Follow by Email

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

That Standing Ovation...

I've been involved with the sport of soccer for a good 16 years now and over that time, I've had the privilege of hearing some very good advice from the mouths of a range of coaches.

There is one coach who would not shut up, who talked so much that we girls would find our muscles seizing up in the cold winter evenings that were the norm at training, while he went on and on and on.

I remember this coach vividly because he had a disability when it came to remembering names and would get our names back to front at EVERY training session that whole season.

He's the coach who kept calling me "Brown Eye" to the great amusement of my team mates, a 'brown eye' in the Australian parlance, being a colloquialism for "anus". Perhaps appropriate where my kicking skills are concerned...

But amongst his limitless patois there was a gem I picked up and apply today: When you find yourself verbalising the words: "I can't", the brain picks up on it and guess what, you'll find that you really "can't".

Of course, the opposite is true. The greatest tool to positive change is physically HEARING yourself encouraging YOU.

In other words, your greatest training tool is your own brain... and your own mouth.

In my blog yesterday, I mentioned the speech I gave on Sunday. Do you know, a strange thing has happened overnight. I have inspired MYSELF!

The words I found myself carefully pronouncing to my audience of 130 or so men and women of a mix of ages and demographics seem to have insinuated themselves into my thinking.

I can't seem to forget what I heard that speaker Bronwyn Hope saying.

I have no intention of posting the full contents of my speech. I do think the 'event' of a speech is often part of the experience and reading the text of a presentation often doesn't quite provide the full story.

Still, I would like to recap the two ideas that have stuck in my head today. Regular readers of my blog will recognise them I'm sure.

The first important idea I explored was the concept of how we spend our time. Specifically I explained that:

"From cancer you really learn that time is an irreplaceable currency. It should not be unwisely spent, but carefully invested.

"Because illness steals time. All of a sudden, pleasant routines are replaced by hours spent in waiting rooms.

"Diaries are crammed with appointments - not with friends or colleagues or family - but with surgeons and oncologists and therapists.

"The choice of how you spend your time is taken away."

From here I pointed out that one of the hardest things to do it seemed was to create quality time. "Time that is savoured... not juggled. To live it fully doing a few things we enjoy really well rather than doing a hundred things we don't enjoy really poorly."

Tonight I keep going over this in my head. For some reason, I find myself now taking even closer stock of how I spent my day today.

What did you do today? What parts of it did you savour? In what moments were you most mindful?

What did you do today that you really enjoyed? Did you do it well?

But there is another idea I discussed, and it's taken directly from an earlier blog I wrote called "The Gifts you Give."

I spoke about the rewards one receives from cancer, a race for which there are no medals because the only quest is to finish.

"The only rewards", I said, "Are the absolute truths that reveal themselves from the struggle to survive, that cannot be displayed and can only be carried in your head or your heart.

"The absolute truth I discovered came early in my own cancer fight as family, friends and even strangers banded together to support me by way of many gifts.

"They were gifts of generous actions, kind words, flowers and presents... but not diamonds, the cheap bastards.

"As I fought my way through my various courses of treatment, I was touched by the way so many people were prepared to cheer me on, in whatever way they could.

"From this came the realisation that is my reward so far...

"At the end of the day, when you go to meet your maker, your life here will not be measured by the things you accomplished, the races you won, your medals or titles.

"It will not be measured by the possessions you had, your job description, your fabulous attributes.

"No one will care about your petty vanities, your fantastic looks or the legacies you have left.

"Your life here will be measured by one thing and one thing only: The love you gave and the love you received."

Again, I've been going over this in my head today. It's really stuck with me.

I've been thinking about the things we say to each other, how we greet each other, what we comment on.

I've been reacting to bad things I've seen people saying about others on Facebook. In fact, I've unleashed a tirade and withdrawn any support for their 'pages'.

I've been thinking about how I showed love today, and what kind of love I may have attracted.

Importantly, I made pact with myself today: to mindfully seek out only positive people, encounters and experiences.

Life really is too short to be around people who are mean spirited, negative or self-centred.

Life is too short to waste time doing anything that does not uplift, inspire or enhance you in some way.

Life is just too short to waste time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Research 2

Nine months since diagnosis and exactly two months since I finished radiation and I wake to another perfect, chilly morning, the sky an ache of crisp, cloudless blue.

On days like this, it's great to be alive and, make no mistake, I take every opportunity I can these days to Praise the Lord that I am here.

I am slow to rise after a vile night of snorting and sniffling as I battle the final vestiges of the cold I've had for more than four weeks. At least I can breathe now even though I still have the odd allergy attacks that, oddly enough, strike me around the same time each night: around 2.35 am.

I put this down to the fact that my nose hairs are still to regrow although I can report that on my head, the hair is doing well. I rue the fact, however, that it's looking pretty curly and the style is a little too 'toilet brush' for my liking.

With my body still not fully well, over the past two weeks I've tried really hard to rest. I didn't return to any exercise until Saturday, two days ago, when I put in a couple of hours of, I have to admit, some fairly lacklustre refereeing.

Yesterday morning, Louisa and I went for a 10 Km walk but it was a slow one - so I couldn't see the harm.

But today is the first day I begin the exercise and nutrition education program that is a part of my participation in the Wesley Research Institute's study.

Leading up to today, I had a blood test to look at the fatty acids in my bloodstream and, for the past 12 days or so I've been taking 5 capsules of what could or could not be Omega 3 Fish Oils. (Because this is what's known as a 'double blind' study - basically, the Rolls Royce of studies - neither I nor the researcher, the hunky Dr Cam, know what these contain.)

So today, after two Weetbix with milk and sliced banana, I jump in the car and head off to my first session.

As I walk into the hospital, I pass the ambulance bay where a very frail old man is being transferred onto a bed. I think about George.

On Floor 8 of the hospital where all these research sessions are conducted, I meet four other women all at different stages, post breast cancer treatment.

We can identify each other immediately by our short cropped hair and the fact we are all wearing exercise gear.

After some introductions, Cam gives us each a workbook and begins the session which is recorded so that we can refer to it anytime in case chemo-brain sets in and we completely forget we were ever here.

He tells us that, over the nine weeks of this program, we will gain incrementally more sophisticated knowledge about exercise and nutrition.

The purpose of this program is not weight loss, but muscle gain.

I won't bore you with all the details of absolutely everything we are told but here are some pieces of information I absorb and that I didn't know before:

1. Regular exercise decreases the chance of breast cancer recurrence by 50%.(Hooray!)

2. Alcohol consumption increases the chance of breast cancer recurrence so substantially that it considerably outweighs any heart health benefits that may be associated with a daily glass of wine. (Yikes!)

3. Women who have been through breast cancer will age the equivalent of 10 years within the first 12 months of treatment - if they do not undertake regular exercise (and pay attention to nutrition). That basically explains why my muscles have all but disappeared. (Booooo!)

4. Consuming legumes daily assists in the trimming of the oestrogen (the culprit behind breast cancer).

5. Dr Cam's hobby is swing dancing: apparently it's great for the mind and the body.

After the information session, we are shown some fairly basic exercises but what I notice is the way we all groan in unison almost, as we lower our carcasses to the floor for the push up and ab exercises.

One lady, Robyn, has to use a chair. She is so weak she can't even do a push up and has to do them against a wall. Two ladies opt for the easier chair exercise, and I and the girl called Amy (who looks much younger than me) do them normally.

When Cam jumps on the table to demonstrate a correctly executed push-up I ask him if he could do them in the nude for my general amusement.

When he raises an eyebrow, I explain that in the ancient Olympics, all sports were performed in the nude... with olive oil rubbed on the bodies to make them look more appealing.

"Virgin Olive Oil," Cam comments.

The lady called Jane comments on the hideous sight that must pose - especially in the case of pole vaulting.

This little gum nut about the Olympics is something I picked up just yesterday, in fact.

I participated as guest speaker at a cancer fundraiser held at our local golf club.

With some 130 people in attendance, including quite a few of my friends and general associates around the 'hood, I was unusually anxious about this speaking engagement in the week leading up to the event.

I angsted over my speech and put in several hours steering it in the right direction, including several wrong turns and cul de sacs.

Right up to yesterday morning I was tweaking it - and secretly fretting that I'd make a total dick of myself in front of people who I see regularly.

Thankfully that was not the case.

I received a standing ovation and was presented with a huge basket of roses that I especially appreciated because they are locally grown and they were arranged by an elderly man who lives in this neck of the woods.

A few old dears came up to me afterwards to tell me how inspiring they found my speech.

These compliments are appreciated, but I hoped they realised I am not talking about my cancer experience to elevate myself. It is very difficult in fact and I find I struggle to contain my emotions when discussing the subject in any kind of oration.

After the girls in my class disperse, I drive to the cafe strip at nearby Milton where I stop for a coffee at the Dolce Vita.

I read my book and enjoy the feel of the warm winter sun on my back. A radio is playing some obscure Italian song, and when the waiter addresses me as 'seƱora', I imagine myself transported to the Piazza in Rome.

On my way back to Redland Bay, I divert via Victoria Point to buy a present for my pal and chemo angel, Tracey who has a birthday today.

When I get home, I drive into Cleveland to drop Harry at the station as he has a big Maths test this evening, and post Tracey's present on the return trip.

On the way back I stop at the gym and do an hour of weights including 20 minutes on the bike. I must say I find it a chore.

Tomorrow Ben celebrates his 15th birthday.

Will I still be here in 10 years time when it's his 25th?

Even if it means must limit the alcohol (boo hoo!) today I realised that I will intend to do whatever it takes to make absolutely sure I am.

It's certainly going to be a new experience for me to watch what I eat over the next few weeks.

Now (sad face) I suppose it's time for a glass of water.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Own Kokoda

As Brisbane moves into its bright and chilly winter season, I can't believe that it's been eight and a half months since diagnosis. Still, I wouldn't exactly say the weeks have been galloping away. It's been more like a fair trot if not a slow canter I guess as I've set out to regain some vestige of a 'normal' life.

With each passing day, the memory of my treatments recedes that little further and I regularly think how true it is that nothing is forever. One day Justin Beiber will be Keith Richards; one day Greece will be a thriving economy again (okay, that's a long bow: they'll need a work ethic first); and worst of all, one day Miranda Kerr will be a washed-out 'former model'

But recently, I'm aware that that 'one day' has already come where many of my friends are concerned. They have ticked that box saying "Bronwyn is well", and it's understandable that they may have already lost interest in what happens from now.

In fact, when I reported my first 'all clear' a few weeks ago, my friends were rejoicing with praise for my 'beating cancer'. Bless their cotton socks.

The sad reality though is that while I have the 'three month all clear', from now it'll be a case of getting past each mark - six months; 12 months; one year and then, the Holy Grail (apparently) the FIVE YEAR all clear.

In other words, it seems I can't really let my guard down for at least another 1661 days (but who's counting?) and until that time, I can't really crack the bottle of Veuve that Nim gave me.

It scares me a little, I have to admit: the fact that for the first time in my life, I am effectively living in the future. Whatever I'm doing now, out of the corner of my eye, I'm keeping tabs of what may lie ahead.

My titlessness notwithstanding, my creaking joints are there to continually remind me that all is not yet well.

Last week, for instance, Al, me and Ben went to see 'Men in Black III' at the local cinema. I haven't been to a movie in ages but imagine how I felt when, after the movie finished, Al had to help me down the stairs because I'd seized up so much. "Come on, granny," he said. Which is funny I suppose, but not very much when you're still only 48. It was mildly depressing.

I'm hardly bounding around like Snoopy in love, put it like that.

But "Mind over Matter" is my mantra and I'm not letting this sorry state stop me from doing the things I love or living life the way I like to live it.

Let me tell you about what happened last Sunday, two days ago.

"It was a dark and stormy morning..." No, really, it was! It was in fact pissing down with rain in Redland Bay where I live. It had been raining all night and all through the previous two days, enough so that soccer was cancelled, as were all the school sports.

It was wet and cold and I still couldn't breathe after carting round a bad cold for at least the past two weeks.

All in all, I was feeling pretty shabby but nonetheless, I found myself getting up at 4.30 am in the pitch dark and preparing myself for a CHALLENGE. Yes, another one. As if six chemo sessions weren't enough.

Firstly, let me explain that the details of this particular CHALLENGE weren't exactly clear to me until I did some research ... um... the night before.

As it turns out, I had foolishly agreed to participate in an event called the Brisbane Kokoda Challenge, all thanks to my BFF Louisa who, I must report, at least up to that point, had, shall we say, a rather inflated idea of her physical skill sets.

To those of you who are not Australian, let me explain that the actual Kokoda Trail is in Papua New Guinea and, if you Google it, you will discover that it is not exactly a Yellow Brick Road along which one might gaily trip while perhaps clutching a picnic basket under one's arm and singing a stanza or two from a favourite Gilbert & Sullivan opera.

This may give you some insight as to what the purpose of the Brisbane Kokoda Challenge is: it's to expose the otherwise comfortably manicured amongst us to what it REALLY means to be strong and courageous... at least that's what they say. The adjective I would use, in the case of Louisa and me however is STUPID.

Because as it turns out, on Sunday I found myself on a 30km CHALLENGE, heaving my sorry carcass, creaking joints, and crippled Size 37 feet up hill, up another hill, and up another hill, down slippery mud, through overflowing creeks and checkpoints with appealing names like "Hellhole Break" along with 699 other participants, mostly in an age bracket well below mine. Or Louisa's.

What's more it seemed that, in the main, the aforementioned participants did seem to have TRAINED for this event and seemed quite well equipped with hiking sticks, top-of-the range rain gear and so on.

Still, we persevered and along the way, I believe I found a metaphor. (I do LOVE metaphors!).

You see, the Brisbane Kokoda Challenge is not unlike any challenge you or I may face, and for me, of course, it was a metaphor for my battle so far with cancer.

I found myself taking the hills easily with a head down bum up approach, as I do believe it is better to get the more difficult bits over and done with as quickly as possible. Perhaps this is how I approached chemotherapy: my hills.

On the most difficult and slipperiest climb (the only part where I really found myself puffing a bit), it was quite easy because we were so far behind that footholds had been created by the crowd that went ahead. It's a bit like breast cancer I think: the experience of those who have gone before me have helped me with my climb so far.

This event also made it compulsory for teams to stay together, so I could not leave Louisa who is older than me. At the top of those hills I was forced to be patient and wait for her as she struggled up those hills, a few steps at a time. Here she is close to the end.

While I waited, eating my way through my fruit and chocolate bars and sesame snacks and peanut butter sandwich, I thought to myself that we all really have to run our own race in life. I couldn't be Louisa's legs. I could only encourage her. We all run at different paces. We all have our own strengths. I'm good at hills. Louisa is good at flats. (No, she really is. We were pretty well paired in the end).

And finally, like this challenge, breast cancer is not a race. It's not about coming first. It's not about being better than anyone else. It's about finishing. And hopefully not carking it along the way.

I should report too, that several participants (younger than us!) pulled out of the challenge. I didn't and neither did Louisa. If nothing else: we are finishers!

Now, I can't say I felt particularly fabulous about the whole experience. I can't say the heavens opened up with any Hallelujahs as I crossed the finish line. Frankly, I was over it at the half way mark as I don't need to prove anything to anyone any more about what I'm capable of.

I'm just one of these people who believes that if you start something, you finish it, no matter what. (To my soccer friends, may I just say the words "Garry Toovey" ... so you know what I mean. To the rest of you: never mind!)

What Kokoda has taught me though is that when you take on a Challenge it does help to know what you're in for. (It would have helped to know, for example, that that last bloody hill was not actually the last one. Not even the second last one!)

I hope this blog has done that for people who have a diagnosis of breast cancer.

And I hope that, like those with breast cancer who have gone before me, my footsteps will help someone else make it up that mountain.

For now? I'm putting my feet up.

My only challenge is learning to get up and down those steps without leaning on anyone.

But if you find me struggling, you know I'll gladly take your hand.