Life after lymphoma treatment: How I'm focusing on my health
Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to think that death steals life from us. Now I realize that it’s the other way around; death is the constant, and life is ephemeral, brief and easy to lose. While this might sound dark, coming to this conclusion actually has helped me better appreciate what I have and inspired me to lead a healthy lifestyle after cancer.
In July 2013, I was diagnosed with stage IE extranodal N/K T-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer in my nasal passage. During my treatment at MD Anderson, my oncologists told me that exercise was an important part of treatment. So I walked a lot – about 5 miles every day. I think this is a big part of the reason my lymphoma treatment was relatively trouble-free.
As I entered remission, my doctors continued to stress the importance of physical activity. At that time, I committed to continuing my daily exercise routine. Within three weeks of completing chemotherapy, I’d worked my way up to running 3 miles every other day.
How I stay motivated to exercise
Four years later, I’m still running every other day and doing between 50 and 150 pushups along my run. On the days I don’t run, I try to get in 10,000 steps on my fitness tracker, and on weekends, I work in a different sort of activity, such as a hike or a mountain bike ride. I’ve found that working out early in the morning helps ensure that I get my physical activity in, and it supercharges me for the rest of the day.
I’ll admit, staying consistent can get difficult. It’s so easy to just not exercise because it takes a while to see the impact of not exercising. To stay motivated, I think of daily exercise as part of my lifelong fight against cancer.
Changing my diet
I approach my diet with a similar perspective. Actually, I developed diabetes while taking steroids with my chemotherapy regimen, so limiting my intake of sugar is twice as important for me. At first, I wrote down everything I ate. Once I started paying attention to my habits, I realized I was consuming way more sugar than I thought. I decided to eliminate added sugar -- cold turkey. It wasn’t easy, but using alternatives such as stevia to sweeten my tea helped ease my transition.
I also started thinking about how different foods made me feel. Once it became evident that vegetables were much kinder on my body than cheeseburgers, I felt motivated to make healthy choices and started eating more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. I also try to plan my meals so that I can avoid making poor dietary choices in the name of convenience. And I try to get all of my calories from food, not from beverages.
Learning to control my chronic stress has also helped me maintain my health since I completed lymphoma treatment. I used to allow stress to take over my mental health. I carried problems around and let them fester. Now, I am much more aware of what stress is doing to me, and I try my hardest to maintain my own mental peace despite any challenges I’m facing. It’s a constant chore, but I use my cancer journey to keep things in perspective.
Exercising helps manage my stress, but so does listening to music and setting aside play time with my family’s German shepherd, Stella. And when I feel my anxiety ramping up, I turn to my favorite spiritual book for guidance. I’ve also become more selective in the company I keep. I used to just "grin and bear it" whenever I hung around people who annoyed me, but now I prefer to dedicate my time to the people who matter most to me.
Incorporating these habits into my daily life helps me feel more in control of my health than ever before. And they’re helping me set a good example for my teenage kids, too.
I feel blessed to have a second chance at life, so I want to do everything in my power to prolong it.