My husband asked me this question before we turned the light off last night. I asked what prompted it and he said he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was because I am about to go back to work and he felt the need to punctuate this particular paragraph in our life. It was a relief to hear that he didn’t think I’d changed. At least, not for the worse! I’m still fundamentally me. But my response was yes, cancer has changed me. How could it not?
It is human nature to try to make sense of bad things when they happen to us. Resilience training aims to minimise the risk of PTSD by teaching soldiers to make sense of the traumatic events which they experience. If we can write our experiences into our life’s narrative and make a coherent story we feel much more at home in our own skin. During the seemingly interminable wait for surgery my friend Merryn helped me to make some sense of what I was going through with guided meditations. During one of these I encountered a tiny, delicate, brightly coloured flower growing in a wood, which would have been easily trampled underfoot had it not been for its striking appearance, which made people step over or around it. That flower was me. Before I was forced to slow down by my cancer diagnosis I would not even have noticed the flower as I powered past on my hike. I’d probably have stepped on it.
I’ve always had a tendency to be hard on myself. I would never berate my patients if they didn’t live up to their own standards or if they didn’t excel all the time in everything they did. I don’t think this tendency will ever leave me entirely, but being forced to go off sick from work and facing some of my demons has allowed me to forgive myself for not being perfect. I am now practicing being kind to myself when I feel like I don’t measure up. I am beginning to take myself less seriously. We all make mistakes and none of us are indispensable. Neither of these are bad things. If we can remember them then we no longer need to cling for dear life to our self esteem.
I have found joy in art, wild swimming, yoga, observing nature and blogging! I would never have become a blogger had it not been for breast cancer.
I still don’t think there is a reason, as such, for why I got breast cancer. Nor do I believe there is a reason why I was infertile when I so desperately wanted a family. Sometimes shit just happens. It’s how you deal with the shit that matters. I hate it when people say that everything happens for a reason – so, I just wasn’t meant to have children, is that it? No. I’ve done my fair share of railing against God, screaming at the top of my lungs “Why do you hate me??!” God doesn’t hate me, but I won’t understand his reasons, at least not in this life. Thomas Chisholm wrote “Great is thy faithfulness, oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee, thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not…morning by morning new mercies I see, all I have needed thy hand has provided…” And that’s the funny thing. I have always somehow had the strength to cope with the shitstorm that life throws at me. It may not feel like it at the time, but our experiences mould us into who we are and what we are becoming.
I like to think that this experience has helped me to be less overcome by setbacks. I have become slower and calmer and have less of a tendency to panic if I can’t find the solution immediately. Long may this last!
Many things about me haven’t changed. I was terrified when I heard that I would need major surgery that my body would be horribly disfigured and that I would lose my athletic figure. My six pack isn’t what it was, but I still cut it in lycra! I even got whistled at on my run today. I am slowing getting my fitness back and see no reason why I shouldn’t get back to full fitness. I still retain my insatiable intellectual curiosity (I now know an awful lot about breast cancer!) and my tendency to give my whole self to things with gay abandon. So thank you cancer, you have made me more myself, not less.