What has happened to it all?
Crazy someone say
Where is the life that I recognize?
But I won’t cry for yesterday
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive
~ Duran Duran, lyrics to “Ordinary World”
It is hard to believe that two years ago today the radiologist told me I had breast cancer. I had felt a hard area in my left breast. After a week I went to see my Family Medicine Doctor. She ordered a diagnostic mammogram – my first ever mammogram. Immediately after the mammogram and ultrasound, the radiologist told me I had breast cancer and sent me immediately to the surgeon who did a biopsy. I was so thankful that the words at the bottom of the appointment sheet said “you will get your results immediately”, so my husband was with me when I saw the radiologist and the surgeon.
I look back over the two years and I’m sad. Somehow a lot of the tough memories seems to stick, where the fun things don’t seem to be as present in my mind. It does remind me that I need to get out and laugh more. I need to have more fun in my life. I also need to reflect on all that I have accomplished in the last two years. I did not just sit back and watch TV for two years (although I did watch a lot during chemo). I walked a lot. I swam a lot. I biked a lot.
I’ve accomplished a lot in the last two years. I’ve had three co-authored papers published, and two more have been submitted for publication. I co-founded Virtually Connecting. I’ve published a couple of short pieces in the online journal In-Training, wrote a piece for the BAYS anthology, and have another piece coming out soon in Wildfire Magazine. I’ve attended many conference and presented at a bunch of them (#et4online, OLC Innovate, AAG Medical Humanities, ALT-C, QUB ePatient, Big Ideas Fest, dLRN, MedicineX Ed, Social Media and Society, Celiac Disease Foundation Annual Conference). On the conference front I’m actually pretty scattered. I go to conferences on Educational Technology, Medical Humanities, and Medical Education. I’m trying to find the space where my research fits. Oh ya, and I’ve written 476 blog posts for this blog! And several for my other blogs (rjh.goingeast.ca, goingeast.ca/blog).
But I still look back on the last two years with some sadness. What I went through doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t make me feel stronger or a better person. That whole cancer narrative of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ isn’t at all how I feel today, although it is how I feel some days. I’m stronger physically. I can hike a lot further than I’ve been able to hike before. I hiked the 7-mile Mount Tam Peak Hike for prevention while on chemo and then again last year. I also walked 32.5 miles in two days for the Avon walk. I could not have done that before. I am also swimming more. I swim a mile almost every time I get in the pool (once or twice a week). I’m trying to get back on the bike but that is proving to be a bit of a challenge (I think more mentally than physically). And yet I also have lot of physical reminders. I still have neuropathy. I still get random pains from time to time that send me into downward spirals where I need to remind myself that there is most likely a non-cancer reason for the pain. In some ways celiac disease diagnosis was a blessing, because it gave a different reason for some of my pains. Celiac is a huge pain, but it is manageable.
I also have to honor how lost I was before my diagnosis. My PhD research wasn’t going well. I had not made the short list for my dream job and was feeling like I was at a cross roads with respect to career options. A reset is what I needed.
Perhaps the one good thing that came out of the last two years is all the new friends I have. I’m a lot closer to several online friends, but also have some great friends here in California. We like to say ‘the best friends you wish you never met’ – and that is so very true. I have met so many amazing women from different walks of life, all struggling to get through life with this disease.
In March we bought a house. We tackled a bunch of renovations on our own. I did so much more than I thought I could do (and perhaps a little more than I should have done). We are still working on making the house feel like a home – but it is getting there. It is so much nicer than the apartment we were living in before. As I write this I can hear birds chirping outside my window and can hear the keys click on my husband’s keyboard. Our old place the sounds would have been washed out by the ever present traffic noises.
Yesterday, with a group of fellow survivor friends, we did the Bubble Run (we walked the 5km). It was a little crazy actually. We had planned on walking along the shoreline and going to lunch to celebrate the end of a 6-month renewal program we attended. Instead we all signed up for the bubble run and had a crazy time walking through colored bubbles. Seemed appropriate in many ways.
Today, this is my ‘ordinary world’ …