Boot camp

I never thought I would like, let alone own camo clothing, That is until boot camp. Up until then, I wouldn’t have owned anything camo had it not been for my oldest son’s wedding when all the girls wore camo tanks to get their hair done.

After one of the leaders for Beat Cancer Boot Camp – Wisconsin hurt his knee, I started leading sessions in his abscence…and bought camo paratrooper pants (very comfortable I admit) in the process.

I stumbled across BCBC while going through physical therapy after surgery to remove lymph nodes for metastatic melanoma in 2013. My therapist, Colleen, was (is) amazing, and she brought BCBC to Wisconsin a few years ago. It was the flier in the ProHealth physical therapy office that caught my attention.

Years before I was diagnosed, I had been covering an event (I’m a photographic journalist) where I saw something about a cancer boot camp. I remember thinking, “Boot camp would be so cool,” but I didn’t ‘qualify’ as I had no cancer. Be careful what you wish for.

As a runner, I joined BCBC to stay strong and become stronger, since melanoma and Yervoy were knocking me down a few pegs on the fitness ladder. What I found was a support network, a community that empowers cancer patients to become strong, that supports each other, that allows us to talk freely about our journeys (if we want and usually during coffee after Saturday morning sessions) because everyone there understands what the other is going through.

The beauty of BCBC is that every exercise is offered at different levels, depending on where each person is at in their cancer journey, yet the regime is based on Navy SEAL training. While most of the participants are cancer patients, along with a few cancer therapists; BCBC is open to family and friends of cancer patients.

When I started BCBC, I was going through Yervoy treatment in a clinical trial. While the side effects with Yervoy are not as severe as some other treatments, inflammation is right at the top as one of the biggest challenges I faced, magnifying muscle pain to an intense burning sensation.

During that time, I could barely jump or run without pain or much discomfort, yet I refused to sit idly by and wait for treatment to end. Incorporating some of the boot camp exercises into my daily workouts, I became stronger and probably more overall fit than I had been before my melanoma diagnosis.

As the BCBC slogan says, it’s “for strength, for health, for life.” I am no longer exercising to complete a certain distance during each run. I am exercising to add miles to my life. I am exercising to gain overall fitness, not just running fitness. I am exercising for a strong heart and a stronger head, knowing every ounce of muscle gained, is that much more for fighting cancer.

Moving away from my last treatment in July 2014, inflammation continues to decrease, allowing me to participate more fully in each session. When asked to lead some sessions, I’ve gained a new perspective standing in front of the group.

I see the different levels. I see the different struggles. I want participants to know it wasn’t that long ago, I struggled too. I hurt, sometimes even cried in pain. I pushed on. I want each participant to see that they have the potential to do the same. I want each person to know that the best version of themselves is one push up, one plank, one crunch away and you can build on that each day, each week.

BCBC troops are brave, bold and will do more than survive. With boot camp, we will thrive. And proudly wear camo.


What did you say?

Jokingly I will tell you I am half deaf, which isn’t far off, since only one ear can hear worth a darn. While I noticed hearing loss before my melanoma diagnosis, the loss increased dramatically during my treatment, which prompted a visit to an ear doctor to determine if Yervoy was contributing to the decline in my hearing.

Alas, all I can attribute it to is age and genetics (hearing loss runs in my father’s family). The good news, however, is that it is a conductive hearing loss.

Have you ever seen a doctor celebrate a diagnosis? You see, there is a surgical procedure, a stapedectomy, that can be done to restore some of the hearing if the diagnosis is conductive hearing loss. I qualify for that procedure…or a hearing aid. I want something more permanent.

Now that I am months out from completing my Yervoy treatment and showing no evidence of disease, I decided to follow this path and correct the hearing. If it gets rid of the unrelenting ringing in my ear, I will welcome that, but there are no guarantees in that department.

I went to see the surgeon who does this procedure, and during the course of the exam, he asked about my cancer – where is that at right now? I told him there is no evidence of disease and treatment was over, giving it no other thought at the time.

After leaving the office and turning over my decision in my head, I reflected on his question.

While I am certain he was asking about cancer to discern what additional risks might come with the procedure, part of me wondered if it was questioning the choice of a cancer patient choosing a corrective surgery. I mean, at what point is it unwise to stick more money into an old car with high mileage? It caused me to doubt my decision – at least for a day.

Then I shook off that fog.

To not correct my hearing when I have the opportunity, and at 56 go the route of a hearing aid, or worse yet, continue to ask everyone to repeat things and miss many parts of conversations, was to me, admitting defeat. It was saying, melanoma is going to kill me sooner or later, so why bother? It was giving up and living less of a life than I could. It was not taking a chance because I was afraid of the future.

I’m still scared out of my wits about the future, of melanoma, but I don’t think about it. I don’t think any further ahead than I have to, because that interferes with living now.

I do think about living each moment as fully as possible. I think about it often and wonder what tidbits I have missed when I saw lips moving and could make out no words. If I am not going to let melanoma stop me, why the heck would I allow a conductive (fixable) hearing loss lessen the quality of my life?

Not going to happen. Surgery is scheduled for next month. Yep, sticking money into that old, high-mileage car is worth it to me.