Last week, for the first time in three months, I pulled on my running shoes and went out. Just after a fourth unscheduled bout of surgery and for the first time since my mastectomy, I was able to run*, and with that, I was able to temporarily forget the last three months.
I was slow – a mile took me two minutes longer than it had before surgery. It was hard. I walked a lot and gave up after two miles. My legs aren’t as strong as they were, my chest tired easily, my boob ached and felt heavy and alien. But I did it. And I never thought I would enjoy running as much as I enjoyed that one. I’ve never appreciated my body’s ability to do it more. The feeling of doing something just for me, not for the medical team taking care of me, for the first time in three months, was the best kind of freedom. I used to hate running, but with swimming off the cards during my treatment (sob), it’s been the thing I’ve craved – for the moments of clarity that exercise offers you like nothing else.
They say that the relationship you have with yourself is the most important of all and I never feel that more than when I’m running. I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with myself (and I know I’ve said this before) but cancer has taught me a lot of things. Even though I don’t recognise the person, bald headed, scarred, mismatched and bleary eyed, looking back at me in the mirror, I recognise a strength in myself I never knew before.
Cancer has forced me to examine the relationship I have with myself more keenly than I ever have before. Dealing with cancer isn’t just about dealing with the gruelling physical effects – the nausea, the sore mouth, the lack of appetite, the exhaustion. It’s about dealing with the bleak thoughts when there’s no-one around. It’s being blindsided by living with the fear of reoccurrences and secondaries for the rest of your life when you’re tucking into a delicious spaghetti bolognese. It’s not being overwhelmed by what the future holds, and what your treatment plan holds, and rolling with it when you’re bowled another surgical curve ball and end up spending five nights in hospital. It’s laughing when your surgeon shouts “SOMEONE GET THIS GIRL A SANDWICH” after you’ve been nil by mouth for six hours and your surgery has had to be cancelled because your white blood count is in the toilet. It’s ignoring the voice that says “is it really worth all this?”
It’s getting reacquainted with your body when it has betrayed you, and learning to trust it again. It’s about finding self confidence in the face of something utterly shit when you’ve struggled to be self confident before. It’s standing in front of the mirror and still being able to see yourself despite the unfamiliarity of the reflection you see before you. It’s watching your hair come out in clumps and crying in the shower. It’s getting used to feeling the wind on your head and having to think about putting on a cap cos your brain feels frosty.
It’s learning new limits and not being hard on yourself when being hard on yourself is all you’ve ever known. It’s knowing that you can’t push through the exhaustion this time and that’s OK. It’s telling yourself that a messy kitchen does not matter. It’s knowing that this is not forever. God – it’s talking about cancer and yourself all the bloody time and being tired, oh so tired, of it. It’s wishing cancer could be removed from your vocabulary just for 24 hours.
It’s dealing with the demons that are telling you you’re making a fuss – that you should have battened down the hatches and sat this out without talking about it. That you shouldn’t have posted the picture of your bald head, all insta’d up, cos people might think you’re just looking for attention. It’s reminding yourself that something good has to come from this. It’s not underestimating the restorative powers of 10 mins of Headspace, a few shoddy yoga poses and Beyonce.
It’s having the worst day of your life, feeling more ill than you ever have before. And waking up every day and still wanting to fight.
But it’s not bravery. Bravery takes a choice. This is just life. It’s not a case of asking myself why me, it’s “why not me?” and getting the bloody hell on with it.
*Important reminder – I’m actually a terrible runner. I kind of hate it 90% of the time and I very much doubt I’ll ever run much further than 10km. I only do it because it’s good for me. And it gives me a break from the constant wirretting in my brain. But I’d always choose to swim instead if I could.
NB – dealing with cancer is also not really caring as much as you should that the featured image of this post isn’t the right size but also not having the energy to fix it. Similarly, it’s knowing that this blog post is a real stream of consciousness that is probably really poorly written and difficult to understand but, six days post chemo, it’s just embracing it and sending a big SOZ to you guys for reading it.