Picture this… Last night, Friday night. A quick pizza dinner with my two youngest cherubs and then rushing to get out the door and get them both to their volleyball games. Thankfully they were playing at the same place at the same time!
I was rushing up and down our stairs grabbing a jacket, scarf, beanie and my sheepskin lined boots to keep me warm. It is so cold sitting in those gyms through winter volleyball season and I’m a bit of a cold fish, I need layers!
I flung open my daughter’s door and gave her the hurry up as I flew out of our bedroom and past hers. I turned around and took my first step on to our stair case and then it happened…
I missed a step, and I tumbled down in a screaming heap!
Once I was on the way down, I could not stop myself. I had momentum. I think I even did a somersault.
I ended up at the bottom and smashed the back of my head on the balustrade. I screamed and rolled myself down the last two steps to the floor.
Hubby came running from the family room after hearing my screams. My daughter casually wandered out of her room to see what the noise was, and my son had no idea as his music was so loud in his room!
Phil was worried, as I couldn’t get myself up off the floor for a bit and had a bit of a cry. I was waiting for the blood to be pouring out of the back of my head after such a hard collision, but it seemed to be intact.
I was very concerned that I might have ruptured my implant in my reconstructed breast and had visions of the implant exploding inside and causing all kinds of dramas! Ok, so maybe that is a slight exageration, but the visual did flash through my mind!
I then thought I might have damaged my own boob that has just been operated on only two weeks ago. Not to mention I landed on my frozen shoulder that is almost fully recovered. I feared I had caused damage that would set me back and cause me to start recovery all over again.
There was a lot to check out! Thankfully, everything seemed to be in its place, there was no blood, and I could only feel that my shoulder was quite sore.
Now we were running late to get the kids to their games. Argh!
This was the second time I had a big fall down the stairs. And last time I was wearing the same boots! I was also rushing that day, to get everyone organised and out the door for a family event. That day, after I picked myself up I heard the very clear message “slow down” in my mind.
I am normally an energetic person. Always have been. My sister is the same, and we take after our Dad. Chemo slowed me down for a little while, and during my treatment I have learnt to be much more mindful. However, there are times when that need-for-speed behaviour can come out!
What a lesson the universe has given me!
That’s twice now, next time I might not be so lucky to escape without serious injury. I get it now…
Hubby and I were chatting about it this afternoon and he mentioned that he half expected me to not be breathing when he got to me. “People die like that you know”, he said!
Needless to say, today I have been quite sore in a few places. I had some new aches and pains, and a bit of a headache. But, I will be fine, and I think I am extremely lucky. Today I have been treading carefully!
From now on I will again be remembering to slow down. Physically, as well as mentally.
We should all slow down. We all need to be more mindful.
Would it have really mattered if we were a couple of minutes late? I don’t think so.
If we slow ourselves down, we lower our blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels. All of these biological barometers can contribute to health issues. Living life in the fast lane long term can contribute to serious illness. Trust me, I know.
So invest in your future healthy self, and SLOW DOWN!!
I have failed at my job, in business, as a parent, as a partner, a friend, and as an every-day person. Even more the point, I have failed at being a healthy every-day person.
But how lucky am I?
I am incredibly fortunate. Am I really a failure? I think not. None of us are.
I have failed, but I am not a failure.
I am a student.
I am a student of life.
I sit in my classroom, sometimes ready to answer back the teacher. Sometimes I don’t see the point of the lesson because I don’t want to sit there that day. I didn’t want to get out of bed, get dressed, and turn up to just sit at my desk for hours and be lectured to, or tested, or disciplined.
I would so much prefer to buck the system!
We are all individuals with different learning styles and different personalities. We encounter different classrooms with different teachers and peers. The subjects also change all the time.
Maybe this is just a stupid metaphor, but it relates, for me, to my life!
My point is, even though we have all these conditions, routines and challenges, it is up to us how we learn from them.
You are never going to know absolutely everything, about every subject or every relationship in your life.
Especially your relationship with yourself.
What kind of student are you? Are you the compliant, the rebel, or maybe the average?
Or are you the conscientious?
We all have a basic understanding of what all the descriptions of these “types” are, and we can all identify with one or more.
I think I have been all of the above throughout my life at different stages. Most of my schooling days I was an average student, but before my Mum died during my final year at school I was a bit of a rebel. I wanted to do things my way. There were many opportunities to learn lessons but I didn’t want to hear, or realise, that someone else’s way of looking at an issue just might have been the best way forward for me.
After Mum died I was still a rebel, still doing things my way, but much more compliant. Entering the workforce, studying, and my first relationship meant for me that through my experiences in life, I reacted to, and perceived situations how I thought I was meant to.
I remained compliant until towards the end of my first marriage when I figured out that being this kind of person really wasn’t leading me down the right path. But that is a whole other story for another blog on another day…!
During my mid 30’s I started to become much more “conscientious” in my life. I started to see and react to situations differently. I was waking up to the concept that I didn’t have to think and feel and behave a certain way just because everyone else did, or because I was told to.
I was still the ever learning student, but I had the power to take responsibility for my choices and make some changes. I started to do the work, do the study and really put in some effort.
I realised that by seeing the lesson for what it was, and knowing that I could do the work in creating change within myself, that I could change my path.
And I did. In a big way.
My new husband, Phil, would probably say I am a rebel! I can see the look on his face so clearly! I still also have the tendency to be compliant and I certainly have my average days, but mostly I am conscientious.
As I have been going through my Breast Cancer journey over the last two years, I have learnt so much.
I have been observing, listening, and increasing my awareness. I have also been doing the work.
I have still failed, many times. And I am sure I will continue to fail some more.
However, through some incredible people who are experts in teaching the curriculum of life, no matter what results I achieve, I am the most successful student I can be.
Which one have you been in the past, and which one do you prefer to be now after a few more years of being on this roller coaster called life?
None of us can progress through failure to achieve success, without being the student inbetween…
Give yourself the best chance at success, and allow yourself to fail. As one of my favourite quotes says:
“You can never lose, only win or learn.” Unknown
So good luck in your own classrooms. How you get along with your teachers will be up to you…
Chemotherapy is horrible. There is no other way to describe it, other than with my newly developed unofficial formula of C=MT…
Chemo is the equivalent of being hit by a Mack truck.
I am no scientist, nor am I medically trained, but I am certainly experienced. Unfortunately, many others are too.
After I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and went through my mastectomy surgery, Phil and I attended a long appointment with the surgeon to go through all treatment options. I only had the option of the public health system, but wow, I am eternally grateful that I did.
There was a team of doctors and nursing staff that spent an incredible amount of time reviewing my individual circumstances and deciding as a group what the best recommendations would be.
Treatment is different for everyone dependent upon their circumstances and type of cancer. No one person’s cancer is the same as anyone else’s. There is no ‘one size fits all’. It is an extremely complicated combination of surgery, chemo, radiotherapy and so on. For me, it was decided I would need all.
It is important to understand that I was given options every step of the way. I could choose any or all. It was up to me to decide what was best. Due to my age, family history and type of cancer, the surgeon advised that having the treatment would lower the general risk of recurrence in the next ten years from 60% down to 40%. The decision was easy for me.
I knew that my Mum did NOT have chemo after her mastectomy. Thirty five years ago, they believed they removed all trace of her cancer. They were so confident at the time, and their knowledge was very different back then. Maybe, if she had chemo, things may be have been different. I don’t dwell on that thought, but at times I do wonder about the ‘what if’.
I’m into all things natural and take care of myself with amazing natural supplements but I also wanted to commit to doing everything in my power to reduce the risk of recurrence as much as possible. Being faced with my own mortality, I made a decision that I might have otherwise thought differently about as an observer. Now I was becoming a participant.
In preparation, I had heart scans and blood tests. For some people, their heart can be permanently damaged and I was to be closely monitored and screened thoroughly.
Yes, chemo is anything but natural. Yes it is revoltingly toxic. But it is also very effective at mopping up any other cancer cells that may have possibly escaped and travelled through the lymph system to other areas. The downside is that it destroys good cells also.
There are many different types of chemotherapy. I never knew before, but every single person’s combination and dose of drugs is different. I had six rounds, every three weeks, and my drugs were designed to target any cancer cells still floating around that were fuelled by Estrogen. I had a toxic combination of three different drugs. Each chemo round cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Again, thank goodness for our public health system.
The infusion centre at the cancer clinic at Flinders hospital was full. They receive over forty new cases every week. Yes, you read that correctly, it is not a typo...
Scary isn’t it?
I am told that a well-known, local, working class southern suburb has the highest number of statistics. I won’t name it, I don’t want to freak anyone out. Apparently, the residents in that suburb are the most stressed as a population, in the southern suburbs.
Because the infusion unit at Flinders Medical Centre hospital was full, I was referred to the Repatriation Hospital here in Adelaide for my chemo treatments. And I am so grateful I received my treatment there. Those chemo nurses were absolutely amazing. Beautiful women who took the very best care of me and everyone else in that infusion unit. They made a scary experience much easier to cope with and all but held my hand through the whole journey. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that work, and they have my total admiration. All nurses do.
Before my first round of chemo, Phil and I attended an appointment with the cancer nurse at Flinders. She gave us all the information we needed as to what we could expect.
I was feeling invincible.
I was informed by the nurse that the Mack truck would hit me and knock me off my feet. I was told that I could be violently ill, experience constipation, diarrhea or both. I was told that I would definitely lose all my hair. I could lose my finger nails and or toe nails. My fingers and toes could go numb and feel like pins and needles. My skin could be severely irritated, dry, cracked or all three, particularly in delicate areas. Sex might be painful. My periods would probably stop, and should. If they continued, then that was a major problem. I could expect ringing in my ears, severe fatigue, loss of appetite, possible weight gain, loss of sleep, and I was at huge risk of picking up every bug going around because of my compromised immune system. They talked to us about chemo brain and that they don’t really know what causes it because apparently the drugs don’t affect the brain. I could expect to feel less mentally alert, confused, emotional, anxious and even angry throughout the course of treatment. I was also not permitted to work as that placed me at too high a risk of falling ill.
Phil was also told that he should not use the same toilet as me for the first seven days after each treatment. This was because the drugs would take that week to flush out of my system and he should reduce his risk of exposure. Being exposed to the drugs could potentially cause him to build up a resistance to them, which would not be good if he ever needed them in the future.
I was still feeling invincible.
I remember so clearly saying to the nurse, …”I am fit and healthy, I am strong and should get through this no problems. I never get sick, so I will be fine. You can’t keep me down for long”.
Little did I know at that point that my Wonder Woman superhero tendencies were about to take a severe beating.
I had five months to get through. I knew it would go fast, but I also knew I couldn’t wish that time away and I still needed to walk every step, of each of the days, through those five months.
I had been given four weeks to recover from my surgery and they wanted to start as quickly as possible. We were caught off guard a bit thinking we had six weeks before I had to start. My eldest son was in the middle of Year 12 final exams and was about to turn 18. He really didn’t need the added pressure and worry. For a long time I felt guilty as a mum that I couldn’t fully support him during that time. It had been a tough year for him already.
My guilt soon turned to pride. I have deliberately raised my kids to be resilient, independent and self-reliant. He demonstrated all of those attributes, stepped up and did what he needed to do. It was tough, and he felt the pressure, but he absolutely did his best and I am amazed at how he got himself through.
The first day had arrived. It was a Thursday. I felt mixed emotions. Phil felt apprehensive, but was as positive and supportive as usual. I’m sure he was as terrified as I was, but he didn’t want to tell me.
We initially expected to be at the hospital for about three hours and spent our time chatting about picking the kids up from school, what was for dinner, and other normal family conversation. We had a ‘just get on with it’ kind of attitude and wanted the day to be over as quickly as possible. We didn’t know how I was going to be affected and were open-minded with our expectations.
We were more concerned with the fact that because the first treatment was scheduled much earlier than expected, my Son’s birthday celebrations were being held a few days away and we needed to consider possibly cancelling. I insisted that the party go ahead and I would be positioning myself on the lounge! I didn’t want my Son to be affected even more than he already had been.
Upon arriving at the infusion unit we had a long wait. We had to see the Oncologist beforehand, to make sure that he was happy with my blood tests that I had the day before. I filled out the obligatory paperwork. So much paperwork, everywhere we went. We chatted to one of the nurses and then she asked me how I was feeling.
That was when I felt the fear. And I cried.
We then needed to wait for the Pharmacist to make the drugs. Because every person’s cocktail is different, they don’t store the concoction but make it as it is needed.
The unit was very busy that day and we waited three hours for the drugs to arrive. We thought we might be finished by this time, and here we were just beginning.
I was hooked up with an intravenous line in my right arm. I can’t use my left arm at all anymore for bloods, lines, blood pressure and so on because of the increased risk of Lymphedema after surgery.
The chemo drugs needed to be administered one at a time. They connected up the machine ready to go after putting on gowns, masks and gloves. This was very confronting for us, but for the same reasons Phil was told not to use the same toilet as me, the same goes for the nurses handling the drugs. They have a much greater risk of exposure through their contact with patients.
I can’t even remember the long scientific names of all the drugs, but I do remember the first one was bright red. It took about twenty minutes to get through the bag hanging on the hook. The nurse sat with me for the first few minutes, which is apparently necessary procedure. She was watching for any reaction I may have had in the first few minutes. She was also keeping a close eye on my veins.
All was going well, and then I was ready for the changeover to the next drug.
I was not prepared for what happened next.
Those first few minutes while the nurse sat with me I was fine. It was after she walked away when everything changed.
My heart started racing, my body quickly felt extremely hot and I was bright red from my toes up to the top of my head. It happened so quickly. I remember saying …”wow, this stuff packs a punch…”
All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe.
The nurses came running from everywhere. They drew the curtain, to either give me privacy or not scare the other patients, or both… I’m not sure which.
They turned the machine off to stop the drug and gave me a quick dose of steroids. They hooked me up to an ECG to check my heart, and put an oxygen mask on my face. Phil had been sitting next to me when it happened and it all unfolded in front of him. He did not know what to do. It was terrifying for me to experience it, let alone him watching it.
Thankfully, the steroids worked quickly. I could breathe easily, my heart rate slowed, my blood pressure started to come down and the lobster redness subsided.
They monitored me closely for some time while talking us through what had happened. I had a reaction. For me, the only way I can describe it is to say it was like an anaphylactic reaction. I was lucky that they were right there beside me. Apparently that kind of reaction is not common, but does happen. Most people recover after and can continue with treatment, like me. But apparently, occasionally, some don’t live through it to tell the tale.
I still needed to have the rest of that drug. Thankfully the steroids avoided any further reaction and I continued on as planned. It would also mean that I needed that dose of steroids before each round of treatment from then on.
The rest of the day was uneventful, but it was long.
We were at the infusion unit for six hours. We were both cared for, fed and watered. And when it came time to leave, we were both shattered.
We said our goodbyes, checked our appointments for the next round in three weeks time and made our way home to go back to normal life and be parents.
That Thursday night I felt fine. The next day, I got up and drove my kids to school. I was feeling great.
By Friday night I was going downhill quickly.
I went to bed Friday night, and that is where I stayed until Sunday.
The Mack truck had hit, and it was hell.
We all know the feeling of suffering through a serious flu and being bed ridden, not able to function. That’s probably the only way I can think to describe it… but magnify that feeling by about ten fold.
What was surprising, however, was that I never suffered with nausea or vomiting. Not once. That alone made it so much easier to cope with. I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I hadn’t been well. Thankfully, my Oncologist had agreed that I could continue to take my natural supplements through treatment and they made all the difference.
I got out of bed on the Sunday morning, managed to have a shower without passing out, and spent the day on the lounge with our family around us to celebrate my Son’s 18th birthday. I couldn’t do anything, but I didn’t need to. Our beautiful family rallied around and took care of everything. I spent the day drifting in and out of sleep.
I spent several more days enduring that Mack truck state. I felt weak, it was difficult to breathe properly, and small activities would exhaust me quickly. I spent a week like that, was a little better in the second week and then the third week I picked up again and needed to prepare for round two.
Each subsequent round of chemo was different. Some hit me harder than others. It was such a difficult time and I couldn’t function for much of it.
Round two occurred on Christmas Eve. Again, I felt well that night, and I got through Christmas Day and then the Mack truck hit again. It hit harder than the first time.
I had lost all my hair by this time, all over my body. It was difficult, but I had to accept it.
After my next round my veins in my right arm collapsed and I needed to have a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line put in. This means that they insert a thin tube into a large vein in your arm and feed it through to the heart. It meant that further damage to my veins could be avoided. As a result of the damage to my veins before the PICC line was put in, I don’t have too many spots left that I can have blood taken. Even now, I am often left bruised after several attempts with needles being inserted all over the place!
Because my treatment continued through the summer months, our kids didn’t have the chance to enjoy their school holidays like they normally would have. I spent a lot of that time either in bed, or on the lounge.
Those times were hard. And there were several days when I felt like I could not go on. I remember thinking ‘just take me now’, because it seemed it would be better that way. But… I could fall in a heap and feel sorry for myself, or I could rise and be brave.
Phil and I were so fortunate to have some wonderful friends and family who cooked for us and grocery shopped for us.
We would not have got through without that support.
Through this time, we really saw how wonderful the human spirit can be. Those people in our lives, who gave of themselves so much, made a very big difference in our lives and our children’s lives.
We are forever grateful to those people. You know who you are!
Chemo is long finished now. I was discharged by the Oncologist not long after my treatment ended.
I am in remission.
But, the aftermath is lasting. I have many side effects now that I live with every day that people don’t see. My body is forever changed in so many ways.
The tips of my fingers and toes are numb. My eyesight has deteriorated and needs to be monitored each year. I have a permanently runny nose. I experience ringing in my ears. I still get confused and have lost the ability to mentally plan and organise. I now heavily rely on writing lists, using a physical diary and I need to schedule reminders in my phone. Sometimes I can’t get my words out. I know what word needs to come out, but my mouth doesn’t work. My short term memory has suffered and I have begun menopause. I sometimes wake several times during the night, and in a pool of sweat. I also need to take medication for up to ten years.
However, I have learnt to manage those issues and continue to rebuild my strength. It could still take some time for my cognitive function to improve, and other side effects will be with me forever. I have adapted and accepted that I need to do some things differently than I did before chemo.
My new challenges do not stop me from working, running a successful business, walking along my favourite beach, or functioning as a mum, wife, friend or sister. I may need a bit more time to myself, a bit more down time, and time to move slower, but I can still do almost anything I want to. And I want to…
I am a warrior. I am a survivor, and I am brave. I have a second chance, and I will not be wasting it…
Are you like me, and sometimes make promises to yourself that you don’t or can’t keep? You know, the whole New Year’s resolution scenario that we always have the intention of sticking to but never do?
We like to promise to ourselves that we will eat better, exercise more, spend less, drink less, get healthy and so on. The list can be endless and unless we can be super stoic, totally driven and enthusiastic we can soon be consumed by life, and that one bad day can be our undoing.
So how about considering going deeper? What if you could actually think about what you really want for yourself and make a commitment to doing things differently? It actually is not difficult to do. It just starts with a decision and reminding yourself of your new habit until it comes naturally.
In my experience through my journey, change has come from focusing on how I want to feel. Yes I want to eat healthier, exercise more and so on, but that all flows naturally when I’m feeling good. It really is very simple. You just do something for yourself that makes you happy. And do more of it, as often as possible. My thing is walking on the beach. It instantly lifts me, so I do it as many times during the week as I can and it keeps me in that happy place. It is now a priority and I make time for myself to fit it in.
So back to promises.
We have those that are practical, and those that are on a constitutional level. By that I mean our system. Our internal guidance system that we rely on to make decisions.
And to go to this deeper level, we need to set intentions. They are different from promises.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of a promise, is “A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen”.
The definition of an intention, is “A thing intended; an aim or plan”. So what’s the difference? I believe that a promise is the outcome of something you want, and the intention is how you will work towards it.
This all came up for me in recent months because of a beautiful friend, Bec, who organised an amazing gathering on our local beach for a group of women over the Easter weekend. We sat together on the sand and were guided through a meditation by our amazing local mentor, Miriam. We then went through a grounding yoga sequence with the fabulous and all-knowing yogi, Dawn, and then Bec taught us a powerful intention setting ritual*. The idea was to set some intentions for ourselves going into winter that we can follow through, in the spirit of self-love. We sat with a partner and a piece of string each. We made a knot in the string and stated our intention. Our partner then repeated our intention and also made a knot, then did their own.
I set four intentions for myself that day.
Those four intentions go around in my head daily. I wear my string on my wrist to remind me of their power. They keep me on course, reminding me how I want to constitutionally shine from within and live my life going forward into the future. At the time, I didn’t realise how they would become connected to a promise.
My life has been forced into change. Through my illness and recovery I have been given an opportunity to do things differently. I could choose to be the same person I was before I was diagnosed, but that won’t serve me. I can choose to react the same to situations as I did before, but that won’t serve me either. I see it so clearly now, but it wasn’t always that way.
For twenty years I have allowed certain situations to affect me. In addition to grieving for my mum, there have been other significant events in my life that have been very stressful and emotional. I can sit here and say that none of it was my fault and completely void myself of any responsibility but the fact is that I played a part. How I have chosen to react to those situations has completely enabled them.
We can’t just turn off our feelings when something happens that upsets us. But we can control our own behaviour and either choose to enter into the emotion of a situation and cause it to escalate, or rise above it, not take it on board, and break the momentum.
Even though I have learnt much over the last eighteen months, I’m certainly not perfect and in a moment of weakness recently I completely entered into a situation that I certainly would normally know better not to. I became so overwhelmed at my own emotions through the situation that it was affecting me day to day. I took it personally.
To process it, I needed to go to my happy place. I needed a hug, a chat, a coffee, comfort food and the beach. I spent the day with my wise, insightful and loving friend Bec. We walked and chatted for hours. I offloaded. We talked it through. I felt angry at myself and frustrated because I could not understand why this was happening. And then Bec gave me an a-ha moment.
She said to me, …”you’re not taking this shit into your success and you’re being forced to process it now”…
The absolute revelation at hearing this nearly knocked me over!
It was so blindingly obvious but I had allowed myself to be so consumed by my own emotions that I could not see the lesson that had presented itself.
The immediate sense of relief I felt was incredible. I let all the frustration go, then and there. I finally got it! There is no way that I am going to take this behaviour forward with me into the future.
And that day I made a promise to myself…
“I am stepping into my success and leaving behind all that doesn’t serve me.”
Together with my intentions, my promise to myself also now goes around in my mind daily. It also reminds me that I am making a commitment to myself to do things differently. To approach life differently and create new patterns of behaviour.
I have gone deeper with my intentions and promise. They have come from within and I am honouring them.
I have not been through all I have to come out the other side and be ordinary.
I am sure that my intentions and promises for myself will change from time to time, but they will now remain part of my daily life. An important part. We need to be kind to ourselves during times of change and I believe that setting up a framework for ourselves through this way can help us succeed.
Through change we achieve growth, and through growth we step into our personal power and find our success.
What are your intentions and promises to yourself? I encourage you to give it a try. You have nothing to lose, afterall, only much to gain…
*If you are interested to find out more about the fabulous Bec and all that she is about, or if you would like to join us on the beach next time, check her out at her Balanced Becca page. She’s pretty amazing and is currently developing some workshops that will help change lives, like her friendship has changed mine. Big love for this chick!
As I sit here, at your spot in the cemetery the day before Mother’s Day, the only tangible place I can visit you, I wonder…
I was 16 when you died, and you were 46. I am that age now. I wonder what it was like for you to be that age and be my Mum. I wonder if you felt the same emotions that I feel. I wonder if you felt the same fears, hopes and dreams for my sister and I that I feel for our own children.
I wonder if you think I’m a good mum. I wonder if we are similar in any or many ways.
I wonder what our conversations would be about if you were still here. I wonder if we would spend mother daughter time together meeting for coffee, lunches and shopping trips.
I wonder how easy it may or may not be to sit without judgement of decisions I have made. I wonder if you can see what is coming but have to keep the secret for yourself.
I wonder if you and Nanna take care of each other up there. How could we have known you would both be gone so close together? I guess you are meant to be together in death as you were in life.
I know you see me. I know you hear me. I know you walk beside me and I know you guide me.
I can hear you whisper in my ear, “be strong, keep going, it is always alright”. I wonder who whispered in your ear while you battled for those five long years. I wonder why you’re not here.
I received your message. This is all meant to be. I have had to face my own battle and survived. I am meant to be here, to do whatever it is you want me to do. Whatever it is that I am destined to do, to bring to the world, I do it now.
As I sit here in your beautiful rose garden feeling closer to you than ever before, I write. The fountain is trickling gently. The birds are calling to each other and the sun is shining. The ants are still here too! It is peaceful. Busy, but peaceful. I do, however, have your section all to myself.
I brought coffee, my notebook and your favourite red roses. I am ready for you to say whatever you need to say. I am your voice.
While I write, I remember it took me nine years to visit this place for the first time. Little sis brought me and lovingly held my hand. I don’t know why it took so long, but I just couldn’t bear the painful reminder.
As I sit here and shed a few tears, I try to remember the good times. I want to remember. Many of these memories have faded. I struggle to think of times we shared before you got sick.
What I do remember is that you had beautiful grace and poise. You were gentle and kind. You would have given us the world if you could.
Right now, I hear you say ” be sunshine on a rainy day”. I will. I will shine bright when others can’t. And I know you will help me.
My coffee is now empty, the sun has gone behind the clouds and it is time to go home. I came here today to show you my love. Your roses will stay here for all to see. They will stay until we replace them.
Every day I think of you. Every day I hear you. Every day I see you… And every day, I love you.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mum… All my love, your Daughter xxxx
I love that you wear your PJ’s all day. I love that you have crazy, wild hair.
I love that you take me to my place of zen. I love that you teach me to do things differently.
I love that you trust me to share your vulnerability. I love that you cry with me. I love your generosity.
I love that no matter how much time passes, its always familiar. I love your imperfections. I love your beauty. I love your struggles.
I love the resounding “f you” to the negatives. I love your triumphs over adversity. I love the words you share with me. I love that you know me. I love that you know yourself. I love that you accept me as I am.
I love that you share your stories with me. I love that you know I won’t judge you. I love that you don’t judge me. I love that you don’t give a crap what people think. I love your personal power.
Going through Breast Cancer has been incredibly tough on my husband. He has been my rock throughout all of it. We have been tested and pushed to our limits at times but we know we are stronger for it. It has been hard for Phil to watch all that I have endured and feel like he couldn’t make it all okay. He has been to every appointment, every treatment, sat by my bedside through every surgery and supported me endlessly.
We have had some difficult moments through our journey. Some days have been hard to get through, and we have just had to hold on to each other. A lot of the time we have had to lift each other up, although probably more for my sake. I have been down that rabbit hole more than a few times.
The rawest moment for us was the day that symbolically, through one necessary act, everything became very real.
My body went through many physical changes very quickly and to think of it all now seems a bit of a blur. It was all very confronting, but at the same time, ironically, has taught me the most about myself.
When I was diagnosed I had long hair, was fit, active and strong. I always felt confident and secure within myself, but always wanted to lose more weight, exercise harder, lift heavier weights, bla bla bla…
Breast Cancer taught me to truly accept myself as I am.
After my mastectomy surgery I had a couple of weeks to recover before I started chemo. It was brutal. I can’t even describe how it felt except to say it felt like being hit by a “Mack Truck”. The physical changes started soon after.
It took two weeks for my hair to start to fall out on my head. That’s how long it took for all those toxic chemicals to kill all the hair follicles. I remember the day I grabbed a clump of hair in my hands and the feeling of it ‘sliding’ out of my head. It wasn’t the sharp little pain you normally feel when pulling out a single hair, this was’t painful at all. It had no resistance, it just came out.
I couldn’t stop pulling it out after that. It was such a strange sensation and became a new habit. I pulled out so much of it that I had created patches of baldness which were then noticeable and I decided it was time to clipper it off.
Phil, the girls and I finally chose the day to visit my beautiful hairdresser and friend to do it and I just wanted it over with. Six months before, she had styled my long hair for our wedding. It was a difficult day and we all cried together.
It was a confronting moment. It was real.
The next day, my beautiful eldest boy went and had his head shaved also to show his support. We were all experiencing it together.
Even after that the stubble fell out all the time. Every day in the shower I would rub my head and it would keep coming out. It was as if Phil had shaved and left whiskers everywhere. They were all over my pillow, clothes and car seat. They were itchy and annoying. I put up with that for about a week and then decided I had had enough.
I decided I needed to shave my head with a razor.
It was a Sunday morning, I got up and went into the bathroom. Phil was still asleep and didn’t know what I was doing.
I looked in the mirror and thought it was finally time. I could either fall in a heap and feel sorry for myself, or I could just do what I needed to do and get on with it. I wanted to do it alone and get it over with as quick as possible.
As I awkwardly soaped up my head and grabbed the razor I realised that I was going to struggle to do it by myself. It was unfamiliar and actually quite difficult. I couldn’t see the back, let alone manouvre the razor without cutting myself. I needed to ask Phil to help me.
I woke him still with soap everywhere, and after the shock of the visual when he opened his eyes he got up and followed me into our bathroom.
He stood behind me, razor in hand. Slowly and gently, he finished shaving the back of my head as we cried together and stood there with the realisation of the situation. It was a defining moment.
I never thought that would be something I would ever have to ask my husband to do for me. It was my most vulnerable moment, and the most raw moment of our relationship.
Before I lost my hair it was long, about boob length! It was a strange realisation that they almost kind of related to one another in a symbolic way. They were both gone.
I found my own beauty in the days to follow. It took losing a boob and all my hair to learn to truly accept myself, my body and my strength. I finally surrendered to my situation and acknowledged that it was okay to allow myself to be vulnerable.
I didn’t bother getting a wig, I didn’t see the point. I just figured that if I could accept myself as I was, everyone else would too. My kids and my husband walked beside me wherever we went. And to my surprise, not many people even shot me a glance!
Going forward a year and I have hair now. I’m glad it’s back. It was cold in winter! It is also nice to be a bit more ‘normal’. It will be quite a wait for it to grow longer, but that’s ok.
Phil has encouraged me through all my different looks! I am impatient and keep changing my hairstyle as it grows so that I can feel like it is making progress. Who knows what I will do next time I get my hair done. I do love the adventure!
And as for my husband? He still endlessly supports me. We still have difficult days but we are finding our way back to laughter. I am a lucky girl, and eternally grateful that he is mine…
It feels only logical to tell my story in the order of events. Not to dwell on the trauma but to move through it. I am sensitive to the feelings of those around me who have experienced this journey with me and the fact that they are all processing their own emotions.
Our children, particularly, have had much to deal with. They have been incredibly brave and we are immensely proud of the way they have shown strength and resilience beyond their years.
As parents we all want to protect our children from the harshness that can sometimes be life. We know through our own experiences what they may be faced with as they grow up. It seems cruel for children to go through events that are hard enough to process as an adult. They don’t have the neurological wiring to go through the emotional journey the same as we, their parents, do.
Phil and I have not encouraged any of our kids to read my blog. They know about it and support me but at the same time they don’t want to relive the sadness, which I completely understand. They will read it when they are ready.
The saddest day of my breast cancer journey was the day we told the kids. This story is about them…
Picking up from my second blog “The Day I Asked the Loaded Question…”, I found out my diagnosis on Friday 15th October, 2015. We had no idea what my situation was at this point and had to get through the agonising wait until the follow up with my GP on the Monday. We decided not to tell the kids until we knew more about what we were faced with so that we could give them the facts and try not to confuse them any more than we knew they already would be. I picked the kids up that Friday afternoon and we went about our night acting as normal as we could. They never knew why my beautiful best friend came to visit with wine and flowers, or why we sat on my bed for hours talking and crying together.
On the Monday I had my appointment with my GP to follow up the results from the biopsy. The official report still wasn’t through in time but we went ahead and organised the referral and appointment to see the surgeon. Thankfully, a lovely lady (who I will always be very grateful to, and she knows who she is) was able to fit me in the next day, Tuesday, to review the results and find out my options for a medical plan. We had a very long conversation and went through all the details of the type of breast cancer I had and options for surgery and treatment.
The first step was to have bone scans to check if the cancer had spread.
The next twenty four hours were the scariest in my life.
After the appointment with the surgeon on Tuesday we decided to collect my children early from school and sit them down and give them the news. We felt that we couldn’t leave it any longer, they needed to know.
I felt sick.
All the memories of my Dad giving me the news about Mum came flooding back. I knew how this was going to feel for them to hear what we were about to tell them.
We picked up the two younger ones and got a message to the eldest one to leave school and meet us at home as soon as possible. They knew something was up and would not stop asking questions. They asked if it was “something bad” because they knew that in our family, when we have a “family meeting” it usually means there is something big to say.
It was an unsettling, awkward few minutes in anticipation of how I knew their world was about to turn upside down.
We all sat down in the lounge together and I said to them…
“I have a lump in my boob.”
They…were…shattered. And we were heartbroken watching them be consumed by shock and despair.
We all cried together. For the first time in my children’s lives, I had no idea how to help them. I wanted to take their pain away and make everything okay but I just couldn’t. Their first reaction was of the fear that the same would happen to me as had happened to my Mum and Grandmother. They knew that story and it had just become very real for them.
Phil and I didn’t have many answers for their questions, we still didn’t really know what was happening ourselves. We were still waiting on blood screening results to come through and I was scheduled for the bone scan the next day. We didn’t tell them about that appointment, they had enough to think about already.
And then something amazing happened.
Amidst the fear, sadness and shock we all felt, one by one the kids were all able to say to us that they felt that everything would be okay. Phil and I also had a knowing that I would survive and get through, and here were my children all saying the same. Somehow, we were all able to see past the trauma of the situation and understand that even though there was a big scary journey ahead everything really was going to be fine.
The next morning my kids got up, as normal, and went to school. I gave them the option to stay home but they just wanted to do what was normal for them and have their support network of their friends around them. I know I have brought up my kids to be independent and strong but I did not expect them to be so incredibly stoic. There was much to process, and maybe there was an element of denial, but keeping their routine as “normal” as possible was a high priority and showed us that was what they needed as part of their ability to cope.
A couple of days after telling my kids, we then had to go through it all again and tell Phil’s kids. Again, we had to turn our family life upside down with fear and uncertainty. Again, we cried many tears together as we slowly explained what was going to happen next and what they could expect.
Our children have certainly had difficult times throughout my journey. But they have drawn strength from each other, our families and close friends. They have been able to support each other through times like school holidays when family time should have been filled with fun activities and laughter. For all that time, while I went through chemo, we rarely ventured out. There were many weekends that I spent in bed and I wouldn’t see them during the day. It was very confronting for them to see all that they have. But they rallied together, carried on with life, accepted the situation and still managed to laugh along the way.
We have all had our wobbly moments emotionally. And there have been the normal pressures of life, parenting, school, finances and even just getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other.
To watch the kids move through this life education has been an incredible journey in itself. They have been patient, understanding, empathetic and strong. Qualities that many adults struggle to display! This life experience has changed them, and who knows, maybe their future lives too. To be aware and live life through those qualities shows me that these amazing little humans have much to look forward to.