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When you have cancer, parts of your body lose function. Your oncologist may tell you not to make certain movements or eat certain foods.  You may have to give up some favorite activities. You may experience pain and fatigue. But until that day you “go under” (and who won’t sooner or later?) you have many body parts that are working just fine. Think about those: Do your eyes work? Does your mind work? Are you able to walk? Think of Stephen Hawking living in a wheelchair, using his fingertips to communicate complex mathematical equations.  If he can do so much in his condition, there are many things you can still do. Focus on what works, and resolve to use it to the fullest. 


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At the beginning of a new year, we often make resolutions. Cancer patients need to rejoice about their abilities, not groan about their infirmities. What can you do this year? Set a goal, and try to reach it. This will keep you in a positive frame of mind—something bound to improve your immune system and enhance your quality of life. I realize I’m one of the lucky ones, with a neuroendocrine cancer that is slow-growing and controllable with injections. Except for a liver filled with tumors, I have good health at this time. Since my doctors had told me after my surgery that walking was one of the best things I could do for myself, I resolved last January to walk 1,000 miles in 2015. 


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I realized this project would mean averaging over 2.7 miles a day on intentional, dedicated health walks. It would mean walking in cold, heat, and rain, and sometimes in the dark. I had walked about 870 miles the prior year, so this would mean averaging an additional half mile per day. That's a significant time commitment (about an hour per day). There are always some days you just can’t take the time, when you are traveling or in long meetings, or too sick to do anything; those will require longer walks to fill the gap. But it was something I thought I could do, so I set my sights on that new personal record.

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Most of my walks were outdoors. For the really bad weather days, I might use the elliptical, keeping track of “miles” on the counter, but I prefer outdoor walks. I mapped out various routes from my home that were two, three, four miles or more. I became a familiar sight to neighbors and commuters I’m sure; sometimes I would explain my goal to neighbors, and they would wish me luck.


Photo: Here I am on Fresno Dome in the Sierra Nevada mountains.


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On a few occasions, when traveling or vacationing, I took walks in national parks, deserts or wilderness areas. My longest walk in one day was 18.5 miles in Yellowstone’s back country, keeping a sharp eye out for grizzly bears. Wherever I was, I kept at it, rarely missing a day. It became a routine part of my life.

Photo left: Overlooking Paria Canyon in Utah.

Photo below right: Deep in the Yellowstone backcountry.

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Preparation can make walking more enjoyable. On a typical warm day in southern California, I take a trekking pole, a water bottle in a belt holster, some dog biscuits for the neighborhood dogs, a hat, my keys and a SPOT device for emergencies. Other than that, I travel light, wearing shorts and going shirtless whenever the weather permits, avoiding the sunburn hours.  I use a smartphone app called Runtastic that monitors distance, speed and elevation gain. Recently, a friend gave me a Fitbit; this, I have found, shows that I usually walk 50% more per day than what Runtastic records on my dedicated walks, due to incidental walking around the house or when out on errands.

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To pass the time, you can listen to favorite music, podcasts or radio shows through headphones. This really helps take one’s mind off the repetitive footsteps. Sometimes I'll pray for those on my cancer prayer list. Sometimes I'll try to estimate how far the next landmark is. Another thing that helps is multitasking errands. If I need something at the grocery store, or need to go to the bank, I'll walk there instead of drive. Sometimes I’ll snap a selfie of my walk in a location that might interest my Facebook friends. One I took in the rain (see above), another on a Sierra dome, and one at a Yellowstone lake.
Photo: At a Sierra Nevada waterfall.


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Each day I record my progress in a spreadsheet. I also record my blood pressure, weight, and any other exercise like weight training done that day. A spreadsheet allows you to quickly add up the miles and the elevation gain. Knowing that you are making progress toward your goal helps keep you motivated, and lets you know the pace needed to reach the target on time. You don’t want to get 50 miles behind schedule!  I try to stay ahead of schedule to build in some margin for the unexpected.

Photo: I'm fortunate to live near some hills and valleys for some of my favorite walking routes that begin right from my house.

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I’m happy to report that on Christmas Eve I met my goal. I knelt at my 1,000th mile mark and thanked the Lord for the health and strength to reach it. Total elevation gain was over 160,000 feet—that’s over 30 vertical miles that my muscles hoisted my body weight up against gravity. My total for the year was 1,020 miles, about the distance from Los Angeles to the Canadian border.

Photo: Shortly after reaching Mile 1000. My usual walking pace is 3.4 mph.


It’s really astonishing to think of what a human body can do. Imagine engineers building a robot that can walk a thousand miles over all kinds of terrain and automatically repair itself from its fuel! From Fitbit data, I figure that amount of walking entails well over 2 million steps involving multiple complex systems: muscles, nerves, sense organs and more. Similar wonders exist in every body system: eyes, ears, hands, brain—everything. With bodies this amazing, it would be a shame for any of us not to use them to the fullest, even if they are partly afflicted with cancer.

Walking may be out of the question for you. I only tell my story to share how satisfying it was to set a challenging goal and achieve it. As I have posted before, diet and exercise are key things you can do to get involved in your fight against cancer. You owe it to yourself to strengthen what remains and keep using what still works. Can you lift a weight while sitting or lying down? Can you take deep breaths and do isotonic muscle exercises? Can you use your mind to write, compose music or carry on a ministry such as calling others regularly to pray for them? Before my older sister died of cancer, she and her husband continued their habit of calling friends to wish them a happy birthday, even as she and her husband were both declining physically. It required keeping a list of birth dates and phone numbers for dozens of people, and making the effort to call them and cheer them up on their special day. In addition, she and her husband would regularly pray for others and take gifts to them when then were suffering. It’s no wonder that 300 people showed up at her funeral, so touched by her thoughtfulness!

The best New Year resolution is to serve God and others. Sometimes this entails taking care of your own health as best you can. This is the time of year to set a goal and make plans to achieve it. Go for it!