Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Litmus test in the chlorine

Yesterday I went for a swim. My second workout since going under the knife in December. It's important for me to stay active in order to get better.

Some people like to do yoga, others like to run. I like to swim. It's the only activity that truly feels second nature to me. (I started at 7 for Pete's sake, swam competitively through college, then for years after.) Running makes me crampy and achy and I last about 1 mile. Boag.

I felt amazing, completely energized, and really happy. My goal was to swim a mile. I hoped to work out for 45 minutes. (A note to you swimmers out there, you'll see that the two goals don't really jive. Yes, I had some time to kill after my 1,650). So I just started to make up ridiculous sets. Like "2X25s, easy, half backstroke, half underwater". I started bouncing up and down in the shallow end between "sets". I just felt like doing it and I couldn't stop. I caught the eyes of the women on the stairmasters up in the windows above, and I gave 'em all the thumbs up! They waved back. I felt like a 9-year-old at a slumber party who'd had too much Mountain Dew. I was acting like an age-grouper in practice when the coach steps off the deck to take a phone call and all the kids flip out and completely ignore the workout.

Actually, it was very much like how I occasionally behaved in lane 5 at Kenyon. Some of you probably remember. We kept a nice balance of "work" and "fun" in Lane 5. "The slow lane" to some, perhaps, but I thought of it more as a sort of 24/7 Aqua Fiesta. I entered Kenyon at the end of lane 5, graduated at the end of Lane 5, and we knew how to party. Plus, it was a great way to meet all the freshman.

So back in the pool, I got an idea. A serious idea. One that scared me a little. I thought, "If I feel so freaking good in the water, how could I have a stinking piece of cancer in my lung? Huh? Wouldn't a bad spot compromise my lung capacity?" I decided to conduct a short non-scientific test.

I challenged myself to do a simple "no-breather". (This is normally a piece of cake for a sprinter, swimming the length of the pool without breathing). And I considered just for a moment that less than two months ago my guts were literally splayed out on the OR table, and that it took weeks for me to be able to sit up without searing gut pain, and that I'm in the middle of chemo, and...OK, that I technically have "an issue" with my lower left lung.

So I started to get scared. If I couldn't make the no-breather, I'd feel like maybe the disease had more of a stronghold on me than I wished to admit. Suddenly, i didn't really want to do the challenge.

But then I remember a passage from a book I read. It talked about how, once you're told you have THE C-WORD, there's a tendency to step back a bit from life, to withdraw from people and commitments, to no longer establish long-term goals for yourself. But if you never challenge yourself or set goals, you're essentially slowly prepping yourself for your own demise. You're more or less admitting you don't expect to make it through to the other side. So you CAN'T DO THAT.

I thus had no choice, so I set off.

AND: Not only did I reach the end, sans l'oxygen, but I DID A FLIP TURN AND SWAM HALFWAY BACK, too. I wasn't even breathing hard! I stopped, satisfied, and chuckled to myself, recognizing that my competitive streak has hardly faded, I just haven't seen it in a while. It made me feel quietly confident and slightly proud, knowing with certainty I am going to be a serious adversary in this fight. I knew it all along, of course, but now I felt like I had some physical proof of my "strength".

Next week: bench press contests at the Pioneer Square pubs.

-Shelly "putting the HELL in SHELL" Baker Butler


  1. I am a proud "Lane 5er." And I was a freshman when Shelly was graduating. It is true. :)
    Hey Shell - I just got back in the water, too. Maybe I could keep up with you on your fun sets.

  2. shelly- you probably dont even know me, i am best friends with emily (yark obviously :) ) ha but she has been passing along your story and i have been following your blog....and YOU GO GIRL!!!!!!! seriously, youre an inspiration and ill be reading (and getting some great quotes-em has already used your shit sandwich one!!)

    emily florian

  3. shelly, let's do sets together--i'll find them on line--i've been around the mile-ish mark too for the last couple of weeks, although have not done a no breather--BUT WILL, MARK MY WORDS, i will--and see if I can do the flip turn (more skeptical of that one--I was a distance-ish swimmer, remember). I was really touched by this blog, shelly--particularly the 'thumbs up' part and bouncing around in the shallow end--funny how FUN that is, isn't it? and the 2 x 25 yard sets--love it! i'm really proud of you for taking on the challenge, and am not at all surprised that you surpassed it and then some. take that, 'issue in left lung'!

  4. YAY LANE 5!!!!! We called ourselves the Goonies!! That lane rocked the house. We were the outside smoke!! And contrary to popular belief, just because we PRACTICE slower, does NOT mean we can't kick some serious ass at Nationals!!!! Take that, you distance freaks and lazy sprinters!!!!

  5. Keep up the awesome posts, Shell! You are not only a hold-your-breath-underwater superstar, but also a great and funny writer. Obviously cancer is no match for you. You laugh in its face. You fight it to the end and don't even have to come up for air.

  6. You're putting me to shame with this no-breather stuff, Shelly....and I was a former Lane 2er, along with that hubby of yours! Keep it up, I love reading your posts.

  7. Oh, Shelly! Love this post! I've been thinking about you lately in my "body pump" class (yes, I know, you can stop laughing now...). The Tues. class is SO boring and straightforward but the Sat. morning one rocks because the instructor is constantly making fun of the songs and belting them out ("save a horse, ride a cowboy"...yes there is actually a song with that lyric), doing silly dance moves in between bench presses, you get the idea. Totally reminds me of how you made swimming so much fun for all of us at Kenyon (not just us Lane 5ers!!) and how I aspire to have that sense of humor in the depths of physical fitness! So glad you are kickin' it in the pool lady! xo Susi