One On One Fitness

Karla Laing

Karla Laing knew something was wrong. “I have always been intuitive about my body but thought that the exhaustion I was feeling was a product of being a busy mother of a newborn and toddler.” After diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, and the continued elevation of her ESR/CRP count on blood tests, Laing started to self-diagnose, and in November 2009 was not totally surprised to learn that at age 37 she had Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.“I had an idea that I may have lymphoma, but I was still shocked to hear the diagnosis,” she says. “Having cancer can be extremely lonely, and because all cases are different, I have often felt like no one knows what I am going through.”

Although she claims to be still searching for an answer, Karla Laing provides numerous explanations for what cancer has taught her. “I think cancer has taught me that I have more strength than I realized. It has also taught me that we are all the same—we all have issues, problems, and struggles that take a similar type of strength, and we all eventually learn to dig a little deeper.”

And Laing has dug deeper than most. She has braved twelve chemo treatments and a host of medical complications that accompany such treatments. “It’s the little things that nobody ever tells you about that can be discouraging … they take a lot away from you,” says Laing. These “little things” include mouth sores and ulcers, headaches, nausea, a debilitating exhaustion, and chemo medication that stunned the nerves in her bowels causing them to lose their ability to contract and causing her extreme abdominal pain.

Another unforeseen annoyance was the amount of unwanted attention Laing received from well-meaning people. “I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and asked if I had breast cancer,” Laing says. “When I tell them that I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I often hear, ‘Oh, that’s the good cancer.’ But it certainly doesn’t feel good to me.” The survival rate for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is 95 per cent, making it one of the most successfully treated cancers, but chemo treatments are just as brutal to these patients as they are to those patients with other forms of cancer.

Amidst the side effects and attention, however, Laing continued to work out, one of the few cancer patients to do so. “I think the benefit of exercise is a huge area of cancer treatment that has not been explored enough,” she says. Indeed, she credits her fitness upon diagnosis and her insistence on continuing to work out with helping her to fight off the effects of her cancer treatments. “I have to give my personal trainer, David Twan of One on One Personal Fitness Instruction, extra credit for putting up with my not-so-sunny disposition during my whole treatment time,” she admits. “Somehow he really had the ability to know when to push and when to be more of a sounding board.”Laing goes further in advocating the benefits of exercise. “I think they should write a prescription for exercise upon diagnosis of cancer,” she says. “It has been my saviour, as much mentally as physically. My daily goal for workouts changed from increasing my weights to just showing up and clearing my head.”

Prior to her diagnosis, Laing had dropped her body fat from 27.24 per cent to 22.98 per cent. “[After Laing’s diagnosis] our goal became to maintain everything she had already achieved in her previous training. Throughout her chemotherapy treatment her energy would vary on a daily basis, so we had to be prepared for anything,” says personal trainer Twan. Finding time to exercise, however, hasn’t always been easy. “I feel guilty about taking time away from my kids,” admits Laing. “Learning to put yourself first has been hard, but I know that if I am going to get better, then I have to exercise. If I’m having a crappy day, [exercise] is the only thing that makes me feel better.” She credits her dedication to a continuing fitness regime to a wealth of friends and family, especially her husband, and their unwavering encouragement and support.

Laing’s exercise regime was simple. Twice-a-week sessions with Twan helped her to focus on flexibility, cardio, and strength. “We use everything in our workouts, from kettle bells to BOSU balls and the TRX,” says Twan. Laing would have extra cardio sessions away from the studio. “The only deviation from this was during the weeks of her chemo treatment, when we would drop to one session per week,” he continues, and Karla’s cardio would only be performed on days she felt she had enough energy, at a pace she felt comfortable with.

Six months later, Laing is still as strong as she was before her diagnosis and is considering increasing her training from twice a week to three times to help get her into the best shape of her life. “She hasn’t backed away from anything I’ve asked her to do and has faced every challenge, head on,” says Twan. “I have to admit that there were times when I wallowed,” Laing counters. “I certainly engaged in some emotional eating and junk-food therapy.” She shrugs off the extra weight she gained during treatment knowing that this is one area that she “can fix.”

“I’ve had a lot of struggle in my life, and I really didn’t think I needed any more character, so I am trying to learn why I have more,” says Laing. “Recently, my friend told me that God must have had a very high opinion of me.”It is a sentiment shared by all those who have been touched by Laing’s commitment, optimism, and, yes, lessons learned.

Having recently been declared cancer free, Karla Laing, who missed her winter holidays and family time, and gave up her beautiful, long blond locks, can now bask in the glory of being a part of that 95-per-cent cure rate she has heard so much about.

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