Where am I today? It’s a very good question, but not an easy one to answer. Since my cancer diagnosis in September 2010, the surgery, the treatments of chemo followed by radiation, and the targeted therapy of Herceptin through to February 2012, I have changed as a person.
I have often heard the phrase “breast cancer is like a gift wrapped in barbed wire.” At the time, while I was experiencing fear, anger and a whole other gamut of emotions that come along with the cancer diagnosis, I could not appreciate the truth and wisdom in that statement, but now years later, I can.
I say I can now appreciate it because I have been fortunate so far. As I approach each anniversary, as each six month follow-up mammogram took place and then transitioned to annual ones.
I have had only one mammogram (immediately after the one year mark) which caused some concern. I am blessed and I value and appreciate my body. It may be a bit overweight, it may be aging, but it has survived all the drugs and everything else that was thrown its way. My body has worked hard, taking half the brunt of the cancer treatments while my emotions took the other half. I thank my body, it is strong. I no longer judge it and find fault with it. I try to support it with healthy, organic food choices, but of course, everyone should “treat” themselves every once and a while – after all, life is also about balance.
One thing the nurses in oncology told me very early on in my treatment was to take things one day at a time. Truer words have never been spoken. I took that advice and still live by it today. Life cannot be controlled beyond understanding and controlling our own thoughts and actions to the circumstances around us; trying to do otherwise just causes undue stress.
Avoiding the drama that others may bring into your life is also important. Why risk your health for somebody else’s drama? If they truly care about your well-being, they will respect your boundaries. If they feel their problems are more important than respecting your health, I believe that you have to give some thought as to whether or not you want to keep them in your life. You have a choice to make. What is more important to you, your health or their health? It’s unfortunate that it comes down to that sometimes, but at the end of the day, taking on everyone else’s problems will affect you both mentally and physically.
Emotionally, I still feel vulnerable to the threat of cancer and the fear that it brings. That is only natural. The difference now is the little worried voices running through my head are around less, whereas a year or two ago, they were always there.
How I accomplished that was a journey in itself. After my treatments ended, and I returned to regular living, I kept asking myself, “What now?” How was I supposed to be living a better and happier life, one not governed by fear? While the fear never goes away, you choose to let it fade into the background, and the fun of life becomes the priority.
I started to travel more, with one trip home a year. I had not done that since I moved to Calgary. It was the death of Jack Layton, if you can believe that, that had me book my first trip. His death reminded me that anything could change in the blink of an eye, so there was no point in waiting. From then on, I have done one trip a year by just simply visiting a place I love. It brings me joy and reminds me what life is really about. So that was my first change: a simple one.
The second change was to get out, meet new people and socialize more. I now have a wonderful group of girlfriends in my life. We share our stories, laugh and have fun together, while exploring all sorts of different places and activities. I have also made a point of reconnecting with dear friends from my past—when I was ill I kept thinking of all the people I would like to see again. I have been making that happen and it has added more enjoyment to my life than I ever anticipated.
Life is really about moving forward, but the way you spend your time means different things for different people. You do not have to climb to the top of Mount Everest to have meaningful moments. I truly find it is the simple things in life that bring smiles.
Take a trip to visit new places or people. Explore new things and you may find something you are truly passionate about along the way. That passion could lead you along an interesting path and then, in turn, you meet interesting people. Over the past few years, I have found some wonderful things along my path. I have no artistic talent whatsoever, but have focused on doing more art-related activities as a relaxing pastime. Adult colouring books are the all the rage now, which is funny because I was told during my cancer treatments that I should look into colouring to get my mind off my treatments. Zentangle is another more abstract art form I am learning, there’s no right or wrong, you just create as you wish. Anything that engages your mind and gets you focused on something relaxing and fights the anxious thoughts in your head is a positive.
As for exercise, I joined a gym and had a personal trainer. I did that for around two and a half years, but never developed a love of it. I also tried yoga and meditation, which I did find to be truly beneficial. The meditation, especially, as it was soothing for both my body and mind. Walking daily for 30 minutes is always a good baseline and works wonders at drawing you out of your head and into what nature has to offer.
Since my cancer, I have always been curious about Reiki, so recently, I have been taking courses in Reiki levels one and two. I decided to study Reiki not so much to use its healing aspects on others, but rather to gather skills and tools for my own well-being. I am always searching out new opportunities to bring relaxation to my mind, body, and soul. My philosophy is anything that keeps my body and spirit in a good place, will also benefit my physical body.
My world has become about peace, harmony and balance. If you are going through treatments or just finishing, there will be thoughts in your head that begin with, ‘I wish…’ Use those thoughts to motivate yourself to move forward and create your own ‘I wish’ moments. These thoughts are you connecting with your inner self—a self that knows you better than anyone else.
Health, strength and happiness to all! Remember to find your peace of heaven to guide you through!