The Walking Wounded: The Importance of Stretching and Mammograms

Winter really can suck the life out of you and it sure does beat me up. Every. Year. This year it did so quite literally.

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So I’ve had a rough few weeks.

Anyone who has been following me this winter knows that I added kickboxing to my fitness routine.  Instantly addicted, I threw myself into this new activity with gusto. After six weeks I had made some noticeable improvements to my overall fitness level and the strength in my arms.  I could do push-ups, off of my knees! I had boundless energy.  I was eating better.  I was feeling good.

And then….disaster.

Just about three weeks ago…on a Thursday night…after a very busy and stressful day…I stepped back to deliver one of my increasingly powerful roundhouse kicks to the bag…and something *popped*. I swung around instinctively thinking someone had maybe kicked me or threw something at me. When I put weight back onto my left leg it crumbled.

Noooooooooooo.

I pulled my injured self off of the mat to the side of the room fighting back the tears.  I knew I had done something bad. And I was so freaking pissed.

Luckily it was my left leg so after some ice and some breathing time I dragged myself out of there and I was able to drive myself to a walk-in clinic specifically for orthopedic emergencies.  I got there 15 minutes before they closed. Fighting back the nausea from the pain, I limped in and the lovely woman at the desk said, “Oh honey, what did you do?” After telling her she clucked her tongue and said, “This is exactly why I stay chubby.  It’s just safer”.  I have to say, at that moment, I was quick to agree.  I had been an idiot thinking I could do something like this, at my age, and not get hurt.

Luckily I tore a totally useless tendon in my calf and the only cure was rest, no surgery.  I was up on my feet within 48 hours and I stopped limping as noticeably after a week or so. The doctor concluded that I tore this tendon partly because of my age and partly because I didn’t stretch enough prior to my workout, and perhaps I pushed my body just a bit to far. He advised six weeks off from vigorous exercise.  Ummmmm…..nooooooo. It’s winter.  I need to exercise for my mental health.  I LOVE kickboxing. I’ve been so happy, so energized, so healthy.  This news was just awful.

About a week into this misery, I had a scheduled mammogram and ultrasound (my breast tissue is too dense for mammograms to be fully effective at detecting cancer so I need both tests, every time). A few minutes into the ultrasound, I realized the tech was spending a very long time examining my left side.  She was definitely focused on…something…and my anxiety started to tick up with each tick of the clock.  Sure enough she called in the radiologist and she was “slightly” concerned as well.  They recommended a biopsy and immediately got on the phone with the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale to get me scheduled.  I just kept nodding and saying “ok” but really all I heard was my heart beating in my ears.  Luckily I had my annual exam with my OBGYN the next day. He is amazing and worked very hard to calm me down.  He was not concerned with what he saw from the scan, at all, and assured me that this was merely a precaution.  He told me at least three times to PLEASE not be too worried. Well, I was worried.

So here I was, in the middle of winter, worried about the possibility of cancer, and I could not access my most effective outlet to relieve stress and anxiety (and my usual winter blues) because of my injured leg. I then proceeded to have a few really awful days.  I told no one about what was going on.  I told my husband (of course) and my mother (also, of course) but other than that I kept it to myself.  I’m really not sure why.  I really could have used some support and kind, encouraging words but instead I just bottled it up.  Every time I looked at myself in the mirror I saw an old, out of shape, miserable woman and I couldn’t shake my mood.  Over those few days I got phone calls and notifications from Smilow about my “upcoming appointment” and just the thought of visiting a cancer center would make me teary. The biopsy itself was a miserable experience and WOW did it hurt afterwards.  Between my still sore (and now very bruised) left leg and my beat up left breast, I felt like the walking wounded.  I couldn’t exercise to comfort myself so what did I do? I ate. A lot. I drank more wine than I usually do. I was simply disgusted with myself.

Last Thursday evening they called and I do not have cancer.  Saturday morning I dug out my workout gear and I went to the gym.  I stretched out all of my lazy muscles and then I stretched some more. I put some new music on my phone, put in my earbuds, and pumped up the volume.  I gradually increased the speed on the treadmill and eventually, I was running.  It was a slow jog but it felt so good.  I didn’t push it and stopped after two miles.  I stretched and then I stretched some more. I walked out feeling a bit more like myself again. I’ll visit the gym again for a few more “gentle” workouts before venturing back to kickboxing but I can finally see my return to that new favored activity on the horizon.

So, I have some wisdom to share as I come out from under the dark cloud.

  • Stretch before you work out and after.  Give your muscles a chance to loosen and warm up before you expect too much of them.  We aren’t getting any younger but we definitely do need to exercise.  It’s important for our physical and mental health but expect to get hurt.  You will get hurt.  And you will survive it.
  • Get regular mammograms.  Yes, it’s scary to think about cancer.  Yes, mammograms are incredibly uncomfortable and if they do find something suspicious you are in for a few stressful days.  However, just like exercising (and stretching), it is so important for our physical and mental health to get these routine tests.  Routine tests and exams make cancer less scary.  They make cancer treatable. You can survive it. Make the appointment if you’ve been putting it off.  Right now.

Winter really can suck the life out of you and it sure does beat me up. Every. Year. This year it did so quite literally. But…spring is coming. I’ll soon be able to say that I survived yet another winter season and maybe I’ll be just a little bit stronger for it…physically and mentally.

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