I get asked a lot about fitness and exercise, as it is and has always been, a huge part of my life so I am gonna devote each Friday’s post to it and its extraordinary virtues.
I’m gonna start by saying that I have been training and training hard, since I was 4 years old! That might sound harsh but its not, as it has always been my choice and that choice has served me very well over the last 42 years, as I will explain in this post and in the future.
My first competitive sport was swimming and my determination and drive was so strong, that at the age of 5, I swam 50 lengths of an Olympic length pool for charity… non-stop! I’m pretty dam fit, 40 odd years later, but if you asked me to swim 50 lengths of that pool now I would probably deck you!! Actually not true – knowing me, I would just dive in and do it!
That drive, determination and focus with physical goals started then and has never left me.
Like a lot of kiwi kids I played every sport I could and some at a more competitive level than others, including tennis and badminton, but dancing was my greatest love. I wanted to be a professional dancer in my early teens…. actually for those of you older than 40-ish reading this, I’d like to add my ultimate goal was to be a dancer on the TV show ‘Solid Gold’ !!! Oh yes – that was my dream…. the stage sets, the music and the costumes – actually seriously dodgy leotards stayed with me all thru the 80’s and early 90’s and still haunt me (and plenty of others) in my dreams today!!!!!
I was, however, a bit of a business woman from an early age and wanted to find a way to combine my love of dance and fitness with earning some cash! I also loved helping people, so at the age of 16 and in the hey day/birth ( cue: Jane Fonda/Jamie Lee Curtis era!!!) of aerobics, I trained to become an aerobics instructor and whilst still at school taught classes at a local gym. I was very, very young to do this but I absolutely loved it. I was actually quite shy (all my friends at this point are sniggering and calling me a liar as the adult me is way more feisty b**ch than wallflower!!) as a kid, so performing and teaching took me to a completely different place. I had to choreograph and plan classes and I had to inspire a room full of people – whilst wearing a g-string leotard, leg warmers and the weirdest, most unflattering striped tights you have ever seen!!!! I think there was even a gap of skin between the waistband and the high legged g-string I wore – oh lord – If you think the vision is frightening – you’re 100% correct!!!! There is actually photographic evidence somewhere that Bella (my daughter ) found , but I would not want to scar you all for life!!!
I have never stopped including exercise as an essential element in my life – not through university (where I taught aerobics as a job to pay my way through my studies), not through travelling or holidays (I always have running shoes, a swimsuit or a hotel gym), not through pregnancy (where I walked and swam) and not even through brain surgery (more on that shortly).
Exercise and being fit has always given me focus. It’s taught me to be disciplined and strong. It’s taught me to mentally sharp and agile. It’s taught me to dig deep when I think I can’t push any further. It’s taught me I can do things other people think I can’t – and that drives me more than anything!
At 6am on the morning of my brain surgery I made sure I had a training session in the park with my PT. I knew this was exactly what I needed to get my mind focused and my body pumped with endorphins. Even though I had barely slept, it provided me with that mental agility I needed to face the day.
Leading up to the operation (I was lucky enough to have 5 months to plan it) I geared up my fitness and nutrition (more on that in other posts) to get my body into the absolute best condition of its life. I was determined to be the fastest recovering brain surgery patient in living history…. and I’m not joking!!! I told my surgeon this pre the op and he didn’t doubt it one bit… otherwise his life was on the line vs mine!
One of my greatest fears of the surgery was them damaging any of my motor skills and not being able to move or exercise again. This haunted me actually and along with losing my hair was all I could focus on. You might think that odd, but anyone else who has been in this position will understand what I mean. In situations of life and death, you actually don’t focus on that – its almost too insurmountable I think for the brain to process.
As you now know from my first post, I woke up from that op with all my motor skills and a glow of euphoria that could outshine Donald Trump’s tan!!!!!!
I had been told that depression was often a side effect of brain surgery…. I won’t go into the gory details of why, but you can imagine the reasons, after having a flip top head situation!!
Knowing that endorphins can counteract depression, I knew I had to get moving as soon as possible after the surgery.
Step 1 in going into the Guiness book of records for brain surgery recovery (don’t think its a thing but I’m making it one!) happened on morning 1 – approx 12 hours post op. The nurse came to ‘wash me’ in my hospital bed in intensive care. No bloody way I thought… I want a shower and I’m gonna walk there! The nurse was slightly less enthusiastic about my wishes… back to being told ‘you can’t do something’ … oh yes I can!! Now I won’t be winning any medals for the speed at which I walked to the bathroom and I was holding on to the nurses arm pretty tightly (also think I was hooked up to some drip or something but can’t remember much) but I got there! The nurse waited outside while I had my shower and then we walked back. She couldn’t quite believe it – I was a dam rockstar!!!! A rockstar that looked like an Egyptian mummy – but anything goes these days!
Step 2 came when I was moved to my room on the ward. ( note: only advantage of being a neuro surgery patient on the NHS is your own room – not sure you should use that as a reason to sign up… really not 5 star!!!). This was the day post surgery and I began my laps of the ward to say hi to the nurses and get my body moving…. I tell ya… Usain Bolt had nothing on me!!! I was moving from rockstar to superstar status amongst the medical team!!!
I was able to leave the hospital 3 days post my surgery and with only codeine (hate that dam stuff) and paracetamol (dam useless post flip top head surgery) as pain relief. I had a line up of homeopathic remedies I had been prescribed (more on how wonderful they were another day) and been taking pre and post op and I walked all the way to my best friends car holding my daughters arm. It felt so good I can’t tell you.
I asked the physio team on that last day when I could start exercising again. They looked at me like I was a ‘freak’ (something I’m called all too frequently when it comes to exercise!) and said at least 3 months… probably more like 6 months. Note to self at the time: you must be having a laugh – I don’t bloody think so!!!!
Day 1 at home: I made Bella walk me about 50meters up the road and back. That was all I could manage but I was so determined, so focused. Day 2: I think I made my gorgeous best friend and angel Marie-Claire (who had moved in to look after us) walk me to the end of the road and back… I was knackered but even more determined and more focused. Each day I got further and further. Marie-Claire had been told to expect very little from me in terms of energy… that I’d probably be sleeping most of the day. This never happened. I definitely had to rest a lot and boy, have I learnt the power and need for rest now, but I had way more energy than anyone predicted.
By week 2 we were walking 5-6km a day and by week 3, we included running in that circuit! 3 weeks post brain surgery and I was running again! Now sure…. nowhere near the speed at which I had run pre op and I was very, very careful I can assure you. Any pressure in my head and I would stop and walk but the feeling of movement, getting my blood pumping and my endorphins flowing meant I never felt depressed and my gratitude for life was immense! The Donald Trump glow was brighter than ever!!!
I was back with my PT and in the gym 6 weeks post surgery – training again. I returned to work (in a bank!) 4 weeks post op and was in the middle of a massive charity project to help cancer patients which I never stopped working on through any of my recovery – I would never have had the energy for this, had my body not been moving and pumping me full of endorphins. I also had a 13 year old to look after and honestly -more than anything, I wanted her to be proud of her muma. She had been through enough.
As a lover of calisthenics , I also did a lot of inversions (headstands/handstands) and hand balancing in my training. Obviously brain surgery slowed this down a tad (!!) and I was soooooo determined to get upside down again post the op. This was a lot scarier to do with my head feeling the way it did – so again…. I focused on building up my strength again around these movements post the surgery and it became a goal… a personal focus.
9 months post the op I did my first headstand again and I was so excited! I think I possibly kissed a complete stranger in the gym who was already looking at me like I was a nutcase!!! I’d surpassed superstar and moved into heavenly divine creature status!!!
Two years after my operation, the same beautiful friend of mine who looked after me post the surgery, agreed to do a 10km race with me to raise money for Brainstrust – a brain cancer charity in the UK who had been there for me and helps thousands of others like me. The picture at the top of this post is me coming towards the finish line of this race. This is pure focus and joy. I ran a pretty incredible time and felt extraordinary. I was so unbelievably grateful to have the gift of movement and be able to use my body to raise money for others less fortunate than me.
Being fit and having physical goals has been an actual life saver for me. I cannot extol its virtues enough. We all have to dig deep and find an inner strength through our lives – being fit, strong and healthy makes this so much easier.
and ps…. the Guiness Book of Records don’t know it yet but ..I AM THE FASTEST RECOVERING BRAIN SURGERY PATIENT EVER!!!!! Just saying….