This time last year, I had just been discharged from hospital where I spent two weeks “high as a kite” on pain relief medication to assist my recovery and healing after three months of intensive radiation and chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer.
That was a pretty “shitty” year, literally and metaphorically speaking! Treatment was brutal and the side effects were harsh, painful and debilitating. I was exhausted and recovery was slow. Physically, my body was ravaged and I remember my doctor describing my insides as a “war zone” that needed to rebuild after a savage attack from cancer and even more aggressive counter-attack from treatment.
But more destructive than the physical effects, I believe, was the damage to my mental state. My mind was reeling and twisting in constant turmoil. Whilst I felt overwhelmingly blessed to have had the opportunity to be treated so quickly and effectively and completely grateful to be embraced by so many caring souls who encouraged, supported and quite frankly carried me and my family through the chaos, I was also plagued by worry, anxiety and fear of the unknown, the “what ifs” that no-one can answer.
As any cancer survivor knows, the recovery process can take a while. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally too. The journey begins with the shock of your diagnosis but it certainly doesn’t stop when treatment ends, although much of the support you’ve been receiving might. There is still a long road to go and it can feel overwhelmingly lonely. People may be expecting you to act “normal” again, when in truth you are far from the normal you used to be. And you might never be that person again. You might not even want to be. It’s confusing and confronting.
It’s likely that you’ve evaluated your relationships, values, goals and targets and reordered their significance, importance and urgency. Your priorities most likely have shifted and some things that were once important to you might now seem trivial, even petty. On the other hand, some things that you were once happy to patiently wait for might now seem urgent and need to be experienced/completed/fulfilled immediately. It can be difficult to explain these feelings to your partner and the people you care about and it can even cause distance, conflict or friction when your vision no longer aligns. It might make you feel frustrated, misunderstood, isolated or angry.
I felt all of these things (and more) and so I spent the second half of 2017 appearing to celebrate my remission and projecting happiness to all who glanced my way. But in reality, I was struggling. As my body slowly recovered, my mind continued to spin. My body had taken a beating but I think perhaps more significantly, my self image and confidence had taken a beating too. My vision of my future was blurry and I found it difficult to move forward. Every little niggle, complaint or familiar symptom would throw me back into fear and darkness. I was still smiling on the outside but there was a deep sadness within me that I couldn’t shake. And that bothered me. A lot. I was lost.
2017 rolled into 2018 and suddenly I realised that I was starting to feel better. Like I’d turned a corner. Physically and mentally. Less sore, less tired, less anxious. More hopeful, more happy, more inspired. I felt that I had finally found my way out of the dark tunnel and could feel the warmth of sunshine on my face again. It took time, but I had healed.
My burnt skin had regenerated and I finally felt ready to exercise again so I joined the gym (a women’s gym so I can run to the toilet when my sensitive bowel plays up without being embarrassed). My mind had found it’s way through the negativity and I felt optimistic about my future again. I could plan things to do and look forward to them. Most importantly, my self esteem and body image had restored. Yes, my body is scarred and shows the signs of a battle fiercely fought. It’s not shiny and new. But it IS courageous, resilient, determined and STRONG. I acknowledge that the results came at a price but with that acknowledgement comes acceptance. The cost was worth it for the outcome I was fortunate to receive. Those scars are a badge of honour. I am still here ready to face another day and I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I’m grateful to have fought and won and I will never take that privilege for granted.
And so I’m back! Back in life and back in love! Living life to the fullest and playing hard. Feeling renewed, refreshed and inspired. Thoroughly enjoying my busy and colourful life being a Mum, wife, daughter, sister and friend. I’m thrilled to be coaching again and have gained clarity on exactly what sort of coach I need to be. Coaching from the heart is what I do best and I am now even more passionate about helping people and their relationships. I know that I have gained so much more empathy, insights, strategies and lessons and I can’t wait to share. I’m confident in my ability to help others and that’s a good feeling, great feeling actually. Thank you to everyone who played a part, minor or major, in my journey back from the dark side. I’m happy, healthy and ready to take on the world with a vengeance. My heart is full, my smile is real.
So here’s to 2018 and a compelling future – bring it on!