Walking with Chemotherapy-induced Neuropathy Part 1

Exercise was on my mind as we arrived in the Lake District, tired and famished.

“Which mountains are we going to climb Daddy?”

“Well, let’s see how it looks in the morning girls.” I replied, apprehensive. It was snowing. Icy conditions would not help my neuropathy.

Exercise, I thought – you played me false. I shouldn’t have a tumour. Exercise – you should’ve protected me for at least another two decades! Perhaps my former regime was not healthy as I had believed. Intense workouts – both physically and mentally depleting. Munching on sugary snacks would get me through the rest of the day. Adrenaline and cortisol release followed by high sugar intake probably did little to help my immune surveillance system keep an eye on rogue cells.

Chemotherapy followed the awful diagnosis – fatigue, nausea, bleeding feet only increased my antipathy to exercise. An additional barrier was a recent diagnosis of chemotherapy-induced neuropathy. One week prior to departure for Cumbria I had been meddling, tinkering with my diet.  Throwing caution to the winds I made an abrupt change onto the raw food diet, forgetting to replace enough protein and carbohydrates –  my mood slumped, my muscles wasted and my liver rebelled. Blame chemo-brain, blame whatever you like. But Ouch! It can really hurt when you are hungry and my liver told me in no uncertain terms: Feed you fool! Ignoring my body I persevered with the rather extreme diet losing nearly 10kg in double-quick time. Rapidly weakening and losing sensation in my legs I fixed on the idea that the tumour was compressing my spinal cord. Friday evening – patient panic – admission – it was ever thus! Fortunately the oncologists took a good history. The admitting doctor was reassuringly thorough in his examination of me – no urgent scan or radiotherapy need. “We see this quite a lot. Late onset neuropathy. Unfortunately there is no evidence for any treatment to regenerate your nerves.”

Weak and numb legs for the duration? What – no exercise in the Lake district? No walking? This could not be borne! No amazing tales of ridge traverses and peaks scaled in snow, ice and fog. There was no other option – now or never. Jackie and the girls  needed me to pull out the stops as well. Time to wax my walking boots! Time to figure out how to get my neuropathic legs “tripping” the light fantastic all the way up Scafell Pike. Time to get a grip. The tougher scrambles came into my mind first. I reluctantly dismissed Scafell as a contender for the first hike. Walk before you can run! Perhaps the flat Buttermere Round would be more sensible to start. What factors would I need to consider. Fuel for starters. Rice milk, peanut butter, banana and cocoa powder smoothie should get me to the top of Mt Everest if needed. Fluid balance – lots and lots of H2O. Hiking sticks – uneven terrain made these essential, particularly when walking downhill. Warm clothes – neuropathy makes for more sensitivity to cold / hot temperatures. AND DON’T FORGET SUNSCREEN!! Most important, however was the weather which can change, so quickly in Cumbria. Luck was on our side as friendly high atmoheric pressure cleared the clouds from our skies for the duration of our stay. Unheard of – no rain in the Lake District!?

A  few flat strolls and my stamina was improving. We met up with friends from Ilkley and attempted successfully Wainwright’s favourite ridge walk – High Street. Views = amazing +++ but no shops!! Encouraged, my mind turned to more challenging walking. The Langdale Pikes – possibly one of the world’s best treks. I had walked this route several times but never been lucky with weather. This time, clear blue skies and balmy conditions gave us a real treat. Aching legs were ignored, negative thoughts cleared, worries vanquished. On top of Harrison Stickle, eating a yummy picnic, the panorama is unrivalled in my opinion – and I have walked all over the Americas, Europe and the Antipodes.

So, mission accomplished. Walking The Langdales with neuropathy. Not Mission Impossible – I am only grade 1 on a scale of 1 to 4 where 4 is paralysis but still an achievement. I was going to summarise the medical aspects of chemotherapy induced neuropathy but this post is now quite long so in the next few days I will write further on this subject looking at the conventional management and also some alternative approaches.

Gosh – that was a bit long winded – here is some light relief from Nancy Sinatra: