Having battled this disease for 11 going on 12 years now, I have become an expert in busying myself or finding distractions in order to quiet my mind and keep my sanity. Anybody who has been diagnosed with cancer knows that it’s only too easy for your mind to start running away with you. You have days when you feel like there is a black cloud that is hanging over your head, and then others when you are so manically busy that you hardly have the energy to think about it. When you’re having your bad days, you tend to think about the maddening details like how your family members would react if you had to die tomorrow. What they would do with your personal belongings. You picture your children going through everything…rifling through your wardrobe until the inevitable happens and one of them buries their nose into a jersey you wore just a few days ago and having a total melt down on the spot at the remaining yet fleeting smell of you. It’s all they have left of you and they cling to it for all they’re worth. What would your funeral be like and who would make the effort to be there? What would your friends and your nearest and dearest say about what you were like as a person and how you lived your life as well as all your achievements. I know this all sounds morbidly depressing, which of course, it is but as a cancer survivor, particularly if you’re a two or three-time survivor, this is what goes through your head on a regular basis. You find yourself crying at what is just your fears manifesting themselves in an overactive imagination. Your mind is spinning so out of control that you literally start to feel dizzy and experience heart palpitations. Some people would call these panic attacks, which I’ve had many of. I’ve had occasions when I’ve had to put both my hands over my mouth to prevent myself from hyperventilating and passing out.
Once those pass however, I’ve found that it’s good to get out of the house, phone a friend and meet them for coffee or engage in some good old retail therapy at your favorite mall. I have a bathroom with no windows, and so it never gets to see natural daylight, but that’s perfect if you want to have a long candlelit bubble bath, while your favorite relaxing music plays away. Even better, you can throw a good book into the mix…as long as you’re not like me and exercise your biblical clumsiness by dropping it into the bath water. Luckily it wasn’t a library book. Surrounding yourself with the people you love and who make you laugh till your sides ache also helps.
When I was going through a particularly bad patch, a welcome distraction arrived in my household in the form of my parents in law. Luckily for me, lovely people who have always been very supportive to me through all of my trials and tribulations. While they were visiting, we decided to go away for a weekend to a lovely beach resort not far from us and spent a glorious time in the sun and surf. I vegetated on the beach and read my book, went for relaxing walks and enjoyed cocktails on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking the ocean. Just what the doctor ordered.
I have always been scared of heights and even going on a rollercoaster is enough for me to need a change of underwear and make me scream myself absolutely hoarse. I make a total spectacle of myself in situations like that, but while we were enjoying the sunshine and fresh air my husband came up with the suggestion of going parasailing. I was initially horrified at the idea and was quick to voice my fears and doubts, but then after thinking about it for a while I realized that I had been given two second chances at life…the perfect opportunity to do things I wouldn’t have dared do before. If I could survive cancer three times and go on an expedition to Antarctica in between all that insanity, then I could do this. I knew in that moment that I had to start saying ‘yes’ to life, even if it meant stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that scared me rigid. Standing on the back of the boat, my daughter and I strapped ourselves to the ropes that would tether us to the boat as we went up into the air. My hands shook as I momentarily battled to fasten the clasps. Sitting down with our backs to the rear of the boat, it sped up and then the rope started to loosen as we started to rise up into the air. To my amazement I wasn’t half as scared as I thought I’d be. I embraced the moment and decided to throw all fear aside; it had stood in my way for far too long and now was the time to let go. What a liberating experience and a good lesson in just learning to force yourself toward the edge, close your eyes and just let yourself go with the surefire knowledge that all will fall into place and that you will be a stronger person for it at the end of the day.