Pieces of Me

Bits and pieces of my life and of my heart.


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And then it was 3.

I am 3 years cancer free today. 3 years post what has to be the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. 3 years since the debilitation that was the surgeries and the toxins, the exhaustion and the fear. When I was sick I worried that I wouldn’t make it past 3 months, let alone 3 years so I am happy today. Quietly grateful. Respectful of those who have not been so lucky, and of those who are still in the midst of their own personal hell.
It can be tricky, this “after cancer” business. There is little to prepare oneself for how it feels, how it fits, how it confuses, how it requires us to hang on for dear life until the boat stops rocking. This does not happen immediately after the first clear scan. At least for me, this was not the case. I was caught in the middle of joy and panic, relief and fear, love and hate, admiration and envy. It is a tough place to be.
Expectations of others weighed heavily on me. Everyone has been touched by this disease. I defy you to find someone who hasn’t. Some of us live and some of us don’t. The weight of other people’s loss, for me, was huge. Guilt was strong in me. Survivors guilt, if you will. Navigating feelings of fear and loss, of anger and frustration was challenging for fear of being thought of as selfish for not being more grateful for having survived something that not all of us do. Who do you tell when you feel this way? What do you say without sounding ungrateful?
This was my permanent state of being for at least 18 months after this day 3 years ago. I felt like a horrible person. Of course I was happy, relived, grateful. Of course I knew others had not been so lucky but I was also scared, angry, lost, confused, my body recovering from the onslaught of abuse this disease requires to survive, and I have to say, it was the loneliest of times.
The good news about the passing of years is that it takes a lot of these feelings and makes them smaller, more manageable, easier to navigate. The fear lessens, the anger too. You have days that you do not think of your cancer, then these days can turn into a week, sometimes two or three at time. It is the loveliest realisation to have, these “forgetting your cancer” periods. They make you smile, feel fearless, grateful, blessed. You realise you are making plans again, about your life, your happiness and it feels good. Boy, does it feel good.
I spent the weekend with someone I love doing things that I love to do. I surfed, I swam, I ate, I drank. I tried oysters for the first time and met new people. All new things, new experiences. I had moments being rocked by the most unbelievable feelings of gratitude and joy. I made it.
I made it through the loneliest place on earth and I am finally feeling like I am back home where I belong. I am a different me, a more bloody tired me, but hey, I am here. I am here and I am present and I am loved and I am happy. I am so deeply grateful for getting the chance to keep on living and I plan to allow myself be reminded of this each and every day.
Happy 3 years cancer free day to Me.

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Bonnie and Clyde.

When I was sick with cancer I had this fear that took up residence inside of me. This fear kept me awake at night for months not being able to sleep without the light on. I couldn’t breathe. My heart would beat wildly and I would allow my mind go to the places that none of us like to visit. What if I died? Who would love my boy? Would I be missed? Have I been happy in my life, really happy?
The further I got from my first all clear scan, the less I felt this fear. Life is good that way. Time does heals most things, you just have to wait it out.

Last night this fear returned. Full force. My heart is still racing, my light is still on and I feel vulnerable. My sleep was broken, my dreams scattered and as much as I love to run, I just cannot make my legs work.

Fear is a bitch. Anxiety too. Together they are like the Bonnie and Clyde of my feelings. All go, all passion, driven, focused, never giving in. Even in the light of day they stay, taunting me, laughing at me, filling my head with all kinds of nonsense.

When I was sick I wrote. Blog after blog. It was the only way that I could calm myself, purge myself, help myself. After I was sick life happened and I needed this purging less and less. Why is it now that this fear returns? Someone close to me is sick. Sick how I was sick. Maybe her fear is becoming mine? Maybe the all clear bubble has burst? Maybe this is normal? (God, I pray to be normal, whatever that means). Last night sucked. It sucked big. My Bonnie and Clyde causing all sorts of trouble. To me, to my head, my heart, my soul. “Just breathe”, I keep telling myself. Whatever you do don’t forget to breathe…

Writing helps. My heart beats a little slower. Breathing too, it calms the nerves. I know exactly what it is I am afraid of. I have always known. Maybe a post for another day. Today I just want to ease the fear. Today I wish it to take a back seat so that I can be loving, kind and patient with those I love. I wish to get the most out of my day, and somehow get these legs of mine to work so I can do the best thing I know to rid myself of these feelings. I need to run. I need to move. I have been able to outsmart Bonnie and Clyde before. Why not today?


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Nothing changes if nothing changes. Part 2.

I was asked to write a piece for my personal trainer about how exercise helps my mental health.

This is what I wrote.

Let me be completely honest here. Fitness and I do not go together like wine and cheese, chocolate and ice cream, women and shoes. If I had my way I would happily sit on my ass all day everyday and eat copious amounts of said chocolate and ice cream, and wash it down with heaps of wine. Honestly, I would. I find exercise of any kind a huge mountain to climb, and finding the motivation to get myself to the gym, somedays, hard to come by.

I discovered running in my early 30’s. I had given birth to my only son and my weight sky rocketed. I really took the term, “eating for two”, quite literally. I felt horrible about myself, nothing fit me and I found myself preferring to stay locked up at home out of fear of what other people thought of my weight gain, than venture out. My self esteem took a massive hit and I felt sad most of the time.
Queue the running. My cousin had taken it up the year before my son was born and she looked fantastic. I am not just talking about the size of her waist but everything about her glowed. Like she had been lit up by sunshine from the inside out and I was desperately attracted to that. I figured if she got that way by running then what would be the harm in trying it out for myself.
I started to run. Small runs at first, then I ran some more, all the way to a full marathon 10 months later and I felt fanbloodytastic! Honestly, I felt like Super Woman. My self esteem rose along with my weight loss and how I felt about everything changed completely. My mood was one of happiness. My PMT barely made a dent in me and I handled stressful situations a lot better than I had done before I ran. I had found my “happy” again, and so I kept on running. There wasn’t much that I couldn’t solve while running. Even when it was the very last thing on the planet that I felt like doing, I was always glad that I ran. What is it that Catalyst says? 
“I really regret that workout “. Said no one. Ever.
3 years ago I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. Talk about life coming up and hitting you right between the eyes. My whole world stopped. Life as I knew it changed as I got busy trying to rid myself of my disease. This included two lots of surgery to have my thyroid removed, along with pituitary glands and lymph nodes, quickly followed by radioactive isolation treatment and weeks on end off the drug that mimics the function of my thyroid. 
I felt like crap. I was unable to run or do exercise of any kind and all my “happy” went away. It really was the hardest of times made all the more challenging by the lack of exercise in my life. But, the hard times were all worth it when in May of 2012 all that my body had been put through paid off and I had my first cancer free scan. No more cancer. It was a great day. I am now 19 months cancer free and most days I am grateful for this.
I know, most days doesn’t seem enough. Ungrateful even, but to do this piece justice then the ingratitude must be acknowledged because this is where the struggle to motivate myself to get back to my running and back to the gym lies. I thought I found motivating myself was hard before my illness but it is nothing compared to the level of how I feel it is these days. I could sit back and blame my illness or the lack of a thyroid on my complacency but that would be rubbish, because I am here, I survived and I am well able to get myself to the gym if I really want to.
This is why the amazing staff at Catalyst gym play such an important role in my road back to my happiness and why I need them so much. From the first day that I started there back in April there has not been a visit that has not gone by without Tiernan or Dan or Lisa championing me in some way. Their knowledge and commitment to what they do inspires me to be better. Be healthier. Be happier.
I have been having a hard time lately. I go through bouts of exhaustion that are hard to describe. I am told they are all part of my recovery and that they will pass but I get impatient, and with the impatience comes the real need to sit at home, eat bucket loads of ice cream and allow the sadness to take over. I have struggled with this a lot this past year. Sometimes I go missing from the gym for weeks at a time unable to find the motivation to want to be there but Lisa is always there, no matter what. She isn’t pushy or cross with my absence. She is patient, always with a kind word, an encouraging message on FaceBook and always inviting me to come back, even if it’s just for a chat, which recently I did and things are beginning to lift again. We have had a great amount of conversations during our PT sessions about the link between exercise and mental health. I know for sure after all that I have been through that my life works more effectively when I move my body in some way. Even on the days that I have cried to Lisa during our sessions out of pure sadness and desperation, that feeling of satisfaction that comes afterwards nobody could put a price on. I cannot think of any other thing that I do in my life that makes me feel as good as exercising makes me feel. No. Not even that! 😉
One of my most favourite sayings in life is, “Nothing changes if nothing changes”. If I don’t fight my urge to stay at home and eat then with it will come the sadness and frustration and nothing will change. I won’t find my happiness there. The only way I know how to be happy is to run and let Lisa pound me in the gym! Even on the days when the last thing in the world I want to do is show up for one of our sessions, the effort that it takes to talk myself into getting myself there is always, always better than staying at home and doing nothing at all. And at least I know that I am one step closer to being healthier  and happier having made the choice to put my workout gear on and getting to the gym.