If you were to ask Cara how her past year went, she would pause for a moment. You might lean in an inch. Something pulls us toward a silent pause. It is within this moment you know the words you are about to hear will guide you deeper than you originally intended to explore. So, you hang on to the pause.
And then, she breaks the silence.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2020,” she says with the voice of a warrior who just returned home.
Cancer does not care if there is a new virus wrecking the world. Cancer does not ask, is now a suitable time? With reality weighing heavy on her, Cara began 2021 with surgery then chemotherapy. “It was exhausting and awful,” said Cara while remembering where she came from over the past year.
Cara has no hint of victimization in her dialogue. Despite the realities she had been presented with, she never stopped. Sometimes she yielded, but she always kept her eyes on her future.
“Chemo totally breaks your body down. It is systemic. It works for a long time, and I am still dealing with side effects from chemo,” said Cara. Side effects like weight gain, fluid trapped in tissue (edema), also extreme fatigue, and loss of range of motion from her chest muscles being tight post-chemo. In addition to loss of hair. But, in it all, Cara refused to stop her life.
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill said that. This is Cara’s favorite quote because when she was in hell, she did not want to get stuck there. “Every moment is different. It’s important to not stop you have to keep moving through it,” she said while a smile rested on her voice.
Cara moved through cancer, chemo, and radiation with a team of people. Like a mountain climber going embarking on her big excursion, Cara selected team of people who would be able to make the summit too. Here is a known fact: hard journeys are rarely accomplished alone. And if it seems like it, we just did not look around enough to see their support.
Cara invited OPEX Lancaster to be on her support team in June of 2021. Two weeks after her chemo treatment ended, and three weeks before her radiation treatments began. She was exhausted, but knew she needed to move. Cara said, “I had all this pent of energy and also felt lazy and not wanting to move as a result of not moving.” So, she did what every hibernating human does after a long winter. With springtime in full swing, Cara Googled “Gyms in Lancaster, PA”.
She was searching for accountability to move. What she discovered was a team of coaches, her very own coach, and a community of like-minded people: all moving forward with purpose and in pursuit of living larger lives.
Kim Williams became Cara’s Coach, which worked out great because Coach Kim is also a Registered Nurse. “Kim met me where I was. We went through the movement assessment; we did my initial consult. We looked at how much range of motion I had, how strong I was, how much I was able to do things.”
Together Cara and Coach Kim found a starting place. “I began with light weights and worked my way up. Started with short movements and moved my way to longer amounts of time,” Cara said while looking back at the spring of 2021.
In June of 2021 Cara began radiation. It was localized and not as systemic as chemo, but it was still a massive strain on her body. She was tired, again. Another surgery was schedule for a scar that needed attention, which was also the second time within a year she went under the knife. For two weeks post-surgery, Cara hit complications with her ability to move.
“I couldn’t do any upper body movement, so Kim programmed all lower body movement for me for two weeks,” said Cara. She moved forward, until she began to experience extreme chest tightness from the chemo treatments. And because Cara is Cara, when there is a problem, she searched out a solution. She invited a physical therapist onto her team.
Cara’s physical therapist shared workout info and movements with Kim, because Kim reached out to her PT. Then without skipping a beat, Kim added her PT prescribed movement into Cara’s program for her gym days. “Kim was able to tailor everything that I needed at that time,” recalls Cara.
In addition to her doctor’s appointments, nutritionist appointments, and counselor appointments, Cara had and still has a career to show up to. Did Cara drop her gym times? No.
Some days she did not make it into the gym, but Kim programmed at-home workouts for her to do. Did she skip a few at-home programming? Yes, but that was okay because she was in this for the long run. Cara’s experience with OPEX Lancaster was the beginning of a lifestyle change, and changing old habits takes time. Changing false beliefs about food and workouts also takes time. Cara was not going to quit on time, she was taking it for all it is worth: her life.
Maybe you would think Cara’s 2021 was hellish. When you hear her clearly, she will say that it was like walking through hell. But here is the thing. Throughout that year, Cara uncovered a few life-altering-false beliefs. Beliefs about food and working out. “I always felt like I had issues with food. What I am recognizing is that, maybe I didn’t have issues with food,” Cara said. Now she chooses to view nourishment and movement differently. “I allow myself to enjoy things, whereas before I would beat myself up about enjoying things,” said Cara.
Coach Kim spoke truth about food and enjoying food choices. This sparked Cara’s desire to look at food as nourishment through a different lens. Nourishment does not need the labels good or bad, but instead food can be creative and a part of being alive. Again, it just came down to choices. And Cara knows how to deal with choices. Same with the gym. She no longer views the gym as a place for calorie counting, or calorie burning, or punishment for prior behaviors. The gym is a learning space, a place to stretch, breathe, find strength, and build strength. A space to feel what being alive is composed from.
Cancer sucks. Cara said that, and she knows it. And yet, she found out the raw truth about how she viewed food and movement. Those discoveries have made life easier for her. “Kim helped me recognize small goals…she helped me realize I don’t need to beat myself up over things,” said Cara with the voice of a mountain climber who just summited Mt. Rainier.
To anyone who is fully alive and going through a challenge, Cara shared this…
“Really and truly don’t give up. Every moment is different. It is important not to stop. Just keep going. You do not want to get stuck in hell. You must move through it.”
Today, if you meet Cara and you ask her how was the past year been for you? Wait in the pause, then lean in to hear the endurance a woman gains while searching for the exit sign out of hell. It is a mountainous climb, with an endless horizon of a view.