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Leukaemia won’t stop me getting fit – neither will COVID-19

Jane's story

Jane

Jane was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2014.

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This story was written when people with blood cancer were shielding across the UK. For up-to-date information on current restrictions and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, see our information on staying safe and government guidance.

I’ve had my letter and my text from the NHS. I’ve been identified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ to coronavirus. I found this quite difficult to accept at first, but I suppose it was to be expected considering the journey I’ve been on.

In 2014, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

I had three cycles of chemotherapy and achieved remission, but within three months I relapsed and I had to have a stem cell transplant. As a result of the transplant, I developed Graft versus Host Disease, where my new immune system attacks my own body, seeing it as foreign. Mainly it has affected my eyes, but in the last year I have become increasingly wheezy and earlier this year I was diagnosed with GvHD in my lungs.

Once I was diagnosed with lung GvHD, I started new medication. Suddenly I was feeling better than I had for many months. I lost my permanent wheeze and breathlessness and started doing some aerobic exercise to help re-build my fitness and improve my lung capacity. In February I began speed walking and I was just starting to add in short bursts of jogging too.

I was getting better! But then, COVID-19 struck, and put a stop to all that.

I was absolutely gutted. It was a real blow to my confidence just when I felt I was turning a corner. Exercise is so important to me. I was fit before my AML diagnosis, and I truly believe it helped me cope physically with the gruelling treatment and recovery. I knew I had to keep exercising, I couldn’t stop now, otherwise I’d find it so much harder to regain my fitness and bounce back again.

Despite the lockdown, I knew I couldn't let things slide again. So I found new ways to keep exercising.

Jane trampolining

Jane trampolining

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A trampoline bought for my daughter’s birthday has been one fun way to keep moving. I often have a five-minute bounce when nobody is looking! I used to do a weekly Pilates class before lockdown. Now the teacher has switched to running the classes online using Zoom, and it works brilliantly. She can still see us to correct any mistakes, and we can see her to copy her actions. Even though we’re all at home, it still feels like a group class.

I never would have tried HIIT exercises. I thought they were too hard.

Is there anyone left in the world who hasn’t heard about Joe Wicks' online PE sessions? It’s more intensive exercise than I would normally do. I could barely move after the first session, but after a couple of weeks I can tell it’s really making a difference.

Joe Wicks’s over-enthusiastic style isn’t for everyone of course, and if I’m honest it started grating on me a bit! I noticed he was using a HIIT (High Impact Interval Training) timer, so I googled that and found a website where you could create your own simple HIIT timer. I now do the Joe Wicks exercises, using my own custom HIIT timer, but without his voice and the constant ‘shaat aaats’. Don’t tell Joe I said that!

Some of the easier ones involve more stretching and mindful breathing. These were good for me when I was undergoing treatment.

If HIIT and Joe Wicks aren’t your thing, there are loads of online videos available. When I was going through my treatment and spending long spells in hospital, I found a lovely American lady on YouTube with a calm soothing voice and a gentle method of teaching. I used to do some of her easier routines which were more about stretching and mindful breathing. That was about all I could manage at the time.

Blood Cancer UK also have a range of exercise videos you can do at home, and some guided relaxation and mindfulness exercises (I took part in these - they were very relaxing!)

Jane exercising

Jane exercising

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I’m so pleased I’ve managed to find new ways to keep fit and still enjoy exercise. I am stronger and fitter. Whatever you enjoy, there is an online class out there for you!

I’ve really enjoyed finding new ways to keep moving. The online videos are definitely something I’ll try to continue when life gets back to normal. You just have to ignore the dust bunnies under your own sofa while you are doing them!