When people ask about my job, I usually get the ‘awe, that must be hard’ or ‘wow, that is so rewarding’; which are correct. But I also get the ‘so, you think exercise can cure cancer?’ OBVIOUSLY, I do not think that, Carol. I am not dumb. In short, I prescribe exercise to this population to minimize the adverse effects of treatment and to maintain or regain independence.
But here is why I really love my job…
Example 1: Chocolate chip cookies
This participant is special. He hated exercise and physical activity, but his oncologist prescribed him to me and thanks to my charm and nice teeth (he’s a retired dentist) he agreed to commit to the twelve-week program! I got to know him very well. He told me about his wife who had been in hospice for a few weeks at that time. Over time, they had decided to move her back home because its where she felt the most comfortable, and at a time like that it made the most sense. He had asked me for some exercises because he noticed her legs were getting smaller and she was unable to get out of bed. He had moved her bed to the living room. She no longer baked her favorite treats, they no longer dined out and she rarely left her home.
He began working harder in the gym and brought home more exercises for his wife. Slowly, but surely, she became stronger and was able to stand unassisted for a short period. Just enough time to whip up some chocolate chip cookies (SO good) then sit and watch them bake. Her energy and mobility improved enough to step into a car and sit comfortably in a wheelchair at a restaurant. Her bed was no longer in the living room, but back on the second floor with her husband. The best of it all, is that he felt like he had his wife back.
Like I said, I’m not dumb and don’t think I cured her. Her condition is terminal, and things tend to get good before they get worse. But so far, she’s surpassed the initial 6-week timeline (on week 27) she was given. Whatever time she has left, she is spending it with the love of her life doing the things she’s always done.
And what about the participant? Well his 12-weeks turned into about 36 and counting… He rarely misses a day and is improving his fitness each day.
Example 2: 1440
This one hit hard. This participant passes away, so you have been warned.
I get 24 sessions with these people: an hour each time. That is 1440 hours to get to know someone. That’s a shit ton of time. I met his wife, his daughters, his brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts. I met his friends, his co-workers and of course his medical team. We were buds. We had many connections through school and sport. This guy was an icon and I had the pleasure of working with him.
His condition was a little different and his only goal was to get rid of his walker and move to a cane. And we did just that. He had been a captain on all his teams, and it showed during each exercise session. His perseverance, determination and grit inspired me. He let me challenge him, and I’m forever thankful for it.
He knew he didn’t have much time. With a brain tumor like his, it was really a miracle the amount of work we had done in a short amount of time. He finished his 24 sessions and literally walked out of the room, no walker or cane in sight. Just holding on to his wife and daughter. When I was sent his obituary, I was stunned... Being named, let alone thanked, in someone’s obituary hits you different; especially someone you only knew for 1440 hours.
And that’s why I love my job. I am not trying to cure cancer, but I can improve one’s quality of life while going through one of the toughest times imaginable; and that makes having a ‘hard’ job worth it.