EXERCISING WITH MYELOFIBROSIS A NEW JOURNEY
by Jeremy Smith
It’s been a while since my last MPN LIFE column and my first since learning my Polycythemia Vera had converted to Myelofibrosis this past July. I have learned a great deal about exercising with an MPN over the past twenty-three years and have shared my experiences with you here and on Facebook.
Since being diagnosed with MF I now believe I better understand why many MF patients struggle to exercise more than PV patients do. I have also learned there may be a difference in your exercise results or ability to exercise depending on the drugs you may be on. The impact of spleen size is another huge issue we have not talked about either
I am no longer willing to completely agree with either those who say anyone with an MPN can exercise or those who say it’s impossible. Of course unlike other cancer’s we do not have the multitude of large clinical trials that can be very helpful. Most of our work and discoveries come from the direct results of our sharing information together. Another reason why it’s important to participate in the fatigue study Zhen is working on in partnership with Dr. Mesa.
In many ways we are like the early explorers blazing the trails and uncovering life’s mysteries for those who will follow us decades later. This month’s column will start with me sharing my experiences with you. I hope to follow up with additional articles that focus specifically on what you can do to help keep yourself moving forward whether you have ET, PV or MF.
The two biggest challenges I’ve faced so far are an enlarged spleen and dealing with the mental impact of my new diagnosis. Constantly worried as to how much time I have left my Chi was completely out of whack. I was miserable to be around and drove everyone crazy. I regularly ranted on and on with my darkest thoughts. I even stopped exercising during the first few weeks, a huge mistake.
July 14 2012
I was sitting in my backyard when my iPhone calendar reminder popped up. It said one week to Healdsburg Ride. I had totally forgotten about the ride with everything going on. In one week I had a forty-five mile bike ride through the rolling hills of the beautiful wine country of Healdsburg, CA July 21st and I had not been training for almost three weeks. I began to wonder if I could even complete the ride. I ran into the house and with a panic on my face told my wife the ride was next week. She looked at me and said. “ So what. You don’t think you can do it? Get on your bike right now and find out.”
I changed into my cycling garb, grabbed my bike headed out on my local twenty-six mile training loop.
This loop is a good test as it has an excellent combination of steep and rolling hills to test out my lungs and oxygen capacity. With some long straightaways to see how long I can hold a steady speed of 25 MPH. In the past I use this loop along with indoor spin training to measure my cardiovascular abilities. I highly recommend you create your own loop for cycling, running or walking.
During the ride I noticed one significant change. My enlarged spleen created a huge problem for me when I needed to get out of my seat and push up a steep hill, something that is necessary for riding up hills. I had never experienced this previously so I was not sure what the impact would be on a much longer ride with steeper and much longer hill climbing.
Day of Reckoning
The sound of a hotel phone ringing announcing a 5:15AM wakeup call is never a pleasant experience no matter where you are. Knowing it’s going to hit 100 degrees on the ride today is much worse. I loaded up both my water bottles with HEED and then made breakfast and headed out for the start of the ride.
At mile thirty I am starting to get painful cramping as I limp my way in to the last of the sponsored rest stops, where food and beverage is plentiful. I never get cramps when I ride as I eat a constant diet and consume a lot of fluids during rides of more than two hours to keep my system balanced.
At the stop I consume four bananas, a full liter of Gatorade and some peanut butter cookies and head back out on the road. According to my GPS it’s now ninety-three degrees and not a cloud in sight.
At mile forty I am climbing my last hill and completely drenched from perspiration. Pedaling through the cramps is getting difficult now. I have to rest for five minutes. The bananas and Gatorade should have killed any cramps. As I get back on my bike and pedal off I wonder to myself is this how my longer rides will be with MF.
Almost there now I can see the parking lot where my car awaits. 500 feet left to go when my legs seize up from cramps. My shoes are locked in to the clips and the cramps are so bad I cannot move my legs to release my feet from the clips. I know what’s coming next and I attempt to point my bike to the grass alongside the road but we do not make it.
Falling to the ground on a bike while your feet are locked in to clips is never graceful or fun. I try to mentally prepare myself as my right ankles smashes in to the pavement, gashing my right elbow. Thankfully the cramping has stopped. I begin to smile and then laugh as I look up and can see my car in the distance. So close yet so far! I get up and walk the rest of the way to my car and load the bike in the back. I start the car and turn on the air conditioning. I struggled during my ride and welcome the two-hour drive home as I feel victorious in completing it even through my ride time and struggles were awful. I know tomorrow I will awake to a sore body.
BACK TO THE REAL WORLD
After a restful Tylenol- filled Sunday I return to work on Monday. Early on the busyness of my work helps take my mind off of my diagnosis. In the afternoon I receive an email from my doctor’s office with my CBC results. I realize I have become obsessive over my CBC numbers, which are taken weekly now, and I read them like the box score of a completed baseball game. Then I compare them to the past six months of data. I am officially a mental wreck driving myself further down a dark hole over my numbers and recent diagnosis. I wonder if I was this bad when I was first diagnosed with PV. I cannot remember anymore.
Later that week I ask Mary Jo if we could just get the heck out of town and head to Hawaii for a week of relaxation. Requirements:
- A beachfront condo right on the beach.
- Be allowed to skip the normal touristy stuff families like to do.
- All I am going to do is swim, run and relax on the beach.
- No one talks to me about MF.
The condo Mary Jo selected was in the town of Lahaina about a forty-five minute drive from the Airport. For some reason Hawaii is the only place I can truly relax. Don’t even know why but there I can just turn my mind off.
The next morning I head out for a run. As I am running I realize I have a new uninvited friend along for the run. “Hello Mr. Spleen. Why are you here and why won’t you stop poking me while I am running?” I have to cut my run short as I am feeling some pain. I decide to turn my run in to a walk instead. Now Mr. Spleen is quiet.
The next morning I went outside to enjoy the surf and was happy to see large waves pounding the beach. I quickly organized Mary Jo and our kids, grabbing our Boogie Boards and towels and we proceed on to the beach for some body surfing.
I catch some good waves and feel I am 10 years old again on the shores of Cape Cod with my parents and brothers body surfing. An innocent mind captivated by the beauty of the sounds coming from the power of the ocean waves and the warm blue Hawaiian waters.
I see my next wave coming and I start to swim out to meet it for one more glorious ride in to shore. In a quick few seconds I realize this is a really large wave and I am completely out of position for it arrival. The sheer power of the wave picking me and forcing me back down to the bottom of the ocean causes me to become disoriented and have lost control of everything including my Boogie Board, which comes loose and swivels back at me in the form of a weapon knocking me hard on the head.
I roll over several more times and come crashing down with a violent crash on to the shore of the beach. Landing squarely on the left side of my body. Mr. Spleen makes a quick appearance as he has taken a direct hit and it’s painful. I want to hide the pain but I cannot stand up. Mary Jo notices what has happened and the order comes down from Mama bear, body surfing has come to a close for me on this trip.
The next morning I awaken to a bruised spleen accompanied by black and blue marks on my abdomen. As I head downstairs for breakfast I am thinking to myself “Welcome to myelofibrosis.” I had previously taken plenty of falls while Mountain Biking but I had PV then. My spleen was under control then. This was something I needed to make sure I was keenly aware of from now on.
Modifications to the exercise program
For the next couple of months when I attempted crunches or tried to rise out of my seat while cycling I would experience pain. In late August I started PEG-INFN and in October flew to NYC and met with Dr. Silver who quickly schooled me on the do’s and don’ts of exercising with MF.
On the advice of Dr. Silver I have stopped doing crunches and all running. Dr. Silver said exercise movements like running put up and down motion pressure on the spleen, which can be damaging. I am thankful for his advice, as I would have most likely pushed through the pain eventually damaging my spleen. As of today the INFN has not only controlled my counts but in December I have finally seen a reduction in the size of my spleen. I can sleep again on the left side of my body without any discomfort and I am taking great caution with my exercising per Dr. Silver.
I am fortunate not to have the fatigue normally associated with MF. I continue to exercise regularly and still believe exercise and diet are the keys to beating fatigue and depression. I have noticed a huge difference in my energy level after switching from Hydrea to PEG-INFN and I can spend more time out in the cold weather again without my fingers and toes turning white for the first time in twenty years. This has allowed me to have a more flexible workout schedule.
I am also able to breath deeper, longer and more easily when exercising at more intense levels. The fogginess I used to get sometimes while on Hydrea is completely gone now as well. I have noticed I do not bruise as easily I did while on Hydrea.
It’s January and the start of a New Year and I ask that all of you who haven’t startede an exercise program. If you need help with creating one or just need advice on your current program please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Jeremy Smith and MPNforum.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jeremy Smith and MPNforum.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.