As a fitness professional, I meet all kinds of people and I’ve been blessed to work with a wide assortment of clients. In mid 2018, my boss asked me to reach out to a lady who was looking for a trainer for her and her husband. He told me the gentlemen in particular had some significant health challenges, however little did I know what I was getting into.
After emailing back and forth, we set our initial date to meet and I eagerly looked forward to my first visit with Paul and Mary. When they arrived at the club, we sat down in the cafe to get better acquainted. Mary was wrapping up a successful career in finance and was in the process of selling her company. Paul was a former dentist who had unfortunately gone to war with colon cancer a year or so prior to our meeting.
While Paul survived the cancer, it took a tremendous toll on his body leaving him bedridden for months. He was always slim but the cancer and subsequent treatments caused him to drop down to approximately 110 pounds. Further, in the aftermath of his cancer, he suffered a few small strokes and started showing early signs of dementia.
Because of extreme nature of Paul’s background, I was a little intimidated about working with him due to the state of his health. He had gained back to 130 pounds or so but was still very weak given his traumatic experience.
As usual when I first meet a potential new client, we cover the basics of their background including daily nutrition. Mary went first and there was nothing unusual about her diet. Paul on the other hand, had and still has some of the most unique eating habits of anyone I’ve ever known.
When I asked about his breakfast, his reply was cinnamon toast with bacon and Dr. Pepper. No, that was not a typo. Not water, or milk, or coffee, just Dr. Pepper. In fact, about the only thing he would ever drink is Dr. Pepper. We moved on to lunch and while he doesn’t eat the same thing every day, his favorite is by far a Wendy’s Baconator…with a Dr. Pepper of course.
Oddly enough, I discovered that Paul used to do most of the cooking before his health declined so dinner could be anything. Mary said he still liked to cook, but bless his heart, he tended to overcook things a bit leaving them sometimes basically inedible.
After our initial interview, I knew Paul was going to be a handful and he didn’t disappoint. Training Paul was always the highpoint of my day. From the beginning, they worked with me three days a week and I always looked forward to our time together. As my schedule permitted, I would always try to meet them out in the parking lot and walk them inside. The same would go for their departure where I would typically walk them back to their car.
Paul and Mary became an immediate hit in the gym and there were a handful of other members who would always come over to say hello offering words of encouragement…especially to Paul. I shared with all of them over the course of time regarding Paul’s struggles and they were all the more enthusiastic in encouraging him.
Because of Paul’s Dementia, his short term memory was not the best. I would always ask what he had for breakfast or what they were planning for lunch. For the most part he would remember, but there were days where his mind would just not cooperate. Oddly enough, his long-term memory was almost ironclad. As a fellow lover of the game of golf, fishing, and John Wayne, we had many an interesting conversation.
With Paul’s exercise, I basically kept my hands either on him for support or would stand very close by. Again because of the challenge with his short-term memory, it became the standard to constantly remind him of what he was doing including hand, feet, and overall body positions.
Because of Paul’s strokes, he was left with his balance somewhat impaired. He really doesn’t walk but sort of shuffles along. This condition makes steps potentially dangerous for him due to the risk of falling. So Mary and I cooked up the idea of him practicing his “stepping” in the gym.
The funny thing is that we would take turns leading with his right or left foot. He has greater control over his left so we would always do more sets of leading with the right. There were many times where he would be 100% in his sequencing which I always praised. There were however times where he would get his feet mixed up and lead with the opposite foot. This used to wear him out as he’s very competitive and always strives for perfection.
Serving Paul and Mary the past year and half has truly been a blessing. Unfortunately his health has taken a severe turn for the worst. It all started with a routine scan given his former battle with colon cancer. The scan showed a mass on his liver which turned out to be stage 4 liver cancer. The news hit them like a freight train and Mary stopped her training due to the overwhelming emotional toll.
Paul however was a trooper and continued to come to the gym three days a week for a period of time before it was decided how to proceed with treating his cancer. Anna is their housekeeper who comes every morning during the week. She would faithfully bring Paul to the gym and then run errands while we went through his workout. His will to keep showing up under the circumstances generated tons of support with the morning crew at the gym who knew of his health challenges.
After seeing several doctors, surgery to remove the cancer was ruled out as his body was just too weak and frail to survive. They settled on a version of chemotherapy that would take a period of months. It was agreed to have further scans done after the fourth round of chemo to assess the progress of the procedure. Unfortunately the chemo was making no difference and their doctor strongly urged them to stop the treatment.
With all options exhausted, their doctor recommended bringing in hospice and to focus on making the most of each day with Paul’s remaining time. At this point, only God knows how long Paul will be with us. As I write this post, the latter steps involving hospice were just put into play so this info is timely and up to date.
Closing thoughts for my readers:
For further info on Paul’s status, click on the link below for his CaringBridge site:
While I always try to offer an encouraging word in my closing thoughts, this post is clearly different. When I first met Paul, I never would have imagined that things would end up as they have. Prayers for Paul and Mary and their family and friends will be appreciated.
In honor of Paul, I encourage you to love your family and friends and live each day to the fullest because you never know when things may change. We’re not guaranteed the next five minutes…much less tomorrow so make the most of every moment.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.”
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
2 Timothy 1:7
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”