|My life changed last year when at the age of 39 I was told I had Breast Cancer. Based on my family history I decided to be proactive, have an early mammogram and get checked. At the time I had been living in New Zealand for eight years and I was a fit outdoor enthusiast who was very conscious of nutrition and lifestyle. Being told I had Breast Cancer came as a complete shock. How could I be ill? Two days before I had my mammogram I was running in the mountains. The results couldn’t be right. This was a joke. There must be some mistake. I didn’t feel ill and certainly didn’t look it either.
One of the first things I did for myself was to sign up at my local yoga studio for an unlimited monthly membership. Deep down I knew it would be the only way to find some peace in the madness of it all. It helped. Greatly. Find something like this that works for you, something that will bring you some calm in the storm.
I was one of the lucky unlucky ones, I had caught it early. Serendipity my first surgeon called it, I'd have called it many things but not that! It was like someone had picked me up out of my life and plopped me into another. Even though it was caught early, through further tests and operations we discovered I had three different types of cancer in two breasts. The procedures to remove what was there were massive. I had three operations, the last was a skin conserving double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It's an eye-watering mouthful and rightly so, it hurt like hell. It took a long time to recover, it knocked the wind out of my sails. I couldn’t walk, wash or dress myself without help. It was physically exhausting. In those days I didn’t think much as my whole body was focused on recovery mode.
Breast Cancer took my life on a detour, I know self-depths I would never have known. I have never had a better reason to be the best version of myself. If there is one thing I learnt from it all is just do what feels right for you. As Oscar Wilde said - “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. My cancer taught me to dig deep and find that conviction. It’s not an easy road but it’s certainly better for me than the alternative. This road is full of potholes, bottle necks and speed bumps. Hand on heart I can say everyday I have a speed wobble! But here’s the thing, I can see that there have been two roads in my life, the road where I feel like I'm withering away and the road where I'm glowing from the inside out. Each road is tough going, the fear of the unknown, the thoughts of 'am I doing the right thing?' 'what the hell am I doing with my life?' 'you must be mad!!”. What keeps me going is that even though this road is equally as hard, at those times of doubt I know that I would rather be on this road flourishing then on the other road where I feel like I'm disappearing. If my dream doesn't work out then so be it, at least I've tried. I know I gave it a shot. This life experience has taught me many skills, it has helped me grow in so many ways and following my dream will teach me something new each day. I don't know if cancer will ever come back, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of that. It weighed me down for a long time but somewhere along the lines of digging deep I popped out the other side and decided I just had to give it my best shot. I owed that much to myself.
If like me you are one of the lucky unlucky ones, the road is not easy but catching it early makes it a very different journey. My first cancer was barely detected on a mammogram, it was on the cusp of what can be seen - 8mm in size. The second was detected through MRI and the third in the pathology results from my first operation. If I was only discovering my cancer now the tumours would be nearly triple the original size and I’d be looking at a number of lymph node removals, chemotherapy and the spread of the disease.
For me, a huge part my healing is to help; help others who come after me, help researchers discover and help raise awareness. It’s now over a year since my last operation and I can’t believe how much my life has changed. During my recovery I would say to myself “when all this is over I'm rewarding myself, I'm going to India on a yoga retreat”, somewhere along the lines the end of that sentence changed into “and I’ll train as a yoga teacher”. It felt right, yoga had helped me through the madness of it all. I didn't know where it would take me, how or if I would use it, I just knew I wanted to do it, so I did. I have now combined my love of yoga, spreading my message and my desire to give back. During October I organised a series of pop up yoga classes to raise awareness and fundraise for Breast Cancer Research. The support and generosity has been incredible. I raised over double my fundraising goal, I was blown away! The fundraiser has helped me grow beyond it all, release the shackles of the last year and be free to move forward in my life. I am using my Breast Cancer in my own positive way, it pushes me out of my comfort zone, confronts me and makes me examine myself, it challenges me to stay true to myself and this has helped me heal from the disease. It has also confirmed to me that I’m on the right track, spreading my message and giving back to this cause is something I will be very passionate about for the rest of my life.
They say you only get one shot at life, honestly I feel like I've been given a second chance. Cancer gave me a warning. One person observed ‘Cancer happened for you, not to you’. I just loved that. Yes it happened, yes it has changed my life but it’s not taken me down. A huge reason I have bounced back is because I caught it so early, I caught it at that crucial point.
I want to spread this message, please get checked, catch it before it gets a chance to really take root!
Time is of the essence, catching it early is the key to a positive prognosis.
From that point of early detection, cancer grows rapidly and things become very serious in a short space of time.
If you have any concern, even an inkling, get checked. My decision to get checked changed and saved my life.