Well, I’m guessing you clicked on this blog because of the ‘interesting’ title: My Beautiful Cancer and COVID Course-Corrector and in the spirit of this blog and podcast being ‘DEDICATED TO THE EXTRAORDINARY STORIES OF ORDINARY WOMEN’….I thought I’d best start with my own story of what happened to myself and my family in 2020……
So, there’s a concept of ‘Post Traumatic Growth’, where you endure a traumatic event to eventually come out the other side an ‘improved’/wiser version of your pre-traumatized self. (See the summary diagram below). Now, as a naturally ‘glass-half-full’ type of human, I already ‘kind-of’ subscribed to this theory only to have it truly tested to it’s max during the first year of the 2020 Pandemic. So here’s my torrid tale of human heart-break, hope and in the end, some powerful Post Traumatic Growth….
Here goes…..So, it’s day 3 of the first lockdown in March 2020 and I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room waiting to be called to hear the results of my Breast Cancer biopsy, Mammogram and Ultrasound. Bad freaking timing, right? And as they call me in, I spy the doctor I’d seen before, the nurse that’s always there when women are being seen by a male doc and THE NURSE WITH THE DAFFODIL BADGE…..if you know you know…..if you don’t, that nurse is the ‘We’re going to tell you you have Cancer Nurse’. It turned out I had a ‘no-lump’ type of early Breast Cancer called a Ductal Carsinoma In Situ (DCIS)….best case scenario = a Lumpectomy and Radiotherapy, worse case scenario = a Mastectomy, possibly Chemo and Radiotherapy. Either way, I ascertain whether this will kill me, the Doctor assures me it mostly likely won’t and I mentally ‘park’ my problems because around 30 miles away in an ICU unit in Portsmouth, my father-in-law is on a ventilator with COVID. He’s been there since the previous Sunday and by Friday, he becomes one of the earlier statistics as they turn off his ventilator as he loses his battle with Covid!
So, as we have all been in this global sh*t storm together, I don’t really need to go into detail about how the rest of 2020 panned out and that doing ‘the Pandemic’ whilst enduring a Covid funeral that I can’t attend because I need to self-isolate in order to have a surgery, 20 doses of Radiation Therapy that’s given in 5 battering and blistering doses to avoid multiple hospital visits. Homeschooling and explaining ‘where Pappa is’ to a grieving 6 year old. Supporting my heart-broken husband whilst being petrified that my grief-stricken mother-in-law would actually go the same way as her husband and so much more……..2020 was OFFICIALLY THE HARDEST YEAR OF MY LIFE, EVER! Well, I did promise you a tale of human heart-break didn’t I? And now for the hope and healing part 🙂
So, back to this ethereal concept of ‘Post Traumatic Growth’. A while back, I’d happened upon the same titled book, by Arielle Schwartz where RESILIENCE is described as: “the ability to flexibly adapt to challenging, adverse or traumatic life events” and Post Traumatic Growth occuring because of one’s willingness to ‘turn towards’ the pain of life’s most difficult events and eventually say “This happened to me, but I have the capacity and WILL to rise again powerfully reshapened by my experience”
So, as I thaw out of fight/flight and freeze, I eventually started to ask the questions: ‘Where’s the message in this?” “What good is all this suffering?” “What good can come from this?” and “What’s the f*cking point of all this pain”?
I’ve always believed, that death is the ultimate reminder to LIVE FULLY – RIGHT NOW! I lost my own father suddenly at 28 and was never the same again….changed careers and resolved to never take life for granted. To that end, I’ve lived a pretty full-on life. But the theory was taken to a new level and powerfully amplified when faced with a Cancer diagnosis and all that Covid had to gift me and my family.
This time, I truly ‘got’ that there are no guarantees that I’ll make it to be an ‘old lady’ and die naturally in my sleep full of wisdom and peace. THAT fact alone has been the most confronting realization EVER! But for now, I’m a year post BC and everyone in my family are all well/healthy and soldiering on and most importantly…..STILL HERE…..a bit battered and bruised….but we’re all still here!
I’m sharing this story as part of my ‘service to humanity’ and in the hope that this blog and podcast will find its way to someone who’s deep in grief, confusion and pain right now for whatever reason and doesn’t know how they’ll even get up tomorrow, never mind smile again. I need you to know that there is hope and there will be joy and smiles again, slowly but surely…..and possibly, some of the things listed below might be some kind of comfort to you!
‘What ‘the worst year of my life’ taught me’……
- There is ALWAYS a MESSAGE IN THE MESS…..eventually. Hang tight!
- It appears that I can do ‘ALL the hard things and feel ALL the hard feelings’ without numbing out with alcohol!
- Most of the stuff that ‘bothers us’ is BULLSH*T! Waiting for/getting a ‘diagnosis’ and then being ‘gifted’ MORE TIME, really clarifies that as a fact for sure!
- Notice who is there and remains ‘there’ for you when the sh*t hits the fan in your life….NOTICE THAT AND DEEPLY HONOR AND CHERISH THOSE PEOPLE….FOREVER!
- Our HEALTH, physical, spiritual and metal is of INORDINATE IMPORTANCE. PRIORITIZE ALL DAILY. Let nothing come before your attendance to all. We truly are NOTHING without our health.
- Protect your peace AT ALL COSTS, AT ALL TIMES! Remove yourself from annoying and vexatious PEOPLE, PLACE AND THINGS!
- Grief gets better in it’s own sweet time but ‘allow’ it it’s space, feel all the feelings, express all the feelings, welcome all the feelings. SIT WITH YOUR GRIEF. The way out is through it. We can find wisdom in this suffering…..eventually……
- Grief and sadness can sit with sparks of joy, ease and understanding, allow those too! Grief and pain isn’t linear.
- If you feel you’re ‘going under’ – ask for help, THERAPY WORKS! Therapy can also be a good friend or family member who is great at listening.
- LET IT OUT!! Finally, I have learned to see tears as strength and allow them their freedom. Crying is our paying homage to our full range of emotions from tears of gratitude/relief/joy to the painful variety….repeat after me: “My tears are welcomed here”.
- Bend, don’t break + ‘come into your body’ – I was never really a Yoga person but by God, Yoga, time in meditation, somatic work, breathwork and non-judgmental contemplation deeply help.
- Adopting a ‘why not me’ as opposed to a ‘why me’ mindset opens the windows of your heart to allow healing in.
- And I’ve only just got this one: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”…….Amen!
- I sat at my desk and literally cut off 20 years of hair growth and decided to ‘allow’ my greyness…..a freeing and curiously empowering move that even a year before I was challenged by.
- I decided that I didn’t want to work in/travel to London or anywhere else for that matter, anymore and found a new teaching/being/practicing space here in my home town so that I can be at work in 15 mins and NEVER sleep overnight in a hotel for work again.
- I FINALLY decided WHAT REALLY MATTERS TO ME. Basically there are 7 things, and EVERY DECISION I MAKE IN MY LIFE IS NOW ASSESSED THROUGH THE LENS OF THESE 7 ITEMS.
- I let go of the ‘Business/Work Greasy Pole’ – I work for me, when I want and how I want, aligned with my values, focused on my goals via the lens of the 7 items in point 3. I define ‘success’ for myself!
- I ‘allow myself to sleep and rest WAY MORE’! This is a biggie, because previously, I was always an early riser and at my desk by 6am or earlier before breaking to do breakfast…..now, the alarm goes at 7 and assisted by my coffee making station IN MY BEDROOM, I have a coffee and read in my bed until 8am before starting the breakfast routine. In my world, this is nigh on revolutionary. I literally can’t think of a reason to be at my desk at 6am now and this was a routine for MANY YEARS!
- I got to the bottom of my ‘drink under duress’ habit and indeed I got and stayed ‘dry’ during a Pandemic and my Annus Horribilis without it being ANYTHING to do with willpower. I just got ‘kinder’ to myself and my ‘little me’. I don’t drink alcohol anymore and although I can, I most likely won’t.
- I’m making really hard decisions with way more ease because I simply and finally have learned to trust my gut and it has the last word – a sure sign that my AUTHENTICITY has increased. I will not trade ACCEPTANCE or people pleasing for my AUTHENTICITY.
- I AM 100% COMMITTED TO LIVING FULLY, to this end, every single ‘bucket list’ item is now simply on a #LIVELIFEFULLY LIST. That list includes beginning my journey to become a Psychotherapist (uh-hu!) and ‘living in Hawaii or Bali’….yes you read that right, Hawaii has been on my list since I was around 15….I’m working on it…..just need to convince Mr. Burrell 😉 Eventually, he’ll see the light……I have form regarding impromptu house moves…..I got this! 🙂
- FINAL THOUGHTS…….Don’t suffer a single day, living a life that you can’t stand or that you’ve outgrown. 100% you don’t know how much time you’ve got but 100% you can decide how and with whom you spend it! A self-authored is not a ‘luxury item’ , a self-authored life is ESSENTIAL. It’s time to start living YOUR LIFE, YOUR WAY! Because if not now then when? And the good news is, you don’t need to endure a year from hell to come to this conclusion! You can just make a decision to START RIGHT NOW!