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  • Mary-Sue Cowell

Comparison Trap (My Past Self)

When I think back to my first training session post cancer treatment man was I disappointed. I was part of a head and neck cancer treatment research study. They assessed you prior to treatment and post treatment. Post treatment and before starting the exercise program that was part of the study I had lost 25% of the muscle mass in my legs! Talk about deflating! I always took it as a compliment when people would comment on my strength or the size of my arms. I was considerably weaker than before (and should have expected to be). It was almost 6 months since I had exercised at all and chemo and radiation had wiped me out. I was disappointed because I had unrealistic expectations for myself. I was thinking of where I was 12 to 18 months earlier. I was setting myself up for failure and this wasn’t fair.

During the first sessions I was doing exercises that were simpler and easier and lifting weights that were lighter than before. I worked hard to tell myself I have to start somewhere and you will only get stronger from here. I felt good in that first workout even though I thought I would have been stronger to start. I felt in control of my body where the year previous had left me feeling completely out of control. I learned in that moment on that day that this was going to be (or continue to be) an important part of my life moving forward. In the program I committed to workouts 3 times per week under the supervision of a Personal Trainer and Masters of Kinesiology student at the U of C. I missed some days but of the 36 workouts they would like you to complete I completed 34 and am proud to say I regained almost all the strength back in my legs. We even had to switch to the university gym because the weights in the workout space designated for the study weren’t heavy enough. (Insert FLEX here!) My muscle endurance and cardiovascular stamina did not bounce back as much but I will get there. If you would have told me at that first workout where all we were doing were simple body weight squats with plenty of rest that I would get back to where I was before I would not have believed you. The feeling of strength and control kept me in the game. I had to start small, listen to my body, rest and take breaks now more than ever. There was important recovery and rebuilding shit to do so I could continue to be a mama to my beautiful daughter, a wife, a friend, a family member; all of the important things.

My recovery from treatment was (and is) most important but I am bound and determined to help my body along the way. One thing we did in these workouts everyday was rate our fatigue before and the workouts were adjusted accordingly but hear this; they were NOT skipped. This meant we listened to my body and moved it, worked it and rested it in a way appropriate for that day and time. This is still something I practice and encourage you to do with any commitment you make to yourself - check in. Check in before you workout; it might not be fatigue level maybe it’s mood. Then check in again at the end and I would say for me 90 % of the time I was less fatigued walking out of that Thrive Centre than before. This program brought me back to myself. I just spoke of the physical side today but I benefited mentally as well. I am a huge proponent of activity that works for you and you have to start or re-start and start again somewhere. Do it today, do it for you!

I committed to three workouts a week after completing that program. I have stayed true to that commitment. I may have missed one or two sessions here or there but I’m learning not to focus on those because that just negates all of the things I have done to honor my commitment. Allowing myself to look back at my strength in the past and telling myself I should be there is crazy because this is a different season in my life. Comparison is not helpful whether with your past self or another human I am focused on what I have accomplished and what I can do in the present. The feeling I get from that knowledge is what keeps me going. It’s not always easy but I’m worth it. I workout out for ME so I can Stand STRONG and be here for a long time enjoying this life of mine.

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