Just before I turned 38, I was informed that I had leukaemia and under two years to live unless I had a bone marrow transplant. I was the single mother of a beautiful 14-year-old son. I was working full-time and had two part-time jobs on the side to to make financial ends meet. Quite simply, my life consisted of work, feeding my child and I, repeat.
Because of this life schedule, I did not have the time for a personal relationship. As such, I remained a single white female when diagnosed with my illness. My support system was my kick-ass family: Ma, Pa, little sister and middle brother (who, by the way, saved me with his stem cells/bone marrow — another story for another day which can be read in my book, When the World Dropped In On Me.)
When I was diagnosed, my world stopped turning. I stopped working but continued to be the best parent I could with a quarter of the energy. I slogged through my cancer treatments in Seattle, WA — two-and-a-half provinces and one state away from my home in Saskatchewan. My fighting spirit along with the caregivers, my family and those friends who lifted my spirits for the critical six months in treatment helped me to live. I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of the 40% of patients who were expected to live through this medical procedure.
Today, 13 years later, I feel extremely grateful for my physical health. However, I am now realizing how my life after transplant is being impacted.
My mind, memory and overall emotional health has been affected. I continue to explore and better understand these 'results' of my treatments. It seems that I have pockets of memory loss. Although my family and friends are incredibly patient and non-judgmental when I ask them numerous times to remind me of ‘the time when….,’ I feel their concern. I try not to dwell on it, but my memory loss is a real thing. If I look on the bright side of ‘chemo brain,’ I get to hear old life stories as if they were new, and it is very difficult to hold onto resentment if you don’t remember what you’re angry about!
Overall, most days my mental and emotional health is moderately balanced (other than the memory loss). Other days, I question why I was one of the chosen ones to survive cancer. I’ve read that this is called survivor’s guilt.
When I feel off-balance, my emotional/mental health is like a roller coaster ride inside my head. I become agitated when I cannot complete tasks I knew I could before the disease and treatment. I am angry when I hear other human beings complain about their minor health struggles and setbacks. Other days, I just want to cry for me and those who surround me — and the whole world for that matter — in hopes of cleansing and re-filling all those who need it with the pure unconditional love of the Universe.
In some instances, I feel neutral, having no emotion at all. At other times, I am amazed at the life I have created in my life after cancer, which sees me living a simple and comfortable life in the beautiful Okanagan Valley with my business and life partner who loves me inside and out. This is my after life — undeniable, uncertain, but oh so entertaining! Who knew that my mind had so many intricacies of emotions, opinions, memories/no-memories, judgements and appreciation of life’s colours?
My biggest fear is to understand that my mind is being challenged in ways that may affect my future decisions. Can I work my job? Can I love unconditionally? Can I be loved unconditionally? Will I lose my partner or friendships?
I currently tune into mindfulness (a daily job) with meditation, humour, exercise combinations of outside hiking and gym, and am currently experimenting with cannabis solutions for the days that seem unexplainable within my mind. And I always feel better when I hydrate with water instead of wine!
I am constantly becoming. My biggest lesson as a 51 year old mother/grandmother/cancer survivor is that I must care for each of my personal relationships as if they are precious baby birds: take care of them; feed them with unconditional love; encourage them to fly on their own; and nurture them — even after they have left the nest.
I am human. I am always in practise mode. I have benefitted from reflection of my actions and 'placing myself in another's shoes' scenarios. I have apologized for those mistakes I feel I have made. I try to 'give good' on a daily basis as much as possible, meaning every time I feel sorry for myself or reflect on uncomfortable thoughts/emotions, I send loving thoughts to those who have been hurt. I am realizing now that I cannot control any other person's actions and must accept my relationships as they are.
I have lived a good life with ups, downs and questions. I am no different than any other woman my age. I seek peace and compassion and understanding from those around me, and chose not to live in an eager/anxious/disrespectful world. I try be the best role model I can be to those around me. I am ever-evolving and have accepted that every day will be different — both physically and emotionally.
I am me — unique and there is no one else out there that has the same abilities, thoughts and patterns as I.
How do I try to try to stay balanced?
Accept that I am going to have good and bad days. Roll with each of the days by staying in the moment and breathing through the tough moments.
Read and research: seek knowledge and understanding and ‘Hey Google’ help me to inspire my brain to think and keep the juices flowing for a healthy mind.
Do artsy things: create, create, create. Gardening, painting, sewing, etc. Try anything once.
Send out love: invisible (thoughts or prayers to another) or visible (mail, notes, cooking, creations, etc.). Love feels good to send. I ensure that my family recognizes how much I love them.
Exercise, hydrate, nap and sleep 8+ hours each night. We all know all about this. Putting it into action is what helps.
Try something new every month: read a new book, try a new recipe, take a walk on a different path, go for coffee with someone different or to a new cafe, try a new recipe etc. etc. etc. Life is meant to be lived!
Make good choices: I ask myself before I commit to any life task, encounter, or appointment: “Is this a healthy choice?”
Allow myself to enjoy and indulge in life. I try not to be afraid of the societal ‘rules of life.’ Be sensible, respectful and kind to all others and our environment, but try to enjoy small nuggets of happiness — loud music, vacuuming naked, singing off key, eat a bag of chips without remorse, hiking, extra time in the bathtub etc.
Believe and accept my after life. There is a Universal path designed for only me. I have some say in it, but also realize the choices I make dictate the side roads along my path.
Enjoy the journey. Period.
To order When the World Dropped in On Me — A personal and unusual guide to help cancer patients and their caregivers survive cancer, email: email@example.com