The Howells Group Blog

Got Balance? Lessons from a Cancer Study

life-balance, coaching, consulting, leadership, cancer, cancer survivor, Oregon, OHSU, Get Fit

“Life is like riding a bicycle. Keeping your balance requires 

that  you focus ahead and remember to keep moving.”

As a cancer survivor part of the journey is the opportunity to experience things you’d never otherwise know about. Some are enriching, and some are just hard, and in my journey some of the hard stuff becomes enriching. This summer, I was invited to join a study at OHSU to determine what types of exercise help return balance to patients who have gone through chemotherapy.

Lauren, one of the research staff, met me and guided me through a long questionnaire. Answering all the questions made me grateful once again for my excellent health overall. Then, she tested me on walking fast, standing with my eyes
closed and determining how much weight I could lift with my legs. The most interesting test was conducted in a “balance machine”. The photo attached with this blog shows one of the research staff, Jessica Dobek, standing in this machine  (no that’s not me with blonde hair and a very lean physique!)  I was strapped in to a harness to make sure
I didn’t fall. The sides moved and the floor shifted. For the first few timed tests I was allowed to have my eyes open. This allowed me to focus on the abstract colored images that looked like mountains while things unexpectedly shifted, and even jerked. A focus point made a THE difference in maintaining my balance! When I was asked to close my eyes it was much harder to regain equilibrium, which made me grateful for the harness. While my eyes were closed I realized how much like life this little test was. If I cannot find a focal point in life, or I lose it, I easily stumble and fall; getting off track, becoming discouraged or making unwise decisions. But having a clear focal point that I can reference enables me to withstand “the shifting and jerks” of regular living.

What is your focus point? What do you fix your eyes on when things start to get rough? Those of you who know me well know that my faith in God has been foundational to keeping equilibrium in my life. This was especially true during my cancer journey. When I stayed fixed on the truths and presence of God in my life I was able to navigate. Family and friends; those key relationships that are priceless have been essential, too. Often their support, honest coaching or simple love as returned me to “equilibrium”.

Finally, staying focused on making a contribution to others using any gifts and talents I possess has proven to be very stabilizing when the “ground is shaking” beneath my feet. And you can count on the fact that it will shake.

A documentary we recently watched reinforced the need for “focal points” to find balance in life, no matter what your circumstances. The film,  “Happy” walks you through multiple interviews conducted with a very diverse group of people – from the slums in India to the Louisiana bayou. The happiest people had family, friends, community and some regular spirituality as part of their lives. Money, status and lack of problems didn’t even make the first cut. Not one person mentioned these things as important focal points for a balanced, happy life!

So, for the next six months I’ll meet with a group of cancer surviving women who’ve all had chemotherapy  2x a week at a quaint exercise studio  called “Dance with Joy”.  Our exercise experts leading the study will walk us through strength training exercises to continue exploring how strength training can improve balance and limit long term symptoms of chemo.

I’ll let you know what I learn; I’m guessing there’s more life lessons awaiting me in this study– and that keeps me focusing ahead and moving forward…..

One Comment

  1. Posted July 22, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    If I might comment – our ability to balance is modulated by at least 3 complex interacting systems – proprioception (touch), inner ear semi-circular canals (motion, equilibrium etc), and eyes (sight)… so I do agree that focus is critical, it is also amazing that we have some back-up systems and if one fails we can have assistance from another balance system.
    I think this is pretty cool, because if we lose our focus (sight), God has created for us other reminders (people, faith, experience etc) to reveal His love.

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