This week has been mental health awareness week. Although my symptoms at the moment are 90% due to the cumulative effects of my cancer treatment, there is the 10% that is simply my anxiety rearing its head up and making me feel overwhelmed. Therefore it feels apt to give the importance of this week a mention. Plus, we need to talk about it…more may be done now but there’s still so much stigma attached and not enough action taken. Personally I have always bottled my emotions up, this means many never see ME just a projection of ME. I don’t know why I even do it…I suppose it makes me feel comfortable because the other person feels comfortable, then I’m less anxious outwardly and so the world feels easier somehow. On Wednesday I watched Anxiety & Me, I think Nadiya was very brave to discuss how she felt and the impact on her life, in such detail. There was so much of me in her, I can understand the catastrophising and I’ve done it alot during treatment but in a slightly different way…I did the everyone would be better off without me…I’ll be honest and say I still do it and it’s so easy for something to trigger my spiral – I’m stupid and ugly and useless and no good to anyone and so they’d be better off without me! I will point out I don’t think about any life ending scenarios, I’ve been over this in depth with my psychotherapist and will do so again in a couple of weeks…what I will say is that death seems pointless in the face of cancer but yes packing a bag and leaving everyone to get on with life and be happy seems logical. I also have PTSD in my past and there is a concern about that now following diagnosis and treatment.
Really all I can say is it is utterly okay to not feel okay, tell someone and get help. It doesn’t make you weak, it isn’t embarrassing and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. You are the only one who will ever fully look after you…and my darlings this isn’t a dress rehearsal…this is life.
Sunday – My recovery day and a chance for a day of baking and art. Lovely Kim had asked me to bake for the cake sale they were having at the Cement Works on Monday to raise funds for The Cavendish Care Centre. Given how much I’m using their services it only felt right to help out – coffee butterflies and St. Clements sponge style.
Around my baking I worked on my outline sketching ready for my art competition piece. However, between the two I was left utterly exhausted and spent an hour in bed during the afternoon. While I still felt tired and emotional afterwards, I was a bit fresher and felt more capable with the day to day tasks that Sunday afternoon brought.
Monday – My half marathon in Manchester on 19th May meant my weekend long run was actually a mile short of what was on my training plan. Therefore I adapted my week day runs to compensate so that my overall mileage for the week was correct to my plan. My recovery run was 7K of nice slow steady pace and, unlike the week before, I kept my heart rate to zone 3. I felt good throughout and my leg was a dull ache instead of too much discomfort. I got home and, for the first time in a few weeks, I felt happy…runners high kicked in and I let it! My emotions felt really close to the surface but in a good way.
Once I’d got the house and fiancé ready for the day I took my cakes to the bake sale and stayed for a few hours chatting over coffee…and cake of course. It was hugely beneficial for body and mind – I’d pondered texting Kim and handing her my goods from the car and leaving, anxious about seeing old colleagues and having to talk to anyone. Instead I was greeted with hugs, laughter and the chance to talk…yes there were tears but it didn’t matter.
It was nearly lunchtime before I got home but feeling good I went for a slow walk in the field. Sat in the grass, bathed in the sunshine, watched the lambs and listened to the birds sing.
Following a rest after lunch I had two huge accomplishments – I finished my outline drawing for my art competition piece and I finally finished reading I.T – 2yrs and 5months after starting it!
Tuesday – I had a slightly earlier start as there was a lot I wanted to do before leaving for hospital. I grabbed my mat and did a new 30minute leg strength and conditioning training session with Pop Sugar, then 12minutes of abs and core Yoga with Adrienne.
During breakfast I took the time to go through more of Quiet by Ferne Cotton, looking at self love and turning negatives into positives. Before leaving I sat and wrote five of my negative thoughts/feelings down.
My appointment with my Oncology Team was delayed and then lengthy. Yet again I was told everything is normal for this stage and I’m doing everything they would advise me to. I wanted to scream my question at her…”yes, but how do I go about this whole living thing?”, “how do I feel alive again?”, “how do I cope with being me in a body that’s fighting me?”, “how long will it take to feel well?”, “when will I be capable of working”. She reiterated that I need to be kinder to myself, take this time in my life to give myself time, to see it as the convalescent stage needed in order to recover and heal and be a better me.
Then the bombshell, they’ve done all they can and don’t need to see me for 6months unless something is wrong. I’m not sorry to say I sat and said out loud “thank you for getting rid of it, letting me live and giving me a chance…but you’ve screwed up my head with all you’ve done to me, you can’t do anything about that and now your telling me to go away and deal with this torture?” Silence!
I asked what my prognosis is too, I got “We’ve done everything we can to you so it should be okay, but really you shouldn’t have had cancer in the first place so we can’t give you a percentage”. I had my hormone injection, which will going forward be given to me by my GP, and I walked out. I felt like everyone would expect me to celebrate this milestone and yet even now I think…what is there to celebrate…I felt overwhelmed, lost and I wanted to hide away, at the point of writing this that is still the case.
Thankfully I had spin class so I couldn’t hide…but we were outside and it was a good excuse to don my running cap so that I didn’t really have to look at anyone, make eye contact or engage in conversation. I turned up, did the class and loved it, then left and called a friend. Talking helped but I did still cry all over my other half when he got home.
I have to not only now live life, I have to trust life and my body and both have let me down. I feel like I’ve been steamrolled by circumstances and it’s hard not to feel negative.
Wednesday – I decided just before bed on Tuesday evening that I was going to run a slow climb…so I did – home to Hathersage is a slow uphill and a slow downhill back. Good to test my ever mending leg out on without hitting it with too steep an ascent all at one go. I also added in another difference, by running a kilometre slow at zone three heart rate and then a kilometre quicker at zone four. I had, as with Monday, a great run which left me buzzing. My leg felt fine and I ran without any discomfort at all. Everything I’d set out to do I did apart from two blips in my heart rate. One when needing to cross the road 10minutes from stopping, the traffic was heavy and I got annoyed, the other as I finished and was excited by what I’d been able to do and did a little dance in the road while turning off my tech. Given my hormone injection the day before and my mood, this was a terrific achievement. It felt so good to run and feel good again, giving me hope and confidence for Sundays Great Run Manchester.
I spent the morning as part of a focus group for SureCan…a research project looking at the benefit of talking therapy for cancer patients. There were five of us and all feeling very emotional, adrift and unsure about moving on. More than anything it did us good to talk aswell as discuss what we were there for. It felt exhausting but utterly rewarding knowing that what we’ve said will go on to help others like us in the future. We did however all highlight that our mental health should have been addressed at the start of the process, that although we say we’re okay we’re really not and autopilot kicks in very quickly…it’s too late when it’s turned off as treatment ends.
While I won’t share too much of what we covered, one idea was looking at your values when you do feel overwhelmed. Thinking about what is important at that moment, for that day only…to find your focus and help bring in some inner peace. These are some of the ideas given…
Due to when we finished I got to sit in the sun to have my lunch, watch the world go by a little and rest before the journey home. But by the time I got back rest was again an utter necessity.
Thursday – I had no appointment, nowhere I needed to be for the first time properly in months!!! So I treated myself to a lie in and had breakfast before going out for the morning. I ran from Longshaw to Upper Burbage and back, all trail run, and my leg wasn’t too bad.
Unlike Monday and Wednesday it did tightened up a little on the much more technical Burbage Edge after a kilometre, so I sensibly dropped back to the stoney bridleway. I felt warm but physically good when I reached the car so got changed and went for a slow walk and cream tea.
I got home to my bone density test results and felt like someone had hit me. We knew ahead of chemo that my bones may not be in great shape due to over 10yrs of an eating disorder earlier in life, however there was the hope that the bone strengthening benefits of running would have helped any underlying problem. Plus my diet now is balanced and nutritious. During chemo and radiotherapy I’d continued to run and due to that I made sure my diet stayed the same…regardless of loss of appetite, loss of taste and the pain I suffered with ulcers, swollen gums and my teeth. So yes, it was hard to see in black and white that my bone density is less than they’d expected and medication will be needed. I called and arranged to see my GP to discuss the finer details, then set to and packed for Manchester.
One small but important part of the afternoon was to revisit those negatives I’d written down on Tuesday morning, they now each have at least one positive underneath…a reminder of how good can come out of the harder times.
Friday – A really early start again as it was the last day of my Moving Forward Course. I did the same 50minute upper body workout as detailed last week. Then got changed and ready quickly for heading to the City.
This week the Course looked at Lymphedema, Breast Cancer Care Services and Relaxation techniques…especially breathing techniques and mindfulness. More details on the latter two can be found on the Breast Cancer Care website and I would strongly advise anyone needing advice or support to look at the details they give, or call one of the team as they are hugely knowledgeable!
Lymphedema I do want to highlight a little – some may expect that as I didn’t get it after surgery then I’m fine. I need to point out that this isn’t the case and never will be, I carry a 6% chance of it developing at any stage in my life due to the fact I’ve had surgery and some of my nodes were removed. If all of the lymph nodes are removed from under the arm, the percentage chance of lymphedema occurring goes up to 28%. There are things I can do, and already do, in order to try to prevent it – after surgery you’re given a snazzy set of exercises to do by your care team and these are to be carried on, I personally also do my upper body work outs and so am working my lymphatic system during that time. Unless in an emergency I will no longer have my blood pressure, or any blood tests taken from my left arm…nor should I have a cannula fitted to that side. It’s basic easy things which hopefully prevent a lifetime of discomfort.
We all agreed how odd it felt knowing that this was our last session together, we have all exchanged details with a view of meeting up now and then. For many though, like myself, it has become a new normal…which means next Friday may be a very difficult day! I have lunch booked with a friend and have partly put this in my diary on purpose so that I’m not feeling lost and overwhelmed.
I came home and rested for a while before cleaning so that the house was made ready for coming back to on Sunday…I ritual I have whenever away no matter how long for. To finish my day I wanted to badly get in a session of yoga. Due to a few things this happened later than planned…but…I had the house to myself so followed Yoga with Adrienne for Yoga To Feel Your Best, getting in some good leg stretches and finding my calm as supper cooked.
Saturday – It felt great to have a lie in and try to rest myself as much as possible. Regardless of the need to travel I was mindful of this being my rest day, that Sunday was long run day, and that with it being an event the urge to go faster may be there…and hard to ignore.
After a late start and light breakfast I checked and re-checked my bag. I got myself really anxious and so took around 40mins out, grabbed my mat and did some yoga. I followed Yoga with Adrienne, re-doing Yoga To Feel Your Best and then trying out Yoga for Hope, both have great leg and hip stretches in!
Around mid-afternoon we travelled into Manchester. The hotel I’d booked stands directly on what will be Sundays starting funnel…nice and easy for race day but expensive given what you get. Sometimes it’s all location, location, location and this was one of those times.
Pre-dinner at Ask for the last of my carb loading I took time out in M&S over a hot chocolate, leaving my better half to wander and explore…I was so tired my eyes hurt but knew if I’d stayed at the hotel and slept I’d not get a good nights sleep.
Race day prep and long run prep are one in the same for me, a creature of habit yes…but also of the opinion that you should never try anything new on long run day – I do my tweaking in the week on my shorter runs, assessing my performance following my long run to see if anything needs adapting during the next weeks training. Therefore, even though away, I ate where I knew was ok and the kind of thing I would have had if I’d been at home. During training I up my hydration from mid-week to both compensate for my longer Wednesday run but also to start preparing my body for my long run. I do the same with carbs in my diet as carb loading shouldn’t only be done the day before, the energy store needs topping up gradually to get the best endurance benefit. I may have viewed Sundays run itself as part of training, but it was still a big deal and massively important to me so everything had to be spot on!
Once back at the hotel I checked my kit again, massaged my legs and rested as much as I could.
Sunday – It’s here at last – my second run event post treatment, my second Great Run event and my second to last event before my Ultra. Manchester…let’s be having you!
There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love. – Washington Irvine