When I was first diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, a number of things began to flash before my eyes—the good times, the bad times, and all the times I've taken things for granted. And as I began to embark on what would be a tough period in my life, one of these realizations was that I wouldn't be able to exercise anymore.
The funny thing is that I didn't exercise regularly in the first place. In fact, I took it for granted that my body could endure physical activity. That is, until my second chemo treatment for lymphoma, when I met with an exercise science nurse who walked me through a list of things I couldn't do anymore. For instance, before my treatment, I never thought about the fact that gyms have germs that could threaten a person who is immunocompromised.
This nurse did, however, talk to me about the benefits of working out, and she provided me with little ways I could maintain strength and energy through treatment so that when I was done, I could have a proper exercise routine.
According to the National Cancer Institute, research has proven that physical activity may have beneficial effects for multiple aspects of cancer survivorship—specifically weight gain, quality of life, cancer recurrence or progression, and prognosis. This enticed me to find a workout I loved while also reaping the benefits of exercise.
That's when I traded my IV pole for a dancing pole. Yes, I took up pole dancing, a fun and sexy way to gain my confidence back and maintain my energy while also potentially warding off secondary cancers and relapse. Prior to my diagnosis, I tried a few pole dancing classes and really loved it, so it was something I wanted to explore more of and take seriously. I found that pole dancing as a workout had incredible benefits for my health…
1. Healthy weight loss: After being treated for lymphoma, I had an adverse reaction. Most people imagine skinny cancer patients, but because of the steroids I was on, I was gaining weight faster than ever. I'm still trying to keep some of it off. Pole has really provided me with a sustainable way of losing weight.
2. Better sleep: Fatigue and insomnia are two big side effects of chemo, and as you can probably imagine, they don't go well together. Getting enough sleep is equally as important as exercise and eating a healthy diet. Increased exercise, especially with pole fitness, has absolutely helped me get enough sleep to manage fatigue and insomnia.
3. Reduced stress and anxiety: Exercise is not just for our physical bodies; it also plays a big part in how our minds function. Adrenaline builds up when we get stressed, so a good workout session using the pole helps work out every muscle in our bodies. This is a perfect way to release all of that extra adrenaline.
4. Body confidence: As you can imagine, as my physical image deteriorated from the chemo, so did my confidence. What I love about pole is that it provides a safe space to explore one's body and appreciate its beauty while improving strength and mindfulness.
5. A better libido: Fun fact—chemo decreases libido. My sex life has been quite the journey post-treatment, and as a 25-year-old, I didn't think I should lose the spark. Through regularly exercising and taking pole classes, I have noticed that my libido has stabilized and I can have a "normal" sex life again.
If you want to try it for yourself, beginning your pole journey is fairly simple. Every state I've lived in has had a pole fitness studio. Most also offer other amazing exercise opportunities like aerial yoga and flexibility training. It's a great activity to enjoy on your own or to practice with your friends—it's also a super-inclusive form of exercise! I highly recommend booking an intro class at your nearest pole fitness studio—and tell me how much you loved it by sending a comment or DM on my Instagram, @radiantracheli!