We Sure Didn’t See this Coming

We Sure Didn’t See this Coming

The last few weeks have been rough.  Very rough.  In mid-February, Rod was diagnosed with lung cancer.  On the day, he saw his GP who gave him papers for an xray and labs to be drawn.  Rod decided rather than to wait, he’d get both done on the day.  I’m glad he did. What followed was a series of various tests – CAT and PET scans, an ultrasound with biopsy and a bronchoscopy with another biopsy for the tumor(s) in his lung.  One is a big 7.1 mass that’s causing him a lot of pain and then there are two lymph nodes inside the lung that are also cancerous. The good news is that it hasn’t spread to other areas in his body, and it’s a better type, if there is such a thing.

PET scan showing Rod's tumor in his chest.

From the PET scan Rod had done in February. The large dark item in his chest is the 7.1 tumor.

Rod will start treatment on the 4th of April, which will be 8 weeks of intensive concurrent chemo and radiotherapy.  It’s brutal, but will give him the best chance of completely eradicating the cancer. To say this will cause changes to our life and schedule is an understatement.

Way back last year when my son and his fiance announced their wedding date, and made plans for me to travel to Houston for it, I had some really hard to articulate vibes, not about the wedding (I’m over the moon for Chris and Kelsie), but about my travelling there. It was a really big mixed bag of emotions since I’d be seeing family and my grandkids but there was an irrational dread that I couldn’t put into words, or even see in my mind’s eye what the dread was about. I also just couldn’t see me taking the trip. I had a breakdown in August. Some of that was due to health issues – my iron ferritin level had dropped down to way below normal – but a lot was because of the nagging irrational dread that I just couldn’t shake off. It took awhile to see specialists, but by December I’d had two iron infusions and was seen by a psychiatrist for a review of my issues and medication. So in January I transitioned from my previous meds for depression to a new one. The vibes about travelling remained though.

Rod, taking a walk with me on Sunday, 25 March 2018When we saw the cancer specialist last week, he was already aware of my plans to visit the states in May from our previous appointment. While he was outlining what the next few months were going to entail, he asked about my plans again. I’d already given it a lot of thought while we were in limbo waiting the complete diagnosis and treatment details.  I already knew Rod wanted for me to be able to go, even if just for the wedding, and he was going to object to my decision.  However, going overseas for only a week or two wouldn’t give enough quality time to spend with people and I also wouldn’t have a chance to recover from the trip to the USA and I’d be pretty worse for wear after returning for the same reason. When I go (and I really DO want to go), I’d like to have time to spend with people and not be worried about my husband back home.  So when the doctor asked about my travel plans, it helped a lot that both the doctor and his assistant agreed that it was best if I stay and be with Rod during his treatments.  In that moment, between finally saying aloud that I wouldn’t be travelling and that Rod’s cancer hadn’t spread and wasn’t small cell,  I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I really wish I could lift the weight of the tumor off Rod’s chest to relieve his pain just as easily.

So if I’m not going to be travelling to the USA in the next few weeks, I’m probably going to need something constructive to work towards while Rod is receiving treatment and recovering from it. I remember when I was dealing with cancer treatment, much of my time between treatments was spent doing a lot of nothing because I had very little energy. If he’s having double the treatment in a shorter period, he’s likely to be doing a good deal of napping. He’s already doing that now because of the pain and pain medication.

My sister and I were chatting about how great it will be when I visit when the time is right, and the kind of things I’d like to do while I’m there. While chatting I was telling her about a conversation I had with my daughter who is an adventure hiker, cartoonist and illustrator.  She’s likely to be hiking in remote places, so our meeting up could be a bit interesting. I’d told my daughter that I’d be happy to travel and meet up with her and her husband at a town near where she’d be hiking.  Telling my sister this, she thought that would be awesome so I added wouldn’t it be great to spend a day actually hiking with them. Hanging out in their natural environment (heh).

I started to think about what that would require of me and the obvious first thing is being able to walk for much longer distances than I’ve ever done before.  Why not train to do a 5k walk, and take it from there?  Sure, 5k wouldn’t be enough for a full day’s hike, but it would be a good starting point.  If I can achieve that, I can keep training towards longer walks.

Facebook page about my idea of starting to train for 5k walks

Facebook page about my idea of starting to train for 5k walks

After my chat with my sister, I was so excited about the idea that I posted on Facebook about my idea to train for a 5k walk so I could do some hiking with my daughter when I visit the USA. The support I received was great. One friend said “That sounds like a wonderful idea, a way to focus energy, decrease stress, and improve fitness. You go girl!”.  That pretty much sums up my thoughts too.  It ticks all the boxes for something constructive I can work on while Rod is in treatment and recovering. It’ll help with feeling less stressed, and geez, wouldn’t it be great to be able to walk longer than I currently do with maybe more flexibility and less pain.

I’ve been reading up on training for a 5k walk and most of these are short 5-8wk training schedules that don’t look much different to my own strength training schedule with the exception that the days I’m not doing weight training, I’d be walking for x number of minutes that gradually increases. Saturdays are for walking a specific mile target and Sundays are all about walking for an hour, but not at a difficult pace and with rest breaks if needed. Since I’m not in a rush, I can stretch out the time scale easily. I can do this!

Our treadmill will see extra use while I trainI’m starting with walking 10 minutes each day because that’s my pain limit (when my hips start hurting). The training things I’ve seen start at 15 minutes. I’ll move on to that after a week or two. If that’s too hard at first, I’ll make it 12 minutes. This is in addition to getting my regular step goal throughout the day, at least until I’m able to walk for longer time periods.

I also think Rod might enjoy the weekend walks. He’s currently doing 1km walks every day even now on the treadmill. I’ll be using the treadmill for most of my daily timed walks as well.

I have no plans to do any official walks at this point. It’s purely to see if I can do this, for the personal challenge, and to be able to spend some time hiking with my daughter. Meanwhile it has lots of other benefits!

My New Smart Tracker

Fitbit Charge2 and Gear Fit2G’Bye Fitbit

I’ve been a loyal Fitbit tracking user for over four years, but I’m moving off to new tracking horizons.  It wasn’t something I decided in an instant, but carefully thought out, and I haven’t left the fold completely. I’m still using an Aria scale, and I’m syncing some data from Fitbit back to my new tracking software and vice versa.  Unfortunately Fitbit doesn’t allow for steps acquired from 3rd Party apps to be used for comparing with other Fitbit friends, and that’s a disappointment, but very minor compared to other things that are more convenient for me.

Hello Gear Fit2


Samsung Gear Fit2
My new tracker is a Samsung Gear Fit2, which can be used by anyone with a current Android phone (mine is an LG and it works fine).  It works in conjunction with Samsung’s S Health app that I tried out before making the final decision to try the Fit2.  

Why make a change?  Well, let’s start with what has disappointed me about using my various Fitbit trackers over the years.  When I had the Fitbit Charge HR, I found a 3rd Party app on the Google Play store that let me get notifications from my phone on the Fitbit. And it worked!  This was about the time Fitbit was about to release the Blaze, which would have this feature. They blocked the rest of their devices from being able to do this, so the app no longer worked.  OK, that was annoying, but I wasn’t going to spend the extra money on a Blaze for the feature.  

When the Charge2 came out and had the ability to get notifications, I jumped at the chance and bought it during the first week it was available.  As it turned out, it’s very limited. It can do calls, texts, and calendar events.  If you have more than one text type app (for example, FB Messages, SMS or Hangouts) you can choose ONE.  While other (more expensive) Fitbit devices would also show Email notifications, this isn’t an option for the Charge 2.

Honestly, did I really just change fitness trackers because of notifications??  It looks like it. But there’s a bunch of things the Gear Fit2 does that Fitbit trackers near the same price don’t do… and that’s the other reason I gravitated towards the Fit2. A major one for me is that it has built-in apps that I’ve found extremely useful. Like a timer (which gets used so often it’s my shortcut app), and it connects with S Health, MyFitnessPal and Under Armor, making a seamless way to keep track of what I eat and my fitness activities. Yes, Fitbit can do that, but I had to add the exercise data from Fitbit (including heart rate info) into Under Armour by hand to have the data include my heart rate, then delete the Fitbit exercise once the other synced. Now it’s just exercise using the UA app on the wristband and let it sync to all the places it needs to without my doing anything extra. The Gear Fit2 has built-in GPS so the UA app was able to track my walk around the block, and blow me down, it also colour coded the walk by what my heart rate was during the stroll. How cool is that? The GPS aspect wasn’t important to me, but combining it with my heart rate adds a new dimension.

 

What attracted me to the Gear Fit2


The GF2 (short for Gear Fit2) has a beautiful colour screen that’s interactive, like a phone or tablet. Swipe to the right and view notifications.  Swipe the other way to view the eight customizable ‘widgets’ for steps, floors climbed, calories, coffee, water, start exercises, or access support apps such as MyFitnessPal and Under Armor, amongst several others. Each of these widgets also let you dive deeper and see more detail, including your history without needing to access an app on the phone. A menu button on the side of the screen lets you view and interact with all the installed apps and change settings. Another button on the side acts as a back key so you aren’t constantly returning to the main screen and navigating back to the where you were. Then of course is the built-in GPS.  All this, and the Australian price tag is around $170.  The latest Fitbit, the Ionic, has some of these features plus some others, but not all of its apps are fully developed or released yet, and the price is over $400 Australian.

The GF2 isn’t the newest kid on the block. It’s been out for about 16 months and has had a few firmware upgrades, so many things have been improved over time. That’s a good thing. There is a newer version, the Gear Fit2 Pro that’s waterproof and works in the pool, but this seems to be the only difference and it costs more ($329). The Fitbit Ionic is also waterproof, but this isn’t a feature that’s important to me.

3rd party wrist bandI read several reviews that mentioned the included band (which is a step-ladder type) could catch and come undone, so as soon as I ordered the Gear Fit, I went on eBay and found a metal band similar to the 3rd party one I had for the Fitbit, with a magnetic clasp. I have arthritis and this style makes it easy for me to adjust or take it off my wrist. I love the purple colour.

 

Gear Fit2 and other Fitness Software

 

Like Fitbit, the Gear Fit2 works well with other fitness tracking applications, and in some ways the integration (once I was able to work out what data gets sent where) is quite seamless.  It took a fair amount of tweaking and some help from a couple “bridging apps” to get the information where I wanted it and working smoothly.

Although not required to make use of the GF2, S Health, which is Samsung’s health app is more or less the glue that holds all the data from the smart watch and lets you view details of previous days, shows trends and pats you on the back when you reach goals. For years it was only available on Samsung phones but now it’s available for all newer Android phones and IOS as well (IOS6 and above).  S Health also interacts with several ‘Partner Apps’ such as MyFitnessPal, Under Armour, MapMyFitness and Withings.  As data can be synced between these apps it may take a bit to work out where you want the information to go.  I had some duplicated exercises for a few days while I figured it all out. It’s been worth the time spent as now when I use the fitness band to track exercise, whether using the inbuilt software or Under Armour’s app, the information goes to S Health and UA (plus any of the other apps that UA supports).  I’ll write more about how I’ve gone about syncing my data from S Health back to Fitbit and to other apps in a separate blog post. 

What any of the apps interpret the exercise done in one app and synced to another is a bit of potluck though. For example, I chose stationary bike in the GF2 Under Armour app and it was saved as ‘Other exercise’ in S Health. This happened even before I started using the GF2 though, so it’s just a feature of syncing between different fitness utilities. 

 

Quirks

 

There are a few oddities with the GF2 starting with the battery life, charging anomalies and the Do Not Disturb mode.  Battery life could definitely be improved.  I’ve been using it for a few weeks with the brightness at 5 (out of 10) and have just turned it down to see if that helps (it did). I have a fairly plain watch face, receive lots of notifications during the day and have only used the GPS once so far and don’t have it on all the time.  I get about a day and a half usage out of it.  On the bright side, it does charge fairly fast – no more than maybe an hour to get fully charged.

Charging the GF2Charging the Gear Fit2 the first time (it arrived with absolutely no power at all) was easy. Plugin the little dock, a little magnet on the dock holds the device against it.  The next time I went to charge it, the only way it would stay charging was if I held the dock upside down so the magnet made good contact. It’s been that way ever since. The only reason I knew to try that was because I saw a video review by someone who had the first version and had created a little ‘tree’ to hang the dock, and was pleased that it was the same type of dock so his invention could still be used.  I invented a different method. I put the dock in between a large clip to achieve the same end. Looks weird, but works.  I also found just using a bit of Blu Tack under the front of the dock to tip it back slightly also works, and keeps the dock from moving as well. 

I was a little surprised that the do not disturb mode didn’t automatically just use the times my phone is set for DND. Instead, you set this on the GF2 settings menu under ‘device’ and it’s a choice between setting days and times or just turning it on. The thing is, there are a lot of options in the settings menu where you would expect to find this option.  Each time I wanted to find it, I’ve had to look through each of the menu options in turn until I run into it again.

The other oddity with do not disturb mode is the fact when it’s engaged, the act of turning your wrist to see the clock face doesn’t work. You have to press either of the buttons to turn the screen on. This isn’t the behavior I expected. I thought it would just stop notifications from vibrating to alert me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it avoids the screen distracting me at night but needing to press a button to see the time still surprises me every night.

You should be able to get the Gear Fit2 wet without any problems. Such as when washing dishes, splashing or showering.  However, several people found that after their device got wet, suddenly they had really weird stats for how many floors they’d climbed in a day, and that effect lasted a while.  Apparently water effects the barometer which is what the GF2 uses to detect the number of floors climbed. Water makes it think you’ve climbed the Eiffel tower, is how I’ve interpreted the results that other people have seen.  

 

How I’m using the Gear Fit2

 

I’m not well.  I lost my streak of reaching my step goal for 561 days in a row a couple of months ago.  I have anemia with an iron deficiency.  Why the heck would I want a new Fitness app when I’m not at my best??  Well.  I should be able to ‘grow with it’, since it’s a lot like starting all over again.

My current step goal is down to only 2000 steps a day, and I’ve limited exercise to 10 minutes a day because if I over-do, I end up extremely fatigued and unable to do much of anything for a day or two. At this stage two of my mantras are ‘some is better than none at all’, and ‘slow and steady wins the race’.  A shiny new device has given me something to explore, a reason to try new things as long as it’s within my current ability, and most of all, hope towards better fitness days ahead.  

A couple of surprises for me with this new tracker is that because S Health is so well integrated with MyFitnessPal, I’ve been logging my meals more often, even though I’m doing it from the phone and not the GF2, this was a side effect of starting to use the S Health app.  I’ve also been logging cups of coffee and glasses of water because the feature is on the device and it’s kind of fun. Halloween watch face 

I have to admit, I’ve also enjoyed being able to change clock faces, just for fun.  Some faces are really complex where you can double tap on an object and have the widget it matches open (such as weather or the schedule).  My favourite is pretty basic with the information in different colours. Others like the one in the photo are purely artistic and for fun. The photo doesn’t do it justice at all.  I found this artist on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AussieWatchDesign/ and really enjoy some of the faces he comes up with.

 

Summary

 

This post has been a combination review, comparison and mostly a justification for why I left Fitbit behind and bought myself the Gear Fit 2 even though it’s been out for a year.  It does everything I need it to do for fitness tracking, plus it’s smart enough to show me all of the notifications I want, and interact with them too. I love knowing the Email I just received is either important or not – without doing anything extra other than glancing at my wrist. I wanted a smart fitness watch. I got it!  

 

Comparison Chart

FeatureGear Fit2Fitbit Ionic
StepsYesYes
DistanceYesYes
Calories BurnedYesYes
Floors ClimbedBarometerAltimeter
Heart RateEvery hour, on demand and during exerciseContinous
Silent AlarmYesYes
TimerYesNo
StopwatchYesYes
Track SwimsNoYes
Weather (AccuWeather)YesYes
Built-in GPSYesYes
Music PlayerYesYes
Connect to Bluetooth HeadphonesYesYes
Store Music on Device300 Songs2gb available storage space
3rd Party Music AppSpotifyPandora (USA only)
3rd Party Fitness App(s)Under Armour, MyFitnessPal, Endomondo, Skimble, Fit Revolution and moreStrava
3rd Party News AppNoFlipboard
3rd Party Automation Controller AppNoNest
Personal Coachingvia 3rd party appsBuilt in
Customisable Clock FacesYesYes
Payments via NFS chipNoYes
Multi-day Battery Usage2-3 Days or less5 Days
Water Resistant (can shower with it)Yes, but may cause problems with barometer and affect floor stats.Yes
Exercise Recognition after 10mins activityYesYes
Multi-Sport RecognitionYes. Walking, running, elliptical, rowing and dynamic workouts (selected sports)Yes. Walking, running, aerobics, elliptical, outdoor bike, sports, swimming
Relaxation / Guided BreathingNoYes
Reminders to MoveAll day. Triggers if no steps have been detected in the last 50 minutes.User selected times at 50mins after the hour, if 250 steps haven't been met in that time frame
Sleep TrackingSleep levels (light and motionless)Sleep Stages
Custom Phone App for DeviceGear Fit 2 App / S HealthFitbit App
Custom Dashboard on the WebNoFitbit Website
Caffeine / Water / Food IntakeYesNo
StarbucksNoN. America Only
Calendar / Schedule AppYesNo
NotificationsYes, Interactive. Reply to txts with preset messages. Can delete Emails.Yes, but not interactive.
Cost$170 (Australian)$449 (Australian)

I’ll have to iron this out the best I can

I wrote this on 7 October 2017 to post on my blog at sparkpeople.com.

About the 3rd week in August I woke up feeling dreadful. My tremors were the worst they’ve ever been, I had a migraine headache and was very tired. The first couple days I dragged myself around the house getting my 6k steps in 500 steps at a time as was my usual, but by the 3rd day, I just couldn’t. I managed to get 2k steps for a couple of days then fizzled out and did all of 659 steps on the 25th. I’m not sure when I went to see my GP, but she sent me for blood work that came back that my hemoglobin was low and my Ferritin score was rock bottom. I’ve been low on iron in the past, and know my body doesn’t absorb iron, so taking supplements will only cause other problems. I was able to get in touch with my usual gastrointestinal doctor that handles this problem, but he’s on leave until the 30th of October. The receptionist was able to get me scheduled for that day, so that’s good. I’ll probably need another iron transfusion, but probably not until he investigates why the change has occurred. Which means a colonoscopy, and other tests, and that means time waiting for appointments.

So meanwhile, I can do what I can, but need to rest when I run out of steam. And the hardest thing – not to push myself too hard and do more than I can handle.

For the last few weeks I’ve made my step goal 1600, and have gone past to 2k for two weeks now, so today I revised the goal to 2k. Today I also did two 500 step circuits around the house, about an hour apart without being totally worn out. That felt good – like a little bonus. It’s probably going to be a long time before I’m back to 6k steps a day, but I’ll get there eventually.

My next puzzle to figure out will be getting some mild strength training in, so my muscles and bones won’t completely disintegrate in the interim. This will likely need to be chair exercises, but I’ll research exercise for seniors to see what can be achieved.

Relearning the Exercise Diabetes Connection

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Sometimes I have to relearn things over and over again before it sinks in. This week, it was the fact that exercise really does help lower your glucose levels. I took a break from doing gym over the holidays and also, although I know it’s a dumb thing to do, took a break from diabetes for a couple of weeks. I didn’t monitor my glucose and ate lots of nice food. I only gained a kilo, so I didn’t go too overboard. But of course, when I started monitoring my levels again, it’s no surprise they were high, and they stayed up until I started back in the gym yesterday and today.

My before dinner and morning fasting glucose levels have been consistently around 8.0 (145) for the past two weeks – and these are my before meal readings! Yesterday I spent some time doing weight training and riding my exercise bike. Today I just rode the bike. I try to do strength work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and just cardio work on the days in between.

My first indication that I was getting back on track was my before dinner blood sugar reading was 5.3 (95) Tonight’s was 5.2. My fasting reading this morning was a very reasonable 6.6 (120). That’s the cool thing about exercise and diabetes. Its effects last far longer than the time spent sweating. I spent only about 20 minutes on the bike today but it was definitely worth it.

Striding Forward

Getting my steps

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for about three months now.  Last week, I celebrated six months of meeting my step goal every day.  Three months ago I was going to have a review of any changes that have taken place during that time, but now it’ll have to be at the six month mark. I’m OK with that.

 

So, besides finally really creating a habit of walking every day, what have I accomplished?  

 

The bad news is I haven’t lost much in the way of weight.  In November last year I was 97.6 kg and by mid February I was down to 90kg.  I started my current walking streak on the 28th of February, so I can’t really credit my streak with losing 7kg. And since then, my weight has fluctuated between 88 and 90 – mostly around the 90 mark.  I’m not feeling bad about that because I’d rather have a plateau than be gaining weight. It means I’m holding steady. Even though my weight hasn’t changed much, I’ve lost 4cm in my waist.  

 

Where the big changes have taken place has been my health.  I haven’t had a cold or flu in the last six months. The only ‘illness’ I’ve had is when I was hit in the face and body by the boot lid coming down on me on a super windy day and a weird viral infection in my eye.

 

Accu-Chek Glucose MeterMy glucose results have been the real winner.  In January, my usual readings after meals were in the high 8’s and 9’s with several over 10 mmol.  My last HBA1c test showed my overall glucose for the last 3 months down to 5.6, which is so much better for me.  My averages these days are in the 5’s, and I’ve had to keep an active eye on things to make sure my glucose doesn’t go too low now. In fact, we’ve reduced my medications twice now to balance it back to slightly higher (but normal) levels. Less medication. Wow!

 

Gym EquipmentAnother unforeseen bonus has been that I actually like gym days now.  I do several things in our home gym right after another and then ‘rest’ while walking 3 circuits around the house before doing the next set in the gym. Often by the end of my gym time, I’ve reached my 4200 step goal for the day.  

 

Awhile ago, Fitbit added a new thing where the app encourages you to get at least 250 steps every hour.  That’s not a lot, and not hard to do – 3 circuits around my house gives me about 300 steps. So when I’ve been at my desk and the clock tells me it’s at the top (or bottom) of the hour I go do my 3 trips around the house and come back a bit more refreshed. It also stops me from getting to stiff from sitting too long.  I’ve purposely kept my step goal low with the thought that it’s better to have an achievable goal than to set the bar so high I can’t hope to reach it.  I haven’t changed the goal because I’ve found that most days I tend to average more than this and that’s been thrilling to see.  The goal is 4200 but according to Fitbit my weekly averages are around 5,500 a day, and this seems to be on the increase. My other half has also helped a lot with a bit of friendly competition. He tries to catch up with my weekly step count or I try to catch up with his. Either way, we both win and are better for it in the long run.

My Fitbit with Medic Alert

I think my mental health has improved too.  In the past, my worst, most depressed days were when I’d just go to bed and not bother with anything for the whole day. I still have moments of being down but not as much as I had been over the last few years.

 

Not everything has changed. The osteoarthritis is still here, I still stiffen right up if I sit, stand or lay down for any length of time, I still have osteoporosis and my balance is still wobbly.  But it’s nice to have a few more things going right than wrong lately.

 

Last, I really must thank all the wonderful people who have encouraged me and ‘liked’ my Facebook and Twitter status post.  The Facebook posts are automatic when I reach my step goal for the day and the Twitter one is just the daily stats for the total amount each day.  Your encouragement and cheering me has made me smile, kept me going on the rough days and I can’t thank you enough for being there for me!

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