A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Chlorine is My Preferred Perfume

I've discovered the Fountain of Youth. It's the pool at my gym.

Swimming is excellent for repairing damaged muscles, tendons, ligaments and broken bones. The water provides a safe buffer, so you can't overextend yourself, and it lessens the impact. (Forget step class, please!)

Whether you are undergoing chemo, or recuperating from surgery, take a dip in the pool as soon as you can. Freestyle swimming is the best, according to a swimming instructor I once interviewed. But, any stroke will do, especially (no pun intended) the breast stroke.

With all my surgeries this year, the only exercise I was allowed was walking. No swimming for 6 weeks. (Of course, this was during the long, hot summer in the South. Did I mention we were also enduring a severe drought?) But, this was due to bacteria in the pool as to why I couldn't stick my tippy-toe in the water.

So, I walked...and walked...and walked...and walked. Advice: Never tell an obsessive-compulsive, Type A person that the only activity they can engage in is walking. I logged 1,000 miles during my recovery time. So, naturally, I developed "planter faciatis" (from over-walking and tearing ligaments in my feet). Fortunately, the timing was perfect because I was given permission to enter the pool again!

But swimming the first few laps terrified me. When you're cut in half and sewn back together, your abdomen doesn't stretch or extend as far as it used to. I could barely move my arms without feeling like I was being pulled from limb to limb, like Braveheart. Furthermore, with all the anesthesia I had had, breathing became difficult, if not impossible.

I swam like a 80 year old woman. I take that back...a 90 year old woman, since the 80-year-olds passed me in the pool.

Then one day, I had limited time to swim and the darned##$%#@$@$@$@ water aerobics class was scheduled at the best time for me to swim my laps. I must tell you that I've loathed the water aerobics classes since I began swimming for exercise 15 years ago.

They evict innocent swimmers trying to do their laps and take over the pool with their class, which consists of really bad disco music and a bunch of out-of-shape ladies bobbing up and down for an hour.

I have resented them for years. I've even complained to the gym management, trying to persuade them to eliminate the class...swimming laps was much better for them anyway, I argued. But to no avail.

So, back to the Saturday in which the only time I could exercise was 9 a.m., but that was the water aerobics class. Defeated, I decided it might be better to "join them, if I couldn't beat them."

I showed up for class. The instructor kicked my butt.

What manner of torture was this?! I was shocked to discover I couldn't keep up with her. She was brutal. She made us run laps down the pool, and then in reverse -- against the current of 20 women. It reminded me of those nightmares in which someone is chasing you and you are running in slow motion.

She made me kick until my legs were numb. She made me to leg extensions in which I couldn't touch the pool floor. She had us pull weights underwater, which was agonizing. Who was this bionic woman instructor?!

I found out. She was the gym's kickboxing instructor, who took on the water aerobics class. And by the way, there's no disco music. She doesn't like music so we can hear her yelling at us.

I've now become addicted to water aerobics, and it's given me strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.

All to say is it's time to yank out that old swimsuit you have hiding in the closet and head to your nearest pool. There, you'll discover the Fountain of Youth.