Sunday, May 25, 2014

Too Old to Dream

“Never allow reality to get in the way of your dreams.” Mark W. Boyer

I just spent a lovely weekend with a dear friend at a spa by the sea. It was definitely something I rarely do (if ever have done) and was of course not my initiative or idea. My friend surprised me months ago with the weekend and thought some rest and relaxation was just what I needed. She could not have been more right especially after the past two weeks I have had. I have not felt good at all. The levels of exhaustion have been so consistently high that I have repeatedly fallen asleep sitting up on the couch after dinner this week. I have awoke most mornings with awful headaches, nausea and a burning in my tummy. Feeling crappy always makes me nervous. It is never just about feeling off...the cause can always been far more sinister. I actually remember thinking this week that if I just put my head down on my desk for a few moments, I would be okay. It has been hard and I am not one to give in very easily to tiredness but I may have met my match. I have genuinely been afraid that this week, I had crossed that irreversible threshhold where I could not recover from and that I had simply pushed too hard and my body would just say no. However I feel slightly renewed after 2 days of only worrying about myself and floating around in the water. I love the water and can still frolick around like a dolphin, doing headstands and synchro moves. Just the like a kid. I also laughed like i hadn´t in months. I laughed till I cried and it was so therapeutic for me. I don´t think I laugh enough. Not anymore. I need to do it more.

So with all this time and space away from regular life, it cleared my head and I was able to really think again. I was watching a documentary about a young girl who was a world ranked surfer and how she came to be who she was (for those who are interested it was called Zero to 100). In the culminating moment where everything came together, I felt emotional and had to hold back the tears. It really brought me back to my own childhood when I was myself a competitor and all those amazing memories returned. I loved that time - the training, the discipline, the competititon, the inspiration. The feeling of touching the wall first, looking up at the time board and pumping your fist in the air in sheer elation. God that feeling was addictive. I took so many positive things away from that time in my life and account some of the bravery and toughness i put into my cancer treatments from that period. I had been taught how to not be afraid and how to work through the pain -  Two traits that i think can be very relevant and applicable in the world of cancer. But after the movie ended, I also felt sadness and questioned where my life was today. Watching that young girl beginning her journey to greatness with the world at her fingertips...she had so much to accomplish and so much time to do it. Where was I in terms of my path to greatness? I would never be back in the pool at that level nor would I have the chance to go to the Olympics. Furthermore my career is okay but I am far from making a global impact. Let´s just say that I won´t be finding a cure for cancer anytime soon.  My body feels so old and weathered that i worry about what little left it has  to give. How do I make my life count and matter? Or are the golden days done? It made me very sad thinking that maybe the best parts were indeed over and that the dreams I had had as a little person were only going to remain dreams. Is this a pre mid life crisis? Is this a realisation of the simple progression of life? It really made me think about how I live my life today and whether it is something I am proud and happy about? Of course I am not thinking of my family within these contemplations because  they are by far my greatest achievement. But this has more to do with me. I asked my friend "Is this it? Are the best parts done for us?"  She echoed my fears in that we both agreed that the time for dreaming was perhaps over now and reality had set in. As we get older, responsibility and practicality become paramount - there are bills to pay, savings plans to make  -  security trumps possibility and every day becomes the same. So tell me the truth - how many of you still dream big? I remember as a little girl, when I was trying to go to sleep at night I would start my own dream in my head about something I wanted to happen that made me happy. I don´t do that anymore and haven´t for a very long time.

I also started thinking about my daughter in that moment and how her entire life was in front of her. She had the power to do whatever she dreamed and try out what she wanted. In a way I envied her and the endless possibilities that lay ahead of her. Everything untouched and untapped. At the same time, I felt so excited for what she would be and whether like me, she would find something she was so passionate about that it made everything else feel irrelevant. The idea of her finding that special something and excelling in it and being able to watch it all unfold for her makes me so excited. And I don´t mean this in the way that I would be living through her so that I could achieve the things I wished that i had but rather being able to witness how fantastic and wonderful her life will be. I had my time and it was simply wonderful. Now it is her turn. Like most parents, I have big dreams for her and I believe in her abilities. She is my daughter so she must be wonderful and talented right? Just thinking about the future, her future makes me happy but also fearful. Suddenly it brings me back to my present reality which still remains so uncertain. How tragic would it be for me to miss out on that moment when she falls in love with something. I want to be there to share in the magic. So support her, love her and be there for those moments, cheering her on in any way I can. The idea of not being there just makes me feel sick. I know I need to think positive and imagine the future the way I want it to be and not give into the fear however it can be hard sometimes when you want to live so very badly. It is hard to avoid the things that threaten that vision from coming to fruition. Maybe I feel that time is going too quickly and that the next scan is coming up again too fast. The fear is returning and the monsters are creeping up out of their lairs. As my friend said today "It is really about being in between life and death and not knowing which way it will go." It is not so often that one is faced with such extremes in one moment where you are prepared for it. Often it comes as a surprise whereas here, I will walk in there and know that things will be one way or the other. It is so finite and so unbelievably terrifying. I tell myself everything will be okay and even feel silly allowing myself to imagine the worst let alone sharing it with all of you. I worry some of you think I am catastrophising and allowing myself to give into the fear. I mean no one has told me I have terminal cancer so why worry about it right now?  Shouldnt i only be thinking positive so that things will indeed go that way? Unfortunately the reality of these intense experiences are anything but simple. It is like being on this boundary between one world and the other without knowing which side you will fall. The lack of control and power over it all is excruciating. It always comes back to the same things. I don´t want anyone to watch me wither away into nothing. I don´t want to die in horrific pain. I don´t want to look in the mirror and not recognise the reflection. I don´t want the people I love to have to say goodbye. To this day, I can´t not cry when I think of getting to a point where i would have to say goodbye to my monkey. The thought is just rips my heart right out of my chest.  I don´t want to have to forfeit my future. I have worked so hard the last few months moving forward and farther away from this nightmare and it has worked. I am not consumed anymore.  I allow myself to think about tomorrow and be able to continue on with a life that isn´t saturated by cancer. So the thought of going back to that awful place is just so horrific and nauseating. It is settled then...nothing will change. The only place I am going is forward to try and figure out some dreams for tomorrow. I am far too young to stop dreaming.

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.