“This is the woman who God threw back twice,” – that’s how the Consultant Registrar described me to her students who had come to observe me. They respectfully stood in the doorway to my hospital room, aware I was beyond exhausted. “We’ll leave her to rest,” she added as she shepherded her students away.
This tired scrap of a woman lying in a hospital bed was far from the image of the successful woman I had been before. Happily married with a lovely son, daughter-in-law and two wonderful grandchildren I had been a practicing psychologist. I’d risen through the ranks to be a director of a training company. I’d travelled around Europe as president of the psychotherapy model I was trained in. I used to spend my weekends and holidays in England and abroad, exploring interesting places with my husband.
The first time was when I was diagnosed with a grade 4 cancer and I’d been admitted to hospital to have the growth removed. I was also told that I needed chemotherapy for six months. It was certainly not a good time at all. The only thing that cheered me were the many flowers, plants, and cards I received – the ward was overrun with them. The second time ‘God threw me back’ was when I was intensive care due to the severity of the first round of chemotherapy. I had told the Oncologist that it was too strong for me as I’d never taken drugs of any kind. She eventually agreed to lower the dosage on my second round. Unfortunately, before the lower dosage happened, my colon burst and I developed septicemia. I spent two weeks unconscious, only aware of the precariousness of my life when I came around. My family filled me in.
All I knew of the experience was the exhaustion. No big lights, tunnels or revelations. Two weeks of nothingness. No power in my limbs, a tracheotomy and only 40% chance of survival. Again, I didn’t know anything of the life threatening experience until afterwards. It was a horrendous time for my family.
Don’t speak too much
It took a long time for me to recover and when I was well enough, I felt I didn’t want to speak too much about my cancer. I decided to keep it quiet unless someone mentioned or asked me directly. I considered, rightly or wrongly, that it was wrong to shout about my experience as so many others had died of cancer.
There are enough people who speak, write and show how they have survived cancer or trauma of any kind. I just felt I didn’t want to be one of them using a story of recovery. I simply put a comment on my website or brought it up if conversation went that way.
For such a long time I was vulnerable and afraid it would come back regardless of all the different healing treatments I had. Every ache, pain or feeling out-of-sorts caused me to fear that my cancer was back. To all intents and purposes, I was back to my old self. But to me, it was like I was permanently holding my breath, steeling myself for bad news.
Eventually, I needed to let my breath out. Although it has taken me a long time, nowadays I want to also give hope to others. I use the word here from a definition I read somewhere – ‘Hope is believing that something is worth doing even when the outcome is not obvious’. It’s definitely not optimism which says everything will be fine no matter what we do – that simply drives me up the wall!!
So how do I give hope to others? I draw on my passion for life and share it not only through my work running courses and retreats (in my multi-faceted roles of Chartered Counselling Psychologist, Mentor, Supervisor and Author), it is also through me being comfortable with myself. Through my comfortability with myself, I allow my passion to be seen, felt, sensed by others.
You see, for me, life is about being myself. And this means my strengths, and my shadow elements, being visible. I show all the parts of me that I’d rather keep hidden.
I choose not to hide behind a mask any more. I choose not to be hindered by the Imposter Syndrome and I choose not to be afraid of my vulnerability.
My message is that we don’t need to be afraid. We can still laugh at ourselves, our personality and even at the craziness of life whilst being comfortable with ourselves. I see myself as a Role Model as I am both ordinary and extraordinary, grabbing life with both hands. My work is about raising awareness so that we all can come from a place of connection with ourselves and one another. When we connect with ourselves, we then have inner freedom and choice in how we are in the world. So many live a life of quiet desperation or unfulfillment but for me, that is not what life is about.
Life is what you make of it. I know that a smile, a word of encouragement, sharing, talking, taking risks, being quiet and most of all a belly laugh (laughter is the medicine of the Soul) is what makes the world go round. We need that connection with ourselves and with others, and to enjoy and applaud others’ skills, talents and qualities. That’s what makes our world bigger. It’s a win-win situation.
So don’t sit on your backside and wait for something to happen!!! Take it from me, life is too short and things happen unexpectedly so take it with both hands, however, you do it and live life. Go for it!!
Finally, I don’t know why I am still here except perhaps there is still work for me to do and lessons to be learned. In fact, I don’t care about the reason why I’m here, I am simply grateful to be alive and enjoying life!!
My illness was all rather inglorious, but being back in the now, living life fully, that’s truly to be celebrated.