And she’s back!…..I just realised that a cancer patient retreating from the world and keeping quiet for a few months might send out the wrong message. So I’ll start this post with a quick update on my health and the reason for my extended break from writing.
I am alive and mostly well. Just like everyone, I have good days and bad days, except the two seem to be a little more extreme in my case.
Although there were no traces of cancer at my first follow up scan in June last year, there is still no end in sight, with another scan just around the corner. I’m slowly starting to accept that this diagnosis is for life and am learning to live with my fear of recurrence. It seems to be the undercurrent for most thoughts these days. I’m sure there will come a day when I’ll be able to eat a piece of cake without the added fear that it’s feeding my cancer cells. One day. Oh how many little things I took for granted, without realising how easily they become the big things.
It has been a slow road to recovery from the chemotherapy, except somehow I’ve managed to make the same mistake twice. I’ve focused my efforts on my physical body, particularly in the lead up to the climb, completely neglecting the rest of me. But more on that later.
Once the treatment was finished, everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and it didn’t take long for life to go back to normal, for everyone except me.
My last post was written just before I travelled overseas for the Promise Climb. I will write all about this journey in a separate post. But it deserves a mention here too, as it served as a pivot point which ultimately lead to my retreat from writing.
That climb was significant for so many reasons. During my time on chemotherapy, it served as a bit of a flag marking the finish line of this journey, or so I thought at the time.
I still recall my final week in Australia before the overseas trip. As I said my goodbyes to all the people who helped prepare me both physically and mentally for the upcoming journey, I began to mourn the departure from this safe haven.
Even before I left, it became obvious that the cliche saying was so true in my case. It was all about the journey, not the destination. I will forever remain grateful to those who helped me along my path.
I arrived in Serbia in an odd state of mind. Having realised that the mountain peak was just a metaphor, suddenly I began mourning the end of the journey, before even placing one foot on that mountain. I began to miss all the people who had helped get me there. In a way, it felt as though we had already climbed that mountain together, without even realising it. It brought to mind another saying: life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.
However as the guest climbers arrived from different corners of the globe, the excitement began to build. The climb (mostly) went ahead as planned, and I will write all about it in a separate post.
But it was the journey down that metaphorical mountain that surprised me the most, and even to this day I’m still recovering from it.
I didn’t really have a plan or a vision beyond the mountaintop. In hindsight, once I reached that mountaintop, all I had to do was spread my wings and soar. After all, I had just defeated a deadly disease and had so many reasons to celebrate and fly high. But instead, the fear crept in and I watched myself stumble all the way down that mountain. It’s been more than six months, and I’m still trying to piece Humpty back together again.
I’m not a psychologist, but that doesn’t stop me from overanalysing and trying to make sense of a situation, so here’s what I believe happened to me.
I think mine was a classic case of post traumatic stress. During my time on chemotherapy, I was so focused on trying to support my body through such a harsh treatment and my overall healing. Each day consisted of some type of therapy as well as physical exercise in preparation for the climb.
Once it was all over, then what? I tried to just slot back into my old life pre cancer and carry on with my motherly duties. But it seemed as though the moment I began to deflate from the enormous year behind me, and tried to relax back into a normal existence - that’s when the fear struck. Also, that old life that I was so eager to return to, didn’t really have me on the radar. It was all about the children. After living through such a traumatic experience, my insides were in no state to be neglected again.
I had been spared during my treatment, safely cocooned by the prayers and well wishes of almost everyone who knew of my story. But once it was all over and the victory was ours, as my army slowly began retreating, that’s when the severity of what had happened began to hit me.
After speaking to other cancer patients, I learnt that what I had experienced was quite common. It’s a little bit like the days and weeks following the loss of a family member. Everybody rallies around the affected family for support, to help get them through those early days and the funeral. But life carries on, and once even the closest support network goes home that’s when the heaviness of that loss really strikes. It’s during that quiet time that you really begin to feel the pain.
So that’s where I’ve been these past few months. Just quietly observing my insides on their downhill spiral. Emotionally, I was completely drained and didn’t have it in me to stop myself from falling.
Instead, I acknowledged the mental fatigue, and allowed myself this time of nothingness. Deep down, I knew that after the journey of this past year, I had enough in my emotional toolkit to pick myself back up again, however I simply lacked the energy for it and so I waited.
I hope that now you can begin to understand how in that place of emptiness and emotional fatigue, I had very little to give. I tried to write a blog post a few times because I felt like I owed everyone an update, but the words seemed so shallow and forced. I didn’t want to write from such a place, where I felt obligated rather than inspired.
And so I waited, trusting that you’ll understand that the reason for my absence was genuine.
A few weeks ago I decided it was time to turn things around. Although I could have easily carried on swimming in my negativity for the next few months, I decided my family deserves better than that. I was grateful that they gave me the time and space to grieve, but it was time to start moving forward again.
I can’t say there was a particular trigger for the decision take back my power, but a conversation with my three year old daughter certainly helped. I keep saying that my children have been my greatest teachers and guides.
We were sitting at the central markets quietly drinking our coffee and babychino, when out of the blue she said to me something along the lines of: ‘’mum I don’t want you to ever leave me, and if you do go I want you to take me with you’’.
How did she know her mummy’s deepest fears at such a young age? Or was that even her speaking?
Whoever was speaking clearly knew that I needed a bit of a jolt to wake me up as I had become too complacent in my…..emptiness, not to call it misery.
That conversation with my daughter was last month, and I have spent the past few weeks working on my comeback. It’s so hard when you’re on that downhill spiral to summon the energy to make a positive change. I knew in theory what I had to do to bring about change, but it all seemed like such hard work.
But even just the decision to turn things around seemed to give me some wind beneath my wings. As part of bringing back some much needed balance into my life, I hope to make more time for writing. If I succeed, then you should see a few more posts from me in the near future, however if I remain silent again for another few months then you’ll know that I failed miserably.
I have a good feeling the outcome will be positive. I live in one of the most picturesque parts of Australia and my favourite season is upon us. Autumn in the Adelaide Hills is magical and I would highly recommend you experience it at least once in your lifetime.
The firewood has been chopped, in preparation for our retreat into the winter hibernation period. A time for slowing down, conserving energy and looking within. For someone who enjoys writing, there’s nothing more romantic or inspiring than the warmth of a cosy fireplace and a cup of hot tea. So be on the lookout for a few more posts from me over the next few months.