And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

On January 4th of this year, I joined a new local gym and made the decision that, come hell or high water, I was going to gain the strength back that I’ve lost through the breast cancer. Losing weight is a part of what I’m doing, but it’s not at the heart of it. The breast cancer I experienced in 2017 left me feeling betrayed by my own body. I no longer trusted my body, even if I was feeling good. I wondered what it was hiding from me. My right arm has been significantly weakened due to the partial mastectomy, to the point where when I fly, I can’t put my baggage in the compartment above my seat. There’s no strength to push it up there.

I also had the realization a few weeks ago, as I read a poem called Sex After Breast Cancer at a poetry marathon that, while the cancer was removed from my body two and a half years ago, I can’t really say I’m cancer-free. I have to take a pill every night for the balance of five years (I’m in the middle of year 3) – this is called oral chemotherapy. Because of the staggering of appointments, I am still running into the Cancer Center every three to four months for blood work or a breast MRI or a mammogram. I do not feel cancer-free. It’s still very much a part of my life. I long for the day when my check-ups return to once a year and I no longer have to pop a little yellow pill at night that comes with side effects that far outweigh the tininess of the pill.

So I decided it was time to take matters, and my strength, into my own hands. I needed to feel strong again. I used to do weight training and seriously considered going on the amateur body-building circuit. I loved aerobics, but weight training showed me a concrete sign of my own strength. I was a strong woman, back then. This new gym in town was open 24/7, and it was staffed – I would never be walking into an empty gym. And so I began a regimen of working out late at night. I leave here around 11:30 or so and work out until just before 2:00. Then I come home, drink some juice and have some yogurt, and go to bed. I do cardio every day, usually the treadmill. And I lift weights, alternating upper and lower body, for five days straight, then give my body a 48-hour break to recover.

It’s been wonderful. Since January 4, I’ve only missed three times – the night of the studio’s birthday event, last Thursday, when I had a no good, awful, very bad day, and this past Monday, when I had a cold and felt horrible.

On Tuesday, to my great relief, I felt good enough to return to the gym. I sweated out my minutes on the treadmill and then returned to the locker room to put away my phone, water bottle and headphones, so I could be hands-free and distraction-free for lifting weights. There were two other women in the locker room, young women, standing by the row of sinks. They looked at me when I came in and then they giggled. I smiled at them, then went to my locker. I was reaching up to put away my water bottle when I saw, out of my peripheral vision, one of them slip right behind me. She tossed a piece of paper onto the bench and then she and the other woman ran out, laughing loudly. I puzzled over it as I turned to see what the scrap of paper was.

It was an advertisement for a weight loss program.

I froze.

Then I tore it up. I threw it away.

I will admit that during my whole weight circuit (I was working lower body that night), I had tears running down my face. There were very few people left in the gym and nobody noticed. I finished my work-out and went home, where I sobbed on Michael’s shoulder.

I am working so hard, on top of working so hard in my daily life. I’ve already lost 13 pounds, and I’ve been so happy to see the definition start to come back in my arms and legs. I feel better. I’m sleeping better.

And then this. In a gym that prides itself on being a “judgement-free zone”. That was more important to me than the 24/7 hours.

The next day, on Facebook, I discovered that there was a special group page for the gym’s members, nation-wide. So I posted what happened, and I asked them all, “I’m thinking about not going back. Do I go back? Maybe I just don’t belong there.”

Holy cow, the responses. Here are just a few:

“Don’t let anyone steal your joy.”

“The voice of truth says do not be afraid. They have bigger problems than you do. Cruelty is an extremely hard habit that makes you ugly no matter how great you think you are.”

“Love your heart. Hold your head high and return to the gym.” This one included an invitation to meet me if we worked out at the same place – unfortunately, she was in West Virginia.

One even called these two young women “twitwattles.” I think it’s my new favorite word.

The outpouring of support was incredible. As of this writing, there are 343 comments. And not one was negative.

I went to the gym last night. I will go tonight. And if the two twitwattles show up, I know there are a bajillion others who have my back and are supporting what I’m doing.

A friend told me a couple days ago that when I make up my mind to do something, I become a pitbull. And I do. But, as I’ve learned from my own dog, Ursula, even pitbulls can feel hurt. And isolated. And unworthy. But boy, does a good scritching and a “Whatta good girl!” ever help!

Last night, I worked upper body. I sat at a machine that has thwarted me since I started – an overhead lift, which showed me, every time I tried to raise it over my head, how much of my own strength was gone. Last night, the weights went up. It was a strain, and I couldn’t do more than a few reps, but they went up. And then there were tears for a whole new reason.

Thank you to the online Facebook community of Planet Fitness members. You made all the difference.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

On January 4, in the locker room just before my first work-out. I am wearing a Breast Cancer Warrior t-shirt.


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