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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.

1 comment:

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