Do You Realize?


I don’t spend a lot of my time thinking about cancer, luckily. I decided that it wasn’t healthy for me to do that and I backed away from a lot of the activity that I was involved in. I stopped reading a lot of the blogs and posts that I’d found so helpful day-to-day in 2012 during my treatment and in 2013 during my reconstruction.

A lot of people who have gone through the experience that I have, probably feel the same way; there’s only a certain amount of time you can read and talk about that kind of stuff before you start to feel your head and shoulders going down, and it becomes something that takes up too many minutes of your thinking each day. There are other far more interesting and positive things to do with your time, that are frankly better for you both mentally and then as a result physically as well.

However… occasionally someone I’m still in touch with posts something that catches my eye and the nosey part of me has to go and have a look at it. Morbid fascination? Literally – yes, and I’ll tell you about the particular article that made me want to write this post.

The lady’s name is Hannah Foxley. She has a blog, is 36 years old and has already been through two battles with breast cancer. A lot of people will be reading Cosmopolitan this month and seeing her pose naked to reveal her scars from her battles and prove that people can still look beautiful regardless of losing one or both breasts. Hey… good on her for doing that, if it makes someone else feel better about the way they look. You can read about her photo shoot on Huffington Post.

The shocker is… that as of Wednesday this week, she now faces her biggest challenge yet – her third cancer diagnosis in three years and the news that she has inoperable cancer in her liver and lung. She says: “I thought that life was on the up. I don’t want to be a memory of someone who died young… Facing my own mortality at just 36 years old is truly terrifying.

When I read her most recent posts an hour ago, a range of thoughts and emotions ran through me. You see from my perspective, once you’ve done battle with the thing once, cancer is never totally out of your mind. It gives you a bit of a mental scab, and every so often something knocks the top off it again. This was one of those things.

It might be that you end up discussing your recent recovery with people who don’t know your story very well, asking if you’re ok now with kindly concern. It might be a vague awareness that the people you love are making sure that you know they love you and they are glad you’re well. It might be because articles you glance at online give you that little shiver of adrenaline when you realise what they are about. The cumulative effect of all of these little day-to-day occurrences is that, unlike when you were younger and hoped you’d live to be one hundred and twenty years old, now you can never quite forget that you’re not invincible.

Reading stuff about people being re-diagnosed with cancer and people with metastatic cancer (cancer that’s spread to other organs and is potentially incurable) is really tough because it makes so much of a dent in a really important thing to most of us… i.e. hope.

A blog post like Hannah’s took the wind out of me tonight, like a punch in the guts. But… as I metaphorically shake my head and get up again, I’m allowing myself to feel grateful. No matter what happened in the last couple of years, I really believed that I would recover and in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t go through too much pain and suffering to achieve my recovery. So, I figure I’m lucky.

Anyway, I wish and hope for a positive outcome for Hannah, however slim the chance, and hope that she can feel well enough again to do some more fun things before she has to say goodbye.  If you can bear to read it, her blog is at http://hannahfoxley.com/  and I’m sure she’d appreciate your support.

A few girls were talking about the post on Facebook and generally feeling sorry that this has happened to Hannah. One of the girls who saw the post added a comment, worrying that it was selfish because she couldn’t bear to read about it. My answer was no – it’s not selfish not to want to read the difficult or sad stuff all the time; just human. Logically, unless we know the person and want to offer emotional support, or are feeling mentally strong enough to deal with how it makes us feel, it also makes sense not to think or talk about it much, either… and here’s why:

I watched a really interesting TED talk the other day about the psychology of stress and its knock-on health impacts. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal was talking about stress potentially being a positive influence in your life if you re-set your thinking about it. Kelly says that new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. In fact, she posits that people who believe stress is bad for them statistically live tens of years less than people who don’t believe that. Pretty amazing, if it’s got the stats to back it up!

The key things I took away from the talk she gave were twofold:

1)  How you THINK and ACT can transform your body’s response to stress in such a way as to IMPROVE your health. If you don’t believe that stress is bad, the response in your body is merely to pump oxygen around your body more efficiently without damaging constrictions in your blood vessels increasing your blood pressure.

2) Taking a risk or being brave doing something to bring more meaning to your life is better for your health than avoiding discomfort, even if change seems like a really scary proposition.

Watch the 15 minute talk if you get the chance, because it’s really interesting.

And… don’t worry, be happy.

Do You Realize – that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize – we’re floating in space –
Do You Realize – that happiness makes you cry
Do You Realize – that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes – let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

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