Radioactive Iodine – Three Months In

Three months ago I swallowed a little radioactive iodine pill. I did this because my hyperactive thyroid would not behave. Time to share a progress update!

I had no negative initial responses to the treatment at all, which was great (refer to the first link above for details). I did have a bit of a roller-coaster time though for a few weeks, as between the time I stopped my usual medication and the point where the radioactive iodine started to do it’s job, my thyroid took the attitude of “Free at last! Now I can do as I like!”. And it did. I do stress, every case is different – this is my personal experience and may not apply to anyone else.

Initial Reactions

Initially, I was pretty OK. By the time I had been off my usual medication for three weeks, though, I was not so physically fit! Remembering too, that my thyroid was already being naughty before I went off the medication, which I had delayed because I was attending the Pain Management Centre – so Ms Thyroid was already champing at the bit to let loose!

Prior to this change of treatment I had been building up my weights, slowly but surely. My target at the time for my leg press was 160 kg, I was sitting on 140 kg. No, not 1RM (one repetition max), that was sets. An amusing aside: a co-worker half my age and as healthy as had recently started a new training regime. We were chatting and I happened to mention the 140 kg. Knowing my medical challenges and age and gender he stared at me.

“That’s your 1RM, you mean?”

“No, three sets, ten reps. My normal. I’m aiming for 160 kg”, I replied.

“I’m lifting 140 kg”, he said, sounding somewhat demoralised.

He took that situation as inspiration and I believe his 1RM is now 275 kg. I don’t train him (he is healthy, doesn’t qualify!) but I’m glad I had a small part in spurring him on to greater heights!

Up to Two Months

Back to the topic at hand, my Ms Thyroid. My epsiodes of feeling I was going to pass out and having to lie down were becoming more frequent. I felt unwell all the time. A call to my endocrinologist and I was put back on my medication at half strength for seven weeks. Even so, when I hit the gym, I was made acutely aware my muscles were suffering. I did my usual, loading 100 kg onto the leg press for a warm-up set. I could not move the plate. Not an inch. Took 20 kg off (which meant simply removing the 10 kg weights, I clearly wasn’t going to be adding any more). 80 kg I could lift. That was a 60 kg loss. We won’t even talk about leg extensions – that was equally depressing.

It wasn’t just the weights. I had been swimming 1 km sessions. No, for healthy people that isn’t a lot, but I have to watch my shoulders. I had to stop at 500 metres. Just no oomph to keep going and I am very, very cognisant of the Boom/Bust cycle – to be avoided at all costs!

Third Month – 70% increase!

Never fear! All is not lost! It gets better!

At the two month mark I had the usual follow-up blood tests and consultation with my endocrinologist. Bloods were in the normal range and I stopped taking the medication at that point.

Shortly after that, so within the last four weeks, I got back up to my 140 kg leg press. For the last two weeks I have done 160 kg. so I have recovered my 60 kg regression and gained extra!

After that I celebrated. Yes, I had a protein shake as well, but the fresh fruit salad tasted wonderful!

My swim is also not a problem.

At this particular point I have increased my overall activity levels by 70% from where I was prior to the radioactive iodine treatment.

Before the radioactive treatment, working in an office three days and then one whole body strength workout a week and one swim, plus stretching and walking daily, was the limit of my physical activity without heading into a boom/bust cycle.

For the last three weeks I have done two strength workouts and two swims per week. I’ve dropped the duration of each session and am slowly building each back up. My aim is to double what I was doing. 30% to go!

My pre-treatment strength session was 60 minutes. I dropped it to 40 minutes, but did two sessions. I’m now up to two session of 50 minutes. I dropped my swimming to 700 metres, but did two a week instead of one session of 1 km. Now I am at one session of 900 metres and one of 800 metres.

My hair isn’t falling out and I am sleeping better. All great stuff!

I’m a very happy little Vegemite. For overseas readers, Vegemite is something we eat. Americans all hate it!

 

Prognosis

Some patients who undergo radioactive iodine treatment for hyperactive thyroid ultimately become under active – i.e. hypothyroidism. That is not expected to happen with me, which I am very happy about, but equally I am aware it could happen.

The full effects of radioactive iodine treatment materialise, generally, between the three and six month mark of swallowing that little pill. Therefore I don’t know if I can expect more improvements or if I’m maxed out at this point. I am feeling great, so if this is it, I’m happy.

I am finding I have to watch my weight more carefully. Then again, I have been socialising more than I used to because I feel so much better and have more energy. Also given my increase in strength training, there will be some body composition changes happening. I’m monitoring, not panicking. Yet. My clothes still fit!

Summary

I am very happy with the results. Apart from the short crappy period described above, the whole process was relatively straightforward, painless and easy.

If your endocrinologist recommends radioactive iodine treatment for you, based on my personal experience it is a good treatment option.

Every case is different and you should always listen carefully to your medical professionals.

Competition: Free Training to LIMBER UP!

ENTRIES NOW CLOSED!

To welcome in this brand New Year and celebrate whipping my thyroid into submission with some radioactive iodineI have an offer for readers! I am now ready and able to re-launch my Limberation activities: giving a lucky winner eight weeks free training seems a good way to start the year. As of this week, my thyroid function is rated as normal: I am definitely feeling the almost three month enforced hiatus was worth it!

Would you like to Limber Up to Live Life? To Move More? To start using Movement As Medicine? Reduce/manage pain? I’ve done it, so can you. 

There are rules! There are always rules! This might seem like a lot of rules for a competition, but we are talking about your health here, so precautions are appropriate!

Rules and entrant criteria

  • Have a medically diagnosed condition that will benefit from exercise (that is most of them – check with your doctor if in doubt). Please provide brief details of your condition/(s) with your entry.
  • Be taking any medications prescribed for your condition as scheduled (i.e. not skipping doses).
  • Have or be willing to obtain a medical clearance to exercise. This should include any restrictions recommended by your medical team (e.g. at one point I was not allowed to do shoulder presses).
  • Be committed to undertaking a personalised program for eight weeks. This will involve eight personal one hour consultation sessions over a two month period and completion of unsupervised exercises as prescribed on other days of the week (frequency to be determined at initial consultation).
  • Live within a 40 kilometre radius of postcode 3181 OR be prepared/able to meet within a 40 kilometre radius.
  • Be available Saturday through to Tuesday, one day per week for eight weeks.
  • Give permission to be interviewed for this website and have photos published.
  • Undergo standard fitness industry pre-exercise screening.
  • Complete initial consultation questionnaires and agreement to undertake exercise as applicable.
  • In 30 words or less tell me why you want to undertake exercise.
  • Entries close Saturday, February 10, 2018.
  • The winner will be announced February 24, 2018. The winner will be contacted personally and announced on this website. The prize is non-transferable.
  • Submit your entry via email to enquiries@limberation.com including your name, address and contact phone number. The subject line should be Limber Up.
  • The winner’s initial consultation will take place between February 24, 2018 and March 10, 2018 but can be subject to negotiation, within reason, if required.

If this page is your first visit to this website, please read my About page to understand why I offer a different training experience. I’m in the same boat as you: multiple chronic conditions, was losing quality of life, wanted to stay off pain medications.

Your contact details will not be used for any purposes other than your competition entry. All contact details of entrants other than the winner will be destroyed after the winner accepts the offer (unless the entrant indicates otherwise). If the winner is unable to accept the offer for any reason, the runner-up will be made the offer.

The winner will be chosen by me based on suitability for an exercise program and the authenticity of the 30 word outline specified above. I reserve the right to contact entrants if I determine clarification of entry details is required prior to determining the winner. This is for your protection.

Take that first step to a better quality of life today.

Make 2018 YOUR Year for SMART Goals

Seasons Greetings to all! Christmas is 30 or so hours away as I write (for those of us in the southern hemisphere). As the sun sets on 2017, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate our health progress and polish up our plans to get stronger, more active, more mobile and have less pain, less lethargy, better sleep: culminating in a better quality of life in 2018.

If you are still in “I’m thinking about it” mode, take stock over Christmas. What invitations did you turn down because you didn’t feel you could summon the energy required? Would you like to accept those invitations next year? Were you able to do the shopping you wanted to do without crashing in a heap for two days afterwards? Make 2018 the year you make the choice to include moving more into your treatment plans.

Talk to your doctors, get a clear understanding of what benefits you may expect from moving more.

SMART Goals

Now that my recent treatment change is behind me, I’m making more ambitious plans for myself and setting new goals for the new year. SMART goals. SMART goals are used in many walks of life: I’ve seen various wordings used depending on the context. For our purposes, I like the following definitions.

S = Specific. The goal needs to be something specific, not a nebulous idea.

M = Measurable. If we can’t measure our achievements against the goal, we won’t know if we are getting anywhere.

A = Achievable. It has to be achievable. If I set myself a goal of climbing Mt Everest, while both specific and measurable, for me it is not achievable. Swimming a two kilometre session – THAT is achievable.

R = Relevant. You will see realistic often used in this spot, but for our purposes I prefer relevant. We have limitations on our energy, our strength and our time. There is no point in setting goals that are not relevant to what we wish to achieve, which is better quality of life.

T = Timeboxed. There needs to be a time period within which you will achieve this goal. This helps to hold you to account and stay on target.

Let’s give it a try. “My goal is to swim two kilometres.” Is this a SMART goal?

No, it isn’t. While it is specific, measurable, relevant and (I hope) achievable, I have set no time target. “I want to walk more”, while relevant and achievable, is not a measurable goal – “more” could be anything. Walk longer distances or walk more often? Nor is it timeboxed. Walk more by when? 

Let’s have another go at this. “My goal is to swim a two kilometre session by 30 June 2018”. Now I have a SMART goal. I will need a progress plan to reach that goal, so I will need shorter term goals to get there: “My goal is to swim 1.2 kilometres once a week by 28 February 2018”.

That is one of my goals. Yours may well be something along the lines of “I will do my stretches every day for the month of January.” This is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timeboxed AND will set you up for the next step in establishing a movement as medicine strategy.

A walking more SMART goal could be very simple. “I will walk for three minutes, five times a day for one week”. At the end of the week a new SMART goal can be set. Remember when setting goals to pace yourself, always pace yourself.

Kyboot

For context, I was on crutches for much of 2014. I was diagnosed at the end of 2014. You can read how I started back to moving more on How tough is it to get moving?. My major goals for 2018 are:

  • Swim a two kilometre session by 30 June 2018.
  • Increase my daily step count to 10,000 steps a day by 30 September 2018.
  • Increase my leg press to 160 kilograms by 30 June 2018. (I was at 140 kg before my treatment change – I have to work back up after dropping back).

As I achieve those, I will set new goals during the year.

Of course, I have one other goal: help others get moving! I am back to normal availability after my recent hiatus, so reach out. It costs nothing to investigate the possibility.

Have a great time over the break! Stay safe!

You CAN do it!

These last few weeks have reminded me of my early days. A quick summary of the process: I stopped my hyperthyroid medication on November 5 in preparation for the radioactive iodine treatment, the radioactive dose was administered on November 17, I restarted my medication on November 27 at half the previous dose. The radioactive iodine doesn’t work for about three months, maybe even six months.

I am starting to feel much better now, one month and one day after after having the radioactive iodine. Today I managed a 50 minute strength workout but I am still 60 kilograms down on my leg press from where I was. I could not complete the final set of hammer curls. The lats and hamstrings seem to have held up reasonably well.

The nausea attacks have been quite frequent and the heat intolerance has been through the roof. Sleep disruption has again been an issue, resulting in more than the usual level of brain fog and certainly increased fatigue.

Overall, similar to when I was diagnosed back in 2014. Even the emotions resurfaced. As I struggled to finish that final set of hammer curls today I felt the tears building. Using the mindfulness techniques we learnt at the Pain Management Program I sat and reminded myself this is NOT a permanent situation. With the principles of pacing in mind, I did not push myself given the circumstances. I let the frustration go.

Normally I walk about a kilometre after my strength session to cool down, but today it was 33 Celsius and I am heat intolerant! So the walking went by the board too. I thought to myself how easy it can be to just give up. The feelings of being physically restricted are not something I like. I was glad it was not a busy time in the gym today – no-one to witness my meagre efforts. Meagre? No, the truth is my workout wasn’t meagre given the circumstances. There are many patients who can’t yet achieve what I have achieved with my medical conditions. There is that mental battle to accept the limitations AND feel satisfaction, a little pride even, for achieving sufficient physicality to regain quality of life.

Today reminded me of those old emotional battles. You CAN do it! If I, a “senior” can do it (yes, I’m playing the “old” card to motivate YOU), you can too!

The difference is I am not newly diagnosed. I know from my own practical experience that exercise is so very beneficial. Those who are newly diagnosed or who have never tried movement as medicine do not have that experience to motivate them.

I know I will get back to the levels I was at prior to this little bump in the road. I will then continue to improve as I was before. I understand what is happening in my body at this time. Not completely understand because we do not yet have an explanation for my iron levels, but we are dealing with one thing at a time. The colorectal investigations were all clear (thankfully) so that isn’t the reason. Once the thyroid function is normal, we’ll revisit the iron question having already eliminated the worst case scenario.

I also know not to go at this like a bull at a gate (something my father always accused me of doing). I’ll keep working out, I’ll keep swimming, stretching and working on VMO activation! I will just listen to my body at this time, noting what small improvements I achieve over the next two months.

All of this has delayed me opening bookings again, for which I apologise. It is also a learning experience which will be of benefit to my clients.

Limber Up to Live Life!  Check with your doctors whether exercise will help you regain quality of life. Then call me. More than happy to have no-obligation discussions if you are interested in investigating adding exercise to your treatment plan.

When Treatment Throws Rocks on the Road

Maintaining our upward trajectory in managing our conditions can run into obstacles every now and then, one of those rocks in the road can be a change of treatment. We need to ensure we don’t let our progress to date slide away while at the same time ensuring we give ourselves physical and emotional space to deal with the bumps in the road.

What I have learnt from my own recent experience of changing treatment, is this.

Triple Check Any Timing Advice

You may get different advice from different practitioners involved in the treatment, if there is more than one practitioner (as is so often the case). If you have to make plans, such as time off work or someone else to care for your children, triple check! My example is I was originally told I would need to be isolated for ten days. I made plans around that advice, such as leave from work. A week before the treatment, I discovered it was five days for work, fourteen days for family/friends over five years of age who were not pregnant, and twenty-eight days for under-fives and pregnant women (which of course can affect working arrangements depending on your job). My isolation specifications are all around time and proximity: preferably not closer than two metres for more than 15 minutes a day.

The point is, when we plan for child care or time off work well in advance, we need to be confident we are planning correctly. I haven’t got to the root cause of why the patient gets different advice from different parties, just warning it is possible, so watch out for it!

Ask About Your Specific Activities

While there were pages of frequently asked questions provided, not one of them addressed swimming or going to the gym! In my case I was allowed to swim on Day 3 and go to the gym on Day 5, provided I took my own towel and kept two metres away from children. I needed to specifically ask about exercise related activities though – something I think is an improvement that could be made in the documentation!

The medical profession are certainly quick to tell us exercise is important medicine (obviously I agree) but then leave all mention of exercise activities out of the FAQs.

Make Sure You Are Advised Of Any Possible Health Effects

Perhaps due to my own naivety I expected my change of treatment to be relatively smooth. In reality, it really has been smooth, I certainly can’t complain too much! Let’s say the effects can be disruptive to your normal routines. I had a period of feeling, as an English friend says, “rough”. Rather a good description, really, rough!  While every situation is different because there are a myriad treatments out there for a myriad of conditions, I found I had an increase in nausea/lightheadedness attacks (which are quite debilitating) and I started to feel RA pain in my hands – this I believe due to the fact my thyroid was having a field day running wild while waiting for the radioactive iodine to work its magic. A thyroid on a binge can exacerbate RA symptoms. Lethargy/fatigue reared its ugly head as well for a few days.

This is being resolved by my going back on my old thyroid medication at a half dose – not an unusual recommendation in my situation, but every case is different. This is an EXAMPLE only!

A stroke survivor friend of mine recently ended up in hospital as his body adjusts to a change in medication. Very different medical cases, he and I, but similar results in that a change of treatment lead to a changed health experience, albeit temporary.

Make sure you are aware of what you might expect and the steps to take to mitigate any unpleasant effects. I knew I could call my endocrinologist for directions, I knew what to watch out for and my GP is watching over me.

Keep Moving As Much As You Can

I will be the first to admit when the nausea/lightheadedness kicks in, there is not much moving of any sort to be done. I am still constantly surprised at how debilitating it is: there is NOTHING I can do when it hits. Apart from take anti-nausea medication. Other patients I have spoken to say similar. No pain, just the awful, all-consuming feeling of utter “OMG, I have to lay down”.

In my case, the overactive thyroid, probably in conjunction with the low iron (lots of chicken and egg stuff here, I have to say) definitely affected my muscle strength/tone. I was very keen to get back in the gym as soon as possible as I know my conditions result in the loss of previous strength gains very quickly.  I’ve worked very hard to be able to do what I do now, I don’t want a ” one step forward, five steps back” situation! I actually haven’t made it to the gym since the treatment change. I was heading to the gym yesterday, but I got waylaid buying a dress – not the advice I would give my clients, but I’m excusing myself on the basis I did walk 8,295 steps in the process of said retail therapy! So back into it today!

I have been swimming, although that was before I started back on the medications and I could only manage 500 or 600 metres before I felt completely wiped out. The point is – do as much as you can, while at the same time being cognisant of the fact your body is going through an internal adjustment. Making the judgement of how much is not enough or too much is a skill that needs to be developed – if this is a first time experience for you, you may need some professional help in making the right choices. Listening to your body and common sense are pretty good decision making aids. Just don’t fall into the trap of using any side-effects of the treatment change as an escape clause, because you will likely regret it later.

I did definitely find I was getting stiffer over the worst few days – reminded me very clearly of WHY I started all this exercise stuff in the first place! I don’t like that stiffness one little bit. Very glad to be getting back to my definition of normal now!

Summary

A change of treatment is often recommended for a variety of reasons. I had a change of RA medication in 2016 with no rocks on the road. This time has been a bit different. I am sure over the coming years I may have other treatment adjustments or changes.

Each change may or may not bring temporary changes to our experience. Our goal during these times is to minimise any reversal of our quality of life gains to date.

As mentioned above I felt stiffness starting to return over a few days of relative inactivity. I was stiff getting out of bed, stiff getting off chairs and was finding getting out of my car a bit of a challenge. THAT, if nothing else, is enough of a trigger for me to GET MOVING! The last thing I want is to be unable to get in and out of my car!

Be prepared, plan well, use the medical support available and most of all KEEP MOVING!

Good luck!

8 Steps to Retain/Regain Quality of Life

Earlier this week I read an article by Alicia Hill, 7 Simple Steps That Will Make You Happier. I looked at the steps and thought to myself, “These can be adapted for us, chronic condition patients!” With an eighth step added, of course. You will see why when you get there!

I also watched “Pushing the Limits” on Insight SBS. As I listened to these extreme endurance athletes, I could see a link between what I and my fellow patients learnt in the Pain Management Program and what these athletes do to push through. Perhaps we need to look at ourselves as endurance QOLs –  Quality of Life is the goal we strive for, not necessarily running 3,100 kilometres in 45 days! Our mental challenge can be just as extreme, even if our physical achievements are not.

The 8 Steps

Step #1: Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

You are unique. I am unique. Even if we have the same condition or combination of conditions, the conditions will not express themselves identically in each of us. On paper, we may have the same diagnosis, but in our day-to-day life we may have very different experiences.

Too often we compare ourselves to “normal” people. I’ve put normal on quotes because really – what is normal? We compare ourselves to those without medical conditions.

Comparing ourselves to others is not helpful.

As Alicia says, “THE ONLY PERSON YOU SHOULD BE COMPARING YOURSELF TO IS WHO YOU WERE YESTERDAY”. And trust me, if you could walk 5 minutes yesterday and today you can walk 5.5 minutes, you are making progress, WELL DONE!

Step #2: Don’t Talk Negatively About Yourself

Too often we get down on ourselves. “I can’t even walk to the shops.” “I would, BUT…..”

Think about how you might achieve small objectives. “Right now I can’t walk to the shops. I can start pacing up. I can get started” is an acknowledgement that the shops is too far right this minute; it is also a commitment to take small steps to a goal. One goal that will improve quality of life. I offer some practical tips and ideas in Pacing for Beginners.

Step #3: Surround Yourself with People Who Make You Better

I think this is particularly important. We need our medical teams: endocrinologist, rheumatologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist, general practitioner and many other medical people may be involved for any given patient.

We also need, as appropriate, physiotherapists, dietitians, Pilates instructors, masseurs, pain multi-disciplinary teams, hopefully you might need me to help you with your exercise.

Ensure you have good working relationships with your professionals – you will be much more inclined to stick to your medications or treatment programs if you have good relationships. If you see a doctor because he or she is recognised as the best in the field, but you can’t relate to that person, they may not be the best long term practitioner for you. Only you can make that decision.

Surround yourself with positive people as much as you can. People who understand your limitations, but will help you feel good about achieving each small step. There are many on-line support groups for medical conditions, most of which are fantastic. Be careful to avoid any where the tone is generally negative.

Yes, there are negative aspects to our conditions. If we dive into and dwell in the negativity it can become all-consuming and that will not help us achieve our quality of life goals.

Step #4:  Do Something for Someone Else

This makes us feel good, it makes us feel useful and relevant and alive. I remember one of my fellow patients was very keen to help her sister by minding her nephews/nieces. This was meaningful for her.

No, we may not now be able to do the things we once could for other people. No, I am NOT going to offer to mow my daughter’s massive lawns while she and her husband are overseas (sorry, daughter dear). I can collect the mail from their post office box though. I can mind my neighbour’s cat if she goes away.

Even smiling at someone can make their day. And yours!

Step #5:  Unplug

Yes, well, something here I should do more of! We can become very tech-addicted when we feel our physicality is so limited. Be it TV, computers, iPad, mobile phones or a combination of all of the above, many may spend too much time consulting Dr Google, playing games to take our minds off our situation, or substituting real life social interaction with on-line interactions (often to save money).

Apart from the negative impact screens have on our sleep patterns, it all adds to our de-conditioning if we do it too much. De-conditioning further reduces our quality of life.

Unplug. De-screen. Get out and look for flowers.

Step #6:  Practice Gratitude

“WHAT?”, you yell. “Gratitude? I can’t walk to the shops and I’m supposed to be GRATEFUL?”

Yes, you are. Earlier this month I visited a very dear friend of mine, Robin, who has a very lethal form of cancer. Next month he is having pelvic exenteration surgery. Robin is 56 years old and he and his wife, Moira, are deeply in love. Yes, I know – I’m Robyn and he is Robin – we call ourselves the male and female half of the same person. The surgery takes ten hours and he is an induced coma for a period of time afterwards. He will be in hospital for a month. He has already undergone six weeks of radiotherapy (five days a week) and chemotherapy (24/7). He will have another round of lengthy chemo after surgery. Heavy or lite chemo is yet to be determined.

Robyn, Robin and Moira – Perth

Am I practicing gratitude? Too damn right I am! Yes, my conditions may shave around five years off my live expectancy (provided I don’t get anything else), but I am not facing such radical surgery with an unpredictable post-surgery life expectancy (the stats are improving all the time), as Robin is. I am not losing my sexual function, or having to give up some of my favourite foods. I am not facing life with a colostomy bag and urinary diversion.

While there is no argument many chronic conditions can reach extremely debilitating and painful stages, there is much we can do to regain or maintain our quality of life if we start early, have the right treatment and support and are committed. Even if we start late, we can gain improvements. Robin doesn’t have that option. Without very radical surgery and intense chemotherapy his cancer is terminal.

I am grateful I am not the fibromyalgia patient I spoke to the other day whose skin is constantly on fire. I am grateful I am not the Victorian MP who resigned when her breast cancer returned and died the very next day.

I am grateful. Every day, I am grateful. I have been able to retrain for a new career, I am free of pain killers. I am grateful.

Step #7:  Grow Yourself

Learn as much as you can, from reputable sources, about your condition/(s). Learn how the conditions may interact if you have more than one. Quiz your medical team. Monitor your ups and downs as this will help your doctors help you.

Do not catastrophise. My doctor is still shaking her head because I wanted to pop out to have a thyroid biopsy in my lunch break. Well, they said it was a fine needle! How hard could it be? I have things to do! Perhaps I might have considered the risk of bleeding, but… *shrugs shoulders*. I’m not suggesting my approach is the most sensible, but neither is the other end of the spectrum, taking a week off in bed for something relatively minor.

The more we know and understand, the less we catastrophise and better equipped we are to manage our conditions on a day-to-day basis.

Step #8: MOVE MORE, EXERCISE, MOVEMENT IS MEDICINE

I might have mentioned this before. If I have, no apologies for mentioning it again as it is important. David Tom MD, an Arizona-based chronic pain specialist, says patients who are successful in managing their conditions see movement as medicine. I love that phrase. Movement is the one of the best medicines we can use.

Most of the articles on this website relate to moving more, so I’ll close this item here rather than write another screed!

Being an Extreme QOL

The full episode can be viewed at SBS On Demand.

The extreme endurance athletes featured in that episode of Insight SBS all have something that drives them to beat the odds. As Leah Belson says, “There’s just one life, we’ve only got one”.

One man ran a considerable distance with a torn quad. That has to have been painful. The cyclist ends up with nerve damage in her hands.

Yes, these are very, very fit, healthy people. But they face challenges the average person on the street will never face, do things many will never attempt.

We are very similar: we face extreme pain, loss of function, brain fog, loss perhaps of social interaction and relationships or employment due to our conditions. We risk the loss of our quality of life. WE face challenges the average person on the street will (hopefully) never face.

We need to find within ourselves the “something” these athletes have that gets them through. That something may well be commitment. Remember that Pain Management Program I keep talking about? It is called PACT. The A stands for acceptance and the C stands for commitment.

My friend Robin has accepted his situation and is committed to his treatment. He will get through this because he wants to continue his life with Moira. He also wants get back on that bike! Speaking of that photo, he gave me the jacket because he thought I’d feel safer. I thought he was “making” me wear it. Anyone smell a lack of communication there? 🙂 When we stopped, he asked if I was “ready” to take it off – I’d much rather never have put it on! I had my bike licence at 15, before helmets were even compulsory! I also trust him as a rider.

I recognise there are some patients who will read this and think their condition or conditions have already progressed past the point of no return. In some cases that may be so, but please double-check that thought with your doctors.

If we want it, we need to fight for our quality of life just as these endurance athletes fight to achieve their goals.

EXTRA Slip, Slop, Slap Needed!

While the Cancer Council reminds us ALL to ensure we have adequate protection from the sun, those of us with chronic conditions need to be extra, super duper, especially careful.

One of my drugs comes with this little warning sticker.

warning, photosensitive
Warning Label on prescription meds

Let me tell you, that word “excessive” can be very open to interpretation. For some of us, that can be a whole 10 minutes. While I don’t enjoy sharing bits of my body openly like this, in the interests of education, I am doing so here. This is a snapshot of one of my breasts, I hope suitably cropped to retain a health focus!

sun exposure

That was THREE weeks after the actual exposure. I finally went to the pharmacy and asked if they had a cream I could use.

Knowing what else I was on, the pharmacist, in a very firm voice said, “Will you just go to the doctor? Please?” I mumbled, grumbled and complained, but I went.

Doctor says, “I need to send you to a skin specialist.”

I reply, “NOOOOOOOOO! I see enough specialists already! Can’t you prescribe something?”

Anyway, the point is: SLIP, SLOP, SLAP. Extra!

Sometimes it is our meds, sometimes it is the conditions. Sometimes it is a combination. Check your meds, check the symptoms of your conditions.

Hyperthyroid has heat intolerance as a symptom.

 

hyperthyroid, heat intolerance
Source: http://www.thyroid.com.au/thyroid-disorders/graves-disease/

Here is just one paper on PubMed discussing sunlight interacting with drug medications.

The interaction of sunlight with drug medication leads to photosensitivity responses in susceptible patients, and has the potential to increase the incidence of skin cancer. Adverse photosensitivity responses to drugs occur predominantly as a phototoxic reaction which is more immediate than photoallergy, and can be reversed by withdrawal or substitution of the drug. The bias and inaccuracy of the reporting procedure for these adverse reactions is a consequence of the difficulty in distinguishing between sunburn and a mild drug photosensitivity reaction, together with the patient being able to control the incidence by taking protective action. The drug classes that currently are eliciting a high level of adverse photosensitivity are the diuretic, antibacterial and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Not all people will be susceptible. Two people could take the exact same medication and one be photosensitive and the other not. The same with symptoms of conditions: not everyone has the same symptoms. Unless you know for sure, it pays to do your research BEFORE you get over exposed.

My arm has had a problem for some time, as it keeps getting exposed. I initially thought I had got sunburn on that arm driving around on a beautiful winter day in August with the roof down on my car. It just never would heal completely. I have noticed a vast improvement since I stopped one of my drugs recently. I am monitoring progress while still applying the treatment the dermatologist prescribed after I was diagnosed, via biopsy, with photosensitive eczema.

photosensitive

That photo is not particularly bad, but I think you can see the lesions. While sun exposure would cause it to flare up, it is/was also heat sensitive: when I work out at the gym, those areas would become bright red.

In Cancer Council ACT’s recent media release, Dr Andrew Miller, President, Australasian College of Dermatologists is quoted:

“Melanoma rates in Australians aged 40 and under are dropping and the children of today are our most SunSmart generation ever. However, it’s a real concern that sun protection behaviours overall don’t seem to be improving and that over 2.7 million Australians are putting themselves at risk of skin cancer by getting sunburnt on summer weekends.”

A media release from Cancer Council Victoria states:

New data from a Cancer Council Victoria survey shows more than a third of Victorians do not know the correct indicator of sunburn risk – putting themselves and their families at risk of sun damage and ultimately skin cancer.

The survey found 22% of Victorian adults aged 18-39 incorrectly selected temperature as the most useful measure to calculate sunburn risk for the day, while 8% thought cloud cover, wind conditions or humidity were sunburn indicators, and 9% didn’t know which measure to use.

Just 61% were able to correctly identify the sun protection times or UV level as the best measure to determine sunburn risk.

Of course, all of that is for normal people! We spoonies have to be extra careful.

I use a Cancer Council sun protection that is non-greasy.

sun screen, sun smart

I initially bought the spray, but I find the nozzle clogs up quite quickly, so I have moved to the cream in the tube. Yes, my cat was trying to get into the photo – she gets into EVERYTHING. The non-greasy is better for work, although that may be all in my mind.

I also have a special dermatologist recommended cream for my face.

sun smart

If I don’t use it, I can go from perfect skin to THIS horror over night. Go to bed perfectly fine, wake up horrified. I’ve learnt my lesson.

sun smart

Have I scared you yet? I hope so, that was the entire point!

Go check your meds and your condition symptoms and SLIP, SLOP, SLAP not just in summer, all the time. I got my arm damage in August.

Do I let any of that stop me being active? No. While my skin may react to sun exposure and heat, I can manage that with suitable sun protection. If I don’t keep moving, I can’t manage my pain. The moving, exercising wins! I will say my gym is in a basement, so I’m safe down there.

Here is proof of me swimming, for no other reason than one of my readers complained on Twitter I had used shots of the pool I go to, but he never saw proof of me actually IN the pool. @MlsMichael, here is your proof. From today. Before the thunderstorms.

Most Australians already know what “Slip, Slop, Slap” means, but for overseas readers:

  • Slip on a t-shirt
  • Slop on sun screen
  • Slap on a hat

Change Your Exercises for Safety

The target audience for this article is those who are already gym literate. You know how to do a dumbbell bench press and load the leg press. Your technique has always been good and you’ve never hurt yourself in the gym. You are trying to pick up where you left off, but now you have the complication of our new partner, our chronic illness, or some degenerative change making things a little different.

Here are some personal practical examples to illustrate you can change what you are used to doing and still achieve your goals. No, not your old goals – your NEW goals! The ones you have now for regaining or retaining your quality of life!

Dumbbell Bench Press

As previously mentioned, I have a few problems in my lumbar spine: a bulging disc, a herniated disc and some very grumpy facet joints. I have always preferred free weights. I knew something I was doing in the gym was irritating my back, but I wasn’t 100% sure which exercise. I suspected it was the dumbbell bench press – not the actual exercise, but getting off the bench at the end of a set. Every time I finished a set, I felt a definite sharp twinge (that may be an understatement there) in my lumbar spine and I would suffer varying degrees of discomfort in the following days.

I stared at the chest press machine and decided I was going to have to give that a try.

The action of getting off the machine is not subjecting my back to any undue stress.

It works. No aggravation of my back as I step out of the seat. No, I’m not happy about giving up my free weights, but I’d rather adapt my exercises than not do them at all.

Much easier than getting off the bench!

In February I will under go Radiofrequency Facet Joint Denervation which will hopefully help: in the meantime I have adapted. If the RFJD works, then I’ll have time to work on building the muscles supporting the spine in readiness for when the RFJD wears off.

Loading the Leg Press

Those weights for the leg press have two handles – use them! I realised lifting and carrying a 20 kilogram weight one-handed was not something I should do any more. By the time I’d loaded six of these onto the machine, plus the top-up weights, I was feeling it. Then there is putting the weights away at the end. You DO put the weights away, don’t you? Yes, I knew you did! Using two hands feels a bit awkward at first, but better to use two hands than stop doing the leg press altogether. 

Some readers may have no difficulty with a mere 20 kilograms, I realise that. Some of us more mature souls, or those starting back slowly may be very wise to take things gently initially! Pace up!

Leg Curl

Prone (face down) leg curl is another exercise my back doesn’t like. Luckily my gym has a seated leg curl machine. I’ve found I can do my leg curls with no issues at all in a seated position. No, it doesn’t look as tough, but I no longer care about looking tough, I care about staying limber and strong-ish.

Leg Curl

General Tips

Remember to PACE! While you might be an old hand in the gym, are you new to the concept of pacing for medical reasons?

Make sure you adjust the seat heights (or anything else that needs adjusting) for your particular height. While we may all have been a little cavalier about such details in the past, it pays to be picky about such details now. I usually find tall people have been on everything just before me and I have to adjust every single thing! Your body will thank you.

I don’t recommend lifting to failure, unless you are well and truly on a path to remission or lucky enough to be in remission. I do, now (“now” being until my iron vanished into thin air), lift to failure, but it is something I’ve built back up to and I certainly don’t make a habit of it – besides “failure” is a lot less now than it used to be! Russian Volume Training is probably not a great idea for us either. We’ll end up in the Boom/Bust cycle again, if not with pain, with fatigue.

Slow and steady should be our mantra for the moment. All is not lost though: I know a young man who was diagnosed with reactive arthritis. Told he would not play professional sport again, he became a hypertrophy competitor, fitness professional and was one of our teachers. He is a pretty buff guy.

I hope this may give you some ideas. If you would like assistance, contact me.

Be careful and safe!

I’m done for the day!

 

Let’s Stretch

Stretching helps us get our movement back. We don’t have to do Olympic level stretches: to start, do what you feel comfortable with. Day by day you will improve. Your aim is to increase your flexibility and functional range, not run the marathon or climb Mount Everest. It can be discouraging when we see “everyone else” able to do things we can’t. It isn’t everyone else, though – there are plenty of people in a very similar situation to ourselves. We need to let go of the “everyone else” comparison because it does us no good at all.

Range of motion can even lead us to not buying clothes we like. I tried on a dress I loved. BIG problem: it had a full length zip up the back. I no longer have the range of motion in my shoulder joint to be able to zip that dress up by myself. So I had to buy a different dress. Still bugs me every time I think about it!

David Tom MD, an Arizona-based chronic pain specialist, says patients who are successful in managing their conditions see movement as medicine. I love that phrase. Movement is the one of the best drugs we can use.

What stretches should you do? This is will depend on your particular situation, but a good set to start is listed below. Hold each for three calm breathes, do each stretch twice. That is, twice each side where the stretch is a side-to-side stretch. Do stretches in a controlled slow manner, paying heed to your body. This is a not a race, the only aim here is to getting our body moving.

  1. Neck stretch 1 – simply tuck your chin to your chest.
  2. Neck stretch 2 – tilt your head to the side, turning your chin towards your armpit and your ear to your shoulder. Be careful not to lift your shoulder to your ear! If you are tilting to the right, you can place your right hand on your head to gently add some additional “pull” to the stretch.
  3. Shoulder rolls – rotate your shoulders in a circle backwards, with your arms at your sides. In gyms you may see people doing full arm rotations, forwards and backwards. This is not necessary to achieve your short-term objective. Do not rotate shoulders forwards, the body prefers backwards and we want to give the body what it prefers at this stage.
  4. Shoulders, chest, biceps – stretch your arms straight behind you. You can retract your shoulder blades if you are able, and clasp your hands behind your back but this is not necessary. Again, watch those shoulders – make sure you aren’t lifting your shoulders. Take you arms back only as far as you can comfortably.
  5. Side bend – sitting or standing is fine, depending on your current ability. I won’t describe this one in words as I demonstrate it in the video above.
  6. Back rotation – this can be done lying down or sitting. I prefer lying down. Lay on the floor arms outstretched, knees bent. Roll your knees to one side as close to the floor as you can, hold. Return your knees to the centre, roll to the other side. This may be too challenging, so the seated version is to hug yourself and rotate your upper body to one side, hold. Return to the centre and repeat the other side.
  7. Hamstring stretch – the hamstrings are the big muscles that run down the back of your legs. These can get very tight, especially if you haven’t discarded those high heels yet! That was a not-so-subtle reminder to check out my KyBoot recommendation. There are many ways to do a hamstring stretch, here are two.  You can sit on the edge of a chair and place one leg out in front of you, heel only on the floor, toe pointing towards you, straighten the knee and bend slightly forward at the waist. A second option is to lay on the floor and raise one leg at right angles to your body, your hands behind your thigh to gently encourage your leg towards a 90 degree angle to your body, knee as straight as possible.
  8. Quad stretch – quads are the muscles at the front of your thighs. My favourite place to do these is in the warm water gentle exercise pool with ankle floats. On land, stand behind a chair or beside something you can hold on to for support. Lift you foot up behind you towards your bottom. If you are able, you can catch hold of your ankle and lift the foot higher. You will feel the stretch in the front of your leg above the knee.
  9. Calf stretch – another stretch with options. Option 1 is to stand facing the wall, hands about head head height against the wall, one knee bent, the other leg stretched out behind you, heel to the ground. Press your heel into the floor and bend the other knee. Option 2 is to stand on a step on your toes and drop your heels below the step. The is my preferred version. You will need something to hold onto.
  10. Glute (the muscles in your buttocks) stretch – sitting in a chair, lift one your left foot up and place it on your right knee. You can push down on the left knee to increase the stretch if you wish, providing that is comfortable. Repeat for the other side. If this is too much, simply lift your left knee up and point it towards your right side. A more advanced version is to lay on the floor, bend your knees with your feet close to your buttocks, place your left ankle on your right knee then place your hands either side of the right left and pull your right knee towards your chest just until you feel the stretch in your left buttock.
  11. Thoracic Stretch/Snowangels – our upper back can get quite stiff when we are not as active as we should be or we spend too much time at a keyboard. You will need a long foam roller for this one. The pictures illustrate, I hope! Just laying on the foam roller is a good start. Snowangels add arm movements: start with your arms positioned at your sides, palms facing the floor, then take you arms in a wide arc to stretch out behind your head, palms facing the ceiling. This needs a bit of floor space as you may be surprised just how far your reach is when your arms are at a right angles to your body! This is not a “three calm breaths” one – stay on the roller as long as you feel comfortable. Perhaps start with 30 seconds if you’ve never done it before.

In the first image I have moved my arm so you can see the roller. In the second you can see my head is totally supported – hence the need for the long roller.

This is not the easiest to do and may be too advanced for beginners. Some readers will have difficulty getting on the roller and will need to build up flexibility and strength. The aim is not to hurt ourselves, so BE CAREFUL! I still prefer to hold onto something while lowering myself onto the roller. I love the way my upper back feels when I get off the roller.

Stretching daily is a very good thing. Build the time into your daily schedule and stick to it, even on the “bad” days. Design a simple spreadsheet and place it on the fridge, mark each day off as you go. Stretching isn’t the only activity we need, but it is a good place to start.

If you would like some help, Contact Limberation.

This article constitutes general advise only and the stretches outlined above may not be suitable in all situations. You should always seek a medical clearance to undertake exercise if you have medical conditions.

 

Pacing For Beginners

Pacing in the context of managing our pain relates to our rate of activity or our performance progress. In this article I am using walking (that’s why the feet!) as an illustration, but the same logic can be applied to sitting, standing, resistance (weight) training or whatever activity it is that we are having trouble doing to the level we want to.

As I have shared previously, when I was first started on this journey, I walked five minutes at a time, four times a day. Five minutes was how long I could manage before I experienced pain. Slowly, by pacing, we can build up.

Please be aware pacing is only one component of condition management, it is not THE solution. This is a general introduction only, each person requires specific planning tailored to their circumstances.

Warning: Maths Ahead

Let’s assume for the maths part of the exercise that like me, you can also walk five minutes before you experience pain.

  1. Take that five minutes as your Test 1 measurement.
  2. After a suitable rest, do a second Test. The Test 2 result might be four minutes.
  3. Add 5 + 4 = 9. To find the average of your two trials: 9/2 = 4.5 minutes.
  4. Now you need your baseline, your official starting point. This is 80% of your average. 4.5 * 0.8 = 3.6 minutes, or 3 minutes 36 seconds.
  5. Increase at a rate of 10% from your baseline. 3.6 * 1.1 = 3.96 minutes. Let’s just call it 4 minutes!

Each day you increase by 10%. JUST 10%.

Putting Pacing into Practice

How does this work in practice? I did some timings on a stroll the other day. It took me 217 steps and 1 minute 48 seconds to walk from one tram stop to the next.

What is a tram, you ask? I’m glad you asked! This is a Melbourne tram. Terrific mode of city transport.

If you don’t have trams in your area, do you have an alternative?

Why was I doing the timings? Because we can use local infrastructure to our advantage. After a while you will get very bored with your backyard or walking around the same block. Tram lines are fantastic because we can walk, hop on a tram for a rest, get off further down the line preferably within one or two metres of a nice cafe, finish our rest over a nice coffee and then repeat the exercise back.

As we build up, we can use the distance between trams stops as stepping stones. Looking at my 1 minute 48 second walk between stops cited above, that is way more than a 10% increase from a 4 minute baseline. That would be closer to 50%, WAY too much. But later on it will be possible. You are not stuck on 4 minutes for long! As you build up you can walk just past a tram stop then back and still catch a tram to reward yourself with coffee. Over time you will be reaching the next tram stop.

A little reconnaissance may be necessary. This is the tram stop I was passing. In the middle of a busy main road, there are lots of steps up from the pavement, an over-bridge and then more steps down. This may not be ideal for those pacing up slowly! This is one of the tram stops you might want to zoom straight past – as a passenger!

Of course there are many alternatives: drive to a favourite park or beach, then walk. I don’t suggest the shopping centre, as it could take 20 minutes to walk from the car park to your store of choice!

The Rules

Rule #1: stick to the times. DO NOT be tempted to do more than you should, despite how great you might feel right that minute. You risk undoing all your hard work to date if you do that.

Rule #2: do it every day. Even if you don’t feel the best today, do your allotted time. Every day.

Rule #3: Wear appropriate footwear. If it is sitting you are working on, ensure you have an appropriate chair.

Other Thoughts

I also apply pacing strategies to manage the fatigue, along the lines of how much I do on any given day. I’ve mentioned before I don’t do grocery shopping on days I do a strength workout. I don’t do strength workouts the days I work eight hours in the office. We work out rules for our individual circumstances.

Christine Miserandino (lupus and fibromyalgia) has written The Spoon Theory which is a great way to visualise the energy/fatigue situation. I found it very early on in my journey and it certainly helped me adjust to my new life. I do have many more spoons these days than I used to, but that didn’t happen overnight.