Seriously lifting – putting as much weight on the bar as you think you can *maybe* handle, and then not letting it crush you alive – is pretty much the best thing ever. It’s also a good metaphor for life in general.
The phone rang at 11:06pm.
When you see your doctor’s name in the call display at that time of night you know it’s not going to be good news. I was already bracing for the worst when I picked up.
Things hadn’t been feeling right for a long while at that point, and I had already gone through a lot of trial and error treatments (which all turned out to be errors) and misdiagnoses. I knew that this was it: a few days before I had spent a gut-wrenching 45 minutes in an MRI tube with my head in a weird white Darth Vader helmet, trying like hell to curb my claustrophobic instincts, so I was kind of excited and relieved that there wasn’t going to be any more guessing.
It’s as I suspected, my doctor said. You have a tumour on your pituitary gland.
Gah. Tumour? In my head?
She went on. It’s not cancer, but it is active and producing hormones. You need to get treated for it right away. She kept talking for a few minutes about what had to happen but I was in kind of a daze and missed most of it. She wouldn’t be supervising my treatment; I’d have to see an endocrinologist for that, and it would be a long haul to get better.
Tumour. Needs treatment. Not cancer. That’s all I really remember about that conversation. Give me a break, it was…holy shit, that was almost six years ago. Okay, so six years’ worth of on-and-off treatment isn’t going to make for an interesting read, so for brevity’s sake I will skip most of the gory details. My endocrinologist’s proposed course of treatment was supposed to last 18-24 months. He warned me that the first 6 months to a year might be rough.
He wasn’t kidding – it sucked. I felt so dizzy and nauseous that I started missing work. I couldn’t exercise. I got depressed. I missed what was going on in my kids’ lives. After four months I decided I couldn’t live like that and stopped the treatment, which in hindsight was stupid, but I was so despondent that I couldn’t see any other way forward. For a while I felt better, then the effects of the tumour’s activity kicked in again. I gained weight at an alarming rate. I quit my job – I figured it would be easier to be self-employed while I dealt with this, also I couldn’t stomach (sic) being the overweight trainer in the gym; I felt acutely every sideways look and raised eyebrow (I think I was overly sensitive to this but my defenses were significantly frayed at that point). I sought out an alternative treatment plan from a private medical clinic. They put me on hormone replacement therapy to relieve the symptoms…which worked for a while, but also was very effective at draining our savings away. And, although the HRT was effective as far as mitigating the symptoms of the tumour was concerned, the tumour was growing. I started losing my vision. I swallowed my pride and went back to the endocrinologist.
For a guy whose treatment plan I had snubbed (I am a terrible patient, I admit it) he was really very nice about the whole thing. Frankly but gently, he explained that the original plan was the only way to deal with my condition with any certainty. In fact, he went on, it might not even work – but chances were good that it would be effective and in a couple of years I could be done with the whole thing. But I had to embrace the suck and see it through.
So, in early 2014, I started back at square one of treatment again. And again, it was rough. But this time, I found a project to work on that distracted me from the suckiness of the drug’s side effects.
I started training specifically for strength in 2014. I wasn’t new to resistance training at the time; I had already been a personal trainer for years and had lots of experience with different training modalities, but up until then my prime goal had always been fat loss. Taking up less space.
But I had also enjoyed the competitive element of trying to outdo myself, of testing and expanding my limits. Triathlon, martial arts, circuit training, obstacle racing – if it was mentally and physically challenging, then hell yeah, sign me up!
None of that fun stuff was in the cards anymore, at least not for a while. I was too dizzy and nauseous most of the time to train the way I used to, but this time around I knew what I was in for, I knew it was going to be a long haul, and I knew very well that I was going to spiral into depression again if I didn’t find a way to deal with it. So I stopped bemoaning what I couldn’t do and instead gave some serious thought to what I could do. And what I could do, I figured, was power training: very few, very hard reps with lots of rest in between. It would be a good band-aid for while I got through the treatment program. I didn’t expect to love it.
I totally did love it though, and not just because it was something I could do while I couldn’t do other stuff. I loved it because it satisfied my competitive drive. I loved it because it made me feel strong, as though I could handle whatever shit life slung at me. And I loved it because I had finally found something to do where I didn’t have to get smaller to be better at it.
Because you know what? Fuck being smaller. Once I shifted my focus to lifting bigger, all the pieces started fitting together.
This is the first time I have told this story. I feel weird about it because it’s nothing compared to what people go through who have real, life-threatening illnesses and I don’t want to sound like a drama queen. On the other hand, my tumour’s effects have been real and life-changing…and I almost want to send it flowers or chocolates or something to thank it for the lessons it taught me.
Because about six months ago I started feeling okay again, and I had actually forgotten what that felt like.
I have an MRI coming up in one week and my endocrinologist expects that the tumour will be gone. If it’s not, I’ll continue with treatment (which my body is used to at this point), but if it is actually gone, then this chapter will be over. That’s kind of an overwhelming thought.