This is my Mum. She is 70, and is two years down the track after surgery and chemo for a big, nasty colon cancer. This is Mum this year, paddleboarding for the first time.
As those of you who have gone through it for yourself or a loved one know, the shock of the diagnosis, the surgery and the chemo can really kick your tail. Some folk manage pretty well, but others, despite their best efforts, experience every side effect in the book. That was Mum.
So, here are just a few things we did in different stages in the journey:
Surgery: Mum had to have a long incision as the tumour was much larger than anyone anticipated. We see many people who have developed secondary musculoskeletal pain in their backs and necks due to the body shortening into the scars created by abdominal surgery, so we had Mum start mobilising her torso as soon as primary healing took place, a bit over a week later. This included “greyhound” where the trunk is lengthened through reaching out through the arm and leg on the same side, and then the opposite side to create some diagonal length. We started her on torso rotation very quickly as well. Stretch and rotate, stretch and rotate to maintain fascial mobility. (Note: if you are reading this for yourself, always have the doctor’s approval before starting anything like this).
Chemo: Some people experience severe peripheral neuropathy from the chemo, causing visual disturbances and loss of sensation in hands and feet. This was Mum. Coupled with the exhaustion, this made it feel a whole lot safer to stay in the chair, when really she needed to get up and move around regularly.
The solution turned out to be two shiny red Nordic walking poles. Equipped with the poles, we finally got Mum outside the front door, as they helped with balance and posture, as well as promoting rotational walking pattern. Without them, she returned to a flexed posture and shuffling gait, or refused to go outside. So, the poles became a part of the family, enabling Mum to steadily progress and eventually achieve her current programme of 1 hour a day of walking.
Shiny red poles are a lot more appealing than walking sticks.
Making a comeback: There were many other aspects to the journey, but I’d finally like to focus on the two year mark. Great strides had been made, but was it enough? Mum had improved to a point of playing regular golf, but still did not move with anything other than care, and on relatively predictable surfaces. Feedback from the feet was still a problem, so there were implications for balance, and the movement fluency was notably affected.
So what did we do?
Well, we practiced some footwork coordination drills, incorporating cross body patterns. We did some walking drills, learning to stretch in balance, and to regain a full range of ankle mobility in order to send some new messages up the body. We skipped up the footpath. We had fun with it. And then I dropped the bombshell on Mum – we were going paddle boarding the next day.
What? Are you crazy? Not today (not ever).
However, I felt that for input through the legs, softening of rigidity in the leg muscles, coordination through the whole body, balance and confidence, paddleboarding was just the thing.
We started paddling on knees first to gain confidence, and then progressed up to the feet. Like every novice, Mum responded to small bumps and bobs with global body stiffening, however we tapped into her early days as a water skier to remind her about absorbing through the knees (if she has been a snow skier we could have used that too). Pretty soon she was away – and here she is on beautiful Sydney harbour.
The biggest thing about this last achievement was that physical benefits notwithstanding, it was about reminding Mum of who she was, not just someone who had been through the cancer terror, but someone who can learn to do something new, something physical, and owning her body and herself again.
Bravo Mum – never give up!
This blog is dedicated with respect and compassion to those dealing with cancer.