“I’ve already lost touch with a few people I used to be”
Joan Didion, 20th C American Novelist
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” T.S. Eliot, 20th C English Poet
Almost five years ago, I was seated in an exam room of the Holden Cancer Center in Iowa City when the doctor finally entered. He sat down in front of me and announced my diagnosis with all the glee of a depressed mortician:
“Richard, you have Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. It’s aggressive. It’s incurable. It’s treatable. But, with this said, there will be side effects.”
While I was relieved to know my cancer was treatable and I wasn’t going to topple over on my way to the parking garage after this appointment, I was stunned to learn to what extent my body would be affected so adversely by the likely side effects of the recommended therapy: hormone injections.
Apparently, my therapy would place me into a state of perpetual menopause. I would experience to a lesser or greater degree chronic fatigue, hot flashes, weight gain, muscle loss, hair loss, skin rashes, sexual impotence . . .
This was very hard news to hear, a real body blow.
Throughout my life, I’d always been athletic, strong, and fit. I grew up board and body surfing along the coast of Southern California and was an outstanding ocean and pool swimmer. I represented my Middle and High Schools on the basketball court. In my early twenties, I took up the life-long exercise of distance running and participated in hundreds of sanctioned races from that time forward.
Suddenly, I was faced with the real potential of losing touch with the physically capable and confident person I had always been. And, when I began over time to experience many of these side effects, I did lose touch with that robust self and a real shadow began to loom over my joy.
Shortly after my diagnosis, a friend told me about a new cancer organization in Des Moines, Above and Beyond Cancer (A+BC). Before long, I was applying to be a participant on the 2012 Nepal Trip and was accepted. Through this A+BC adventure and others since I’d learned the value of risk-taking, of exceeding personal limits in ways I’d never thought possible.
So when earlier this year I became aware of a new A+BC Mind-Body-Spirit initiative, the Total Training Program, was being offered, I took the risk of registering for the class.
Total Training is a customized, small group fitness program led by Mary Van Heukelom, the A+BC Health and Fitness Director. As a Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer, Mary is ideally suited for her position of leadership within the program.
The Total Training classes are offered twice a week at the Des Moines downtown Wellmark YMCA, on Thursday evening at 5:15 p.m. and Friday morning at 11:50 a.m., and last an hour.
Every session includes the following components: cardio interval training; functional total body training using free weights; balance training; yoga; and mindful meditation. Participants also receive a hand-made Nepalese booklet to use for gratitude journaling.
The classes are modest in size (14 is optimal), which allows Mary the opportunity to provide individual coaching while at the same time leading the group. There is a pre and post assessment with each class participant, including nutrition coaching and goal setting, and regular check-in on line surveys are conducted periodically to touch base with class members and chart progress.
Mary is a wonderful health/fitness guide and knows her craft. She artfully explains the what, how and why of every class activity. Naturally kind and sunny in disposition, Mary can and will, as necessary, bark out encouragement with the red-faced ferocity of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor if she feels we’re not making the most of our workout. She’s always pushing us to strive for new levels of body-mind-spirit connection and well-being.
Because of the Total Training Program, I’m back in touch with my body again; living more fully from the neck down than I thought was possible. I’m losing fat and gaining muscle. My blood pressure, serum cholesterol, and blood sugar have all improved. My balance is better, which means Mary no longer has to blurt, “Richard, don’t hurt yourself,” when I try to stand on one foot.
Simply put, I cannot recommend the Total Training Program enough! If you, like me, yearn to reconnect with that before-cancer healthy, strong and physically confident person you once were, take the risk and enroll in this program. It’s free! It works! And, it’s great, good fun!
Best of all, you’ll likely become reacquainted with a healthier and happier version of your old self you’d thought you’d lost. And, believe me, you’ll be so glad to welcome that self back!