Fitness is probably the most problematic issue faced from the years of treatment I have had (chemo, radiation, drugs for gvhd). I have been on steroids longer than I have been off them since 2012. Add to that a high risk pregnancy, and I began this year in a very ‘unfit’ state. My goal was to get a level of fitness. It started off with no particular goal in mind. Just to be able to be fit and active to keep up with a rather energetic toddler.
The thought of ‘getting fit’ to be honest, slightly terrified me. I had tried over the years, and my body often seemed to be against me. Back in 2015, I was diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation arrhythmia. Put simply, in a healthy heart, an electrical signal crosses from the SA node across the atria, to the ventricles and back, telling the muscle to contract, and pumping the blood through all the chambers of the heart. With my arrhythmia, other areas on the atria were generating these signals, and sending out their own message, giving extra contractions amongst the normal beat, leading to irregular timing and a faster heart beat. A majority of the time it didn’t cause any issues. But put any loading on the heart (eg through exercise), and my heart rate would skyrocket.
Prior to our trip to Europe, Scott and I were training to walk Pen y Fan (the highest peak in South Wales). So of course, quite a bit of exercise was involved! I had struggled for years with trying to exercise and couldn’t work out why it was just ridiculously difficult. After a few months of training, we were hiking up one of the trails at Bells Rapids, out in the Swan Valley. There are some steep gravel trails and as we were halfway up one, my heart felt like it was going to explode. I was very dizzy and I started to get tunnel vision which got very dark very quickly. I managed to sit down just prior to fainting and checked my heart rate and it was somewhere above 220.
After that, I managed to get in to see the cardiologist and have a battery of tests, culminating in the atrial fibrillation diagnosis. There was talk of pacemakers, of cardiac ablation, of lots of other things to fix my troublesome ticker. I went into hospital (this time, just a day procedure at Fiona Stanley Hospital – another one to tick off my list of Perth hospitals that I had visited for surgeries), and they attempted to trigger the arrhythmia so they could fix it with ablation. They gave me a cocktail of drugs, some very unpleasant ones, and through these, hijacked the rhythm of my heart so they could manipulate it how they needed. Sounds like fun doesn’t it. Well, you lay there, completely awake, while they inject drugs through a cannula in your pelvis, and make your heart race. Up to almost 300bpm kind of racing. And then they stop it from beating, for just long enough for you to panic, but not long enough for you to lose consciousness. They did this over and over again, trying different combinations of drugs to provoke the heart into going into arrhythmia. My ticker, troublesome to the end, decided it didn’t want to play by their rules and functioned perfectly. They couldn’t trigger the false rhythm, therefore couldn’t poke said rhythm spots with a hot stick to stop them from firing out of place.
I was told, keep exercising, but always wear a heart rate monitor, don’t push yourself beyond around 200bpm. So I kept at it, trying to get up to be able to hike up a mountain. I managed to do it and we were prepped and ready to walk Pen y Fan in July 2015. As it turned out, we weren’t able to do that walk – the weather conditions were appalling, with thick fog and lightning storms. A few people were struck by lightning the day we arrived in the Brecon Beacons and we made the fairly easy and logical decision to skip the walk and spend the day sightseeing instead. I know my luck, and I really didn’t want to add a lightning strike to the number of not so fun medical emergencies I have experienced.
Fast forward past a high risk pregnancy, and almost a year and a half later I managed to lose all the baby weight, thanks in some part, to shingles and gastro along the way. So, in early 2018, I went down to a gym near home, which Scott had started at. I have been to a few gyms over the years, and never liked the experience. I have always been confused at what to do with all the machines, felt very insecure being surrounded by all the fit and healthy individuals, and absolutely terrified of free weights. Scott told me to trust him, this place was different. I, for once, listened to him. That in itself is a small miracle. Just ask him.
Josh at Strength and Motion Academy listened to my ‘previous medical conditions’ and was probably completely overwhelmed by how I was still managing to function with the long list of broken bits. But, he worked out a plan of action, and I was about to start the following week. Have you got the idea throughout my past that luck isn’t always my friend? No? Well, luck and me are definitely not firm friends. We aren’t even acquaintances. A few days before I was due to start, I managed to break my foot. Just a hairline fracture luckily, but enough to land me in a moon boot for 6 weeks. Thankfully it was just a moon boot, and crutches weren’t needed, or I am sure that further injuries would have resulted from Erica stealing my crutches from me and tripping me.
By April I made it back to SMA and started work at putting some muscle on my bones. Over the next few months, I built strength. I built confidence. I noticed more and more that my heart wasn’t posing the same issues as before. I spoke to a cardiologist and he said that sometimes pregnancy can actually fix arrhythmias. What? My daughter fixed my broken heart. Aww. Well isn’t that just the perfect ending!
By the end of June I was starting to think … I am getting fit … I am getting strong. Josh and the team at SMA had managed to turn me into a functional human! That is when I started to think seriously about the World Transplant Games. I thought, if I can do this in just a few months, maybe I can learn to run in 12 months. I could compete as an Australian athlete. That could be something I could be proud of. Something that Erica could be proud of when she is a bit older. And the training began!