The Coming Week Won’t Be All About Cancer

Tomorrow, I’m heading off to the US. My erstwhile UMass roomie K and I are going to a UMass reuinion. Chris has to stay home and look after Gentleman Jynx, Coolest Black Cat In London while I get to spend time with people I haven’t seen for close to four decades. The last time I was in Amherst was in 1980. The last time I was anywhere in Massachusetts was 4 September 2001––I was in Boston and flew out of Logan airport exactly one week before 9/11. But I digress.

I’m really looking forward to this trip. I love my friend K; I love her forever. Some of the best times we’ve had together was driving up and down the Massachusetts coast, looking for a beach. The beach actually wasn’t as important as the time we spent together in the car. It’s a long drive from her place to Amherst and it’s going to be fun. Even if she’s going to be stuck doing all the driving again, as I no longer have a valid driver’s license. (I could drive in an emergency but there’s no point in getting a driver’s license here in London. We don’t have a car and couldn’t afford it even if we wanted one. But I digress again.)

In preparation for the trip, I’ve been riding a stationary recumbent bike every other day at EasyGym, my new health club of choice––inexpensive but even more important, so conveniently located that total round-trip travel time is under half an hour on the bus.

I haven’t had a gym membership for almost three years and I haven’t been regularly active for slightly longer––Old Eternal (my late mother) made getting to the gym almost impossible. But prior to that, I was getting a fair amount of exercise regularly, which paid off when I got cancer. Nurses regularly exclaimed over my magnificent veins (unquote), resting pulse, and blood pressure.

Starting over again after a stretch of relative inactivity is something I’ve always hated. But I always forget how much the body remembers: after only three sessions, my colour was better, my endurance was up, and my heart-rate was down. Like the man said, reasons to be cheerful, one, two three. I came out of the gym after each session tired, but in a good way––not fatigued. I felt bulletproof.

Exercise is something every cancer patient needs. If you have a friend who has cancer or some other chronic illness and you wish you could do something to help, help them get some exercise. If you belong to a gym, take them with you as a guest––either drive them there or splurge on a cab to and from. Sometimes it’s the mere prospect of having to get to and from that defeats them before they can even get off the couch. That was true for me.

Of course, that’s assuming there is no medical impediment or handicap that would prevent their becoming more active. I would be doing this even if I didn’t have cancer because of my lower back. There is absolutely nothing organically wrong with my back––no disc problems, no bad bones. It’s all strain from muscles that need to be conditioned and toned up. The recumbent exercise bike, as one of my all-time favourite gps Dr. A told me, works exactly the right muscles to make my lower back stop screaming, ONE MORE STEP, BITCH, AND I’LL KILL YOU!!!!! every time I walk farther than a block. I know he’s right because it’s always worked before. I think it will probably work even better since the hernia operation (which for the record was how they found the cancer). The repair has held up.

I prefer the recument bike to the regular bike. For one thing, it’s better for your posture––instead of being hunched over handlebars, you sit up straight, with your legs stretched out in front of you. For another, a recumbent bike doesn’t hurt your inner thigh/groin area; there’s no need for padded bike shorts. The “handlebars” are on either side of the (comfortable not cushy) seat. I plug into my music, set my mind on Create: Freestyle (okay, maybe some people would say ‘daydream’) and pedal away for thirty minutes. It’s probably very revealing that to me, this is a description of heaven. Maybe pretty obvious as well.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: But, Pat––indoors? Wouldn’t it be nicer outdoors?

Two words: climate control. That’s air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter.

Two more words: traffic and topography. Biking in London is a risky proposition. Yes, there are bike lanes but not nearly enough. When a bike lane comes to an end––and they all come to an end, usually before your journey does––that’s it. You’re either in a bus lane or mixed into regular traffic. And bus lanes come to an end, too. You’ve got to be an experienced city biker or, failing that, you have to have quick reflexes and 360º awareness. I’m so medicated, I’d end up as a smear on someone’s front end.

Yes, I’m sure. Embarrassing admission: I have never ridden a bicycle with handbrakes––only footbrakes. I’m that old. But I digress.

The other t-word, topography, is basically, Damn, I never noticed this stretch is uphill. Even a gentle slop upward can be trying. On a recumbent exercise bike, I can increase the resistance in stages. When I reach my limit, I leave it there; when it becomes too much, I adjust it downward. Customised terrain! (That’s on the manual setting; there are preset programs, too, but after thirty-six years as a freelancer, I prefer to call the shots.)

I’ve become such an exercise bore that I’ve taken to posting warnings on my Facebook page whenever I’m going to talk about exercise. I probably should have posted a warning on this entry except I didn’t know I was going to digress so much.

Anyway. I haven’t put in enough time on the bike to fix my lower back but I feel sturdy enough for several days with K and all the other people I haven’t seen for yonks and yonks.

Although I have to say, I’m a little bit nervous. In 1988, I was in Boston doing a talk and K and her husband D came to take me out to dinner. Shortly after that, K told me she was pregnant. Then something over ten years later, Chris and I visited K and D while I was on a book tour. Shortly after I got home, K wrote to tell me she was pregnant…with twins.

And now, I’m going to see her again.

Whatever it was about me, I hope it’s worn off…


4 thoughts on “The Coming Week Won’t Be All About Cancer

  1. That last bit? Listen, I love you dearly, but there are certain things about your relationship with K that I just *don’t need to know*.

  2. Have a great time in Massachusetts. If you get to Worcester and you can have a beer, there’s a fabulous place on Main St (up at the old Courthouse/Art Museum end) called Armsby Abbey. Good selection of better Belgian beers and all kinds of locally-sourced foods.

    • Worcester is close to where I grew up but I don’t think we’ll be spending any time there.

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