In this article, you will
- learn how exercise didn’t always work in favour of my body,
- become familiar with eye exercises and how they helped save my vision
- read how I’m learning to change my exercise regime to enhance my chances of protecting myself from cancer,
- get motivated by me revealing how I make working out part of my busy daily life without stressing and exhausting myself,
- get my exercise advice on your first steps after a cancer diagnosis and treatments.
Sport and exercise has always been a big part of my life. Some of my friends would even say that it was my obsession when I was a teenager!
When I was a kid, I did rhythmic gymnastics and trained 3-5 times a week. Then, at the age of 14, I got infected with the triathlon virus. Both my dad and brother had been doing triathlon for a while and I was dragged to competitions from a young age.
One Saturday at lunch time, my brother kept teasing me- saying I’d be way too weak and untrained to do a triathlon.
Being of rather competitive nature, this really annoyed me and I immediately responded that I wanted to prove him wrong and participate in the triathlon that was taking place that afternoon in a nearby village.
My dad was delighted to hear this, my mum a bit less… I had never cycled any meaningful distance on a race bike before that!
Long story short (getting into those click pedals took me at least 5 minutes…), I made it through a sprint triathlon (and didn’t even come last…) and that was the beginning of a career that would last 10 years.
I made it to the Swiss Junior national team, spent all my free time training and many weekends competing.
When I was 24, I stepped back from competitions. I just couldn’t do it all any more- working, studying business, household chores AND intensive training.
I remained very active and still did quite a bit of swimming and running. I felt that my body needed to move and I still get grumpy today if I go too long without working out.
But in hindsight, I realize that sport had become more of a chore and also a “drug” that I almost had an addiction to. I didn’t exercise in a way that benefited my body. It took more of a toll than anything else and it was too much of an obsession.
Of course, exercise is very cancer protective but not at the intensity and volume I used to do it.
Especially because I didn’t have the knowledge how to protect myself at the time- from free radicals, for instance!
I didn’t eat well enough to support my tissue and muscles in the recovery process, I didn’t always enjoy exercising and got impatient with my body quite a lot instead of showing it appreciation for its efforts, I didn’t know how to just “do nothing” every now and then to re-fuel my body and felt guilty when I didn’t work out for a whole day…
Not a very good cancer protective mindset!
So obviously when I went through treatments and of course also during pregnancy, I couldn’t do as much exercise (or none at all for quite a while) and really had to make peace with this.
I also discovered the amazing art of doing eye exercises! And I believe it helped me save my sight.
For about 4 years after my initial diagnosis, I had developed a real fear of moving my eye.
There is an obvious explanation for this: not only did I have a plaque stitched to my eye for 4 days in 2008 and every single movement would send shivers down my spine because it was so sore, but I also have permanent markers and stitches at the back of my eye from the second set of proton beam radiotherapy.
I believe that this constant state of immobility was responsible for my eye sight to go rapidly downhill.
Of course I had lots of side effects caused by radiotherapy- radiation retinopathy, which is very common for patients like me, hypoxia (a deprivation of oxygen), cataracts, beginning of glaucoma… you name it!
But somehow I had the feeling that there must be more to it. That there HAD to be a way of saving my vision.
I started researching about 2 months after having the first positive effects of the ketogenic diet, which very obviously helped mitigate some of the conditions I was suffering from.
This gave me the enthusiasm and faith that I was on the right track and that I had to dig deeper.
In September 2012, I signed up for a course in Bioregulatory Ophthalmology with Dr Tatyana Bosh. Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine that deals with the anatomy, physiology and disease of the eye.
This 2-day course was an eye opener- literally! What I learned was incredible and life changing.
First, Tatyana taught us the basic anatomy and physiology of the eye. I wish I had done that a long time before! It really helps me understand my photographs when I’m in the hospital for check ups.
Then, we moved into the different theories of the eye’s functioning. That’s when it got interesting for me. We learned about the fundamental differences between allopathic and Dr Bates’s theory of eyes’ functioning.
To cut a long story short, conventional medicine is convinced that it is the lens that is solely responsible for good or bad vision (in medical terms, this is called “errors of refraction”). Hence, the muscles located inside the eye (so-called intrinsic muscles) are responsible for good or bad eye sight.
Therefore, besides wearing glasses or contact lenses- or indeed laser surgery- absolutely nothing whatsoever can be done to alleviate errors of focusing in the human eye.
This is what I always believed- that my eyesight is a genetic predisposition and that there’s nothing you can do about it.
Note to self: There is NEVER nothing I can do about it…
SO what Tatyana next talked about was how we can come to a new understanding of the eye and how we can reactivate eye muscles. That’s when my mind started to be blown!
She explained to us that according to Dr William Bates (1860-1931), most visual problems are caused by a functional issue of the six muscles that are attached to the outer surface of the eyeball. Hence they are called external muscles.
His research and experience shows that the tonicity of those dictates the shape and the size of the eyeball. They therefore also have an influence on the tonicity of the intrinsic ocular muscles via a connective tissue pull.
Main insight for me: if my oblique ocular muscles don’t relax and are constantly contracted, this might make my eyeball longer and cause my shortsightedness (i.e. I don’t see well into the distance). Wow!
I remember that my eyesight wasn’t too bad until I started an office job at the age of 20 and spent a good 8 hours a day staring into the computer screen. And obviously have quite a lot of stress.
Dr Bates suggested that by releasing the chronically tight oblique muscles, vision could come back to normal.
Now, you have to remember that at the time, I was still nearly blind on my right eye. But in the months leading up to the course and while following the ketogenic diet, I had witnessed that some of the damage had been reversed.
What if I might get my eye sight back? Was that just wishful thinking or actually realistic?
Throughout the weekend, Tatyana taught us various eye exercises and did some tests with my eye. When I put on pinhole glasses, for instance, my vision improved dramatically. There wasn’t a single exercise that I wasn’t able to do!
Tatyana told me that in her opinion, gaining at least part of my eyesight back was definitely doable and a realistic goal.
I was SO thrilled, you can’t imagine! Losing my eyesight- even if it was just on one eye- was obviously a huge thing for me. I somehow got used to losing my peripheral vision after the plaque radiotherapy quite quickly. But seeing my central vision go (literally!) by having more and more of a tunnel vision was tough.
So far I had always just accepted my diagnosis- losing my entire vision within 12-18 months of proton beam radiotherapy and the fact that I still had a little bit left after 24 months already seemed like a blessing.
And then Tatyana telling me that there was actually hope for my eye was just unbelievably emotional!
I’m planning to write a bit more about what exact eye exercises I did- and am still doing- but leave this for another blog post. Fact is, it’s exactly 2 years since I did the course with Tatyana Bosh and my eyesight is still steadily improving despite all the side effects I initially had.
The combination of a nutrition protocol that gives my eye all the nutrients it possibly needs- and at the same time keeping blood glucose low- with the exercises has really done miracles to my eye.
I also make sure the fluid in my eye drains properly with the help of regular osteopathy/craniosacral therapy sessions.
And, in recent months, I’ve started on a new exciting path of using exercise as play, rather than another chore that I must do. After years of training with a watch and a plan or considering it as useless training, I’m really working on my mindset towards exercise and my body.
So far, sport always had a clear function in my life and I used it to reach certain goals in my life: Either I trained to win races or competitions, I did resistance training to become stronger so that I would be faster, I practiced yoga during pregnancy because I knew it would prepare my optimally for birth.
But I never did exercise JUST FOR ME…
To really tune into my body, communicate and show empathy to its needs. With the help of a wonderful instructor, Samantha Fox Olson, who teaches a unique mix of yoga and fitness, I’m slowly learning to use yoga and fitness as gifts to my body rather than another thing I HAVE to do in my daily life.
On her website www.iloveyogaandfitness.com, Samantha writes that her style of teaching isn’t about going in auto-pilot mode, about judging ourselves or doing something with resistance.
I want to learn to work out with a playful spirit, with gratitude and appreciation. So it’s become more of a meditative activity for me (although it still hurts when I do high intensity trainings, don’t get me wrong!) and a time of the day that I check in with myself.
Apart from doing my daily sessions with Samantha, I do my best to integrate exercise and movement in my daily routine.
I’m trying never to sit for too long without a break and if I do, I sit on a gym ball. Every day I cycle my little girl to school (sometimes that adds up to 4×15 minutes on the bike a day rather than being 4×25 minutes stuck in traffic!) in a bike trailer, which I also use to do my shopping.
My kids love to do yoga and Samantha has some great videos in her database on this, too. Have a look at this, for example:
I play football with my little boy or we all jump on our big trampoline, which is a great way of getting the lymph moving.
When I’m on the playground, I often switch my phone off and really focus on the kids- we balance, swing, run and hang off the Monkii bars.
Before starting to play and exercise after treatment, my advice for cancer patients is to seek guidance and support of a highly trained physical therapist who specializes in cancer.
I’m very fortunate to work alongside Siobhan O’Reilly, who trained and worked at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. All my patients are just blown away by the results they achieve with her.
Siobhan will let you know exactly what you are able to do and what not. She will assess your body, range of movement, strength and tailor a programme for you to start with.
Don’t be tempted to go to a personal trainer in the gym as a first step- as much respect I have for them, your first visit shouldn’t be there.
I know for a fact that there is a lot of misinformation “out there” when it comes to exercise after breast cancer, for instance.
And many hospitals aren’t up to date on the latest research when it comes to the prevention of lymphoma, for instance.
Exercise for cancer patients is a pretty complex topic and in my opinion, “moderate walking for 20 minutes a day” is a good start but will not help you regain strength, realign your body and reach your full potential!
What is your experience with working out after treatments? Were you very active or even a competitor before your diagnosis but have never really had the courage and energy to go back to it?