Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Having cancer at a relatively young age changed me in several ways. One of the things that it did was that it revamped the seriousness with which I viewed my health choices and the power I had, and didn't have, to control my body.

In many ways, I had no control over what happened to me. There were probably thousands, hundreds of thousands, of 33 year old women who were about the same height, weight, and had the same health status(no known health issues) as I did when I developed cancer...and yet they didn't develop it and I did.


Genetics, maybe? Environmental circumstances or exposure to unknown factors, perhaps? A failure of my immune system to kill developing cancer cells, possibly? Bad luck?

Who knows?

However, having been through treatment and researched the disease extensively, I came to realize that even though I may not have ever been able to completely prevent myself from having cancer, I could have an effect on my chances of recurrence, or at the very least, in delaying a recurrence.

You fight the type of cancer I had by fighting it one day at a time over a very long period of time. Chemo is not highly effective against this particular type of cancer, because it is slower-growing and relies on the natural hormones that a normal woman's body produces.

The most effective strategy is to starve any unidentified cancer cells that might exist by taking an anti-hormonal treatment in pill form, once a day, for five years. That's 1,825 pills.

Another effective strategy is to engage in physical exercise for at least 3-4 hours every week consistently, for the long term. Studies have shown that this can reduce recurrence rates by another 30%-50%.

This is why I run, and also why I have lost about 25 pounds over the last 2 years...with unfortunately much more to go.

It has been a long, slow process to get into well enough shape in order to be able to run 3-3.5 miles several times a week. My weight loss has also been painstakingly slow. I will go through weeks and months sometimes without losing a single ounce, but because the exercise is useful in fighting off recurrence, even without losing weight, I persevere through the discouragement of working so hard and not seeing the scale move.

Inevitably, what happens is that after a couple months of no real progress, I will lose several pounds in a week, or my running time will dramatically get better even though I am simply doing the same things I have been doing for the last two years.

The progress comes in fits and starts after long periods of never-ending plateaus.

It has taught me something that I always knew, but never fully appreciated; great things are done in small, consistent steps over long stretches of time.

There are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile in life.

Want to be a good parent? Show up every day for 18 years.

Want to become a great musician? Practice every day and make a point to learn more every day.

Want to have a good relationship? Continue to consistently try to care for and support the other person/friend/spouse.

One or two impressive incidents don't take the place the of consistently trying, or faithfully working at something.

The same holds true for finances. After my dad passed away, we had hoped that we would be able to sell his house and use that money to become debt-free and save the rest. That dream was quickly dashed. Now, as we rent out he house, even that has turned into a long-term investment, not a huge money-maker, especially after taxes, insurance and normal repair costs. Yet, over the course of 5-10-15 years, the house has the potential to provide a huge cumulative profit.

Slow and steady. Bit by bit.

That is how a life is built. That is how hard tasks get done. That is how health is reclaimed.

Endless toil without many immediate results.

Very exciting, no?!

No, not exciting, but true. And, it has never been more true to me.

If there is something that you want to change in your life, or a goal you want to accomplish, you must simply take a step toward it, even if it is a small step.

Live your life. Enjoy it along the way.

Just be sure to take the one, little, daily step in the middle of everything else.

Eventually, it adds up.

Even DH has become proof of this. He started his Master's degree at the end of my cancer treatment, and right before my father died. It was chaos for him those first few semesters while I was still recovering and we were dealing with my father's death and lawyers and fixing a termite destroyed house on the weekends in our "spare time".

And yet, he still took classes and did the work and two years have passed.....leaving only this last one before he will have completed it.

Day in, day out, and before you know it...he'll be done.

That's my self-help advice for today. Don't use it all up at once.


DH said...

In an instant gratification culture, there may be no greater lesson for us to learn or to pass on to our children. Hope. Perseverance. Faithfulness. Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward one painstaking inch at a time.

DH said...

Okay, not in any way meaning to detract from the seriousness of your message, but as I read it, I couldn't help but think of this song. It seemed appropriate especially considering the season. It's not the original version I'm used to, but I liked that it had the lyrics.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Sometimes one (me) just needs to be reminded of these things.


DoOrDoNot said...

Amen again. I'm glad to hear you've had no recurrences of cancer.

Like a Child said...

My daughter and i were just reading this story last night as part of her grammer assignment. You have quite a story to tell. Thank you for sharing it.

Retriever said...

Love this post, dear Terri! Inspires me. I often grumble that I feel like one of those Shetland ponies that used to go down the coal mines, pulling a cart, day in day out. When I would rather be a prancing pony, without burdens. THere was a kid's story with Jan Brett illustrations that my kids liked about just this contrast between shaggy ponies and beautiful horses. In real life, I suspect, God is more pleased with us ponies, even when we get nippy, because we have endurance, and don't give up. The older I get, the less patience I have with drama queens. And with my own desires for instant rewards. Running is such a good teacher. Well done for keeping up with it. God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving, and continue to keep you healthy!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thought you would like this very much.

terri said...

Thanks everyone!

Life is tough sometimes and I get cynical and grumpy and irritated at all the things that go wrong, or the ways in which I fail. So, I don't mean to sound too cheery, or self-help-ish...but eventually the other side of my personality looks around and tells me that despite all the obstacles...I can either give up or suck it up and keep trying.

My two fighting egos....cynical while simultaneously idealistic...makes for an interesting life.


I checked out the link and it's interesting. Hopefully my industrial-world self will effectively handle all of the glucose I am going to throw at it today! ;-)

Despite my dire doom and gloom about kids and the obesity problem in America....I still love to eat and am not a big stickler about my diet...which is why it has taken me two years to lose a measly 25 lbs!