2014 – This is your year to shine! The front page of my beautiful, inspiring, aesthetically pleasing Lorna Jane Diary for 2014. Full of motivational quotes, delicious healthy recipes and mindfulness techniques. The letter from Lorna Jane herself, in the front of my diary states ‘I know YOUR 2014 will be like no other’. I don’t think anyone could have been more right! This diary was used by me, up until the day before I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. My 2014 goals, prompted by the Diary were –
I WILL MOVE MY BODY BY…
– Continuing to practice yoga
– Sprint training by the water ( I lived in Five Dock at the time)
– Continue my resistance training
I WILL NOURISH MYSELF BY…
– Checking in, being mindful
I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE…
– In love and my path
MY BIG DREAMS ARE…
The Lorna Jane Girl! Even though it’s commercial and consumer driven, every woman slightly wants to be a Lorna Jane Girl, right? Just a little? Fit, Happy and Healthy? After my page of goals, the next page describes the ‘Lorna Jane Girl’.
Who is she? SHE IS A DREAMER. She is a doer. A believer that anything is possible. Lighting up the room, her zest for life and pocket full of energy shines. She pushes herself a little more each day and lets her imagination run away with her. She is the girl wearing three icons with pride, LIVING HER BEST MOST BEAUTIFUL ACTIVE LIFE.
But it stops there. It doesn’t go on to explain what a Lorna Jane Girl does when, at 27, she is handed a big envelope of full body scans, ultra sounds, mammograms and a doctors’ report saying she is the new happy owner of a cancerous breast. It doesn’t give any helpful tips for the Lorna Jane Girl when that zest for life and pocket full of energy that is supposed to shine, is sucked from her being, as the chemotherapy drugs are pumped through her body. It doesn’t suggest that some days the thing that she does to push herself a little more each day, is simply making it from bed to the couch. It certainly doesn’t promote the fact that she is probably lighting up the room, due to her body now being radioactive from the chemo drugs and radiotherapy treatment! None of that is included in the description of the Lorna Jane Girl.
It’s a bizarre thing, looking at my diary (and thinking about at my life), pre-diagnosis. I admire myself for writing that I believed in my path… there have been lots of times where I was sure this was not supposed to be the path for me. I still sometimes stop dead in my tracks and think – has this really happened? On the 11th of April 2014 I was supposed to go on a whirlwind holiday with Nikki and Ash. It was all booked! We were flying to Las Vegas for NIkkis’ 26th Birthday, going to LA, then Hawaii on the way home. But just two weeks before we were supposed to go, I was diagnosed. When I was supposed to be dancing up at storm at Coachella, I was actually recovering from a double mastectomy. The very last thing I wrote in my diary, just scribbled in there as if it is another normal, every day task:
‘ultra sound – 4.30pm’.
That’s it. See ya later Lorna Jane Girl! Catch you on the flip side. Thanks for the memories! I haven’t touched or written in my diary since that day.
The Urban Dictionary defines Peacocking as:
‘The art of dressing for attention’
In the same fashion as a Peacock would use their feathers to get a mate. I’ve never been one to shy away from attention, catch me on a dancefloor or karaoke bar and I am in my element. So I consider the outrageous scarves I wear on my head, a form of peacocking. I have had many comments in regard to my head attire, mostly positive feedback from elderly men. I’m not sure why elderly men are so comfortable with dishing out compliments (well, what they consider compliments). I used to get it working at a café when I was younger. I’d wear a racer back singlet to work, exacerbating the size of how large my already wide shoulders appeared. Old men always seemed to think it was a compliment to tell me I looked ‘fit’. One man, asked me if I was a rower, another asked if I was a swimmer, and lucky last, one old Wilfred asked if I lifted weights regularly. No. These shoulders – you’ve gotta be born with it, baby. It’s El Naturale. So I have noticed the old men pinpointing me again, dishing out compliments left right and centre in regard to my head attire. They love it. They’re so into it.
‘Oh! I love your head!’ (Old man in Harris Farm – can only presume he doesn’t actually love my head and was referring to my head scarf)
‘Well don’t you just look fancy! (Old man at Nepean Cancer Care)
‘I like your headdress’ (Old man in Blaxland)
My favourite though, didn’t come from an old man. It came from a young girl at the checkout of Pauls Warehouse (incase anyone doesn’t know, they sell 2 for 1 Havaianas there, what a bargain). She told me she loved the way I was wearing my hair. So awkward for her. Not sure if she was colourblind, or bright-floral-shiny-material blind. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that as convincing as it might seem, the peacock I was wearing on my head was definitely not hair.
Now the real stuff.. I finished radiation! On the 10th of December. It was a breeze at the start. I reacted in nearly exactly the way my oncologist suggested I would. He said I would start feeling good after chemo about two weeks into radiation and then start to get fatigued again. Bingo! He got it in one. He should really be a doctor or something. I felt soooooo good about week 2 of radiation. I was going for walks every morning, regularly getting my yoga in and feeling really productive in the office. Still definitely not 100%, but noticeably better than how I had been for the last 6 months. But toward the end of radiation, I was exhausted. So, so, so fatigued. It didn’t help that most days I really tried to fight the fatigue. I really got over going there every day. My skin became very burnt and swollen. It was really uncomfortable. I ended up having to wear dressings on the wounds 24/7 with burn creams and padding. I’m not sure if it’s a chemo aftermath or part of radiation; probably both, but the skin on the rest of my body was feeling rough, dry and itchy too. But the burns disappeared a few weeks after radiation and healed quicker than they came about. Now I just look like I have a big square tan on my chest, over my breast and under my armpit.
The chemo/radiation aftermath still continues – my fingernails started to come loose off the nail bed. I was hoping they would just grow off, but I broke one of them the other day whilst shooting hoops in Timezone (don’t worry, I got a really good score so it was worth it). They told me it was a possibility my nails would come off in chemo and I was really happy that they didn’t. But I suppose all those toxins are still in my body and just now they have decided to let my fingernails be affected. I get aches in my hands and feet when I go to bed at night, it’s worse in my feet. My physio Tony explained this as possibly still from the nerve damage from chemo. I’m not sure whether I mentioned this earlier, but toward the end of chemo I ended up with some mild peripheral neuropathy, which is like permanent pins and needles. Just in my fingers and toes. It wasn’t excruciating, but it is really unpleasant and kind of freaky. Tony explained that there are 3 levels of nerve damage (should I be paying you for plagiarising your info T-dog? I hope I don’t get it wrong). The worst nerve damage is complete numbness, the second is pins and needles and the least is a dull ache or pain. So the good news is that the pins and needles are gone, the not so good news is that the aches are here! Throughout the day, it is totally fine, when I am busy and active. It just comes and aches a lot when I stop and relax, or when I go to bed at night. My eyelashes, eyebrows and hair have started to grow back! It’s sooooo exciting. Although my eyelashes are very course and not the same as they used to be and my eyebrows are still very thin. But it’s a start.
I speak to my friend Svetlana (I’m using an alias because I’m not sure if she would want me speaking about her) sometimes, who I came into contact with just after I was diagnosed. Svetlana is 38 and had the same breast cancer as me (there are lots of strands/types of breast cancer). We had the exact same chemo schedule, however hers was caught earlier on so she did not do radiation therapy. I had a really great chat with Svetlana the other day, last time I had spoken to her which was a few months ago and she had really taken on the YOLO attitude and said she wanted to do something really different and live life. When I saw her last week, she told me her, her husband and her four kids were packing up life and moving to England for a while! So awesome. Something she said to me has really stuck with me. When we were talking about life, she said that this world we have created for ourselves is so crazy. It was just a passing comment in conversation, but when I stopped and reflected on the conversation with Svetlana, it really resonated with me. It’s hectic. The world we have created for ourselves and the pressure we put on ourselves is cray cray. There are so many things that people say and do in our society that are just ‘the norm’. Just not questioned. Things we put in and on our body, the way we behave, the things we buy, what we do with our time and what we think is important.
I remember when I was a teenager, I really wanted nice things and lots of things. I wanted all the surf brand clothes and the coolest skate shoes. I wanted the best Walkman, then Discman, then I pod! I collected posters of all the Roxy models with all the beautiful bodies and beautiful clothes. I remember a realisation I had one day when I was younger, of the silliness of this way of thinking. I was leaving uni one day and I was listening to my beloved I pod. I thought I was pretty cool at the time so I was probably listening to Ministry of Sounds compilation. When I got in the car, my I pod fell out of my bag and smashed on the ground. Completely smashed. I was soooooo devastated. I actually shed a tear for my I pod. I was so utterly upset that now when I went to the gym or was at home, I couldn’t listen to my music. I drove the short while home and arrived home in such a bad mood. Then the phone rang. It was my Nanna, she was saying something about Pop but I couldn’t understand what she was saying really (Nan had had a stroke a few years before). I can’t remember the exact details, but Mum was at work and spoke to My Uncle and found out that Pop had a heart attack and had been taken to hospital. We then found out a short while after that, that my Pop had passed away. I felt sick with shame. Shame that I had been upset, that very same day, about my I pod. My stupid I pod. Even though no one knew about my sadness about the I pod, I felt so embarrassed. Since that day I have definitely had a different view on things and the importance that they have in my life. But it is so easy to get caught in that cycle of getting, getting, getting.
When I reflect on my life, especially my travels, I don’t recall what outfit I had on or what brand everything was. I do remember watching the fireworks on the beach in Barcelona one night, I remember teaching kids at the orphanage in Bangladesh how to play hopscotch and I remember the smell of Hawaii. I remember how freezing cold it was on the top of Jungfrau in Switzerland, how tired we all were on the train trip back down the mountain and the girls and I wearing plastic bags in our shoes so our feet wouldn’t get wet. I remember team teaching with my friends from Central Foundation Girls School in London and I remember nailing the students in dodge ball (sorry Gorms). If you think about it realistically, logically, none of us really need all the things we are surrounded by. Just food, shelter, water, warmth, love. That’s it. Maybe I’m sounding a bit primal! But I think it’s true.
I want to collect experiences. I don’t want to collect things. This might sound incredibly morbid, but I feel like I’ve had death sitting on my shoulder for the last 10 months. It can be absolutely terrifying, but it can also open up a magnificent view as to what is actually important in life. I am aware that I could sound somewhat of a hypocrite, because I often get zoned out into unconscious behaviour and actually believe that buying yet another scarf to wear on my head will make me happier. I just spent the Christmas season giving and receiving a million presents. But the honest truth is, the accumulation of clothes, accessories, brands, anything material is not going to make anyone feel better. If it does, I don’t think it will won’t last long. From my experience, when you are sick, so sick that you think you are actually dying fo real, like I thought I was, you don’t think about what you’re wearing or what nice things you own. It’s wishing, wishing, wishing you were back in a place of happiness and laughter. Like the time I was in Mykonos on the tube on the back of a boat with Nikki and Jess, screaming and laughing our heads off, or the feeling the wind in my hair as I rode mopeds around Croatia with Georgy and Wicka or dancing on a podium at a Gay club in Berlin, to Madonnas’ ‘Girl Gone Wild’ with Daniel, Nick and Brett. Yes, Brett was there too.
When I was in that dark, sick place, I legitimately believed I would never laugh again. I remember saying those exact words to Nikki. How am I ever going to be the same? How am I going to find anything funny again? There are certain days that were the worst for me, and I remember them as if it were a movie playing in my head (those that know me well, know that I have trouble remembering details at the best of times!). But I remember those days.
One particular day, I went down to one of my best friend Jess’ house in Coogee to meet her newborn baby Archer for the first time. What was supposed to be an exciting, amazing time, meeting her newborn, was actually one of my worst days. I had become so anxious, that I never wanted to go anywhere far from home, so going to Coogee was a very big deal. Nikki drove me in, we got there and I’m pretty sure I laid on the couch for a while and then we ate some food. I don’t really remember talking to the girls while we ate, but afterward Nikki took me to the beach to try and Zen me out I think. We sat there and I said something like ‘What are all these people doing? How are they just here, at the beach, having a good time and doing nothing else? Just enjoying this sunny day? Don’t these people have any problems? How can they be happy and relaxed?’ I genuinely, could not understand how people could just be chilling on the beach and I genuinely thought I would never be able to enjoy anything, ever again in my life. Poor Nikki, trying to talk me out of my psychobabble.
When I was in the middle of chemo, I had a lot of trouble sleeping. The worst though, was the mornings. Waking up. You know when you usually wake up in the morning and its like ahhhhhhh… so comfy, I could fall back to sleep. I should get up and go to the gym? Or make some tea. Maybe I’ll go back to sleep for a bit. You feel a bit groggy at least. Not with me though. It was like as soon as I was even remotely close to being awake, my mind would start screaming.
CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING. CANCER. CHEMO. DEATH. NAUSEA. PAIN. SUFFERING.
You get my drift. It was an immediate switch on. My eyes would sharply open, I would be staring at the ceiling and this is all I would be thinking about. It’s as if my mind didn’t want to focus on anything but the suffering and chemo; I couldn’t control it. I was so scared.
The worst day, was my third AC chemo day. I knew what it was going to do to me. It is incredibly difficult (actually, impossible for me) to favour the knowledge of chemo killing the cancer and fixing my body, over it making me so ill. I remember waking up suddenly, like I did in those days, and immediately I felt sick. My appointment was at 9.30am. I went out at 7.30am to try and have some breakfast but started to feel sick. I was still using the cold caps at the time (the frozen helmets to try and save my hair) and they were painful and exhausting. Right now, writing this, I am starting to feel nauseated thinking about them. I sat at the table, crying and crying and crying. I just cried. That was absolutely, 100% my weakest moment in time. That was me at my worst. I hadn’t even had the chemo yet! I remember I made a Facebook status saying ‘It’s about now I need everyone to tell me they love me and I got this’. That was me, screaming out to the world to save me. Hundreds of people commented on my status and I just read those comments over, and over, and over. I cried the whole way to chemo. I cried during chemo. I cried after chemo. Then again, I was unbearably sick for a week.
Another day, I went to work at Juliet and Shanakas’ office (my friends Shan & Jules let me do some admin work at their office on my good days). I was dreading leaving work, because that was where I was alone. Thinking about chemo. Thinking about cancer. I went home and just cried. I climbed into bed and I cried and cried and cried. I was so scared. Mum got home from work, I was sitting on the couch, like a zombie. Crying and crying to Mum. Not knowing what to do with my life, waiting, waiting, waiting for the next chemo. I remember saying, as I wailed through the snot and tears ‘I get up and go to work from 9-1 and then what. What am I supposed to do. I’ve got nothing’. I remember saying that and genuinely thinking it. I had nothing to do. I was petrified and so scared of my next chemo. I thought I was nothing and my life was nothing. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch a movie, I couldn’t hang out with friends, all I had was this giant black cloud that was cancer hanging over my head, constantly raining. Wait, no, it was thunderstorming. It was torrentially hurricaning like a mofo.
That evening I went to my GP and said I needed help. I couldn’t face this fear anymore, the anxiety was absolutely killing me. We discussed lots of things. Lots of options. I absolutely, tried and exhausted every avenue I could have to try to claw my way out of the hole I was in. I’m still clawing sometimes. I tried every technique, professional, theory, method you could think of. Counsellor. Psychologist. Psychiatrist. Crystal Healer. Reiki Healer. Another Reiki Healer. Yoga. Health Retreat. Meditation. Medication. Visualisation. Reflexology. Support groups. Journaling. Massage. Aromatherapy. Another Reiki Healer. I’m not sure which one of these worked best. But one thing I know for sure now is, that whether it’s cancer you’re dealing with, or anything else in your life, whether it be relationship troubles, health, work, stress, anxiety, weight loss, anything like that, there is one thing that will fix you and one thing only. That thing is you. No one else can do it for you. I spent so long looking for answers, hoping that the next book I read, professional I saw or dawning moment I had would awaken me, enlighten me and heal me. But you have to be that person yourself. Having the knowledge of doing something is one thing, actually doing it is another. Just like if you owning a gym membership doesn’t actually make you fit. You can have the knowledge, but you’ve got to put it into practice. If you want out of the anxiety, you’ve got to do the work.
I absolutely, 100% do not wake up scared anymore. Now I usually wake up feeling joyful. I feel cosy and comfortable and warm. There are lots of moments in my every day life where anxiety takes over me and I feel lose my breath for a second. But whether it’s one, or all of the things I have tried working in synergy, I am able to be conscious of the anxiety I am feeling and sometimes let it go. I am over the worst of it and am working now to regaining my health, and my happiness. I still go to the doctors often, my body still isn’t back to normal and I want to stay on top of it. I saw my GP a few days ago (love her) and she said that she thinks I am hyper-sensitive to everything at the moment. I think that was a really nice way of saying that she thinks I’m a hypochondriac, haha! I sometimes worry that people expect me to go back to ‘normal’ after this. Whatever normal is! I worry that people think I should be over this whole thing by now and that it’s old news, I should be used to it. Because I almost feel like everyone else is used to it now. But I’ve never gotten used to it. Like I will just slip back into my old life as if none of this ever happened. I don’t think that is possible. Too much about my life has changed. I am really excited for this year, though! I am going back to teaching at the end of the month and I have a trip booked to Europe in March! I never thought I would be doing these things. I can definitely say that looking back at that Lorna Jane girl, pre-cancer, one thing has stayed the same. My big dreams.