Lauren’s Story: Coming to terms with life after treatment

Today’s post is not my own.  This has been written by a very dear friend, whom I am yet to meet.  She is a young breast cancer survivor as you will tell by her story, a wife and a mom.  I have shared some of her journey with her, mostly via Watsapp messages and well, what can I add other than she’s a phenomenal and courageous woman.  She wrote this post on Facebook a week or so ago and I got her permission to share it on my blog because I think it needs to be heard.  This is her coming to terms with life post cancer story…

“Hello fb friends, I don’t often update about my journey with the c word and if I’m honest, I’m still uncomfortable that that c word is part of my journey but I’m working on that ‘acceptance’ phase 🙂

Ten months ago I wrote a post about having found a lump and much like many other breast cancer journeys the past ten months have involved what has felt at times like 10 years of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I realise I was sharing more about the c journey while I was going through chemo, and this week two things have happened that make me realise it’s time for me to draw that line of saying goodbye to cancer and to update the fb world that I’m starting to feel more like me again (and this has been so good to feel – yay!)

The first being that on Sunday my dear book club friends who know that I’m not comfortable with attention being on me, threw me a ‘Yay’ tea party celebration. Over the past months I have not always felt social and upbeat and positive, and some people don’t change during cancer treatment, they carry on doing all the things they used to, and although our family has definitely had many great moments, and we have certainly Lived during this time, and experienced SO much good and clung hugely to the positives, there are dark days and we have battled and felt quite broken at times. The shock and trauma has felt long and exhausting but on a positive note there have been many more good days than bad!

The physical battle of all the treatments, although relentless and tiring, for me is not the hardest one, it’s the mental battle of taming the fears and finding this new normal where we most certainly rejoice and live, and we learn to live alongside the reality of having had cancer – there’s nothing like a slap in the face of a life threatening illness to awaken us to how incredible every minute of every day on this earth is! I know that many people go through worse experiences and traumas but I also think that if cancer feels huge and big and devastating to you that’s also just fine, and very normal!

Back to the lovely tea party with these incredible friends who have shared all sorts of life experiences together – high school years, varsity years, marriages, divorces, difficulties falling pregnant, births, raising children, career changes and now cancer, and the sense that ‘Yay’ there is reason to celebrate because cancer or no cancer there is so much life around us every day and so much love in family and friendship and so much inspiration in people you meet along the way, and I laughed like I haven’t laughed in a long time and that felt good 🙂

Thank you special ladies xx

The second thing that happened is I went for a massage to the sweetest lady Pretty who gives the best massages! She is a dignified, quiet, sweet, reserved lady and although I’ve seen her quite a few times in the past months we have never really spoken much. She turned to me and gave me the hugest hug and said ‘You have beaten this! you are so brave” and I could see how absolutely thrilled she was for me! Driving home I was quite struck by this encounter because I could feel how in my head I sometimes have an anxious feeling of ‘have I really beat this?!’ and in the cancer world of the past few months being brave is just what you absolutely have to do (even when you feel very far from it!), you put your big girl panties on and even though you may have regular melt downs, you have to stay strong, and that even I am so accustomed to the land of Cancerville where you are poked and prodded and scanned ad nauseam, that I forget that to those around us who haven’t gone through cancer, it still feels as huge as it once did when I didn’t have this illness, but feared that dreaded c word and felt somewhat uncomfortable around those who had gone through it (because I didn’t know quite what to say or how to approach it all!).

What I’ve realised is we all react to trauma and ‘cancers’ (whatever they may be in our lives) in very individual ways and however we handle it and get through it, is the way it is and the way it’s meant to be! There are so many complexities on this path, there are ups and downs, and good days and bad days and days when I feel invincible and strong and have huge fight in me, and days when I’m petrified and worried for myself and our family and those who love us, and the cross can feel heavy. It’s the dichotomy of this c world.

The lessons learnt are so profound and life changing on so many levels and there is such gratitude and joy in the absolutely simple everyday things we tend to take for granted when we are cruising along in life and haven’t faced something huge yet. And yet like any human who has been dealt the cancer card, I still have days when I wish this was like when you get a disappointing dish in a restaurant and you can send it back to the waiter and say no thanks, not me please!

The women who I have connected with and turned to for support and understanding of what it’s like to go through cancer are absolutely unbelievable beacons of strength, these ladies reach out to fellow c sisters and share and love and embrace and encourage and ‘lift up’ as if they were real blood sisters, they are there any time of the day and night. It’s a world where a round of chemo is treated like Corenza for a cold and the positivity, empathy and deep understanding that comes from shared experience is HUGE. The conversation ranges from wigs to mastectomies to fears of leaving loved ones behind, and in between all of this we really also laugh, often!! Some I have never met in real life, yet there is real connection. You ladies know just who you are and thank you for all the friendship, wisdom, tips and understanding.

And the point of this ‘essay like’ post? That I think it boils down to vulnerability and acceptance of complexity and that I’m learning that in the cancer world there exists space for discomfort, that our family’s ‘new normal’ and everyday life means becoming more comfortable with discomfort and things that scare us, that resilience is something that is often learned – slowly one day at a time, that these words we have on decorations in our homes and see in the home décor shops – ‘Love, Faith, Hope, Joy, Smile, Laugh, Dream’ have such real and deep meaning when you experience difficult times. That petty things are just that and that the small stuff is so very very small! That love in family and friends and the care and kindness we show other human beings are the only things that really matter. That when I’ve posted happy pictures of our family, we are happy and we are living right now in the moment, but there’s also space for being scared and uncertain and vulnerable.

That re-building oneself and picking up the pieces after a storm takes time, some people are quicker at it than others, but that we are all just trying to do the best we can do today, with what life throws at us! That God sustains us during very dark times and assures us that there will come a time when the sun shines again, when less stressful days start to become less stressful months and then God willing less stressful years, and we are given daily strength and courage to face our battles and then to work at finding ourselves again. And the cancer cliché that is very true – that being alive is a blessing! I am unbelievably aware of every 24 hours and the sunrise and sunset every day.

Above all I want to thank everybody out there who has shown our family love, kindness and support, – SUCH an unbelievable outpouring of love, there have been so many of you – our immediate families who have shared the trauma and stood by our side through good and bad days, our family friends, our amazing group of ‘old’ friends, girls from school who I haven’t spoken to in years, varsity friends, my antenatal group, my toptots group, my Penzance family, David’s work friends and colleagues, friends from previous jobs, Glenridge school friends, my old sewing friends, friends living overseas, my American families and friends, our nanny Happiness who tirelessly plays with our kids when I’ve been unwell, wonderful new friends I have made through this journey, my soul sisters friends, my amazing oncologist who fights so hard with and for her patients and the friendly staff at Westridge oncology, friends who send me prayers every single day, such incredible people fighting cancer (often more than once) who I have met in the oncology waiting rooms or at chemo – whose stories continue to humble me, friends of friends who enquire about me, and other people who have reached out to me who I’ve never replied to because I was too overwhelmed, distracted and frightened at the time, and I know I’m leaving some out! All of these people make up the ‘colour’ and spirit of our lives. There have been meals, gifts, cards, prayers, messages, spending days and nights with us, calls, sitting with me during chemo sessions, and so many listening ears to hear frustrations (often the same old ones ha ha), joys and celebrations along the way, there has been support for David (because this is just as hard on a partner as it is on the patient), and there is SO much appreciation for all of this love and people rooting for our family and wanting me to be well and healthy again.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, that I didn’t feel jittery and quite terrified about regular oncology check-ups, paranoid and neurotic about any pain I experience or when I’m feeling a bit unwell, the continued blood tests, the side effects of maintenance drugs I am now on and the ‘scan-xiety’ that will always exist, but there is also so much hope and when there is hope there is life! Please continue to keep our family in your prayers xxx and thanks if you’ve read to the end of my essay 😉

“Life is unchartered territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time” (Leo Buscaglia)

Here’s to continued health and days well lived for all of us! and very importantly – ladies please check your boobs, often!!”

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