Here’s another recovery update, which I thought was worth posting since I thought of a funny title. As I mentioned last time, there have been some hiccups in my comeback, namely something mysterious happening that half the cancer doctors in Utah can’t seem to sort out. Due to this, my training (if you can call it that), has begun at a place much lower than I ever expected. Back during transplant, I describe my body’s re-training programming as starting from zero. Since I’ve fallen far below the level of my last round of chemo and stem cell transplant, I’ve started at less than zero, which I guess when we look at all of life as a big picture experiment, is even cooler. It makes for silly iconic movies from the 80s, anyway.
How low can you go?
I explained last time that some drug had caused a reaction in my liver, which resulted in an effective hematocrit of less than 20%. Given most people become a fall risk at under 24%, living like this for a month of my life more-or-less sucked. As that began to recover, my lung function faltered. After about four weeks of constant improvement, I was tested last week with my ability to take in a breath at less than 70% of normal, which I’m guessing was 20% lower a few weeks prior. Of course, not being able to move much, my knee rehab complete atrophied so that I couldn’t walk without a limp and pain, a new cancerous growth sprung up on my arm (sqaumas cell, you just remove but still, new cancers are a by-product of chemo and it’s disconcerting that they’re starting already), numerous failed treatments added further stress, and I started to see how people want to give up during prolonged treatments. It was never an option for me but at least I could relate to those who say “fuck it, pass the pipe”.
Less than zero training.
As soon as I could I began to train, and it was pathetic. As I’d tell people, however, given it felt every bit as hard a real training, I didn’t care. I liked it. Here’s a training sheet I started as soon as I could handle volume enough to write down. At first it was all I could do to spin on my bike in the lowest gear for six minutes. My breath hold began at 45 seconds (it was 4 minutes at the start of treatment). Body weight squats were intensely painful and a set up 8 was cause to catch my breath for a minute. I couldn’t even make the hike to most of the cliffs I normally climb on. It was pretty wild.
You might notice the words eccentric on the sheet. This is interesting, and you’ll hear more about it in the future, but in the last few years there’s been some science showing that eccentric training has the greatest effect on rehabilitation of muscles and connective tissues, using higher intensity levels than is generally thought safe for rehab. In short, eccentric training is loading a muscle during it’s lengthening phase. Often called the negative part of a movement, it’s done by aiding your concentric contraction, where the muscle shortens, and then lengthening it under stress slowly.
These workouts would often take two or three days to recover from, but they had an effect. Although it’s hard, I can now actually ride my bike around the neighborhood, walk up a few flights of stairs without stopping, have made it to a few of my frequently-used crags, and have enough muscle tone that I no longer look like I just escaped from a prisoner of war camp.
Ah, the 80s moments keep on coming. I feel better. Some muscle is coming back. The dark days of seem in the past. But all is not perfect, either. My blood counts still won’t come back. I’ve started a round of high-dose prednisone, which isn’t something I’d choose to do but we’re running out of options. While prednisone has some nasty side effects, I like to look at the positive, which takes me back to another moment from the 80s. In college, my buddy Dave “I’m not shittin’ ya, I need some goddamned coffee!” Grams had a run-in with Hodkins lymphoma. Prednisone was part of his treatment. He ate constantly but he could also stay up all night, a prime benefit during school.
“This stuff’s great,” he’d say as he tore through books and cranked out papers. I’m sure he had a 4.0 that semester.
I won’t bother with the other side of prednisone. Hopefully I won’t be on it long enough to have to deal. So far, so good. Maybe I’ll see if I can catch up for six months of lame blogging in six weeks and get back to some serious 80s training. The most ironically funny thing about that link, and there are many, is that Beachbody President Jon Congdon, in the hospital after a bad motorcycle crash in the 80s, was sacked out with a few of us there. Unbeknown to us, something like this was playing in the background. Jon’s eyes opened, looking at the TV, when he waved us closer and said, “If something happens during all of this and I come out of it doing stuff like that, please kill me.” Now he owns a company that makes exercise video. Go figure.
Finally, in another odd twist of 80s fate, it’s amazing how much the new Utah Jazz coach and savior Quinn Synder looks like Andrew McCarthy. Separated at birth, perhaps?