Wednesday 5 October 2016

Day 5 #pathways2resilience ~ Georgina

Special Feature Edition: Pathways to Resilience: Embracing our Vulnerability, Celebrating our Resilience

From breast cancer to chronic pain and immobilisation: They did not stop me on the road to resilience

Breast cancer is a complex disease and its treatment can leave you with numerous disabilities like chronic fatigue, chemo-brain, bone pain, and radical menopausal symptoms including infertility to name a few. When treatment ends, the general expectation to be back to ‘normal’ is heavy going because while the cancer is toast, so are we, in an ocean of uncertainty and lack of resources we need to build blocks of resilience to stand up and keep going. Not only is it about what cancer does to the body and the mind, but what it can also rob us off, our dreams, our hopes and aspires for an adventurous, full life.

Georgina, an aspirational member of our group, talks about how she turned the vulnerability that she continues to face into her strength.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 4 August 2011. I was absolutely devastated, words cannot describe how I felt, even now. I had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In the midst of all this, there were a number of family tragedies and losses, including my closest support. I coped somehow, almost on auto-pilot, during active treatment. However, not long after it ended, I fell apart, I felt completely broken, and grief-stricken. My face in the mirror and my whole life were unrecognisable to me from one year earlier. 

 Since that day in 2011, breast cancer had taken, directly or indirectly, virtually everything I had and loved. I wondered how I would go on (I had already suffered from severe depression since my teens, but had not had an episode for 8 years until the breast cancer.) I felt so alone, even if people were in the room. There was just no-one who could understand and there never would be again. Over and over, I even wished I had not made it through the first anaesthetic. Breast cancer is so complicated in many ways. It is not just one single event, but rather an ongoing, evolving issue throughout your life. 

Amidst the misery and loneliness, I threw myself into things I could still do, spending time by water (this always has a calming effect on me), holidays in my favourite village in North Yorkshire, days out, tending to my beautiful garden, walking my golden retrievers, albeit shorter walks than before. And all this, still within the scope of recurrent depressive episodes. I found relief in these activities, but the emotional rollercoaster continued, albeit a little more below the surface.

But five years later, contrary to expectations, I am still here, and, dare I say, relatively content.

After the cancer diagnosis, I suffered other cancer-related and non-cancer related conditions and diseases, with their various treatments all taking their toll. Early 2016, things took a bad turn as I started to suffer from severe pain in various parts of my body, feared to be bone metastasis, but since apparently proven otherwise. I had never experienced such pain in my life, not even during any of my cancer treatments. After 6 months of utter despair, tears and greatly reduced mobility, a pain relief solution was found and is ongoing. 

The loss of mobility was totally demoralising, I could no longer do the few things that BC had not already stripped me of, namely gardening, walking the dogs, and other outdoor activities. But, I believe, the human psyche is infinitely resilient and has an inherent way of harnessing adjustment and change. I thus turned to photographing my garden in great detail, sitting watching nature (lots where we live out in the sticks) and photographing my beloved dogs. I had about 20 glossy photo books made of my work, so satisfying.

Very significantly, earlier this year, I joined some support groups, including this one. These have most definitely changed my life and brought new purpose and direction. I scarcely have family or friends. But in the Resilience group I “chat” (online) to people who understand me and I understand them. When I first saw other ladies’ posts, I kept thinking “that’s exactly what I think”, “that’s exactly what I’m always saying”. It was almost as if I had written all the posts myself, things I had been thinking, feeling for years, but not having anyone who understood. Finally, a group where we all understand each other. This peer support has undoubtedly helped me through a hard year and is making me stronger and more resilient to life’s trials with each passing day. I believe joining this group has been a real turning point and hope that one day all BC patients will have such a resource from diagnosis onwards, helping them to build on their strengths, learn from each other and have a better quality of life, however long that life may be.

And to top it all, yesterday, I went out to a meal (first time out alone in years, due to BC, anxiety and general loss of confidence) and it was with these very members of Resilience, and I ENJOYED it. Yes, enjoyed! Yesterday was the start of a new period. Whatever happens, I know I will never feel alone again, despite the fact that BC is such an isolating disease. I will continue to grow in strength, develop more coping mechanisms and, as the group’s name suggests, ultimately become increasingly resilient; that is until nature, and nature alone, determines the end of my survival period.

#panningforgold #pathways2resilience
#bcresiliencecentre #breastcancerawareness

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