The first time I met with my running coach, she had me run a quarter mile as fast as I could. As I neared the finish, I remember feeling like I was drowning. As soon as I finished she had me slow to a jog without stopping and timed me as I continued this very easy pace until I caught my breath, recovered, and was able to run again. She calculated my pace and how long it took me to recover and explained how this was different for everyone. This was an important lesson for me. Part of my marathon training involves pushing the envelope with speed and effort for as long as I can, followed by several minutes of recovery. Similarly, there is another aspect to recovery. As I push myself to improve my stamina and strength, on some days I’m too sore or exhausted to train. I have learned that taking a break for a day to allow my body and my muscles to recover is essential.
The training experience reminded me that recovery is a necessary part of every effort.
Emotionally, recovery works best if you budget time for it beforehand. So many of us push ourselves to re-enter life after treatment or surgery. We often compare our progress with that of others, even though each of our situations is unique. We often aren’t patient enough with our bodies to grant ourselves time to recover before we try to go back to work, assume normal responsibilities, or exercise. Countless times I have heard people in our community say, “I was healing well from surgery but today I did 2 hours of yard work (or Zumba, work, fill-in-the-blank), and today I have swelling (or pain, fatigue, fill-in-the-blank).”
The concept of recovery is not new to me.
When cancer recurred to my lymph nodes after my mastectomy, I traveled to an out-of-state cancer center for care. I left my veterinary practice and life-in-progress to do what I thought would be best for my family and me. I underwent chemotherapy, radiation, genetic testing, abdominal BSO/hysterectomy, and prophylactic mastectomy.
During my treatment I was away from home and received many cards and letters from well-wisher friends, colleagues, and clients (and even a few from their pets). One card from a friend became my favorite: on the outside was an illustration of an idyllic country path, and inside it read: “The road will remain as you stop to remove the stone from your shoe.” I tried to keep this as my mantra throughout my treatment and recovery but it wasn’t always easy. Anxious about mounting medical bills after my 9-month leave of absence, I returned to my veterinary practice soon after returning home to Florida; my first day back on the job was only 9 short weeks after completing treatment and my abdominal surgeries. Even though I had a light load at the animal hospital, I remember sliding to the floor in an exhausted heap during lunch and saying, “I can’t do this.” I felt defeated. Yet by a month later, I was able to handle the work load. I could have saved myself emotional and physical frustration and pain if I had taken into account all that I had just gone through physically and emotionally and just given myself the time I needed to recover adequately.
So many times I see posts on our message boards or meet people at support group meetings with questions about recovery time. Most women want to know when they will get back to normal. Many people base their decisions regarding prevention and treatment on these questions, understandably trying to minimize recovery time by even a couple of weeks or days. In the big scheme of things, I have found that allowing for more recovery time up front can prevent an extended absence that becomes required to deal with a complication arising from doing too much, too soon.
Even 15 years later, I sometimes need a literal reminder of the important lesson from my friend’s card. Between my overwhelming work schedule, other obligations, my family, and the rainy season, marathon training doesn’t always take high priority. On the days when I am able to train, I don’t like to cut my training short or miss even one single training mile. The path I run is paved with river rocks, and once in a while I do get a stone in my shoe. On a particularly busy day when I was running after three days without training, the sky was overcast and threatened rain. I had pressured myself to run 9 miles for this workout. At the 8-mile mark, I felt a pebble in my shoe. I resisted stopping, because once I do, I always have a hard time restarting. It was a small pebble, I reasoned, and although I felt it, it didn’t hurt, and I was so close to finishing; I ran the remaining mile with the stone in my shoe.
No surprise that the resulting blister left me out of commission for three more days.
It’s not always easy to be patient or kind to ourselves, but no matter what the situation— surgery, illness, treatment, complication, grieving the loss of a loved one, or even training for a marathon—we need to give ourselves sufficient permission and time to recover both physically and emotionally to continue our journey and arrive at each milestone and tackle each challenge in our best possible shape.Tags: brca, BRCA 1, BRCA 2, brca testing, BRCA1, breast cancer early detection, breast cancer prevention, facing our risk, FORCE, Genetic counseling, HBOC, hereditary cancer, ovarian cancer, previvor, prophylactic mastectomy, prophylactic surgery, survivor