Posted on October 4, 2014


jazzOver the course of the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling better. I’ve got much of my energy back, at least during the days, though I still crash at the end of the day and I found that if I string together too many consecutive days of business, I need a day to recharge. All that being equal, this pattern isn’t all that different than my pre-cancer routine (considering that I’m not 21 anymore… but I’m not 65 either).

Last week, I went to the gym for the first time. It was a leap of faith in a sense, functioning almost as a symbolic step of this adventure since my degree of physical degradation is a whole other level that I’ve ever experienced.

Let me tell you how I got myself back to a place where the gym was an option again.

For some reason unbeknownst to (likely) the entire subscribing public, our cable company changed its policy to require a cable box for even the 4 or 6 basic channels that we have. I suppose this is a microcosm of so many things that happen in our society, but that’s a whole other issue. We typically wake up to the Today show and catch intermittent shows when time allows, so we had to oblige.

I shimmied the TV stand away from the wall to begin deciphering the nest of cords and their locations. Tangled in the web, was a dusty DVD case. The corner was puppy-chewed and the rest of the cover resembled what could easily be mistaken for a low-budget 1980’s smut film. Above the photo of the spandex-clad, large-haired women, read the word, “Pilates.”

jazz4I held the DVD case in my hands and rubbed the chew marks. I immediately remembered the day it happened. Denali was a puppy still and I lived in a studio apartment while finishing classes at Northern Iowa. I remember opening the door to the most adorable wagging tail and trademark husky-smile from that little ball of golden fleece. I turned the corner to see what I can only guess was one of the better days in Nali’s life: my house plant was tipped and dug up, a now-empty carton of eggs, a chewed up Elmer’s school glue bottle with no signs of the white goo to speak of, a rainbow of confetti-like scraps that I can only guess was a former pack of colored construction paper mixed with toilet paper, my new Oakley sunglasses sporting strategically placed bite marks, a bed of used coffee grounds, a tipped-over clothes hamper and matching garbage can (magically taken from the cabinet under the sink), and strewn plastic bits of numerous DVD cases which included… yes, the Pilates DVD.

It had to have been a good afternoon for the pup. I smiled at the memory and grateful she came back to say hi.

I flipped the case around in my hand. I opened it and wondered how much I was able to do. At this point, I was two weeks out of concurrent chemo and radiation and still getting winded doing the most minimal of daily chores.

Oh, what the hell, let’s see what I’ve got. I put the DVD in and pressed play, remembering to pull the living room shades–even though it wasn’t that old school dirty movie it resembled, no one needed to see my awkward prancing around the living room.

I quickly joined the leader, who was in front of a handful of her minions, taking those work-out type of big, deep breaths. The kind of breaths where you have to raise your hands above your head like some kind of chemo-drenched flamingo in the throws of mating season.

We started, simply enough, with walking in place. I warmed up quickly. The video intensified to full body, jazz-handed lunges. This quickly forced the beads of sweat to form around my hairline. It was somewhere among the frolicky squat thrusts and the jiggly mambo when I started to curse the instructor, hands on my knees as she nimbly transitioned to the next agony-inducing motion.

My quads and butt muscles were searing and the collar of my shirt was dark with sweat. I huffed between sets and hoped for a less strenuous series of stretching motions. They never came, though I was steadfast in my commitment. I wanted to gain insight to where I was physically, which was becoming clear. The lunging and flailing about my living room like a baby giraffe continued.

And then the insight slapped me in the face: “Congratulations, you’ve just completed the warm-up section of the video…”

There’s nothing more, ah, we’ll say motivating than having the warm-up portion of an 80’s Jazzercise video kick your ass. I’m not sure what’s to come in my journey through cancer, but this had to be some kind of rock bottom.

In the time that followed this Jazzercise awakening, I’ve worked my way through the warm-up, the next segment of ‘cross-training’ (read: faster jumping and more jiggling), and the beginning minutes of the final segment of ‘abdominal centering.’ This ends up being a workout of around an hour an fifteen minutes. Not huge for the typical 30-something, ex-mediocre athlete, but it was pretty world changing for me.


Cass and Margo’s paddleboarding experiment at Lindbergh Lake (it went well)

World changing, not in the sense that I can Broadway-dance around my house for an hour, but in a sense that I have the ability to rebuild myself. This ambition didn’t exist during treatment. Moving from the twenty minute warm up to nearly the whole workout creates this weird phoenix-like confidence of rebirth and capability. Knowing that you can do something, anything, whether you exercise that right or not, is a freedom that many of us take for granted. It could be as simple as cooking dinner for yourself, seeing mountains, going to the gym, or any of the other freedoms more associated with being a player in our shared world.


Lake McDonald in Glacier N.P. -the most stunning paddle I’ve ever had.

Sometimes people, events, pets, places, books, anything really, enters your life seemingly by happenstance-call it what you will. Those things often help you realize your place, and act as a bridge to possibilities that may not have been otherwise attainable. Jazzercise gave me a baseline and brutally showed me how weeks of treatment have racked my body. It also helped me get to a position in which I am ready to get out of the house and play, or exercise, or work, or socialize, or think, or appreciate, or whatever. It was the first spark of renewed strength after I was robbed of it.

For me, that has been bar volleyball (4th place in the tournament, baby!), getting my bike down off the garage hooks, kayaking and paddleboarding, walking with Margo, helping with Cassie’s Butte-toberfest event, feeling creative again, and seeing the magnificent colors of the world once again.

Just as importantly, I proved to myself that I can and will tackle the next part of this adventure, surgery, and what will soon be one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through… for myself, for Cass, for all those that have shown so much love, and for those spirits who are now lifting me up in ways I may never know.

…because of Jazzercise. Who would’ve thunk?

Posted in: Cancer