It was a tremendous privilege speaking about Nordic walking to Prince Charles last week during his visit to Penny Brohn UK (he is their patron). Nordic walking was on his agenda as it is an important and integral part of the cancer charity's whole body approach and has been running at Penny Brohn UK since I set it up over five years ago.
You'll be pleased to know that Prince Charles knew about Nordic walking and he gave an impressively entertaining demo of the upper body action, which he is very familiar with from his cross-country skiing days. I discussed some of the benefits of Nordic walking with him, including the whole body workout and postural gains, then he heard from Penny Brohn UK clients about the powerful and positive impact Nordic walking has had on their recovery.
It is therefore very apt that, this week, Jason Victory has contributed his story about his cancer journey which culminated in his completing the Coast-to-Coast walk earlier this year. An amazing achievement.
“It’s metastatic cancer….. it’s inoperable I’m afraid.” That single sentence turned life upside down for me and my young family.
At forty nine this represented an extreme bereavement - years and years of life. You are supposed to go through the five stages - anger, denial etc. Well I didn’t feel angry at first or indeed for quite some time. I was mainly in shock - followed by chemotherapy, attempting to put out the cancerous fire raging through my body.
When anger surfaced later it wasn’t quite what I expected. I was angry - but with - well with… exercise. Exercise - why had you not protected me??!! At first glance, all the medical textbooks would have given me a century life span based on my lifestyle. But as I progressed through chemotherapy and the tumours shrank I reflected that the sort of exercise I used to perform may not have protected me and in fact may have contributed to the genesis of my illness.
Short and intermediate burst intense exercise - running, weights, ergometer sets. These used to be my favourite. High adrenaline and cortisol - not so good for the immune surveillance system. These furious sessions were invariably followed by intense fatigue and depletion. I countered this post-exercise malaise with peanut butter and jam sandwiches as well as other sugary treats. Once diagnosed, my antipathy to exercise only increased with time and when my legs started to become numb, weak and painful (a side effect of chemotherapy) a further barrier to physical exercise appeared.
Early on, my oncologist told me that healthy lifestyle improved the prognosis of cancer patients. Finishing chemotherapy, I again asked my oncologist what more I could do to improve my prognosis. Take selenium, zinc and curcumin was the answer. However most lifestyle benefit would come from exercise. But I didn’t feel like exercise!
During 2015 I was stable and there was still no sign that the cancer was spreading. So, jam-packed full of supplements, herbs, organic vegan diet etc I decided I would need to embrace the form of exercise most likely to benefit me. I had better get out there! I didn’t want gym work which I now viewed as unhealthy for me, I tried hot yoga but my wife banned me when I succumbed to various tummy bugs. I had heard of Nordic walking when I was attending the superb Penny Brohn UK help centre, but I didn't want to be around other patients at that time. So, unfortunately Nordic walking went onto the back burner.
Fast forward to November 2015 and that old friend the Serendipity berry was ripening nicely: "Judy down the road does Nordic walking. Why don't you give that a try….?” And so I investigated. Nordic walking seemed ideal - outdoors aerobic exercise, fresh air, the sun for vitamin D, cardiovascular fitness. And then there was the social side of exercise, something I had generally neglected in the past. Last and not least, there was goal setting. I had a goal, a dream. The coast to coast walk had crystallised in my mind as a highly desirable and fun project into which I could sink my pristine molars and canines. 192 miles through my favourite Lake District, the gorgeous Dales and magnificent Yorkshire Moors. Support from my family, friends and all the wonderfully fantastic instructors (I hoped) at Bristol Nordic Walking would help me to achieve my goal. Yes Nordic walking ticked all the boxes.
Bristol Nordic Walking was right on my doorstep so I took the plunge and signed up to a beginner workshop with Ros. The exercise was hard but fun. And when I wasn't chatting I could be mindful, I could pray, focus on the present, communing with nature and my inner psyche, not getting distracted by fear, anxiety and worry.
The benefits of Nordic walking have been many and it was particularly important that it is safe for those like me with peripheral neuropathy. My core muscles have been strengthened and my balance has improved immensley. It has helped with lymph drainage and has improved my limb strength, giving me a total body workout. As a doctor I was interested to read that some studies suggest Nordic walking may have a significant impact on improving quality of life in cancer patients.
The hard work finally paid off. May 27th, St. Bees: the weather just right, not too hot and not too cold, just right. Glorious views. With encouragement from my family and friends I set off, not a little worried - what had I let myself in for, I thought. The first few days were tough but my Nordic walking poles were invaluable in helping me complete the challenge. The Lake District was so, so beautiful, followed by the delightful Dales and impressive moors. Two weeks later, a little lighter, quite a lot fitter and my chosen charity, The Harbour, £6237 better off, I walked into Robin Hood’s Bay on the only rainy day of the challenge. What a wonderful trek! I felt like sleeping for week but the joy of finishing sustained me through the celebrations with my supporters!
Mission Accomplished: Hurrah for Bristol Nordic Walking!"
If you have cancer or know someone who does, I recommend researching the benefits of Nordic walking to help with the side effects of cancer treatment. Bristol Nordic Walking runs a weekly class at Penny Brohn every Tuesday afternoon with Patsy at 2pm. Contact Penny Brohn UK direct for further information.