by Lisa Olney, Club Fit guest blogger.
If you’re part of the 5:00 am exercise crowd, chances are you’ve met Club Fit Briarcliff member John Gillespie, 57, whose natural energy and captive smile is hard to forget. John’s early-morning workout includes cardio and weight lifting and gives him the energy and jump-start he needs to start his day as a health care public relations professional in the City. John, who recently moved to New York from his native St. Louis, had always led an active lifestyle filled with golf, running, and exercise. That is until two years ago on March 27, 2014, when a normal day at the office became anything but routine.
John was working at a St. Louis hospital in the health system that he worked for when excruciating abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room. John’s bloodwork showed a hemoglobin level of 8 (very low) and an iron level of 0 (non-existent). John was bleeding from his intestines, and his body was unable to stop it.
Diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of lymphoma, called peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL), and four tumors in his small intestine, John’s treatment included a dangerously aggressive six-round, high-dose E-CHOP chemotherapy regimen followed by an autologous stem cell harvest. The E-CHOP began destroying the four tumors, however, two of the tumors burst, forcing emergency surgery to clean up the toxic contents spilling into John’s stomach and to sew his small intestine back together. “The good news was that the chemo worked,” said John, “and the bad news was that the chemo worked.”
Because of the damage to his small intestine and the proximity of one of the remaining tumors to his large intestine, an ileostomy was ordered rather than reattaching his small intestine to the large intestine. The ileostomy diverted the end of his small intestine through his lower abdominal wall where it was attached to an external waste bag for 18 months, a painful experience that made it difficult to exercise and get proper nutrition and hydration. Upon completing his chemo, the stem cells were transplanted and successfully grafted which regenerated his bone marrow. After being cancer- and chemo-free for one year, John was given the green light for an ileostomy reversal on November 4, 2015, to reattach his small intestine to his large intestine which would return his body to normal functionality.
John’s two-year battle with PTCL had been the most painful experience of his life, and he credits the love of his family and two children with helping him persevere. After the pain receded from the ileostomy reversal, John was cleared to begin an exercise program. Enter Club Fit’s HelpRx — a three-month, physician-referral, new-member program for $150 that offers support, guidance and motivation to help people successfully and safely integrate the benefits of regular exercise into their routine. For John, who had lost all muscle tone and a level of fitness and health that had always been a part of his identity, HelpRX was the answer, and he started on the Rx program the week before Thanksgiving.
Restricted from exercise involving abdominal strain for eight weeks, John began his routine with cardio and resistance training, transitioning to weight lifting in January. Under the guidance of Club Fit’s training staff, John’s fitness, strength, and energy quickly improved, and at the end of his three-month Rx membership he signed on to a regular membership because he did not want to go backward. “Exercising is not work anymore,” explains John. “It’s become a routine, a commitment.”
In his four months with Club Fit, John has lost 20 pounds, six inches, and his strength has increased dramatically. “I missed being fit,” said John. “The Club Fit staff has always been very supportive of my goals. I’ve never had to pay for training or classes to access their expertise.” John tries to exercise 5-6 days a week with 35-40 minutes of cardio exercise on the StrideClimber elliptical machines and 30 minutes of weight lifting, with bench pressing being a favorite activity. “Weight lifting has become my favorite,” says John. “Reaching new benchmarks is very rewarding.” John’s latest benchmark is seven reps at 190 pounds, and this month he may hit his next benchmark of 200 pounds.
“I’ve gone from not being able to lift a carton of milk to bench pressing 190 pounds,” said John. “So if I can leave anyone with just one thought, it would be that it is possible to feel healthy again — to recover from cancer or severe injury or just to get healthy.”