Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Elixir of Life

I am starting to remember why I stopped writing for well over a decade. Life got in the always does. When I was a teenager, I wrote pretty much every day and if you were a close friend of mine at that time, you would be familiar with my "poetry phase." I was very good at chanelling my teenage angst and broken hearts into 12 lines. It was always easy for me and I could whip a few poems out in less then an hour. But as things got busier and I got older, the inspiration and ideas stopped. There were a few revivals along the way but they were the product of deep grief and were fleeting. I remember trying to write something for my father´s funeral which had about 200+ people in attendance. I felt so much pressure to write something befitting the man he had been (simply amazing) and I wanted it to be perfect for him and for everyone that was there. I had a bad case of writers block and every draft I started I couldnt finish. It wasn´t until the morning of the funeral that I just picked up a pen and started writing. The words came so naturally and freely and of course it was absolutely perfect in every way. I made him proud that day...I know it. But these days I feel like I am blocked again - bogged down by the stresses of every day life. I don´t have very much down time these days and when I do I am so beyond exhausted that the last thing I can imagine is sitting down to write something worthwhile. It is kinda sad in a way because this blog has been so cathartic for me over the last three years and I don´t want to stop writing. Cancer was just a part of the story and I feel there is still so much to tell. Even today, I sat down in front of the screen and had no idea what I was going to write. I rarely write in a such a haphhazard way. I always used to get a blog idea when I was walking home from dropping my daughter off at daycare every day or when I heard an especially moving piece of music. But these days the ideas and the inspirations are nowhere to be found and I am questioning how I allowed things to get so chaotic again so quickly.

How rich and full is my life if I can´t even find time or space to really think and process what I am feeling? I don´t think finding an answer is easy.  I actually have been thinking alot about my cancer experience, specifically my treatement, the last few weeks. This time of year always stirs up emotions surrounding my two journeys with cancer. Three years ago, I was recovering from a horrendously painful mastectomy and coming to terms with the approaching start date of chemo. It was alot to process and I remember how innocent I still was at that time...being terrified but having no idea what was in store for me. And then this time last year, my chemo had started this past week. Just thinking about these things has brought on immediate nausea. The hospital room that got so warm when the sun shone through the windows, the clear IV bag that looked like water but was a harbinger of something so toxic and horrid, even a bowl of oatmeal brings on stomach flips because it was something i ate at the time. Thinking of being back in the place brings on such dramatic physical and emotional reactions all of sudden. I never really had that many adversions from my time in treatment despite the warnings of not eating your favorite things or listening to your favorite music during chemo but suddenly it is all coming on very strong. When I listen to Ellie Goulding, it takes me back to those rides up the road to the hospital for treatment or a check up. When I look at the nutri shake drinks in the pharmacy while waiting in line, I am reminded of how I survived off them for weeks a time. So many memories of that time that take me back to a dark place. Maybe I am finally starting to process everything in a different way and instead of simply being in " survival" mode, I am starting to reflect on everything in an effort to move forward beyond it. Because I honestly feel so much less like the "cancer girl" as I move further and further away from that last end date of treatment. I am now working almost 100% in my job and getting good results. I rarely visit the Cancer Centre anymore and I almost never talk about cancer in normal conversation these days. Perhaps that is why I am finding it so much harder to write anything of substance in this cancer blog. I am definitely in a state of transition and experiencing something new. It is a tug of war at times - between my weather worn/exhausted cancer self who still can´t find the energy to do it all and the confident, self assured woman who wants it all. My expectations for myself are still a far way off and in trying to do everything, I often collapse. I still feel like i am making up for lost time and that I need to try and fit everything in that I missed out on. I do find that the one area that is suffering the most right now is my ability to socialise. I just have nothing left to do it these days and sincerely hope everyone understands how hard this balance is to maintain right now and that i will come back to you all soon. Please don´t forget that even though I look great and appear to be doing it all, I am a long way from 100% inside. My clothing hides the morphine patch on my arm that I wear to control the daily pain I feel and the smile hides the sheer exhaustion I am feeling every day. And this anger...I don´t quite know where it is coming from but I feel it alot. I also feel more out of place in many situations and just can´t be " the outgoing and happy" person I used to be. That is something I really notice these days...maybe I am just never going to be the same person I was before after living through these experiences.

So as most of you can see, my life is definitely on its way to normal with a few things left to work out. But just as the medicine I take daily and the scars I see everytime i get out of the shower remind me of the journey I have been on, I get these jolts that take me back to what has become such a normal part of my life that in a way has made me forget it was ever any other way. Just yesterday I was telling someone about our summer plans and then suddenly I realised that my next  scan was not that far away. I have worked so hard the last few months to establish this life that was no longer interrupted by cancer and now it is just around the corner again. Having had a taste of "normal", I just don´t want to go back there again and of course I never forget about the what ifs. I taunt myself with the fear of things not going the right way and what if this dark passenger is back. It is just so damn terrifying to fathom after having worked so hard to forget. Because I have no idea and no control over what is happening beneath my skin and it is so hard not to imagine that that pain, that nausea or that loss of appetite is from a monster lurking in the dark corners. I don´t think i would even go to my doctor right now if I felt like something was up because I don´t want to interrupt this happy holiday away from illness. Do I sound crazy or reckless saying that? It is kinda of like wanting to stay at the party even though you know your parents wanted you home 2 hours ago. Instead of checking your phone for some threatening message, you ignore reality and just continue partying! I feel like that. I just want things to keep going the way they are where i can imagine the next promotion at work, where I can think about what kind of woman my daughter will become and where I can  dream of a life where I can gracefully age into an old, wrinkly but happy woman with her equally wrinkly husband beside her. Because in all honesty I didn´t allow myself to think about these things this time last year - everything was shrouded in fear and just thinking about these things would make me cry. It is like I have tasted that elixir of life and I don´t want to go back. I know how important every minute and every opportunity is.

Just like the character Emily from Thornton Wilder´s play " Our Town" who says:
"Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover´s Corners...Mama and Papa. Good-by to clock ticking...and Mama´s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you´re too wonderful for anybody to realise you. "

I realise how wonderful life is and I don´t want to lose my firm grip on it. Opening the curtains to see a beautifully clear sunny day; Coming in to kiss my sleeping daughter goodnight and whispering in her ear how much I love her; Thick fluffy pancakes with real syrup; My husband surprising me just because; Surprise parcels in the mail; Hearing from an old friend; Thinking of memories that warm your soul; Knowing you have tomorrow and the next day, and the next. These are just some of things that make me thankful to be here and have a chance at life again. So please Mr Cancer...stay away.



  1. Good to see you blogging again, I know how hard it is to "restart" and find the groove. Just let it flow. Whatever you write is perfect. And I'm so glad you are enjoying so many things now that you missed out on last year. I echo your last sentence: Please Mr Cancer…stay away! xo

    1. Always a boost seeing your name pop up in the comments. You are such a loyal supporter Renn. I actually received a lot of great feedback on this one which was a pleasant surprise as I wasnt sure there was anything of substance. I think it is easy to think that normal life can be routine and boring - something that isnt so intriguing to read about. There are no major crises or emergencies or huge bombs to drop. Just the gentle ebb and flow of normal life minus cancer. It takes time to adjust to a life that isnt filled with fear and horror. I do hope everything goes according to plan as I just cant imagine going back there again. It is my deepest darkest monster in the closet that I hope is nothing more then a figment of my imagination. xxx

  2. I work in an oncology-related job, and came to your blog as I was trying to better understand the patient perspective. Your writing is exquisite. It is compelling to read your honest, sometimes raw, words that expose your very real emotions through this process. What you have shared has truly helped me to connect the daily work I do with the reason why I do it, and I hope will eventually make our end products better. As the mother of a young daughter, I also enjoy reading about that part of your life, and i am overcome with happiness for your returning health and ability to work and be a mother and wife in the way you want to be.


    1. Caroline, It is so wonderful to see a new reader and your comments were overwhelming. I get such joy from hearing from others about how this blog helped them in some way. That is really the reason I started it alongside my own cathartic reasons. I especially like the fact that it helped you understand the other side as I think it helps tremendously in improving cancer care and treatment. Walking a few miles in our shoes...Your openness and willingness to understand all of this is fantastic. We need others like you. And in terms of motherhood, thankfully being a mom to my monkey comes above everything else and I have never allowed cancer to take anything away from that special relationship. Obb x

  3. dear Kate,

    yes, I think a big part of the angst as one gets to the other side of treatment means an awful lot of confusion, dread, and revisiting the whole experience. transition - that word - always used to seem such a gentle sounding one that gave a false illusion that it would just happen. but it doesn't. we must know the truth of what has been before we can establish the truth of what we want now and in the future to be. striving for it is a good thing, wanting it is a good thing. but transition will demand a price - that of looking back - and it's only the ones who've been through that gauntlet that truly get it.

    you have the gift of being able to savor and cherish the joys of ordinary days. and you have the gift of writing oh, so honestly about what's on your mind. these gifts will be the key that unlocks the past to let it fly to a distant corner, whilst re-inventing your new life. it takes time and patience, but I haven't a doubt in the world you are up for the challenge - you've already come so far! keep writing, keep the catharsis it gives you to empty out the bad places you've been to, and make room for all you want your new places to look like. I know you can do it, and I know that others facing the same challenges will be so grateful to know they are not alone. you are doing an excellent job! if you write it...they will read it.

    much love and light to you, Dear Kate

    Karen xoxo

    1. My dear Karen, Your comments are always so thoughtful and wise. Like the get it. I too used to use "transition" so carelessly and it definitely carried with it positive connotations. However now it is something entirely different and also very scary. There is a distinct lack of control that comes with it and also a fear of not knowing exactly where you will end up on the other side of it. The destination remains unknown. So even though this entry didnt bring with it any big drama and life altering events, it still spoke to you all and for that I feel good. It makes me want to keep going and keep writing even though I dont quite know where things will conclude. Love to you too, xx