Silver Linings

I have been extremely torn over the following blog. Why? Because I want to portray the positive changes that have occurred in my life since my diagnosis, yet I don’t want to give a round of applause to cancer; it’s definitely not deserving of it. It takes lives, too many lives. It deserves all the nasty attention it receives, but – and it’s a pretty big ‘BUT’ – for those who are able to fight the battle, and win, cancer can change you. It’s changed me for the better. So let me tackle this a different way. I won’t ‘thank’ cancer; I’ll merely share the ‘silver linings’ that have come from it.

First a story, you all know I like a story…

After surgery and before chemo, I stumbled upon Lance Armstrong’s Autobiography: It’s not about the bike. It was on sale for $2… I wonder why. I mentioned to a few people that I was reading this book, “Why? He’s just declared to the world that he used performance-enhancing drugs and stripped of all his titles! He’s a cheat!” True, yet I had my reasons. I was intrigued to read about how he dealt with his cancer battle. How did a professional athlete deal with chemotherapy? Was he told to sit around and do nothing? Did he listen? It was exactly what I needed to read as I anticipated the start of my own chemo journey.

There was something I read that really stuck with me. He mentions a letter he received from a fan after announcing to the world his diagnosis with testicular cancer. The fan writes, “You don’t know it yet, but we’re the lucky ones.” How can someone be lucky to have cancer? This statement resonated with Lance through his battle. He saw the positive changes he had made in his life: his added appreciation for life; family; friends, and his added desire to never give up during the tough times. He did a tougher battle through surgery and chemotherapy than I could imagine. I wasn’t wheeled into the operating theatre having odds stacked against me. I was having a ‘smallish’ lump removed and a few lymph nodes. Not once did I feel, or have I felt my life threatened. I can’t begin to think how hard chemotherapy was back in the 90s! He did it tough. It changed him. And in a roundabout kind of way, he was thankful to cancer (it’s so hard writing that).

So what silver linings has cancer brought upon my life? Here are a few…

Cancer brought me back to Australia.
There are many good friends on the other side of the world that would disagree that this is a silver lining (I miss you, too) but my family and friends in Australia do.

Cancer forced me to adopt a shaved head.
For my entire adult life, my hair has been the vain of my existence. I can’t emphasis that enough. I could never successfully style it – I constantly battled with straightening irons and curling devices. And don’t even get me started about being blonde and trying to get the colour right… every six weeks. I now know I actually suit short hair. People sympathised for me when I lost my hair (for me, not with me, I was not sad). I tried to explain that I was not only OK about it but I thoroughly enjoyed it. No hair, in summer – perfect if you ask me… By the end of treatment I didn’t even worry about wearing scarves when out and about. The most interesting comment I received was at the check out in Woolworths.
Her: “Excuse me, I don’t want to seem rude, but don’t people stare at you, because of your hair?”
Me: “I don’t really notice, and it’s too hot to care.”

Cancer has given me time to do more and give more to the community.
There is something very special about being able to give up your spare time for the benefit of others. From giving up my spare time – I’ve had a lot of it – I’ve met many amazing people since moving back to Ipswich. I’ve had time to volunteer at some events that have really touched my heart. For me, establishing a parkrun in Ipswich was a very big silver lining!

Cancer has changed my direction in life.
Although I was diagnosed just as I was about to start my dream job – working on Private Jets – the dream job was only to be short-lived. I knew deep down that I wanted to walk about from the life of flying in the near future. I will return to the skies on a part-time basis and have faith that other opportunities will appear when the time is right. Having not flown for over six months has really opened up to my eyes to life on the ground.

Cancer has given me a reason to write.
I was daunted when a friend suggested I start a blog to keep everyone informed throughout treatment. Did I expect it to unearth a passion for writing? Absolutely not! For the past 13 weeks I’ve been studying a small unit through University – Creative and Professional Writing. I’m not sure where the path will lead, but it has been extremely rewarding. It’s also kept chemo brain at bay… a little… I think…

Cancer has strengthened the bonds with the amazing people in my life.
I have felt so blessed by the outreach of support from so many people. It’s really hard to put into words how grateful I really am. And it’s not only been from my close circle of friends, but also friends who have been distant in my life for many years. I received so many emails and messages from people saying they had been following my blog and I have been in their thoughts.

Cancer has given me time for my family.
For the past eleven years I have lived interstate and abroad. Moving back home at thirty-two wasn’t a setback after all; it was a blessing in disguise. You’ll hear no complaints from me regarding this (maybe from them…).

Cancer has given me time to cook.
This may seem like an odd thing to be thankful for, but I lost my confidence cooking a long time ago. Working as Airline Crew, I was either eating room service or socialising on my days off. Now I can make a Pho from scratch and fresh pasta. I still can’t make rice… in a rice cooker… baby steps.

Cancer has enriched my life with knowledge.
It is amazing how much you learn when going through treatment. You are bombarded with so much information. I spent a lot of time on the Internet researching each drug I was dealing with… and I’ve tried a few! I know there are people who chose not to absorb the information. I was like that at first. When asked what type of cancer I had (apart from the obvious) I didn’t remember. Did I really need to know all the details? I realised I did and started to pay more attention after that. I remember chatting to a girl and her mother in the waiting room of the oncology ward; her mum was asking how my treatment was going. It was never an easy question to answer since I’ve had so many changes to my treatment. I asked her what type of chemotherapy she was having. Her reply, “I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, I have to have it anyway.” Everyone is different and I respect that.

Treatment is far from over. There are still challenges ahead… but the end is near.

There may be some people that find it hard to read this and understand where I’m coming from. It’s a very sensitive topic to talk about in a positive manner. Cancer affects so many people in so many ways. I’ve met people who are also going through treatment for breast cancer yet their outcome will be very different from mine. I feel utmost sadness and empathy for anyone who has lost a love one due to cancer. But for me, I’ll take the silver linings…

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