It’s Not That Easy, Being Human

HI. This is a long read. It’s a bit bleak at times. So maybe don’t read it if you’re feeling close to an edge. If you are, reach out and get help. Mind, The Samaritans, your GP. They all want to hear from you if you’re struggling. And I am sending you so, so much love, and telling you that you are worth it. You are worth fighting for, and it doesn’t matter if your blues are as big as Goliath, you are David and you are stronger than you think. OK? Cool.

It has been a pretty rough couple of weeks, if I’m being brutally honest. And I will be honest and say that when it comes to talking about my feelings explicitly, I’m rarely honest. With myself. With my friends, my family, even my (amazing, god love the NHS, AGAIN) therapist. I joke and laugh and pretend everything is OK when really, I’m actually struggling. A lot. My brain takes me to some very dark places sometimes. It also takes me to some really fricking awesome places sometimes too, to give it it’s due. Yesterday I imagined what it would be like if my train reached a certain velocity and took off, like an aeroplane – but that’s a blog for another time. I have the most vivid imagination and it’s often useful. It’s a huge part of who I am. I read a quote that said “the best use of imagination is creativity, the worst is anxiety.” Too true yo. I’ve been under a bit of a cloud over the last 10 days. Truth be told, I went about 700 rounds in the ring with The Blues and it KICKED.MY.ASS. I am just about stepping out into the sunlight now, blinking, recoiling a bit and trying to figure out how to cope when (and I know it’s a when, not an if) I slip back there again. The sunshine feels nice on my face, as it flickers across my skin and reflects off the tips of my eyelashes but I feel very aware that it is temporary.

The last couple of weeks have been some of the hardest I’ve had for a while. This time though, these tough weeks haven’t come  because my body is fighting against me, but because my brain and I have been in a constant and unrelenting battle of the wills. A battle that, more often than not, my mind has won.

The thing is, I don’t even know where it began. Can’t put my finger on what has caused me to plummet into the darkest orifices of my brain and linger there for longer than I should. I’ve been back in CBT for a while now and feel like I’ve been making solid progress. I’ve been learning about ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) and have felt like I was really moving forward. I’ve been working so very hard on being as compassionate to myself as I am to others. My incredible counsellor and I had a massive breakthrough, which left us both sat, staring at each other, wondering how we had missed this. We figured out the formula for who I am, who my depression is and how that impacts my every day. I left my last session almost two weeks ago feeling lighter than I had for a long time – with some kind of an explanation for why I feel how I feel in every segment of my life. If you cut me down the middle, you’d see the person I am and this written right through my insides. But not long after this revelation, the fog began creeping in. I could feel it coming, sensed the air change and felt the hairs on the back of my neck begin tingling. My spider senses were letting me know something was on the way to me.

Then it hit, like a tidal wave of negative thoughts, unreasonable self talk, inexplicable expectations and crippling doubt. Thoughts that I can’t write, that I’m a fool for even thinking that I can make a career out of this, that I’m slipping, constantly slipping, never moving forward from cancer, incapable of living a life worthy of being a survivor, that I’m not worthy of being happy, that I am useless because I am not making a difference in my life, that I will never get a grip on the darkness that pervades all of my life, even when it’s sitting on the peripheries.

I’ve come to learn that my depression is not a phase. It is not a season of my life. While the clouds will roll in, the sun will peek out from the darkness. Hell, I will even experience the most beautiful summer days sometimes, for long, long, long periods of time, but the clouds will always return at some point, and part of my journey to figure this shit out is that I’ve gotta accept that. Both my counsellor and I have acknowledged that these feelings will not be permanent, but they are not short term. I will learn, am learning that this is part of my makeup, part of what makes me who I am.

I had a realisation though, when my depression meant I felt nothing – nothing at all – at a bout of amazing news that even though this is part of who I am, it doesn’t have to rule my life. It doesn’t have to dominate. I am striving to do more to protect my mental health. I’m working on putting in place soothing strategies that I can use to protect myself when my mind turns against me. Because even though this is who I am, it does not define me. And I will not let it take joy from me. It might borrow (more like TWOC) my joy. But I will always get it back.

SO THERE DEPRESSION, TAKE THAT YOU POO BRAIN. I’ll be ready for the next round when you come a knockin’.

Today I’m feeling much better. Today my mind and I are friends again. Today I carry lightness and brightness, not emptiness and the dark.

Quick note: Can’t recommend Mind Over Marathon on the BBC enough, especially if you want to learn more about the way other people’s brains work if it’s not something you’ve experienced. I also wholeheartedly recommend listening to Through The Roses by Future Islands, responsible for the title of this blog, and a reminder that we, that’s you, me and everyone, can pull through together. Talking is key. Conversation is essential.

On This Day. And This One. And This One

When I was a kid and we first got the Internet at home, I was transfixed by looking at the BBC’s On This Day website. This was, of course, in the years before MySpace came into existence and I found myself wasting time choosing apt song lyrics to express the depths of my emotion and deciding which of my friends should be in my top 9, not to mention being distracted by the politics of being a teenage girl. But before all that, when things were a bit simpler, I think On this Day was probably the website I visited most. I used to sit and read about all of the things that happened on specific days in history. What happened on my birthday. What happened on mum’s birthday, on dad’s, on my sisters. What happened on Christmas Day in 1973 or at the turn of the century. We had this enormous book called The Chronicle of the 20th Century which I used to pore over for hours at a time, devouring news articles and headlines from specific days of specific years in history. And it wasn’t even because I was a history buff who was obsessed with history lessons at school. While I found that part of the book and the internet interesting, I was more fixated on the idea of anniversaries than anything else.

It’s interesting, because I wrote about Facebook’s On This Day page for Stylist last summer and talked about how nostalgia like this can be damaging or painful. I stand by that line of thought in a lot of cases, especially relating to ex partners or old friends, or people who are noticeably absent from your life, but I still find anniversaries that aren’t directly related to myself pretty fascinating.

We all have anniversaries or days that we mark, whether they’re personal like birthdays or wedding anniversaries or the anniversary of losing a loved one; or whether they’re more generic days celebrated by everyone – St Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, Armistice. But when something happens – like in my case, you guessed it, you get diagnosed with cancer, you’re given a whole new bunch of anniversaries to celebrate. Scratch that.  I’m pretty sure celebrate is not an appropriate word for all of them, but there are certainly days that you notice more after you’ve heard those words.

The anniversary of the day you’re diagnosed. The day you had your surgery. The day you started chemo. The day you shaved your head. The day you finished chemo. The day you finished treatment. And almost inevitably, cos I am prone to excessive rumination, all of these days stick in my head. I never know if they’re happy days, sad days or a combination of the two. Sometimes I’m not even really thinking about it but I wake up and feel a bit strange and it takes me a couple of hours or a couple of days to notice the date and realise why (I can still blame that on chemo brain, right?). And every time one of these anniversaries comes around, I feel simultaneously like 30 seconds and 30 years have passed since whichever anniversary it is.

Last weekend was one year since I finished active treatment. I can remember every single detail of the morning leading up to my last radiotherapy session. I can remember what I was wearing, I remember sending Chris to find the nurses I’d seen every day for three weeks to give them a box of biscuits – a small token of my gratitude for making one of the weirdest times in my life seem more normal. I remember lying on the table, arms above me in 5th position and thinking about how far I had come in the 10 months since they said I had cancer. I wore red lipstick – the best armour I know – and I tried my hardest not to cry as they blasted me with a final dose of radioactive waves, the last my right breast will ever receive.

I feel like I haven’t come that far since I finished treatment, but in my heart I know I must have. Time moves, whether we want it to or not. Time passes, whether it goes at the speed we think it should or not. Days come and go, and whether we want to or not, there are so many that we’ll associate with people or things that happened. It’s like muscle memory – and even if the mind forgets key dates, the body always seems to remember. I guess it’s just a case of figuring out how we process the dates that snag our consciousness. And knowing that it’s OK to feel ’em, no matter if the feeling is positive or negative, or somewhere in between the two. That’s not just for dates relating to cancer either. It’s for all of the dates that mean something to me. All the dates that mean something to you.

I think I’ll always be obsessed with anniversaries – whether they’re mine or historical ones. I have a lot of dates that stick in my mind and I honestly wonder what I’d know if I didn’t use up valuable space in my memory with this kind of thing. And song lyrics. Reckon I know the equivalent of that whole Chronicle of the 20th Century in song lyrics. It’s also weird that chemo has forced me to forget what I went into the kitchen for (EVERY TIME) but allows me to remember key dates. THANKS BRAIN.

Life and Loss

I got a couple of bits of news this week that shook me up. Neither are my news to tell, so I won’t go into specifics but, as you can probably guess from the title of this blog, they’re both related to loss, and unsurprisingly, cancer. Two people who I know, mostly through my writing on this platform, were both killed by cancer in the last week or so. I can guarantee that these women have left behind enormous voids, holes in the lives of the many people who loved them. I didn’t know either of them well, but they’ve left a hole in my life. I can’t imagine the impact this has had on the people they’ve left behind. Once again I’m reminded of cancer’s cruelty and the volatility of the lives we are all trying to make the best of.

I don’t want to make this about me, because it isn’t. These reflections come as a result of myself and these people being in the same situation – finding ourselves on the receiving end of the words no-one ever wants to hear. The words “it is cancer”. But I know that the longer I live as a person who has had breast cancer, the more people I’ll meet going through the same or similar experiences, and the more people I’ll encounter who don’t make it through. The more often I’ll (and I mean that in a general sense as a person who is part of the cancer community) hear of the deaths of those for whom treatment didn’t work as well as mine seems to have done.

And it’s a reminder. It sounds selfish and I don’t mean it to, but it’s a reminder of how lucky I am to still be here, even when, in the throes of a depressive few weeks which have been dark and deep and suffocating, I find it hard to remember.

I think I’ve talked before about how people who have experienced cancer become a kind of tribe. Regardless of age, gender or whether you’ve had breast or ovarian cancer, lymphoma or Ewing’s sarcoma, we are kind of all in it together and we feel every loss very, very keenly. Late last year when we lost one of our fellow Boobettes, Alex who was just 26, I was devastated. I had never met her, we followed each other on Twitter, but our paths had never crossed in real life. That didn’t matter though. We were both Boobettes. She was one of us. One of our own. Her loss was a brutal reminder of why CoppaFeel! has to exist.

And there’s the fear too that comes with this kind of news. And the guilt. The fear because you can’t guarantee that the same won’t happen to you at some point in the future. The guilt for even thinking about it when you should be thinking about the person who has died rather than thinking about yourself. And the guilt that if you’ve made it through the thing that so cruelly killed them, you should be doing a lot more with your life. You should be doing it for them and every other person who has been killed by this disease that you have somehow escaped, rather than finding yourself sobbing in the shower, again, for the fourth time in a week, because cancer happened to you too.

And then I find myself thinking about the other people I’ve met who have had or are currently living with cancer. I worry for their futures more than my own truth be told, especially those closest to me. But one of the redeeming features of being diagnosed with cancer is the people you meet. Incredible people who have lived through the same sort of experiences as you. And while the risks of losing these people are almost tangible, not surrounding yourself with these people for fear of loss would be foolish. Because they are your tribe. Because you can learn from them. And if it weren’t for cancer you never would have met them.

Regardless of the feelings I have around the cruel news I heard this week, there is one thing that continually strikes me about cancer. Cancer is not avoidable but early detection does save lives. These brilliant women realised something wasn’t right with their bodies and got it checked out. In their cases, the cancer was aggressive and this wasn’t enough, but knowing ourselves and recognising any changes are positive steps towards stamping out late detection of cancer. News like this gives credence (not that we need any more) to the incredible work that CoppaFeel! are doing for breast cancer, and general education around cancer with their #RethinkCancer campaign. The three Boobette talks I’m doing this month will mean more to me than ever before.

So a couple of housekeeping bits before I go, and it’s a while since I’ve asked you this, but I’d really like you to pay your body some serious attention today and if anything doesn’t feel right, go see your doctor. Check your boobs, your balls, if you’re a woman who has had any unexplained bleeding after sex or between periods, call your surgery. If you’ve any lumps and bumps anywhere that you’re not sure about, make an appointment to go and get prodded by your GP. They want to hear from you if you’re worried about something. They really do, I promise.

And lastly if you’re having a glass of wine any time soon, I’d really like you to join me in raising it to Sharon and Margo.

Exposed at New York Fashion Week

I saw something in the news this week that almost made me cry. And while, I’m more inclined to cry when I see the news these days (since Brexit in June and Donald Trump’s inauguration) these near tears weren’t borne out of sheer despair at the state of the world (that’s another blog post), these almost weepies came as a result of something that happened at New York Fashion Week on 14th February.

While I may not look like I know my shit when it comes to fashion, I think it’s pretty fair to say that I do. I’m no expert but I sit at the sidelines of the internet and watch with interest as fashion shows unfold around the world. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to explore backstage and sit on the front row for a couple of shows at London Fashion Week and I was absolutely in my element. I know I’m not exactly a style icon. It’s rare you’ll find me out of my jeans and a baggy tshirt, especially in these uniboob days, but my love of fashion has been formulated by the fact that it was my sister’s first love. So I’ve watched as the shows have rolled out of New York over the last few days. I clocked “hot convict” Jeremy Meeks (aka Stockton’s most famous export) on the runway for Phillip Plein, I swooned at Oscar de la Renta’s utterly dreamy AW17 collection and I noticed the rise in “fashtivism” on and off the runway throughout the week.

I never expected to look to a NYFW catwalk and see myself looking back at me. I’m not disillusioned, despite my recent rendez vous on the catwalk for Breast Cancer Care – I know I am far from model material. I do not see myself in Gigi Hadid or Karlie Kloss. But when a bunch of incredible and awesome breast cancer survivors, over half of whom are living with metastatic breast cancer, took over New York Fashion Week in an alternative lingerie show, I saw myself. I saw my broken and scarred body in these women and saw that it could still be beautiful. I saw their confidence and I saw their passion and determination and I recognised that I carry that with me now too. Not always, and not often as clearly as these guys did on the catwalk, but I do. I think every breast cancer survivor does in one way or another.

I whooped when Ericka Hart stood at the end of the catwalk, holding her power pose. I had to hold back the tears when one of the models who spoke to the BBC said that she felt really powerful because she is “tired of feeling ashamed of having cancer”. I was overwhelmed with pride for these women.

I read a lot about race and gender and representation. I know that as a white, straight, cisgender woman – representation is not an issue for me. While I may not see people like myself on runways in fashion shows, I do see them everywhere else – on the tv, in magazines, on billboards, in newspapers, in movies – but I appreciate how important it is for young girls to see women of colour on their TV’s or in their magazines. I can understand how incredible it must feel for disabled people to recognise something of themselves in advertising campaigns and I had an even better understanding of it when I saw these powerful breast cancer survivors normalising the after effects of a disease which has impacted every.single.part of my life. I know that I have nothing to complain about when it comes to representation. There are far bigger fish that we need to fry on that account. But this show made me feel human again. And it made me feel like a woman again. And it made me feel that I can be sexy again and beautiful again, regardless of the fact I’m missing a breast, a nipple and the vast majority of my self confidence. It made me feel powerful again. For today at least.

Created by AnaOno Intimates, who specialise in mastectomy and post surgery underwear and curated by US designer, and breast cancer survivor, Dana Donofree, the show was a first for NYFW – never before have “real” women stomped their way down the catwalk and I’m pretty sure no women will ever do it in quite the same way again.

Donofree told Reuters: “It is a very important moment for them [the models] to get out there and experience something like this because breast cancer has taken over their bodies.”

And this isn’t just important for the models Dana. This is important for every breast cancer survivor everywhere.

So thank you.

Image taken from AnaOno Intimates blog.

 

If crispy potatoes are wrong, I don’t wanna be right

I mean. I’m not sure there’s much more to say on this topic other than the headline, but I’m going to expand anyway.

You might have heard the news last week that crispy potatoes, over browned bread and other overcooked starchy foods pose a cancer risk. Add these to the ever growing list of other foods that cause cancer – sugar, red meat, processed meat (THAT MEANS BACON), refined white flour, Nutella and so on and so forth – it looks like we’ll soon be eating spinach leaves and tofu, until it’s decreed that they too, come with a risk of developing malignant tumours. If we’re not feeling guilty for eating a slice of cake because of the impact it will have on our waistlines, we’re stressing about carcinogens, hydrogenated oils and now acrylamide (word of the week) and whether they’ll have a detrimental impact on our lives or make us come out in a tumour.

The thing is – everything has the possibility to be detrimental to one’s health if consumed in excess, but it seems we’re living in a perpetual state of fear when it comes to whether our diet will cause cancer. As a person who is currently living with the very real prospect of getting cancer again at some point in the future, having already had it the once, I do not have the time, energy or inclination to start eradicating things from my diet because there’s a chance (and usually a very flimsy chance) they might cause cancer.

Whatever happened to enjoying good food without being terrified of the possible, minute risk that it might take a year or so off our lives? What ever happened to embracing a balanced diet with a little indulgence here and there? Eating food should be joyful – something to be savoured and appreciated – not something to be feared or berated for. It is a privilege to live in a country where we can savour and appreciate the food we are eating.

There’s so much fear mongering around diet – particularly diet and cancer – that it’s becoming suffocating. I think it’s time we stop listening to absolutely everything we’re being told about eating food and relearn that a little of a good thing probably isn’t all that bad.

As Cancer Research pointed out in a recent blog, it’s too soon to decry slightly browned bread and the crispy roasties you like to have alongside your Sunday roast (I bloody love a roast potato). The scientific findings are patchy at best, but you’d think from the coverage in the media that a single browned spud will immediately take three years off your life. The research into acrylamide (carried out on animals) shows that it has the potential to damage the DNA inside cells, which in turn, links it to cancer. But when researchers looked into the links between acrylamide and cancer in people, actual human people who are made up of the same bits and pieces as you and me, there isn’t a clear and consistent link between this chemical and an increased risk of cancer. The evidence for these latest claims is, what Cancer Research described as “weak and inconsistent”.

Now, I love food. I’ve come a long way from the days when I would only eat yellow rice (true story – the parents ended up adding food colouring to white rice, clever things). I like nothing better than cooking up a delicious feast for my loved ones or hanging out with my friends in a gorgeous restaurant and indulging in a five course tasting menu. I’d MUCH rather eat an amazing meal with CDB than go out and drink away £60 on a boozy night out. But I appreciate the importance of having a balanced diet and I know that there are ample, proven studies that show that having a balanced diet is a sure fire way to reduce your cancer risk.

So I’m not saying that we should all just live on potatoes and white bread because to hell with it. I’m saying we need to realign ourselves with a love of food. We need to look after ourselves, but not to the extent that we’re chopping things out of our diet on the basis of a media outcry that is based in loose facts.

We should be asking questions every time the media reports something like this. I simply cannot accept a ban on roast potatoes without hard evidence. We know that the main things that affect cancer rates are smoking, drinking excessively and being overweight, so how’s about we concentrate on those things, enjoy a little of what we fancy and make an effort to go for a long walk every now and again.

And I know one thing for certain. If eating crispy roast potatoes is wrong, I don’t wanna be right. If they cause cancer, I’ll take the risk. After all, life is for living, not for fearing the future. And I say that as a breast cancer survivor.

Why I March

I don’t know when I became a feminist. I used to say that it happened as an accident, that I stumbled my way towards it, but I’m not altogether sure that’s true any more.

I was raised to believe that I had the same rights as any man or boy I encountered. I was told I could do whatever I wanted, regardless of my gender. My parents instilled in me an innate sense of feminism – so much so that I didn’t realise I was a feminist until I gained a proper understanding of the word. That probably only happened a couple of years ago. And at first, I was embarrassed to call myself a feminist. The word had gathered a number of negative connotations – that we were rabid manhaters who believed in women gaining superiority. That we were angry, shouty women who resented men for all they had achieved. For a long time, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say, I referred to myself as an “equalatist” because I believed in total equality – regardless of gender, religion, race, sexual preference. Hey, past Alice, that is not a word. That which you’re describing there is feminism.

I don’t know when I suddenly realised that I was a feminist. I guess, it was when I started reading around the subject more. When I began finding articles by strong and intelligent women who had proclaimed themselves as feminists and found myself nodding along vehemently. Or when I sat down with my pal Sara (who now works at Buzzfeed and who you should follow because of her innate skills for keepin’ it real) to chat about feminism over our Sainsbury’s lunch. She said to me “Alice. Do you believe in equality for men and women?” to which I replied “of course.” And she looked at me with one of her knowing looks (she’s actually the smartest person I’ve ever met) and said “dude, that makes you a feminist”.

Now, I don’t hesitate to say I’m a feminist. I stand with my white, cisgender privilege and declare that I’m a feminist who tries damn hard to make sure my feminism is intersectional – that it applies to all women. I KNOW that my battles are different to those of women of colour or transgender women (who, incidentally have as much right to declare themselves as women as I do, regardless of how we were born), and I try hard to fight ableism too – but I’m still learning every day.

So when I made the mistake of looking at my phone at 5am the morning after the US election and discovered my heart in my mouth as I read that Donald Trump, a proven misogynist, had become President Elect of the USA, and held back tears for women across the globe – I knew that no matter how small it was, I wanted to add my voice to the cacophony of those who were shouting about women’s rights. That’s why I joined the Women’s March on London on Saturday afternoon.

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I marched to proclaim that Trump’s treatment of women throughout his lifetime is not OK with me. I marched in solidarity with the women whose needs were overlooked and ignored by white, middle class women in America when they voted into power a man who is fundamentally racist. I marched with the people who are scared about their future under the tyrannical reign of Donald Trump. I marched with the LBTQ population to help remind the world that love is love, whatever shape or form it comes in. I marched because women’s rights are human rights. I marched because we can never move forward if over half of us are held back. I didn’t march to speak for any of these people, because I can’t speak for every person in the world, but I marched alongside them, with them, to let them know I’m behind them.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism about the Women’s March movement over the last few days, but from where I was standing (admittedly the crowd was so big, I didn’t make it out of Grosvenor Square), this march was about solidarity. It wasn’t calling for another election. It wasn’t claiming that Hilary should have won (that’s a whole other can of worms to open and digest). It wasn’t about decrying women’s rights as fundamentally more important than men’s. It was about saying that what happened in the US election wasn’t ok with us. It was about humans, regardless of gender, standing together and saying that they way Donald Trump treats people is not the way we believe people should be treated.

I live in the UK, so I’m not directly threatened by Donald Trump but I am threatened by his opinions and his attitudes. We all are. These scare me. What they mean scares me. And as my friend Linzi just said on Facebook:  “Dear any women saying they do not understand the women’s marches because they do not feel PERSONALLY threatened by Trump. Firstly, that he could be elected even after the misogynistic, racist, hateful rhetoric he spewed is a threat to everyone, worldwide. Secondly, intersectionality always.”

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So what was my personal motivation for marching? Because I know women who have felt threatened by men throwing “locker room talk” around. I marched because this kind of behaviour is a gateway to domestic violence. I marched to let the British Government know that I believe they should be addressing all of these issues when exploring the “special relationship” with the USA over the next four years. I marched because women have been battling against the stream of misogyny for years and it’s time this shit stopped. I marched because I can not believe we live in a world where Donald Trump has become president. Or rather because I absolutely can believe it, and that says more about the world we live in and the horrifying reality of what that means for US citizens. I’ll be honest, I’ve been sleepwalking, consistently assuming the best of people. But with Brexit and now Trump’s election, I’ve had a massive wake up call, and it’s significantly less pleasant than being woken up by foxes banging in the garden at 2.34am (you’ve all heard that noise, right?).

Truth be told, I’m still figuring out where to go next from here (but I’m starting by reading threads like this one). I don’t want this to be where me adding my voice to the cause ends. I want to keep working to make a difference and I want to keep standing in solidarity with the 4 million people all over the world who stood up on Saturday and said “not in our name”. So this isn’t over yet. It’s far from over.

I will keep shouting for the next four years in the hopes that it will make a difference. I will be a nasty woman and I will be proud of it. I will strive to be kinder than ever. I will strive to keep adding my voice whenever it matters, not just when everyone else is doing it.

Because we are all in this together. And we’ve got to look after each other.

Now, more than ever.

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Great things I’ve read about the March

This is why I’ll be marching – Marisa Bate on The Pool

The Women’s March heralds a renaissance of resistance – Eve Ensler on The Guardian

Pictures From Women’s Marches on Every Continent – New York Times

Why Londoners are standing in solidarity with the U.S. at the Women’s March – Rachel Thompson on Mashable

Fear

I went ice skating for the first time in a long time recently. I hadn’t hesitated when my friend had asked if I wanted to go to Morning Gloryville’s festive early-morning ice skating rave. Yes. Yes I did want to go along. Yes I absolutely did want to listen to banging tunes as I skated my way around Somerset House with people dressed as unicorns. What better way would there be to spend the last day of November other than with a bunch of other people who thought getting out of bed at an ungodly hour to go ice skating was a good idea? None.

I was excited and, despite having to get out of bed at 7am for the first time in a long time, I’d been looking forward to going for a while. I laced up my boots and shuffled towards the rink entrance. But as I moved towards the ice, I was completely and entirely stricken by fear. I suddenly realised that, since being diagnosed with cancer, I no longer felt invincible. I was no longer as fearless as I had been before I got sick. I was suddenly all too aware of the things my body could and could not do. I was worried about slipping, catching myself on my right side and pulling my mastectomy scars. Paralysed, I looked at my friend and simply said “I don’t think I can”, ready to walk away. I suddenly realised just how fragile I feel these days. And just how far away I am from the person I was before I got sick.

I don’t think I’d ever felt real fear before I got my breast cancer diagnosis. Not the kind of fear that stops you in your tracks and fills you with a sickening feeling from your toes right through to the crown of your head. Not the cliched kind of fear that leaves you trembling. The first time I remember feeling fear like that was the day I went in for my mastectomy, as I waited for the anaesthatist to put me under. What a wonderfully charmed life to have lived though, right? I was never afraid of jumping off a waterfall and into the cold waters of Low Force when I went ghyll scrambling for my #25at25 challenge. I’d never been scared of my body failing me. I wasn’t scared of travelling to Texas on my own, or of throwing myself into open water swimming. Or of setting myself challenges I never knew if I could manage. I’d literally never been scared of ice skating before, despite being the person who ALWAYS falls over and ends up with the most hilarious bruises. But it seems cancer has stopped me from being quite as fearless as I used to be.

And I’m not just talking about getting scared of doing things. I’m actually really scared of my body. I don’t trust it not to let me down again. I’d never had reason to doubt it before, never questioned that it was entirely on my side, but ever since I found that lump in Cornwall all that time ago, I’ve been aware that some parts of what my body does are entirely out of my control. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I haven’t always known this fact, it’s just I have had a sickening reminder of that fact pretty much every day since 7th July 2015.

When I was in treatment, my body was not my own, and even though treatment is over now, I still feel like it isn’t mine again yet. And more to the point – I just don’t trust it. Someone asked me recently if I’d forgiven my boobs for trying to kill me yet. I said I wasn’t sure but I guessed not. But now I know the answer. The boob is forgotten, MIA until further notice, but the body is not yet forgiven.

So where do we go from here? How do I get back to being the fearless person I was before my breast tried to kill me? How do I forgive my body for putting me through everything? I guess I focus on the things that I am thankful for. As I bend and stretch a little more every week in yoga. As I reflect on the fact that even though my body betrayed me, I couldn’t have got through the last 18 months without it. It could have given up on me completely in the throes of treatment but it dealt with everything that was thrown at it in it’s stride. So I’m grateful to it for that. And it is this I must focus on as I try to move forward.

I guess you want to know whether I got on the ice or not. I did. I did so with huge trepidation and wouldn’t have managed it without the friend who took me by the arm and told me that I could. I couldn’t have done it if the girls hadn’t eased me round steadily as my confidence grew and consistently checking how I was. I had to put my trust in them that I could do it. That I would do it. And that I’d be OK when I did do it. Even if my body had let me down in any way when I was on the ice, I still would have been OK.

I just had to borrow some fearlessness from my friends. And til I find my own again, that’s OK too.