It came out of nowhere.
Sometime in between the big green stability ball and the forward rowing pulley system, it happened.
Tonight, I attended my first exercise class with a Cancer Exercise Specialist. It was a group class of 4 women — all cancer survivors — who have all had mastectomies. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I definitely didn’t expect this to happen.
After just one standing row on the pulley machine, I started to cry.
“Oh, Liza! If it hurts, just stop. You don’t have to pull that hard!” exclaimed the incredible trainer who has extensive experience in building strength in post-mastectomy patients.
“It doesn’t hurt physically,” I started trying to not look like a sobbing contestant in a Biggest Loser interview. “I’m just afraid.”
I was having my Jillian and Bob moment. The one where they take a person out for a walk, make them cry, and then reveal that they are standing in the way of their own success.
“Do you want to stop?” she asked.
“No. I just need to work through this.” I let go of the pulley system, the snapping of the handles against the machine hit me like bricks. “I just … it’s just …. it’s just not the same.”
“Honey, you’re doing great. It took me months before I felt strong,” came a voice from across the room. It was from Debbie, a 50-something cancer survivor who had chemo, radiation, and multiple surgeries that has left her body cancer free, but lopsided.
“We got you, girl! We’ve all been there!” yelled Maggie, a 30-something survivor who had 10 surgical revisions due to infections, radiation, and chemo.
“It’s okay! Cry! Cry!” came a voice from Carrie, a 40-something survivor who had battled cancer, twice.
It’s one thing to hear I’m doing well from the personal trainer. It’s a whole other thing to hear it from women who, like me, have had their breasts scraped, removed, sewn, stuffed, compressed, and changed.
I looked around the room and saw these women — these strong, courageous women — who had to stare down the barrel of cancer’s loaded gun, and choose life. When I shared with them my journey, they called me brave. My choice was easy, I admitted. I didn’t have to play tug-of-war with death.
With their encouragement, I got back into the circuit routine, focused on lower body strength, and even practiced some arm and chest stretches. At one point, while lying down on the floor with my hands above my head, I felt my implant elevate off of my chest. Yeah, that’s as far as I can go today, I said. And, that was just fine.
I still can’t pinpoint why I was crying, but I can say that my head was held higher after it was all done. While my life, for the most part, is back to normal — I’m working ridiculous hours again, back to the household chores and carpools, chasing my own expectations — my physical strength and endurance is a reminder of what more I need to accomplish.
My 1/2 marathon is in less than 3 months away. Starting Saturday, I need to start my running routine — first 2 miles, and then adding a mile every weekend to get me back up to 12 miles before the race. I’m terrified. Terrified in a way that I haven’t been since surgery. What if my body can’t do it? What if I’m not strong enough? What if I’m not brave enough?
It’s all about perspective, though, isn’t it? It’s today that I realized that, despite my own tears, I was surrounded by women who had known strength beyond limits. They have strength beyond cancer. And, they have strength beyond their mastectomies.
Peace, love, and finding bravery beyond strength,