My Timeline for a Return to Strength
Muscle memory is defined as your “motor skill memory.” (dictionary.com) My own definition as a former personal trainer and a fitness enthusiast is slightly different: I define muscle memory as the body’s ability to regain muscle mass after an absence from physical activities.
The average person, once having achieved a state of fitness, will find the road to fitness is shorter the second time around. The cancer survivor can often face a different journey.
Surgery, in general, creates a situation for surrounding muscles that makes it extremely difficult for muscle memory to kick in and help a patient on their road to recovery and physical fitness. The human body consists of not only muscles, but nerves and an entire vascular system that delivers blood and oxygen throughout. Surgery forces the body to work around an area of damage: to return consistent blood flow and oxygen delivery to the area(s) impacted, plus time to allow for the nerves to reconnect. If you have experienced this, then you know that your muscles behave and appear differently.
Muscle atrophy will play a role in a cancer survivor’s return to the state of fitness s/he enjoyed before diagnosis. Muscle atrophy is said to begin after only 24 hours of inactivity (this is known as disuse atrophy, and differs from illness based atrophy). (pain.about.com)
As a cancer patient, I was given exercises to help me recover and maintain range of motion after surgeries. What caused me to hit a wall was the Taxol.
Taxol was one of medications in my chemotherapy cocktail. Although I tend to not have the standard side effects from medicine, I had one of the most common side effects of the Taxol: pain. My oncologist warned me that Taxol could put me down for days on end. I didn’t believe him. As it turned out, he was right and I was in denial!
Most online research indicated that I should be well on my way to my former fit state by my first anniversary of the end of chemotherapy. That was not the case for me. I went for physical therapy sessions, and was told by my physical therapist that it often took longer.
I am happy to say that I’ve just passed the second anniversary of my last session of chemotherapy, and my muscles are well on their way to their former state. It’s a long process, but fitness does return to you!