get what I mean. In the meantime, I was still a chubby, flabby girl with monster thighs and who had never seen a flat stomach on herself.

Then the year I turned 16 happened, and I was doing my O-Level exams. Kind of a big deal, so lots of studying, and lots of walking all over the school campus as I had one of the most eclectic electives schedule so I was always rushing to and from classes. At the same period, my dad started buying Oolong Tea to drink for his cholesterol levels to go down, and me being forever Daddy's Little Girl, I would have a bowl of the tea with him in the evenings after dinner.
At the start of my 16th year, for my Dress & Textiles class' exam, we had a course work component - we had to make a blouse and a skirt for ourselves, taking the most extreme care with the stitching and all that lovely hoopla to showcase that we knew how to sew from scratch (or maybe, from pattern, coz we never drew the pattern). I took my measurements, made my skirt and blouse from these, sent off the garments to Cambridge. Forgotten about it completely afterwards.

Results come in early 2000, and I passed my papers with flying colours (all that studying paid off). Then our course works were returned to us...and shocker when I got mine, and even the teacher mentioned her shock there - the clothes were a full 1.5 sizes too big on me now! Went to investigate - over the period of my studying and exams - let's say it was 3-4 months - I had lost...get this, 12 kilos! That's almost 25 pounds!

Spurred on by that monumental weight loss, I took to better habits. I cut soda and sugar, even from my tea (no clue today how I ever managed to do that!), I reduced my portion sizes, especially with rice. I drank only water, to the amount of 3-4 litres a day. Cut the milk, as well, and switched to milky coffee in the mornings.

This continued for a few more years, and by the time I married my husband (current one, who is actually Husband #2 - long story for another post, lol), I was at my lowest weight of 46 kgs/101pounds for a height of 5'3/1m61. I remember there was a Max Mara outlet in Mauritius back then, from where I got a pair of trousers that were, get this, Size 0! I wore this on our honeymoon flight back home.

Then soon after, I got pregnant. Eating for two, coz I really didn't want this baby to have a bad start, I packed on the weight, to end up at 64kgs/140pounds on the day I delivered him. He weighed only 6 pounds, so guess what - I was left with over 30 pounds extra on my body. No clue what to do with that...and the plan was for us to try for another baby once he'd be a toddler, so bit pointless to lose the weight only to gain it back, right?

We hadn't counted on cancer to make an appearance (well, who does, really?). The year my son was to turn 2, I noticed I was losing weight, and everyone was pointing it out. I thought my lifestyle was making me shed the post-baby weight - who in their right mind, at just 22 years of age, thinks acute and sudden weight loss is actually rapid-growing cancer cells eating off the sugar and fat in their system? And bam, we had breast cancer on our hands. Over a year of treatments later, I just wanted to be left alone...

Notice there is no exercise in there whatsoever! I was still allergic to it. Fast-forward a few more years, and my 5-year potential remission date approaching. I wanted this number to have full meaning for me - for the doctor to tell me I was "cancer-free" and that I should go and enjoy my life like a "normal" person now. (Side note: it doesn't actually work that way... More on that in another post).
But lo and behold - 2 months before that 5-year mark...*drum roll* guessed it...another cancer pokes its head out.

And that's when I got to the point of "enough is enough!" To prevent cancer, or at least try to coz you can't really plug it in, you should be living a healthy lifestyle full of antioxidants, vegetables, no bad fats (and these to me mean vegetable fats, NOT butter and the kinds that they tell you are supposedly bad for your heart. Again, another post on that later...), and shocker of all -well, not really- you need to be active, aka exercise.

I'd done everything I could to escape exercise my whole life, but guess I would have to pinch my nose and swallow the bad pill here. I had no way out.

I don't really remember how it started... I think it was a Jillian Michaels' DVD (Ripped in 30, I think it was). Around the same time, my husband was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes so he, too, needed to get on the exercise wagon. We bought our first treadmill - which he wanted to get as a manual one, as in you need to get the rug moving by, well, moving. Not the automated kind that moves and pushes you off onto your arse if you're not paying attention. Then soon after, we got our elliptical machine, which I used 3 times a week. I won't tell you about the pain in my legs the day after - will spare you that horror!

From there, I discovered Zumba, and from home and armed with DVDs and YouTube videos, I learned the moves, started dancing and working out along the music, and in the process, unlocked all those joints that had never seen any movement and even corrected my two left feet!

As for results - was I getting them? I did see a faint tone in my arms, but the belly and thighs? Come again, they seemed to be saying to me. But I was in all the way, and I am one of those people who once she's started something will not give up unless a force majeure is at play to stop her. So I powered on, tried different stuff - strength training, HIIT, Kickboxing, and finally, Yoga (all this last part in the course of the past year).

Today, I cannot conceive of a week where I'm not working out at least twice for 45mins-1hour as one where I can expect to feel good. Exercise is my drug, you could say, and I am seeing the results they're bringing. FYI - this girl, at 33, finally has a flat belly and stomach, for the first time in her life! This is how I feel good now, what powers my body and keeps me not just in shape but in a good mood, allows me to sleep better (Tamoxifen & menopause bring a lot of insomnia, not to mention night sweats and hot flashes that further disrupt your sleep). And the biggest change happened in the past year - will break it down to the hows and whys in further posts.
And is it working for the cancer? Well, I know my cancer marker numbers are staying consistently low (praise be to God!), so yes, it does seem to be doing its job.

Bottom line - if I can do it, anyone can! I was the epitome of the couch potato, the one who never moved beyond maybe getting the remote from the couch. Housework? You gotta be kidding - I got off with the bare minimum while using the least energy and movement possible. Does that describe you? Well, give exercise a try - you might come to actually like it!

And I now realize this has been a looooong rant... Thanks for having stuck by if you're still here! And please, think about what I've said. You could be saving your life through just a bit of movement a few times a week.

From Mauritius with love,



Kathy Bosman said...

Wow, what a story, Zee. I'm glad the exercising is working for you. I know some people are so adverse to it, but I'm a miserable chick if I don't exercise regularly. It's nice to have a goal too. I'm not a great cardio person - as I've got into my forties, I tend to prefer the milder, more strengthening kind like yoga and ballet and walking. At the moment, my goal is to become good at yoga. I'm still relatively new and have a long way to go but I want to rock it!

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you, Kathy! LOL, yes, it's been a journey all right :)

But I'm with you - the goal of being good at what you are doing should be a good motivation to get us to go beyond our limits, to push ourselves. And I'm sure you're gonna rock it, all the way!



Unknown said...

I am so incredibly proud of you... you have no idea! Never change, sis. Never. Love you. xoxo

Zee Monodee said...

Thank you, my darling sister! You're my rock, too - never forget that! <3 *huggles*