I kicked my shoes under the bed. If I delay long enough, I thought, we’ll be late, and I won’t have to go.
My husband Gary handed me two sneakers and a pair of socks. “Here they are,” he said. I got in the car barefoot, with no makeup, my hair in a rat’s nest, and a grumpy expression on my face. He drove while I laced up the sneakers.
Here’s a secret: I haven’t worked out in a long time. Yes, I go for walks, swim a few laps once in a while, even lift weights on rare occasions. But I haven’t broken a sweat on a consistent basis in five years.
“Do you exercise?” docs always ask when I go for my six-month breast cancer checkups. It’s not exactly a lie when I say “yes” because wandering around the house counts, right? And yes, I do know that exercise is critical to cancer recovery.
Shortly after my final chemo session, I remember walking to the post office, a helpful suggestion from a caring, worried husband. I was worried, too. Worried that I wouldn’t make it, that if I had to rest on the curb, it would be embarrassing for me and a hassle for the paramedics called in for the rescue. That I’d wind up in the ER again because of this little walk. I stepped out the door anyway, inching like a centurion with an emaciated face and no hair. Although I felt like a freak show, I made it.
That was four years ago, and since then, my exercise habits have been in the toilet. Last month, though, Gary found a flyer in our mailbox for “Fit in 42,” an ad that normally would have landed in the trash. Other than owning a juicer, my husband has never shown much interest in the Jack LaLanne lifestyle.
For some reason, he latched onto this flyer, maybe because we have a honeymoon-we never-took, post-cancer, dream vacation coming up.
Gary decided to give the gym a try and he liked it so much that he turned on me like a multilevel marketer at a church basement potluck. “It’s boot camp,” he kept telling me, as if that were a good thing. He worked it into every conversation until I finally ran out of excuses.
By the time I had my shoelaces tied, we were in the parking lot. I looked longing at the doughnut shop next door and anticipated a posse of beautiful women in coordinated workout wear. You know the ones — cuties in bright colors who can place a palm flat on the floor as easily as I can reach for a second cookie. “Oh, that stretch feels so good,” they coo while they swing one leg behind their head and balance nonchalantly on the other.
A guy named Jason met us at the door — an Irish charmer whose wife has a nasty breast cancer story of her own. I never met my grandfather, but I could hear his voice in Jason’s accent and felt a connection to my roots. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
“Take a lap around the building,” Jason commanded in his singsongy Irish inflection. Americans like me are powerless against it, and off I went with the others, scanning the group for someone in worse shape than I’m in. My only hope was an old guy, but he was holding his own.
Last to cross the threshold and panting like a chain-smoker, I found a spot in the gym for the next round of exercises. The smell of sweat and rubber floor mats permeated the air, and AC/DC’s “Back In Black” blasted through nearby speakers. “I wasn’t cool enough for this music even when I was 20,” I shouted to Gary. “Why don’t they ever play Anne Murray at venues like these?” My husband rolled his eyes.
That workout was brutal, and I knew I was going to be sore when it was over. But something clicked. I caught a glimpse of my not-too-distant-future self. Stronger. My skin not so slack. Having balance again.
“If you could buy fitness in a pill, people would pay a fortune for it,” my brother-in-law Mike always says. But of course, fitness isn’t for sale, you have to earn it — just like the geezer in the Smith Barney commercials used to say.
Getting my energy back from cancer is a journey, a jagged line on the graph of my recovery. Thanks to the relentless badgering of my husband and the charming accent of a guy named Jason, I think I’ve finally found the tool I’ve been looking for.
Now, if I could just keep track of my shoes.
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