Karen’s Cancer Adventure

Pressing double 16kg kettlbells (35# each). Feeling strong and powerful. Sisu.

In June 1997 I was diagnosed with stage 3 thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I had been healthy and active my entire life, so it came as quite a shock. Even more shocking was when the doctor said I had two years to live – if I was lucky. I was 34 years old. I had a radical thyroidectomy. In addition to the thyroid being malignant, I also had 2 malignant parathyroids and 6 malignant lymph nodes. The surgeon also removed 2 more lymph nodes that were precancerous, plus neck muscle and my jugular vein for good measure. For two months after my surgery, the range of motion of my right arm was shot. I was unable to dress myself. Michael had to get in the shower with me.

One day I decided to try to exercise. I put Richard Simmons’ “Stretchin’ to the Classics” in the VCR. I couldn’t even stand up for 5 minutes. Richard kicked my butt. I cried. The next day, I tried again. I cried again. But I kept trying. Every day I got a little bit better. And I mean a very little bit. But I kept trying.

Over the next two years, I felt hunted, always wondering if the cancer would come back. When it didn’t, I felt relieved. But I was still sick – I seemed to catch one cold after another. I had bronchitis, pneumonia and mononucleosis. I wasn’t able to exercise like I had in the past. I made horrible food choices. I gained weight. A lot of weight. And I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I had all but given up. I figured if I really was going to die of thyroid cancer, then who cared what size corpse I was?

After several years of trying to lose weight, getting sick and gaining all the weight back again, I got fed up. I decided to make one small change at a time. I started by ditching sodas and walking. I picked up my dumbbells again. I tried Pilates and yoga. Slowly the weight came off, and my confidence started to come back. Then I hit a plateau. In hindsight, I realize that the plateau came at the same time I got bored with my workouts.

In April 2010, I found out about a free, online kettlebell and nutrition program. I went in with the attitude that if I lost 5 pounds, it would be great. I’d be happy. After 12 weeks, I had lost 12 pounds and regained my confidence in myself and my body. I had increased my strength and mobility, too. The day I snatched a 12kg kettlebell was one of the proudest days of my life. That’s the day I knew I had beaten cancer. I was hooked. So hooked, I decided to become a certified kettlebell instructor.

In May 2011, Michael and I became RKC certified. The RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) is the gold standard of kettlebell certifications. I pushed myself mentally and physically over the 3 day cert in ways I never dreamed possible. We left the certification excited and determined to help our clients improve the quality of their lives through kettlebell training.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my cancer adventure. I no longer feel hunted. I am full of hope and grateful that such a horrifying experience led to the wonderful life I have now. Sure, I’m missing parts, but I’ve gained a stronger, happier, more grateful me in the bargain.

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