We all know that consistency is key and that most our results in fitness and nutrition come from this consistency but how do we stay consistent when life keeps throwing us curve balls? I have struggled with consistency in fitness and have been guilty of program hopping (you should see all the PDF’s in my iBooks folder) even though I would tell myself ‘Just stick to something Jo! ‘ After the birth of my daughter, I had a period (2016) of consistency with the BBG program and lost my baby weight. I was also running and committed enough to run a half marathon. Even in 2017 after I settled back into the U.K. and was back at university, I got into the swing of home workouts again and had a great routine. In general, I was great during the week, waking up at 5am before Arabella woke up and ‘getting it done’. I couldn’t run as I was effectively a single parent as my husband, Damian was travelling as a professional golfer. There came my first change, no more running. I started my new teaching job in September 2018 and was still working out at home and started running with a colleague during some lunch breaks (trying to come back on the running front) so what happened to change it up again?
It began with stomach cramps after I ate meals and certain drinks. Slowly, fatigue crept in. I needed the toilet up to fifteen times a day (as a Teacher you can imagine the inconvenience). Many mornings there were tears as the abdominal pains were through the roof, thus morning workouts slowly reduced. I changed my diet so drastically that I virtually ate the same meals most days. I had allergy tests. I saw GPs several times, I was sent to the Gynecologist because you know I am a woman so it must be my female parts. I had a smear test, went back to the GP, told constipation AGAIN. Finally a trainee GP listened to me and Hallelujah he did a stool test and would you believe it, it revealed inflammation which implies there is a bowel/colon related illness. By this point, I was already scheduled for a laparoscopy (July 2019)so I was told to go ahead and have that – surprise, surprise, nothing wrong there! I had a CT (results can take weeks) and an endoscopy (nothing wrong there). I was ordered to have an urgent colonoscopy (within two weeks of request) and I turned up for my appointment, I was speedily told because I had had a laparoscopy so recently, I could not have a colonoscopy…..are you kidding me. So, I missed two weeks at the end of the school year (recovery from laparoscopy) which was sad as I was leaving for South Africa end of July. So, after all these tests, I left the UK with some Codeine for the pain given to me by the same Trainee GP, only this time the older and more experienced GP was with him and looking at me with big doughy eyes. I knew something was really wrong and my guess is, so did they. We just needed that CT to confirm. It still didn’t cross my mind that it was cancer.
The rest is history, on the 8th August 2019, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bowel/Colon Cancer – ‘The Big C’ over the phone by the Trainee GP who through out had been amazing. It could not have been easy for him to share that news. Boom ALL consistency goes out the window. Consistency of any kind, is replaced with doctors appointments, tests, scans, worries and tears. You might be thinking, who cares about that when you have been told you have cancer but for some people (like me) routine is essential whether that be walking the dog, drinking 2 litres of water a day or having a roast every Sunday. For me, it meant I could not be a consistent parent to Arabella, wife to Damian, daughter, sister or friend. I couldn’t cook, work out, read a book, eat and the list goes on. My life became frozen. Fear and anxiety as well as physical pain played a huge role.
So how do you regain your routines when cancer comes knocking? As I have previously posted, I had a sigmoidoscopy pretty quickly (5cm tumour blocking colon with mm gap), had surgery and then chemotherapy, tens of blood tests and scans and then more surgery, an infection and drains and, and, and……One expects life to change after a diagnosis but we are still human, I like any other person still had fundamental needs and at times I just couldn’t reach them. After my first major surgery (left hemicolectomy), I couldn’t walk too well for a while, so I could not cook or eat properly for that matter, I couldn’t lift the kettle to make a drink and I couldn’t take my daughter to school. So, you push yourself to get better to push through the fatigue as you know you’ll be better for it. You then think ‘OK, I can start introducing exercise now’. You slowly start to gain energy and manage some workouts and runs. All the while knowing at the back of your mind, you have to start the dreaded chemotherapy, you don’t know what to expect….. ‘I’ll go bald and vomit a lot.’ I was lucky enough to have an amazing support network and two close friends who had been through chemotherapy that gave me loads of great advice, one piece of advice was that you will only truly understand it when you receive it. They were not wrong. It was horrific and I never ever want to have chemotherapy again. I was on a very aggressive regime of FOLFOX every two weeks and I had to take home a ball of chemo for two days. For around 11 days I could not function well, my previous post details all the side effects, so by the Friday I made myself take Arabella out and have lunch or ice cream, anything to feel normal and have some kind of routine, ready to repeat the cycle on the Monday. When it came to exercise, some cycles I managed to do some strength training on my good days and some yoga, other cycles I couldn’t cope with anything. It was frustrating but that was my life at that point.
Then the second ‘Big C’ hits: COVID-19. During the beginning of the pandemic it was inevitable that I wasn’t going to get back to the U.K. anytime soon. I was still having treatments with a compromised immune system and COVID was spreading rapidly. My mum was suffering herself back in the U.K. with aggressive and advanced Stage 4 Bowel Cancer and she died just on 11th April (Easter Saturday) just before my final cycle of chemotherapy. Thank you life for yet another smack in the face. I still to this day cannot get my head around the fact that my mother has gone, I never will. I somehow got through my final chemotherapy cycle on 17th April and I was given the all clear in May. At last some good news, so I start to exercise again. I see a nutritionist locally and make massive changes in my diet. Mostly, I introduced greater amounts of vegetables (especially cruciferous) stopped eating meat and cut right back on the sugary foods. I also began to steam my meals which were mostly fish, complex carbohydrates and vegetables. After such a hard battle over the past few months under treatments, where I had been dreaming of days out, hitting the gym, lunches and dinners out, I had to deal instead with grief and being in a strict lockdown. Yet another curve ball to deal with and my mental health was taking a hammering but I was committing to regular exercise at home and even running. People often ask me how I coped. I don’t know. My mother was always such a strong woman and she passed that down to me. I am proud to say that. I was consistently strong which did include days where I was an emotional wreck, but strength is about getting back up and continuing when you don’t want to. I have met so many strong and powerful men and women along this journey and they have all inspired me in their own way. When you are faced with adversity, you also find strength you didn’t know you had.
So life carries on in lockdown and in the lead up to my three month scan in early August, I have increased ‘scanxiety’. I stopped working out and I skipped some meals. Without needing to go into great detail, the cancerous lesions in my liver were back and my CEA markers were right up. My liver resection (see previous post) was scheduled for 24th August which was a crazy hard recovery that hit me way harder than the first. I also didn’t have my mum and COVID meant doing it ‘alone’. Damian could only visit during restricted hours once I was off ICU (by this point restrictions were not as bad – thank goodness) so it was not all bad. Back at home, I really struggled physically and my mental game was way off. Luckily, my mother in law was an amazing support and my sister in law was getting Arabella to school. It was happening again, my life was topsy turvy and I couldn’t be consistent. I had an infection, I had drains, I had blood tests, scans and more meds but I came through the other side. We went to Level 1 and I even got back to the gym. I was so happy and grateful to feel ‘normal’ and I even started using some weights! Well can you guess what happened next? Aaaaaaaaaah COVID numbers have increased and that means, for me at least, no more GYM! It is still Level 1 for now but with my upcoming biological treatments in January and my immune system still compromised, I have switched the gym with running in my complex. I have totally kept up my eating habits and I treat myself to some sweets and pop on a Friday. I have been consistently reading instead of going out as much and most importantly I have been learning about my emotions, my mind, the way I respond to life – soul searching…….so I have also formed some new healthy habits.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that consistency is important yes, but we can only do so much. Pretty much the last year and a half, I have had no control over so many elements of my life. It is true, I can procrastinate but I can also do so much more than I ever dreamed of. During chemotherapy, I had talked about writing a blog and creating a website for weeks and one day I finally started, once I had started, I was hooked and voila Jojo’s Journey was born. Yes, there are days when you don’t feel like moving but get up anyway, whether it is a short walk to the kitchen or a 10km run, or writing a blog post, or teaching that one class ( and not canceling it), that is discipline. However, it is also important to understand your body, know when it’s not about laziness but actually your body and mind needs to rest. Look at the physical risks you are taking to be consistent (like the gym) are these risks worth it. Is spending hours comparing yourself to others bringing value to your mental health, definitely not. Play the movie to the end, think about how great you’ll feel when you have had that walk, or completed that task, or done that job you’ve been putting off or whether certain things are just not realistically worth the worry (like for me worrying so much about eating a packet of sweets on a Friday in case it caused cancer, erm the stress will probably cause more damage). So now I eat those sweets and I enjoy them whilst at the same time consistently sticking to a healthy way of life, eating 12 fruit and vegetables a day, making sure I have tumuric, garlic, ginger and a bunch of supplements, drink green tea to name but a few and most importantly being kind to myself. I haven’t nailed the meditation thing yet and I procrastinate terribly about it, so that is one of my current goals. We are all unique and there is no one size fits all, what is important one day is not the next, life changes our outlook and goals. I hope that I have made some sense and not just waffled. Cancer, COVID and grief has taken so much from me, consistency being one part(as it has has to many, many others) and like anyone, I can complain and my responses to irritable situations (lockdowns and dumb people unnecessarily spreading the virus) and people (my husband when he is nagging me and contractors that just cannot do their jobs right!) is still a work in progress but it has improved greatly and simultaneously opened my eyes to a new world of opportunities with a much more open and grateful mind to this rollercoaster life.