“Were you ever a dancer?” my doctor asked during my annual physical a few weeks ago. I was surprised – and flattered – by the question.
“No,” I said. “But thanks for asking.”
“A cheerleader?” he continued. That one made me laugh. I’ve never been particularly athletic or coordinated, and the closest I ever came to being a cheerleader was when I was in the marching band in high school.
I wondered what made him ask about dancing and cheerleading, and he explained that as he was testing my reflexes and flexibility he noted that mine were better than that of most people my age. I ignored the “my age” part and simply took pride in the fact that I could be mistaken for someone who was a dancer or cheerleader years ago.
I was still feeling rather pleased with myself as I left the doctor’s office, and I started thinking about the contributing factors to my “condition.” I decided that working out at Curves – which I do four or five days a week – probably had the most to do with it. Also the fact that I’m interested in health and nutrition in general. And that I try to follow a healthy diet – and I succeed most of the time.
But then something else occurred to me, and I wasn’t sure at first whether it was a good thing or a bad thing.
The “thing” that occurred to me was my motivation. I’d love to claim that I simply valued a healthy mind and body, and that I actively and aggressively follow a diet and exercise program that helps me to do and be my best at all times. And while that’s true to a certain degree, it’s not my main motivation.
My main motivation – although I never really thought about it like this before – is fear and avoidance. And that’s not nearly as noble or glamorous.
A number of years ago, following chemotherapy for breast cancer, I developed severe heart damage that still affects me today. It doesn’t slow me down anymore, and it doesn’t keep me from doing anything I really want to do. But its effects were permanent, and I’m always aware that if I get a little too careless about what – or how much – I’m eating and drinking, or if I slack off a little in my exercise routine, the effects could be much more severe than they would be for the average person with a normal, healthy heart.
That scares me. It’s something I want to avoid at all costs, and it’s what motivates me to keep exercising regularly, to pay attention to my diet and lifestyle, and to make an appointment every year for my annual physical, as well as for any other tests and procedures that are warranted.
What I find the most interesting is the realization that I probably wouldn’t be as strict or vigilant about all this if I hadn’t had that combination of cancer, chemo, and heart damage years ago. I probably wouldn’t be as interested in health and nutrition as I am, or as committed as I am to exercising and staying in shape. And I’m certain I wouldn’t have people wondering and asking me now if I were ever a dancer or cheerleader in my younger days.
Sometimes it’s not the good things that happen to us, but the bad things that help us the most in the long run. That doesn’t make them any easier to deal with while we’re going through them. But if we’re aware of it, this can give us hope for the future – even if we never really learn or appreciate it until we get far enough into the future to recognize it.
I guess I’m there now, at least with respect to my heart, my health, my flexibility and my reflexes. That’s certainly something worth cheering about.
In fact, it makes me feel like dancing.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on February 21, 2013.
©Betty Liedtke, 2013
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