Making Mondays Bearable

As 2022 approaches and we face the prospect of having another twelve months speed by us again, I’ve found it useful to sit down and take stock of where I was last January, what changed over the past year, and with what attitude I will enter into the next 12 months.

One thing that has caused a great deal of anxiety for me has been work, even with having one of the greatest bosses in the world and a flexible work situation.

My work situation is quite positive, but anxiety has left me with emotional claustrophobia.

Why? Because my job has also been associated with some of the most wrenching anxiety that I have ever experienced, including being diagnosed with cancer.

What’s resulted is that even in a supportive and stimulating environment (although not my passion, admittedly), I’ve felt trapped, like an animal trying to scratch my way out of my cage.

This past year, I came up with a tactic to at least partially relieve this feeling.

Now, I actually look forward to Mondays, because I’ve set up a beautiful association for the first day of the workweek with something very indulgent.

First, I work from home on Monday. This softens the dread that I’ve historically felt on Sunday nights, knowing that the weekend is over. The transition to the office is gentler.

Second, with some changes in my kids’ school schedules (one in college living at home and the other in high school), I start my workday an hour later. This has given the entire family reprieve from the stress of waking very early and starting the week sleep-deprived.

It also gives me to time to enjoy a cup or two of decaf in the morning.

Third, when the rest of the family leaves for school and work, I have 45 minutes before my own workday starts. I set up my rower for a 30-minute row, facing the tv/computer monitor in the living room…

Great exercise + fun videos = an amazing start to Monday!

…and put on a half-hour YouTube video of something I really enjoy that I might not have time to watch otherwise. For me now? It’s an episode of “BuzzFeed Unsolved–Supernatural”. Pure 100% indulgent entertainment.

Because it’s a timed row, when the 30 minutes are over, I stop. No pressure to hit a certain speed or distance. No matter what, it ends up being a decent workout because I enjoy the exercise.

That leaves 15 minutes before I start work. Chemo left me with short hair that allows for a five-minute shower.

By the time my workday begins, I am completely refreshed and the day’s workout is done. I feel like I’ve been given a huge treat–almost like I’m cheating, but I know I’m not. That 30 minutes of physical activity tied with watching a fun video re-sets my attitude and I’m ready to take on the week.

I love Mondays!

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Can you create your own positive association with the toughest day of the week or anything else that causes you grief?

Working Out the Brain Fog

So if you needed yet another reason to exercise before, during and after your breast cancer treatments, I’ve got one for you.

A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Salerno et al., 2021) found that early stage (I-III) breast cancer patients who were meeting the US minimum physical activity guidelines both before and during their chemotherapy displayed better cognitive function then did those patients who did not, and the effects were apparent both at the time of chemo and also six months after its completion.

Cognitive impairment is a relatively common complaint of breast cancer survivors–and can be improved with exercise.

This follows along the lines of other things we already know about exercise and cancer, such as increased survival rates and reduced rates of recurrence. It’s not a big stretch to say that exercise (and for the purposes of this post, I’m referring to the US national guidelines) is possibly one of the best things you can do for yourself, whether you are already a cancer patient or don’t want to become one (again).

What are these guidelines?

It’s suggested that adults do (1) at least 150-300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or some combination of the two intensities, the more the better; and (2) strength training activity involving all the major muscle groups at least two days a week at moderate or greater intensity (see specifics at Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition).

Notably, similar guidelines hold across age groups and health conditions, with some modifications, although what exactly constitutes moderate to high intensity for different people will vary according to their conditioning and abilities. Take home message: If you can’t meet the guidelines, do what you can. It will still benefit you. The worst thing you can do is nothing.

The benefits of exercise for cancer survivors have been well-documented.

While there’s been a considerable amount of research done on the benefits of exercise as a whole, we’re only now beginning to focus on cancer patients and survivors as the test subjects. And new research is being conducted on different aspects of exercise to learn what effects they might have on cognition.

I’m going to be watching for the results of two clinical studies regarding exercise and cognition of cancer survivors. Both are currently recruiting participants.

The first, being conducted by the University of California, San Diego, is entitled “I Can! Improving Cognition After Cancer” and will be a randomized trial that examines whether physical activity improves cognitive function. You can read about it here: A randomized trial of physical activity for cognitive functioning in breast cancer survivors: Rationale and study design of I Can! Improving Cognition After Cancer, funded by the National Cancer Institute. Want to learn more? Go to https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04049695.

The second, conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and entitled, “Aerobic Exercise in Improving Cognitive Function in Patients with Stage 0-IIIA Breast Cancer”, will explore the effects of aerobic exercise specifically and will involve neuroimaging and the examination of pro-inflammatory biomarkers. You can read about it here: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/clinical-trials/search/v?id=NCT02793921&r=1. Again this is funded by the National Cancer Institute. Interested in learning more? Go to https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02793921.

If you’re not exercising yet, the important thing is not what physical activity to choose, it’s to make the decision to begin.

If you have any interest in participating in either of these studies, contact info for the research project is available above in the posted clinical trial links.

So you might be thinking, “I can barely deal with the diagnosis…and you want me to EXERCISE???” I promise you, physical movement will only make you feel better. However, if you don’t have an established exercise routine and don’t particularly enjoy the experience, consider what you can manage.

We’re not talking about training for a marathon or a powerlifting competition. But if you can do something, ANYTHING, you will still see greater improvements in your cognition–and quite frankly, many other aspects of your physical and mental state–than if you hadn’t done any activity at all.

It is worth it and you are worth it. So lace up your shoes and give it a go.