Saturday, September 17, 2011

2011 - the best year?

I'm not talking about wine.

I am talking about my life.

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but I always wonder how to start it. Most people will think I've gone crazy. They'll probably phone my doctor.

I am going to go on a limb here and say it out loud:

'2011 may have been one of the best years I've had so far'

'BUT YOU HAD CANCER!' - I hear you shouting at your computer.

And that is true. I did.
(Notice I wrote 'Had' and not 'Have'? That was intentional)

I had one of the worst possible things that could have happened to me, happen.
A life threatening illness.

I had fear, anxiety, pain - oh, so much pain, stiffness of joints, amputation of 2 body parts, weight gain from steroids and chemo, hair loss, lung punctures and scars, and burns.
Not to mention the sickness that comes with chemo.


This pretty much sums up my last 9 months.


it happened early in 2011 - only 2 weeks in, so there was still time for this year to save itself.

And it did.

Along with the above mentioned things I've also had more kindness shown to me in this year, than I had ever had before, people came out of the woodwork to visit, to call and to send flowers. I have never felt so loved, by strangers, and by my family.

I've gained tremendous insight into this disease, more than I could have ever known from standing on the sidelines, and therefor have become a more compassionate person. Because of my experience, I now 'know the right thing to say' when I hear someone else is going through it. In fact, twice this year I have received phone calls from 2 different gals who found a lump in their breast. Because of my experience, they chose me as their contact person.

And because of my experience, I could be there. Really listen. Cry with them.

This type of understanding was foreign to me before.

And even though their journeys ended before they really began, (lump turned out benign) - I felt that for a brief moment, I was helpful to them.

I now understand first hand how it feels to walk down the street and have people look at you with that 'look'. (you know, the 'oh, you poor thing, you have cancer' - look) I've given out that look a few times myself in the past. It's a very humbling experience to be on the other side.

My family has grown so much closer together this year. It's hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but over the course of 2011 - I can honestly say we are a tighter bunch.

I was home with my children for the last 9 months. I saw them off to school (almost) every day - except when I was too sick- and I picked them up from school (almost) every day. I went on field trips, I went to school plays and every single concert/rehearsal/award ceremony/assembly.

I felt like the luckiest person in the world - simply because I was given the gift of 'being there'. Just present.

I am also present in the moment. That is a new concept. I used to be 10 steps ahead All.The.Time.

I would be on vacation, and planning the next one in my head. I would be receiving a paycheck and immediately putting in a percentage in my RRSP for later. I would say 'later' when my children would ask me to 'come see this' because I was busy cleaning or making supper.

NOW - I am here. Fully.

I live now.

I listen to my kids now. Not later. I play now. I enjoy the moment I have with whoever I have it with - now.

I still (secretly) plan for 'later' but certainly not with the same intensity.
Later will come, well... later.

Having had my breasts removed was a huge opportunity for talking to the kids about how we view (and judge) others. It provided hours upon hours of discussions, that lead to interesting and meaningful conversations. Conversations that would not have occurred naturally if I didn't have to make the choices that I did.

My hairloss was also bittersweet. I didn't wear wigs often. I didn't wear scarfs that much. I often went bald. Sometimes that brought on looks. Most times it softened people. Strangers would walk up to me and share their stories, their pain. It was amazing. Like I had been given some special powers to attract people to me, only they were no powers.

Just a bald head.

Brad and I have been together a little over a year and a half, and cancer has been our companion for 9 months of that. At our 'honeymoon' phase of our relationship, we were dealing with things that can put strain on the most solid of marriages.

We 'survived' together.

He has been my ongoing support system, day and night. When I needed a cry, he held me. When I needed a laugh, he made me smile. He allowed me to be exactly who I was at any given moment and for that I am so grateful.

I felt beautiful the entire time. Granted, I was on some heavy medication, but I think mostly it's because I have a fantastic partner.

I used to be organized - almost anally so. I called it 'efficient'. Some people thought it was extreme. I was wound real tight. Short fuse. I'm happy to report that the fuse has loosened somewhat, and maybe even lengthened by a foot or two.

I'm still TYPE A - of course, I mean come on now, I can't totally change. But I am more relaxed.

I distinctly remember about 3 situations that happened and me saying 'wow' - 'i would have handled that so differently before'... this type of growth could never have happened in such a profound way - had I not had cancer.

The people I've met in the last 9 months, in the hospitals, in the chemo rooms ... I've made friendships to last a very long time.

One of my closest friends is an employee from the cancer centre. She and I hit it off immediately and managed to evolve into a friendship outside of the 'worker/patient' structure. Another gal I absolutely love is someone I sat beside in the chemo chair. Now, we talk or text every single day. My life has been enriched by people like this.

The last thing that I noticed has improved is my diet. My lifestyle. Because of the research that I had to do - based on my type of cancer - I am now vegan. (Well, the meat part just happened 2 days ago, but the dairy and eggs has been gone for months) I am learning how to use plant based foods to keep my body fed. I am speaking with a dietician, reading books and making a plan that I can stick to so that I can achieve optimal health. I have never been much of a 'granola eating' gal before, but I am now.

I have the opportunity to change my lifestyle and I am grateful.

I know this post is a little hoky, but it's from the bottom of my heart.

I really feel that God/Universe has touched me on the shoulder this year and said:

'Excuse me, I think you may be on the wrong path - you may want to consider taking a new one'

and in every way, I am.


Mary xo said...

I don't think your post is hokey at all! It's awesome! You are a gifted writer, Michelle. If cancer does anything besides take things away from you, it certainly makes you think. I have been going through some of the same changes. Things I thought were so important before I find I don't care about so much anymore, and other things I didn't care about suddenly command more of my attention. Great post!

Mandi said...

There are definitely many bright sides to this type of experience. You went through most of the great ones that I could possibly think of. I am glad to hear that it was the best year, and I hope next year is even greater.

Sayre said...

I love this post. You have always struck me as a "can do" kind of person, and when I found out that you had cancer, I hoped that same attribute would come to your rescue - that you would recognize this terrible thing as the opportunity it could be. And you did! One of the things I have learned about life is that the bad stuff is usually a jumping off place for something really good. You just have to recognize it and embrace it. Not everyone does. I'm glad you did. Your life will be so much more enriched for that ability now that you've discovered it. 2012? Even better.

michele (maryland) said...

Michelle: so beautifully written. I am so proud of you.

Beth L. Gainer said...


You are exceedingly wise! You took a really life-threatening situation and learned valuable life lessons from it.

You sound like what I call, "A wounded healer." You've been wounded by cancer and its treatments, but you heal others' souls.

I, too, have loosened my Type A habits since cancer, and I try to be in the present and be mindful.

Great posting, beautifully written.

Conquering Cancer By Living Well said...

I love this post! And it shows what a beautiful personality and spirit you have! It's amazing isn't it - what you thought were important and how they should be pre-cancer is usually reversed now, isn't it? Spending time with loved ones is the ultimate happy thing to do. I've totally changed as well - sometimes it scares me, as I'm definitely not that person that I was before all of this happened - I cannot relate to the pre-cancer me in the least. Kind of glad, actually ;-) Glad you have found that as horrible as the situation was, it was the path that is bringing you to your real purpose and real happiness. And, I bet you never knew you could be so strong ;-)

Unknown said...

Such a beautiful post Michelle.

You are an inspiration.

Sending love.

Knock knock - it's cancer! said...

Tuesday - Thanks. It's true isn't it? Nothing like a close call to wake anyone up.

Mandi - I figure you can probably relate to a few of these eh? LOL

Sayre - I like that 'bad things are a jumping off place to something good'... hmmm. I hope only good things happen from now. Haha.

Michele - Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

Beth - Thanks Beth, I feel like "Owl" now from Winnie the Poo - he was 'exceedingly wise' too :)

Conquering - No, I never knew which way I was gonna take this ... when it first happened, I was so afraid, but I hoped that I would handle it well. I'm glad that I got through it in one piece.

McCrackens - Oh Andrea, thank you. I am just reflecting on how it all went for me this year :)

Anonymous said...

What a great post. I'm so proud of you, Michelle. I can totally relate to 'being there'. It's a tough lesson to learn, but you've learned it well.

VV said...

I don't think it's hokey. It's informed. I think of it like Socrates' Allegory of the Cave. Pre-Cancer you had one world, now you've turned around, walked outside and see post-cancer, there's so much more to life. Congratulations on your journey!

nicole said...

I love what you wrote!!! you already know how much admire you for this past year and glad that you found the positives from everything you went through :) so truly honored to have you in my close circle of friends!! love ya! said...

I dont think anything wrong with this post.. thanks for keeping us in the light of everything that has happened.. I wouldnt know what to say to someone either at first.. But if it happens to you then you do know.. so there you go woman..

You Go Girl..

Leslie said...

Once again you have blown me way with your insight and I really feel you have been chosen to help others -you have a wonderful gift and put your feelings out there honestly thank you for sharing -do you mind if I share your story at work -the staff are in the midst of raising funds for charity ? Take care of yourself sweet pea

Knock knock - it's cancer! said...

Eileen - I know you've had some hard lessons too, so I know you can relate.

VV - thanks, it's exactly like that. 2 worlds. Who knew?

Nicole - I am so grateful for you too! Who knew eh, that when we met we'd end up friends? LOL... I guess we did :)

Tweets - thanks :)

Leslie - thank you. You certainly made my night by your nice words. Yes, you can share my story, thank you. Even the blog link if it's helpful to anyone :)

RoseAnn said...

What an incredible post!

The human spirit is an amazing thing and you have made a conscious choice as an individual to focus on the blessings in what many would only see as a tragic situation.

Being knocked down is no fun but being able to rise again is an amazing feeling!

Kathy said...

Wow! What a beautiful, moving and heartfelt post. I love everything that you shared about what you have learned and how you have changed over the past year Michelle!

I can totally appreciate how such a painful and difficult experience in your life can also bring so much love and joy too. I had a lot of that the year that was I pregnant with my daughter Molly (who was very sick) before and after she died.

I am so glad that this experience has brought your family closer together and helped you to appreciate more of the simple things in life. As many times as I have "learned" that, I often need to be reminded to try to be more present and mindful to my life and my loved ones.

Thank you so much for sharing. xoxo

Anonymous said...

So glad the year has "saved itself" and that you have found so many ways to find the positives of having had cancer. Your emails and comments were incredibly helpful to me when I found the lump last winter. I don't think your post is hokey at all (but then again, I did grow up in a family where my aunt made us all sit in a circle and sing kumbaya every time we all got together so I'm probably not the best authority on what is or isn't hokey). Thank you for sharing.

Jen said...

I have read this post every day and am so inspired by your attitude. When I was first diagnosed, I vowed to use this experience to make me a better person - healthier, calmer, more focused on what's important. Your post is almost like my new guidebook. I have printed it out and posted it where I can easily read it to remind myself that this whole experience is indeed a "jumping off point."