A little over 3 months ago I was told I had breast cancer. For a few reasons I’ve chosen to share these words. As well as the cathartic aspect, there is potentially much to be gained for many from a single shared experience and I also hope that it may spark some kind of good feeling or positive action within at least one person.
These past few months have been a whirlwind of ups & downs (thankfully mostly ups), not only for myself but also for the people close to me. My journey started out with what I thought would be a routine Doctor’s appointment. That appointment had me referred to another doctor, which then quickly escalated into hours of testing and a nervous 3-day wait for results. Days later, hearing the words “Unfortunately it is cancer…” and feeling my stomach drop is a moment I will never forget.
That morning in the Doctor’s office I was frozen as I tried to process what I’d just been told. Meanwhile my doctor phoned several oncologists and had me in for an appointment with a (wizard of a) surgeon within 24 hours. From that moment of diagnosis, I was catapulted at breakneck speed into our bloody incredible medical system. The amazing doctors and nurses that treat & care for us every single day are a gift and we are so fortunate to have access to world-class care. Their compassionate patient-centred approach makes all the difference to calm a very anxious patient. The next day, still very much in shock, I met the surgeon and we formulated a plan of attack for the weeks ahead. Within that first two-week period there were frequent hospital visits, countless tests and my first surgery.
Initially, all a person is told at the point of diagnosis is that cancer exists in the body. The stage, grade and type of cancer are generally not known until after surgery. So there is a period of several weeks of contemplating this new reality and as drastic as it sounds, the possibility of your own mortality. It’s a scary time, there is a huge amount of unknown and it makes you acutely aware of the fleeting nature, the fragility and the impermanence of our existence. It is the perfect time to re-evaluate what’s really important.
For any of us, at some point or another we will likely face a challenge, hurdle, illness or event(s) that may knock us off our feet. Cliché but true, such is life. If these challenges can teach us anything, it is the power of now, taking advantage of this present moment and the importance of love, compassion, human connection and our shared humanity.
So many of us live as though we have infinite time. We live our days waiting for the weekend or counting down to that holiday next month. We hang onto memories, arguments, grudges & events from the past and allow them to define our relationships and who we are today. We work for that big house we bought that we can’t spend any time in because we are too busy working to pay it off. We might not pay enough attention to our friends or family because we think we can go visit them next week, next month or next year. We may stay in situations or jobs that contribute to our unhappiness because we feel we have no other option or we may put off doing that thing we really want to do for any number of reasons that we tell ourselves.
The thing to remember is, we always have a choice. The choices may not always be easy, but we always have a choice. Often the harder the circumstances we traverse, the greater the reward at the other end. We create the life we lead and if there is something we are unhappy with or something that doesn’t feel quite right, we can change it. Now is the perfect time to make a mends with the past, worry less about the future and start making steps towards doing those things we’ve always wanted to do. Take that holiday, travel more, ring up the mate that we lost touch with years ago, connect with family and friends and tell them how loved they are, enrol in the course we’ve had our eye for a while, spend more time with the kids, make plans to start the business we’ve been dreaming up, create more, take a risk …
For me, this diagnosis has been a wake up that has helped me to better prioritise what is truly important, to better appreciate the sheer beauty of our very existence day to day, to pay greater respect to my body and all it does for me, and strengthened the belief that we really can do anything that we choose to put our energy and mind to.
3 months on, 2 surgeries down, 1 fabulous new boob later (ha!) and a course of treatment to come, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky + fortunate. My cancer was caught in the early stages, coupled with the incredible work of the surgeon and his amazing medical team; my prognosis is a good one. There are many people that have much harder diagnoses than I, a handful of whom I had the pleasure of connecting with during this time. They each had overcome significant hurdles (and continue to do so), yet all of them displayed such an unshakeable optimism, strength of spirit and immense gratitude for the smallest things. One wonderful woman I shared a hospital room with while we both recovered from our respective surgeries, a year into her own breast cancer journey, summed it up perfectly when she said “Holly, this journey is a gift laden path if we choose to see it that way.” In any situation there is always a silver lining, if we seek it out. It is a matter of perspective and sometimes it takes a little bit of reframing of the situation at hand. In The Book Of Joy by The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Dalai Lama articulates it beautifully. He says we can better deal with our own circumstances if we are able to focus on our shared humanity and remember that there are 7 billion people on this planet, there are plenty of people that have it harder than us – be grateful for everything that we do have rather than commiserating on what we think we are missing.
I am incredibly grateful for the people I’ve met along the way in the most unlikely places, the solid kick in the pants it’s given me to do more of those things I’ve wanted to do and the unexpected and overwhelming support from beautiful friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers during this time. Thank you to those who’ve reached out and offered love, support and epic vibes during this time. It really has the most profound effect on a person, and I am thankful beyond words to be surrounded by such amazing humans. And to the most beautiful & supportive husband that held my hand while we travelled through some brief turbulence, thank you. Blue skies and sunshine ahead!