I had never been to a physical therapist before. I thought only athletes or amputees go see a physical therapist. I didn’t understand how cancer surgery warranted physical therapy. My grandparents, on both sides, were salt-of-the-earth farmers. During those childhood summers I spent with my mom’s parents on their farm in the Ozarks, I got up with the sun, tended to the cattle, then dealt with the rest of the day helping my grandmother around the farm. But, what I discovered during those 30-minute sessions with my physical therapist made me what I am today, one year later. Those sessions turned me into a runner.
When my physical therapist at that first appointment asked me what I did to relieve stress, I said “yoga.” When I was pregnant in 2007, working full-time with a 45- to 55-minute commute each way, I lived for that half hour early in the morning when I could click play on TiVo and breathe, stretch, breathe. Namaste. I enjoyed the meditation, but I really lived in the stretching, the core work, planks, downward dog, the pigeon, etc. I have very fond memories of being a junior in high school trying out yoga for the first time with a friend, a fellow honors student. We were at our local gym that gave a reduced membership rate for high school students on the honor roll. Even though I giggled my way in 1992 through that first yoga class, I kept going back. As a consultant in Tampa, Florida and New York City, as a law student in San Francisco, and as a mom in Santa Monica, I kept working my way through yoga. Unfortunately, the problem with abdominal surgery is that ANY core work is basically outlawed. Pilates. Yoga. Crunches. NADA. Unless you want a hernia and maybe another operation. No thanks.
So, my physical therapist looked at me with compassion and said, “Anything else?” I made some flippant comment about how I used to go jogging in college around Riverside Park in New York City, when I also happened to smoke two packs a day. “You could run.” Huh? Run. No, I wasn’t a runner. I didn’t actually “run.” I could shuffle my feet faster than a walk for a block or so. And that was before abdominal cancer, before these 10 inches of scar tissue and surgery and nasal-gastric tubes. And, I had exercise-induced asthma.
“Maybe that was the anemia, from the cancer? Or the smoking?” Maybe he had a point.
After that conversation, I was curious. During the one year from diagnosis to surgery, I read almost every cancer survivor book I could get my hands on. Almost every book, from David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer: A New Way of Life to Greg Anderson’s Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do, emphasized the importance of exercise. My go-to of yoga was nixed. And if this physical therapist, who was helping me to stand up straight without crying, said I should start running, maybe he was on to something.
A few more sessions passed, twice a week until my insurance-approved maximum number of sessions ran out.
“I am going to do it. I am going to try to run.”
“Great! Start slow. Walk a few blocks, then run one block. Walk a few, then run one. Before you know it, you’ll be running a mile.”
I took his advice. One year ago today I became a runner. I started with one block at a time. Within the past 365 days, I have run five official 5Ks and one 10K. I even placed in the top five for my age group! On Sept. 1, I will complete the Disneyland Half-Marathon with my little sister and on October 20, I will run the San Francisco Nike Women’s Half-Marathon. I am not the fastest or the most stylish. I am not the most athletic or the most photogenic. But I am alive and running with scars.
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Barbi Appelquist, Esq., a candidate for California State Senate, District 26, is an attorney in Los Angeles, California whose practice focuses on non-profits and social enterprises. She has taught Contracts Law and advised microbusiness clients and nonprofits as a member of Public Counsel’s Community Development Project. Prior to entering law, Ms. Appelquist was a Management Consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Barbi also holds a Masters in Public Policy from Pepperdine University, School of Public Policy where she was valedictorian and served as President of Pepperdine Women in Public Policy.
Barbi is a two-time cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with pediatric liver cancer as a baby and diagnosed more recently with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, a rare soft-tissue sarcoma, in 2011 at the age of 34. Later that year, Barbi was invited to the launch of The Women in Public Service Project in Washington, D.C. She is an active member of her alma mater, Barnard College and is currently working with Camp Kesem, a non-profit that provides support to children (ages 6-16) who have a parent diagnosed with or who has died from cancer. She has been cancer-free since 2012.
Barbi loves spending her free time with her husband and their 6-year old daughter in Los Angeles and is actively training for the next half marathon.Huffington Post