The other day at the gym after a tough workout I was sitting on the floor with a couple friends, the gym owner and a friend that I workout with during my regular 9:00 class. We were talking about the benefits of high intensity interval training and metabolic conditioning, one of the primary components of CrossFit. I’ve heard that these types of workouts keep your skin looking younger, therefore making a person look younger than they are. One of the gals, commented that she wasn’t surprised because this style of workouts increase your metabolic rate, therefore, it seems reasonable that your body would flush toxins out of your body faster reducing the time that cells are exposed to various toxins. I mentioned that this was one reason I continued to do CrossFit throughout chemo to hopefully flush all the toxic chemo drugs through my system faster. One of my friends, V, said that she was so impressed that I worked out throughout chemo and I immediately followed with, “I think it was also my greatest downfall”. It was a big part of what crushed me mentally and physically. She was very surprised and the owner of the gym said, “but, would that have been different had you been in a different environment.” Without hesitation I replied, “Absolutely.” We continued talking about my struggles throughout and after cancer 2.0 treatment and the slow and arduous process that it was. V said that I should share my story, because it may help somebody who is or was in my same situation. I don’t know if it will help somebody, but this is something I have thought of writing about for a long time. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think mostly because it was such a mentally and physically hard process that I didn’t expect.
From the very beginning after the second cancer diagnosis I was pissed, I was angry. My doctors all said there was no reason I should have ever got cancer in the first place and here I was with the news of a recurrence. I’m not even sure I can make this long story short so I will just type away and see how much I need to edit in the end.
Chemo obviously wreaks havoc on the body and by god, I refused to let treatment get the best of me, but get the best of me it did…quickly. I was told that about day three after a treatment is when I would start to feel the crappy side effects. I don’t know if it was because of my metabolism flushing stuff through my body faster, working out, or just dumb luck, but it hit me the next day. Working out was awful, that is when I felt the absolute worst during treatment. I would start to move and my body would experience immediate, horrible lactic acid burn and I had no muscle or physical endurance or stamina. Getting through a workout was incredibly challenging and soul crushing. My strong, fit body that I had worked so hard to build was crushed in a blink of an eye by poisons pumped directly into my body via my jugular vein, affecting EVERY SINGLE CELL in my body and no matter how hard I wanted to push through, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t physically possible and that pissed me off and just crushed me. Looking back, I know I should have taken it more easy, but that wasn’t my mentality in the gym or out of the gym. This mentality is probably part of what has gotten me to where I am today, but at the time I should have done things a bit differently. But, I continued to try to do what I had always done…I go, I do the work, I work hard, etc.
This brings me back to the question I was asked, “would that have been different had you been in a different environment?” I believe so. My coach and supposedly somebody who cared about me and once considered me like family pretty much abandoned me, not just as a person, but as an athlete in the gym. As a coach, the coach I want to be, it is my job to keep people in the gym safe and working out sensibly through medical or physical issues. If you aren’t familiar with something you research and learn more to best train your members. That is what a CrossFit member pays for, actual coaching. Not to be ignored or rarely talked to. I am the first to admit that I wasn’t a pleasure to be around either and I pushed myself away from people. I was so angry, depressed, sad, tired, crushed, etc. that I couldn’t see straight. I could have used somebody to approach me to ask what was going on and maybe help me make a plan. A coach to say, “How are you feeling physically today? Okay, I think you should do this today instead of trying to do the workout on the board” or have a conversation with me to see how dark my world was and how it was affecting me in the gym, not be offended when I tried classes outside the gym to try to hold onto my joy of working out. I finally asked the owner/head coach if I could speak with him and I explained the long dark journey I was on, apologized for how I pushed myself away and my unhappiness with everything and that I was trying so hard to turn myself around. I was encouraged and told that anything I needed was supported. Instead in the end I was pushed out of coaching with a text and never spoke to again regarding the gym, therefore leading to me leaving my CrossFit home of over seven years. More heartbreak and depression set in. The wind was knocked out of my sails. I would come to discover that this was a blessing in disguise and the start of a slow 18-month process of finally coming out of my dark, sad, lonely, heartbroken place. Leaving something toxic, I was welcomed into a new gym in the valley, a new healthy place.
In May of 2016 I walked into a CrossFit gym as a new member, not as a once-upon-a-time coach, not somebody who had been through cancer twice, or somebody that had once performed at a much higher level than I was physically able to now. Nobody knew why my hair was short, why I was one of the slowest one in a workout, why I couldn’t push hard, etc. I was just a new member and that was kind of refreshing. After my first workout I was sitting on the floor quietly recovering and writing in my journal, still feeling sad, displaced, lost and betrayed. The owner walked over, sat down beside me, and said, “Tony said you have been out of CrossFit for a little while” and we talked about where I was at and where I wanted to be. That was the most a coach had really talked to me in over a year, regarding wanting to know where I was and where I wanted to be in the gym and even outside of the gym. “We’ll get you there” was the last thing she said to me. That day was the most I had been coached in years. I left the gym, got into my car and cried and cried. Relief for finding what could be a new sanctuary, sadness for what I had lost, thankful for somebody that genuinely cared and wanted to help, anger for being so blind about some things for so long and for being drug into other’s negativity instead of standing my ground and being my own person, more thankfulness for the opportunity to build myself back up and to be a better person than I had been in the past.
It has now been a year and a half since I walked into my new CrossFit gym and a lot has happened for me in that time. Where I have come in the past 18 months has been a slow process. At my new gym I was far more consistent that I had been in the 18 months prior, but I still wasn’t fully committed to the gym or to working out in general. Since I was 19, fitness and working out has been my passion. Anybody that really knows me will not argue with this statement. I had lost that and it was a struggle for me and I was trying like hell to feel that passion again. It’s very hard losing a 25 year long passion and love. I knew I wanted it back, it was important to me, probably defined me more than it should, but I didn’t know how to get there and I was doing anything I could think of to find that love and passion again, for anything physical really. So, I started doing whatever felt good for the day, be it the gym, mountain biking, trail running or my new found love hiking with my dog. I will admit, hiking to begin with, and still some to a degree, was simply to just get lost and away from people. On a mountain trail, deep in the mountains I felt lighter and more myself, where much of my healing started.
Around this time I also abandoned everything cancer related. I felt I had been the poster child for breast cancer in the valley for a long time and I couldn’t be that person anymore. I was too angry, lost and sad to be anything positive for somebody else that needed support. I didn’t want to be defined by cancer anymore, I wanted to leave that heaviness behind. There was a lot of guilt, because I wanted to help other women if I could, but I couldn’t anymore. I had to give myself permission to leave that chapter of my life behind and let somebody else do that kind of work. I also took a break from the women’s cancer support group I was a part of. I had to be selfish and take care of myself before I could be any good for anybody else. I had to get back to a place that I could be something good for somebody that was going through their own dark place.
After six months of being in my new gym I decided to take a month off from the gym, I had a couple things that were going to limit me in the gym so I decided to just remove Crossfit for a month and take a break. This time stretched into six weeks and by that time I had made a decision not to go back to CrossFit. I was still mentally and physically struggling post-chemo and needed to take a break, at the time I had no plans of going back. Physically I still wasn’t recovering well from workouts, my lungs felt so compromised, I struggled catching my breath, my body fatigued so quickly, and I just was not enjoying my gym time. I loved the atmosphere, the people, the coaching, the remarkable programming, etc., but I struggled with going to the gym. I called it my PTSD. The gym is where I had felt the worst during chemo and I was still so hurt from final circumstances at our first gym. The days that I would go to the gym I would feel anxious, stressed and many times reduced to tears as I drove to the gym, simply because I didn’t want to go and feel physically more awful than you typically would after a CrossFit workout. I couldn’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. I just had to do something new. I joined a new “typical” gym (cardio machines, free weights, a room for fitness classes) that was three minutes from our house. I bought a book with a year’s worth of lifting programs and I set out to start lifting again after not doing so in over seven years. Strangely enough I found that I had totally forgotten how to lift, but quickly figured it out, it isn’t rocket science. I also quickly discovered that I loathed lifting, treadmills, and fitness classes. lol Though, all are great to get a workout in, they are all so inefficient compared to what I was used to. I found myself easily talking myself out of going to the gym, I had gained some weight (and it was NOT muscle!) and was lucky to make it twice a week for about five months. By this time I had decided to go back to CrossFit in the fall, probably October. I had joined this new gym on a 12 month commitment so I was going to get through most of that to not waste the monthly payments.
Right about the time I decided to return to CrossFit in the fall I got a message from the CrossFit gym owner asking if I would be interested in coaching. This was the catalyst I needed to get me excited again and to get be back to CrossFit. So, in May of this year I returned to CrossFit. Though, very thankful and blessed to be back at CrossFit, deciding to take a six-month break was definitely one of the best things I have done for myself since my second diagnosis. During this time I worked out just enough to barely maintain my fitness level and I was pretty okay with that. I generally didn’t care, which isn’t a good thing, it isn’t that positive, but it is also what I needed regarding where my body was physically. I attended some fitness classes at the gym that I really believe helped with my stamina and endurance. The low volume and lower intensity of workouts allowed my body a chance to fully recover. This time also gave my mind an opportunity to switch gears and enjoy CrossFit for different reasons than in the past. Prior to cancer 2.0 I had performed in the gym at a much higher level than I have been able to since and as sad as this is, it is a hard pill to swallow. My body doesn’t go very fast, I’m not as strong, and my body fatigues much faster still than it used to. I had to come to a place that I am okay with that, accepting my new normal. This is what I am capable of now and it is much better than not being able to workout at all. There are many positives. I am still more fit than I was before I started CrossFit eight and a half years ago. In just the past month and a half I have felt my body getting stronger. I still feel my body fatigue pretty quick in a workout, but my body doesn’t feel horrible and awful, I just fatigue. I’m still not really any faster, but sometime I feel like I am able to push myself harder than I have been able to. So there are improvements.
So, I was back at CrossFit, but due to an incredibly busy family summer I really wasn’t able to fully commit to my workouts or the coaching intern process until this Fall. However, this fall was the right time and there is always a right time for everything. I’ve learned some things can’t be forced, and usually patience prevails, even though patience is NOT my strong suit! For the first time in about three years I have set goals for myself in the gym. This is a big deal for me. Finally, and with a big sigh of relief, I care enough to want more from my workouts, not just get through them. This is my passion and love for working out and fitness coming back to me. I finally feel like I am on the other side of the darkness and ugliness that weighed on me for so long…and it is such a great, healthy place to be.
I’ll finish up this long story with a couple things I have learned and recognized through this process.
When going through something hard you will find that there are two kinds of friends, fair weather friends and friends that weather the storm. I’m at a point in my life that I am okay with ridding myself of the former and I will always strive to be the latter.
I think I was a good coach because I cared for and loved the people I coached. I loved connecting with women that didn’t think they were strong enough to do things in the gym and being there when they realized they could. However, I realized that I was taught to just lead classes instead of really coach classes and teach people. I have great opportunity now to become a much better coach at a gym that encourages always becoming better and learning more.
Sometimes you have to be selfish and take care of yourself. Find something, or more than one something, that makes it easy for you to take a deep breath again. Something that excites you, something of your own, something that makes you feel like yourself again. Something that makes you feel like a new, better version of yourself.
I can finally breathe again.
~Thank you to my friend, V, that encouraged me to write about this and thank you to BMCF for giving me a place to help heal my mind, body, and soul.~
“If you ever find yourself empty from something you cannot know or name, find a stretch of ocean, a field, or mountainside, or even clouds, or trees. Because there are 1,000 simple ways to fill your tired soul so you can remember how to be, how to see, and most importantly, how to breathe.” ~Victoria Erickson