Back to the Familiar Two-Step
By Andrea Eisenman
Most people with CF know what I mean when I say that I feel like I am in a perpetual loop of one step forward, two steps back. And, sadly, it doesn’t take much at times to send me backward. It can be a Mohs surgery to remove skin cancer—such as squamous or basal cell carcinoma—which inhibits exercise for three weeks due to stitches and risk of scarring. And other times, it can be a routine exacerbation with a round of IV antibiotics. Most recently, it’s recovering from a hernia repair surgery.
I just do not feel like myself or fully well if I am not exercising my right to exercise! I am not a gym rat or cross-fit fiend, but rather want to just break a sweat using my stationary bike or do circuit training, even with my own body weight. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when going to a gym was a non-starter for people like me—someone with CF, diabetes, double lung transplant, and cancer in remission—I used online exercise classes to stay fit. I was going to a physical therapy (PT) place that had online Zoom classes and then started using Beam Feel Good Zoom classes too. On my own, I used my indoor bike for aerobic exercise to foster physical endurance with the added bonus of mental clarity. I also trained once a week with a trainer from my PT place. I felt pretty good!
The more time I spend out of my exercise routine, the less I want to get back into it. A rolling stone gathers no moss, while a stone at rest… gathers no momentum or something like that. Once I fall out of the pattern of exercise, I start to not want to bother or make the effort. Which is sort of where I have been for the last few months. This usually leads me straight to depression, which furthers my lack of enthusiasm to do much of anything.
After the repair of my femoral hernia, I was told to rest for about two weeks then I could ease back into my usual exercise slowly. What I did was take off for two weeks plus almost an additional six! I am now slowly crawling my way back to biking. And I feel so out of shape and short of breath when I do exercise that it makes me not want to go through the struggle. But I know I have to push through this challenge as I do not feel as good as I did pre-hernia surgery. And part of this is a lack of aerobic exercise.
This time, I feel the two steps back could become three or four steps if I do not start kicking it into high gear. But as I speak to others with CF, some of who have gone through worse and have to start over to claw their way back to baseline, I realize that my situation is not so bad and that I have to just get off the couch and do something about it. While I still play tennis and pickleball, I can see that I am winded more easily getting around on the courts.
I know that part of this whole thing is mental. I am upset that I feel short of breath and that my lung capacity feels diminished. This makes it much harder to get excited to bike than before which makes me more upset and it starts a vicious cycle of avoidance.
My goal is to stop judging myself. Even if I was at a higher level previously, I need to just get on my bike and work slowly back up to where I was before as a north star. With circuit training, I have a list of exercises I did each time I exercised. I am now making a list of five to seven exercises and stick to those for two circuits. Eventually, I think I will notice a change and start to progress. Aside from not judging and taking it slow, I have to remind myself to be patient. Eventually, I hope to resume my old levels and if not, I will have to settle for new ones. As my husband constantly reminds me, I am no longer a spring chicken or 21!
About the Author: Andrea is 55 and has CF. She recently celebrated 20 years post-transplant. She is the Executive Editor/Webmaster of CF Roundtable. She lives in New York City with her husband, Steve, with their two dogs, Willie and Roscoe.