Friday, 7 October 2016

Day 7 #pathways2resilience ~ Caroline

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

Caroline, is a stubborn runner, even in the midst of chemotherapy, she continued to run – seldom would you find someone in her condition to even make it round a small park, walking slowly. She believes that striding to achieve small goals, and stepping that inch out of your comfort zone, can help build resilience, slowly and steadily. Her small children love her; and we love her too.

For our month long feature #pathways2resilience we are thrilled that Caroline has submitted this new blog post:

Showing Breast Cancer Who’s The BOSS!

Being asked to write a piece showcasing resilience after a breast cancer diagnosis made me stop and reflect on the past 2 years. Have I really demonstrated resilience? Or is it just a ‘fu*k you cancer’ attitude, refusing to let cancer stop me doing the things I enjoy?  What exactly is resilience anyway?  According to the American Psychological Association resilience is defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experience.  Have I bounced back? From my perspective, if I am supposed to be a bouncy ball, the ball has most definitely bounced in a perpendicular direction to the path it was on previously, not back to where it came from. I think change is inevitable after a major trauma like an unexpected life threatening illness, so maybe by accepting that and not resisting it I am demonstrating resilience.

Life doesn’t stop just because you’ve got cancer. Having young children whilst going through chemo is exceptionally difficult. The outside world didn’t see the Caroline that couldn’t get out of bed, or change a nappy or do the school run. The outside world saw the Caroline who put on a brave face and tried her best to carry on as normal. However being resilient doesn’t mean not showing emotions, crying, or being unable to ask for help. The tears were few and far between but they were certainly there, and help was offered in abundance, and I quickly learnt to accept it and ask for it when needed.

How I dealt with my cancer diagnosis was never a conscious decision. It was never an act, or a choice to behave in a certain way. I truly was just being me, and coping with the shitty hand I had been given the only way I knew how. I find writing about my experience very cathartic, whether that’s by posting about my treatment on Facebook, writing poetry, journaling or writing the occasional blog. If anyone reads what I write then that’s great, and if my words help others then that really makes me happy.

As a species human beings are wired for connection. Something that has helped me enormously is meeting other women (and men) who have gone through the same thing I have and therefore ‘get it’. Whether that’s by meeting people in real life or in private Facebook groups, you always know that somewhere there is a friendly ear willing to listen to any concern, however mundane it may seem, and the act of being able to talk and accept support in itself strengthens resilience.

Learning to be kind to myself has been a challenge. Acknowledging that it is OK to treat myself nicely, even if that’s just by sitting on the sofa and reading my book before getting to the end of my never ending to do list, or saying no to people instead of always saying yes, has been hard. I am however learning that it’s OK to put myself first sometimes – everyone knows the oxygen mask analogy. 

To me, continuing to run whilst undergoing treatment doesn’t demonstrate resilience – that was pure stubbornness, which by its unyielding nature is probably the antithesis of resilience. I was determined to show cancer which one of us was the boss. As I’ve mentioned previously running provides me with an enormous amount of stress relief, so using cancer as an excuse not to run was never an option. I needed an outlet for my pain, anger, frustration and general pissed off-ness more than ever.  However it is recognised that having achievable goals can help build resilience, and for me my goal was to be up and out the door with my running shoes on 6 days after every chemo session. That gave me 2 weeks of running before chemo induced yuckness forced me back into my hole for a few days.  So although I didn’t realise it at the time, by setting and achieving a goal I did perhaps foster some resilience in myself.

I have definitely stepped out of my 'comfort zone' many times over the past 2 years, and every time I have felt stronger as a result of it. I have strutted my stuff on a cat walk (terrifying but fun), competed in 3 triathlons, and given a speech about my experience with cancer to 1500 people (amazing!) to name just a few.  Whilst I can’t stand the expression ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, having cancer gave me the courage to do those things which in turn has made me stronger, so perhaps I do have to admit an indirect correlation between the two, even if I hate the words.

Finally, I have developed a regular meditation practice and participated in 2 mindfulness courses. This has allowed me to develop a sense of awe and appreciation for the simple things in life, whilst enabling me to experience the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I am very lucky in that I have a devoted husband and two amazing children who have been with me every step of the way. 

So am I resilient? Was I already resilient and has cancer just made me more so? Or am I just stubborn, determined and in possession of an abundance of grit? I am not sure I can answer that question, but what I do know is that I am continuing to learn more about myself every single day. 

#panningforgold #pathways2resilience
#bcresiliencecentre #breastcancerawareness

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