BE AWARE & BEWARE: A STORY OF CAUTION, HOPE & GRATITUDE
October was Breast Cancer Awareness month, a time when many of us have reflected on those we knew and lost, those who survived and are still with us, and those who are still battling or living with breast cancer.
I debated long and hard throughout the month of October whether I would write this blog, and then decided there are so many things we do not talk about, that we should talk about. I think we should talk about the fragility of humankind, loss, grief, illness, mental health, recovery and above all the need for hope, kindness and resilience throughout these challenging life events.
I have been out of action and largely “off the grid”, from July – October. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early July 2022, and it was quite by chance as I have resisted the discomfort and pain of mammograms for a long time.
In June my doctor told me she would not see me as a patient until I had shown her the results of a mammogram! Adopting a fair dose of humour and scepticism plus seeking to avoid it, I challenged my husband: “If you do the poo test, I will do the boob test!”
Before I knew it, he had done the test and I had to go for my mammogram. I continued to be blasé about it, even while being tested. Four days later, they had seen “something” on the mammogram, and I was sent off to a specialist breast cancer clinic for 3D scans and ultrasounds.
They kept me there most of the day and conducted two biopsies – so painful – and still there was no doubt in my mind that I would be fine. When the results came back a week later, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I was told I had 2 lumps and one was very aggressive and growing fast!! I asked innocently: “What does that mean?” still believing everything would be okay.
The specialist responded: “You have breast cancer and will need a mastectomy.”
I was in disbelief and shocked, but not yet afraid and at no point did I ask: “Why me?” And this is why we need to talk about loss, grief and hope.
Cancer is about loss – a part of your body, grief for all the special people and events you miss while going through surgery and treatments, and hope for a future without pain, fear, fatigue, isolation and cancer, and greater awareness of our own fragility and what really matters in life!
Be aware that 1 in 4 women over 55 will get breast cancer, so get tested, don’t delay it!
- Beware skipping medical appointments and regular tests because you are too busy, or don’t like doctors – get that mammogram, bone density test, blood pressure test, etc.
- Even healthy people who eat well and exercise regularly get cancer – be aware it is NOT always about lifestyle. Cancer does not discriminate on any grounds!
- Beware thinking that it will never happen to you – it can!
- Beware of listening to negativity from others – you own your thoughts and emotions, so protect them from being adversely influenced by others. My attitude has been to expect the worst but prepare for the best – that’s HOPE in action.
- Be aware that you choose how you deal with life’s challenges – your mind will be your greatest asset if you keep it strong and fed with positive, pragmatic thinking. I chose to see cancer as a learning opportunity, and asked myself: “What can I teach others from this experience? How can I help and support others in the future with this diagnosis?”
- Surround yourself with good people – caring, curious and willing to help in practical ways. Be aware that it won’t always be family members; often friends, colleagues and your local community are the ones who will be there and get you through this.
- Be aware that it is ok to ask for help; beware of not asking for help as recovery will be hampered and take longer, and if you don’t ask, people won’t know; they are not mind-readers.
Being diagnosed with cancer isn’t terrible or awful; it is simply not ideal, and it sucks. You have good days and difficult days, fortunately, the good days far outweigh the difficult ones. I think daily about when this will be over, not if. There is no doubt in mind or that of my surgeons and oncologists that I will recover fully, and that 80% of my recovery is about my chosen mindset.
I feel enormous gratitude for life itself, don’t take it for granted. I am grateful for my husband who has looked after me following my diagnosis, 3 surgeries and who will still be there throughout my radiation treatments in December.
I am grateful for our health system in Australia and the amazing doctors, surgeons, nurses and physiotherapists who show up every day for their patients no matter how tired they are. They all deserve our respect and better pay and working conditions.
I spent nearly two weeks in hospital, so I had many opportunities to observe their significant contributions and sacrifices. I am grateful for my support group of friends and family who have visited me, called regularly to check on both myself and David, cooked meals, done laundry, and our local community who delivered coffee, baked goods, café and restaurant owners who delivered meals – David and I cannot sufficiently express our gratitude in words, we truly appreciate every kindness.
I learnt it is better to ask: “What can I do to help (if you are available to do so), rather than say “That’s terrible”.
It means saying: “I cannot imagine how you are feeling now, but I’m here for you.”
If you say that, then be there, otherwise better to say nothing.
Please don’t say: “I know how you must feel”, unless you have been there.
Don’t ignore us, avoid us or feel guilty about what we are going through.
Just be there, be patient and be kind.
After my radiation, I will look forward to 2023 with more hope, resilience, compassion, kindness, gratitude, curiosity and less judgement. I want to spend time with people who fill my cup and want to drink from mine. I want more focus on what is good and working and do more of that for myself, my loved ones and clients; and less focus on what is not working, people who are toxic, unkind and lack compassion.
Never has my daily mantra been more important, and so it will remain: ”How am I showing up today?” As leaders of yourself, and others in your family, community and workplace, what do you need to start doing, what do you need to stop doing, and what do you need to do more of to create resilience, kindness, hope, gratitude and authenticity?
Remember leaders are brokers of hope.
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”Khalil Gibran