Running Toward Better Heart Health
I began treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 1964, when I was a toddler. At that time, leukemia was a death sentence, but I survived. Through the years, I fought to maintain my health.
So, imagine my shock when a 2008 check-up revealed that my lifestyle was killing me.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My mouth dropped open when the doctor gave me the news. He said I was obese. My blood pressure and cholesterol were high. To top it off, I would soon become diabetic if I didn’t curb my sugar intake.
I thought, “No, not me! I’m a survivor. I’m going to make a complete lifestyle change.”
Healthy Choices Yield Benefits
When I arrived home, I quit drinking sugary soft drinks. That was difficult, because I drank a lot of soda. Then, I drastically reduced other sugar intake. I vowed to eat my favorite cheesecake only on special occasions. In the grocery store, I began to check every food label. I only bought foods that contained 7 grams of sugar or less per serving.
To increase my physical activity, I joined a gym. At first, I simply walked on the treadmill. Then I added in weights and began to run. Before long, I saw results: I felt stronger, my clothes fit better, and my muscles became toned.
And then I started running races.
Running Toward Fitness
My first 5K race was terrible. Every time I came to a hill, I stopped. I would walk up the hill and walk down the other side. Mad and discouraged, I said, “That’s it, no more races.” But, a few weeks later, my sister talked me into entering a local race. To my surprise, I won my age group! So I entered one more. And another. And another.
Since 2009, I’ve run 499 races. They range from 5Ks and 10Ks to 42 full marathons.
In 2018, I married my wife after one of those events. Susan handed me a bow tie as I crossed the finish line. She wore a wedding dress and running shoes, and she carried a bouquet of white roses. It was the best day ever.
If you’re a childhood cancer survivor, it’s never too late to change your lifestyle. It just takes time and a lot of willpower.
5 Tips for Taking Charge of Your Health
- Get regular checkups. I make sure that my health care providers have a copy of my survivorship care plan. This plan helps them understand the treatment I had. It also explains the screening tests I need based on that treatment. Your doctor can also give you advice about starting an exercise program.
- Get off the couch. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and all that you have been through. I think about my cancer journey all the time. But I know I have to take action to see results. Go for a walk. Ride a bike. Any activity that gets your heart pumping is a step in the right direction.
- Watch what you eat. If you have a favorite dessert, cut back on it. If you eat 5 pieces of cake a week, reduce that number to 1 or 2. Eventually, you will be able to stop eating that item. Your body won’t crave it after a while.
- Don’t rush it. Give your body time to get where you want it to be. It took between 1 and 2 years for me to lose 40 pounds, even though I was exercising nearly every day.
When you reach a goal, set a new one. I continue to watch what I eat, and I constantly work toward new goals. For example, I want to do an IRONMAN race one day. I might not reach that goal until I’m 62 or 65. But I will reach it.
Fitness in Childhood Cancer Patients: How to Stay Physically Active During and After TreatmentFeb 2, 2021