My Quarantine Glow-up: Getting Fit After Cancer

My Quarantine Glow-up: Getting Fit After Cancer
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A phrase has been making the rounds lately on social media called the “quarantine glow-up.” Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s pretty self-explanatory, but for those unfamiliar with this popular isolation idiom, it refers to the process of coming out of quarantine fitter, hotter, and more attractive than before.

There’s a lot to unpack around this topic. In a way, it exposes the type of society we live in, one that places relentless pressure on people to look good — particularly women — even during a pandemic. But there’s also a positive side to the concept of a quarantine glow-up that I want to explore, something I think we actually could benefit from: the notion that we can use this time in isolation to improve our health.

I feel as if for the first time in my life I have time to actually focus on getting fitter and stronger.

My relationship with my body, like most women (and many men), has always been turbulent. I struggled with an eating disorder for most of my teenage years and was admitted to a clinic when I was 21. When I was first diagnosed with lymphoma at 22, I was just starting to recover by working with a therapist to heal my severed relationship with my body.

Going through cancer was both a catalyst in helping me heal from my eating disorder and another huge obstacle to face, as I had all the added complications of losing my hair (not great for the confidence of an already insecure 22-year-old) and weight gain from chemotherapy.

Despite the struggle to love my body and its appearance during this period, it was also the beginning of my journey to learning how to really take care of myself. Cancer forced me to educate myself about nutrition, and to learn what foods are actually healthy and how to love myself when stripped of all these external factors I thought defined me.

When my cancer relapsed two years later, I had come a long way. I knew how to cook for myself, how to feed myself nutritious meals, and how to give myself permission to enjoy unhealthy foods without constant guilt or judgment.

Yet, going through chemo again brought up many of those old feelings of shame and insecurity. I gained weight due to the steroids I was put on and felt I had no control over my diet or exercise, once again.

One usually doesn’t feel beautiful while going through cancer. With all the weight fluctuations, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, mood swings, depression, and hair loss I experienced, my self-confidence took a huge nosedive.

Fast-forward to eight months later, when I finally had my long-awaited stem cell transplant.

Anyone who’s undergone one of these brutal procedures will tell you it completely turns your body inside out. Your healthy gut bacteria are obliterated by the chemo, and for the first two weeks, you can barely eat because of the ulcers in your throat.

When I left the hospital three weeks later, I finally was able to eat solid foods again, but I could only stomach small, bland meals. Transplant not only changed my appetite but also my taste buds. Food simply didn’t have much taste for a while. I ended up losing about 22 pounds.

In many ways, I liked this weight loss because it felt like a reward for having suffered so much. At the same time, I was weak, bald, and fragile, and I didn’t feel like myself at all.

In the hospital, bruised and bald, after my transplant. (Photo by Michelle Fredman)

Since then, I’ve slowly started to eat normally again and introduce exercise back into my life. Whereas eight months ago, I could barely pick up a book, now I’m able to do proper yoga classes and go for long bike rides and walks.

I’ve never had the time to properly focus on getting fit without either being plagued by an eating disorder or cancer. So, all this time stuck indoors got me thinking about how I could use it positively.

Of course, getting fit post-cancer doesn’t come without its struggles. I still deal with muscle aches, and some mornings after exercising I wake up in such acute pain I can barely walk. Epsom salt baths and a lot of gentle stretching help.

Overall, I feel I am the healthiest I’ve been in a long time. As tough as it is being stuck inside and separated from my friends and family, I have found a silver lining to this period in isolation. Finally, after a long and tumultuous road, I feel happy with myself, inside and out.

Healthy and happy, eight months after my transplant. (Photo by Michelle Fredman)

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Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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