Welcome to Cancerland

A year ago today I suspected all was not as well as it should be with my health. My suspicions proved more accurate than I imagined. Life has been an endless stream of hospital appointments, blood draws, infusions, procedures, drugs, side effects and more drugs ever since. The experience has changed my life beyond imagination.

I’d been wondering about my health for a while. I was permanently tired no matter how much sleep I managed to get. The tiredness went well beyond the levels I was used to with ongoing pernicious anaemia and it was unexplainable. By the end of a normal working day I had no energy for anything else. During weekends, a time when I’d usually make use of every second, I wanted to sleep and stay sleeping for hours on end. I never sleep during the day yet all of a sudden sleep was the only thing I craved. My skin had become a constant problem too. I thought at first that the constitution of my washing powder, cosmetics or soap must have changed. Over a few months my skin was increasingly dry and prone to eczema no matter how well I cared for it or what products I used.  My hair became dry and fell out more than usual.    Viruses became my worst nightmare. I caught colds I couldn’t shake. Simple bugs that everyone else shrugged off in a few days became month-long sagas for me to the point where I dreaded being in the company of anyone remotely contagious because I’d find it so much harder to recover. I picked up swine flu and was very sick for weeks on end.

On reflection I think all these bizarre anomalies were symptomatic of the larger, more deadly changes taking place unseen inside my body. They were the outward signals that balance and harmony no longer existed within the system. They were probably signs that my already temperamental immune system wasn’t acting as well as usual. Unsurprising in hindsight since there was a serial killer in my midst and it was hunting me down at a very rapid pace.

I recall my thoughts were polarised. Part of me said stop being ridiculous, it’s all coincidental and you’re over-thinking it. That part of me didn’t want to believe I was at least the fifth generation of women in my family to develop aggressive breast cancer between the ages of 39 and 43. I say at least because our records are sketchy, none of these women survived beyond 50 in spite of various forms of treatment. Another part of me suspected history might be repeating itself. Something malevolent, highly defective and age or hormone related was waking from its slumber to stealthily consume my body. I wasn’t over-thinking it and the serial killer wasn’t just stalking me, it was actively attempting to murder me from within.

So much has happened since this time last year. Life turned upside down, inside out, was spliced and diced beyond recognition. Major surgery followed by the chemical equivalent of nuclear warfare means that every fast growing cell was terminated or stalled on a three weekly basis for 5 months. Every chemo session is clearly visible in unexpected places like my fingernails. There are no useable veins in my left arm and my right side isn’t much better so I’ve come to dread basic medical procedures like cannulation because its painful, stressful and far from straightforward. More than three attempts and there’s a good chance I’ll go into shutdown; my blood pressure drops so low it scares the nursing staff half witless.

I no longer know the body I live in, it doesn’t look or feel like me. Its more akin to some dodgy rented accommodation and no matter how well I treat it I’ll never be able to trust it. For ever more I have to maintain a watchful vigilance for any changes, even tiny ones, because they could signal the serial killers resurgence. Thats an especially high risk within the next two years but the residual risk continues forever. No days off for holidays or Christmas once you step into Cancerland. Simple tasks – lifting something heavy, reaching up to the top shelf, walking more than a mile, opening jars – are difficult now. These are everyday things that I never gave a thought to a year ago. Today I have to consider how to do them, or just not do them at all. It’s incredibly frustrating and no-one can tell me if or when these things will improve or how much they’ll improve by. That’s frustrating too.

In some ways it’s fortunate that I’ve always been a spontaneous rather than create huge life plans in advance kind of person. Even the few vague plans I held on to – things I wanted to do, changes I wanted to make, places I hoped to see – have gone awry or away.  They’ve vanished to be replaced with plans for two further major surgeries, possible tamoxifen for up to 10 years and the restart of herceptin if its side-effects can be brought into check sometime soon. Getting back to anything scarcely resembling life before diagnosis feels a long way off, some of it has disappeared and will never return. A new abnormal has taken its place and whilst I’m not crazy about it, it’s all I’ve got.

When you find out you have breast cancer and the consultant says “ok, as we suspected its cancer but its treatable” you have no idea that every ounce of normality will be squeezed out of your life. You might be aware of certain treatments and their associated side effects but nothing adequately prepares you for them. Everyone reacts differently, we all get our own personal version of hell on Earth just like no two cancers are exactly the same. All you can do is go with it and wait for the effects to pass. You get to thinking OMG this sucks but you have no idea how long it’s going to suck for, no-one can make any promises. For some it’s well over a year, pushing at least two. For others it’s the rest of their lives because the cancer has already reached a stage where holding it up is the only option, eventually no amount of drugs, therapies or faith will prevent it taking over. Death will ensue.

While you’re busily dealing with the serial killer in your midst the lives of those around you change beyond recognition too. There can be fear, disbelief, denial, anger, sadness, you name it there’s probably a (negative) emotion family and friends have been through. When relationships go off the rails – and is it any surprise when extreme circumstances push people beyond their limits? – it seems to be another signal for the serial killer to sharpen its knives. “By analyzing data collected between 1973 and 2004 for 3.79 million cancer patients, researchers found that, 10 years after diagnosis, survival rates for people who were separated at the time of diagnosis was just 64% of that for married patients. A decade after a cancer diagnosis, the survival rate among married patients was 57.5%, while, among separated patients, it was just 36.8%. The dramatic difference led researchers to believe that the severe emotional toll of separation might effectively cripple patients’ immune systems.” (http://healthland.time.com/2009/08/24/love-life-can-influence-cancer-survival-rates/#ixzz2SgguwVHhhttp://healthland.time.com/2009/08/24/love-life-can-influence-cancer-survival-rates/).

Irrespective of partnership status, the importance of a strong social network is now coming to light yet months or years of medical interventions, a complete lifestyle shake-up, loss of confidence and enforced isolation during some treatment regimes can all make the basic fabric of  life very difficult to sustain. Social networks are, it would seem, another predictor of outcome. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/breast-cancer-study-strong-social-ties-improve-survival_n_2122697.html)

If someone had told me that sometime in my late thirties a genetic malfunction or signalling pathway error would result in the discovery of aggressive breast cancer aged 42 would I have lived my life differently thus far? The simple answer is yes.

  • Instead of accepting the popular belief that few cancers are genetic and my abominable family history was all coincidence I’d have insisted on the mastectomy I asked about and was persuaded against in 1997.
  • As selfish as it may sound I’d have spent more time taking care of myself instead of working myself to a cinder in a number of thankless jobs for far too many impossible customers.
  • I’d have stayed at home more rather than working relentlessly while my son was growing up simply because I felt compelled to provide for us and fell into the role of mother, sole wage earner and household doer of all things great and small for the past 21 years.
  • I’d have thought more carefully about who to take care of, where my support was genuinely valued and whether some reciprocal care might come in return should I need it. Sometimes even the strongest and most independent need a little help.

Hindsight. A wonderful thing but always too late. Do I regret my previous choices? No, not really. Theres no point crying over spilt milk as the saying goes even if, as per my case, the spillage is big as the Atlantic Ocean.

Has the way I think about my life and what I do with rest of it changed? Yes, most definitely.

While I’d like to say the changes are all for the better, I’m not sure that’s true. Being as giving as possible, worrying more about others than myself, supporting them before securing my own well being – these all feel like positive traits to me. Yet I’m having to rethink them, tone them down to create space to consider myself and my own needs more. Is this going to make me a bad or selfish person? I don’t know.

A year ago I’d have chastised myself for these changes; I’d have cared if other people thought I was bad or selfish. Today I don’t because I’m the one fighting for my life, it’s taking every resource at my disposal and that may not prove to be enough. Today my life is full of ghosts. Whispers of  places I used to go, people I used to see, things I used to enjoy but can no longer do. As with all ghost there’s a melancholy that goes along with them because they hint of a life more ordinary, less complicated and free from the shadow of a serial killer named cancer. Today my life is the place where physical endurance is only the tip of the iceberg. Fasten your seat-belts because relentless turbulence is the only thing that’s guaranteed. By the way,  Welcome to Cancerland.

cancer 2011

cancer 2011 (Photo credit: mike r baker)

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In and out of multiple lives

Do you know what makes life confusing? It’s when you can’t determine if things are signs for you to give up or simply a test to see if you can hold on longer.”

Some strange things have happened in the last couple of days.  It started with the train. The train is late more often than not and sometimes cancelled all together. I’ve taken to holding my breath in anticipation each time I hear an automated statement that begins “we are sorry to announce that ….”   There was an announcement, two in fact, but they were for other trains. My train wasn’t late and it left me confused, possibly in a state of shock. The people whose trains were delayed weren’t surprised. Isn’t it strange how we come to expect  chaos, get confused if it doesn’t happen and sigh with boredom when it does.

Next there was the taxi. I used to work in Arcueil just south of Paris where I experienced a whole new realm of taxi drivers including those who point-blank refused to venture beyond the periphique. Although I developed a taste for French food, my taxi experiences were of dubious quality and left me with an aversion to this form to transport for several years.  My recent taxi encounter proved to be a revelation. Not because the driver shrugged, huffed or looked generally grumpy but because he asked about my headscarf.

In 8 months of baldness there have been plenty of stares, whispered remarks and looks of pity but no-one stopped to ask me why I had a hat or scarf permanently welded to my skull both outdoors and in. Perhaps I looked like I might be contagious, bite or share some information that went beyond the cursory ‘fine’ when asked ‘how are you?’  Who knows. So when, after talking about the economy, the weather (has to be done, I live in the UK) and politics, the taxi driver said “do you mind if I ask, is your headscarf for fashion or some other reason?” I was thrown into confusion again. Here is a man I’ve had a pleasant ten minute chat with asking in a very genuine and sincere way about my headscarf.  He turned off the meter and I told him the truth. My hair is still recovering from chemo and my head will get cold/sunburned/both without some protection. I saw compassion and understanding in his eyes before he said “I know what this is like, my wife just finished chemo too. They say she’s going to be OK… I really hope you’re going to be OK, are you OK?”   Thank you Steve the taxi driver. Although I was confused at first your quiet concern and genuine interest made me feel human again.

I had a few appointments to attend to then met with friends.  I haven’t seen some of them for almost a year.  Piecing together things that have happened in their lives within the short time we had available was  a little confusing. I’m out of practice having lived in isolation like Phineus the hermit for the vast majority of autumn and winter. So many stories to tell, thoughts to reflect on, questions to ask. There’s a good deal of uncertainty in the lives of some of my friends right now. Confusion stalks them like the black dog stalks me.  As a ‘find a way to help make things better’ kind of person it’s difficult to stand by, to feel their concerns and be unable to suggest possible solutions  that might assist.   Other friends have moved forward, thrown off the shackles and are happy to recount that stepping away from something draining and demoralising was definitely the right move.  Well done ladies, you set a good example for us all.

It was good to see everyone, to reminisce, to hear their hopes for the future, to smile with them and be part of a community again instead of feeling alone.   Of course I’m not alone, I’m part of a huge community of cancer patients all of whom are in a club they didn’t ask to join. It’s a club that is constantly changing since it gains and loses members regularly. Becoming attached to members of this special club can be confusing and dangerous if coming to terms with death isn’t your thing. Aside from undertakers and morticians I don’t know anyone who is good at it.

I’d like to be fully present in the community of my friends and family. The one where the black dog runs amok occasionally but isn’t eating up souls every day. That world is still accessible to me but a large chunk of me is confined to the world of medical investigations, procedures, drugs, side effects and survival rates.   It’s definitely a test to see if I can hold on longer, 5 years, 10 years, more… who knows? It’s very confusing.  It makes my concept of the future a little more contained, closer to today than my retirement age of 67 when I might receive £110.15 a week state pension if it hasn’t been scrapped by then. 23 years is a long time for politicians to continue screwing things up – assuming we ever get out of the current mess.

Friends, family and concerned strangers like Steve the taxi driver shape and enrich the experience we call life. Many of my new friends know, as I do, that life may not last as long as we’d like so there’s a lot more catching up to do, places to go, good times to be had. Time is precious. Most of us get stuck doing things we don’t enjoy at some point but still have chance to change. Change it because you may not get another chance.

For my dear friends old and new and my family who have no choice but to deal with this crappy situation here is my wish for you:

Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life… and a life free of confusion.

hands in mental confusion

hands in mental confusion (Photo credit: luigioss)

Coping is what we become good at…

People have scars in all sorts of unexpected places. Like secret road maps of their personal histories. Diagrams of all their old wounds. Most of our wounds heal, leaving nothing behind but a scar. But some of them don’t. Some wounds we carry with us everywhere and though the cuts long gone, the pain still lingers.  Meredith Grey.

My first scar happened a long time ago. I was around five years old and somehow managed to jab a biro into my knee. I remember it hurt at the time and for years I had a blue dot beneath my skin. The dot has faded but the scar remains, a constant reminder that biros are best used on solid surfaces, not knees.

I have a feint scar on my right hand and a more distinct one on the left.  The feint one is a cat scratch from my Grandmothers enormous ginger (and semi-wild) tomcat. Both my Grandmother, Evelyn and the tomcat, Tigger died a number of years ago but thoughts of them still make me smile. I remember my Grandmother cussing the cat as he ambushed her from beneath a flowering shrub for the hundredth, or possibly the thousandth time while she tended to her laundry. Pristine white linen drying in a garden that was a triumph of horticulture and a sea of colour, filled with dahlias, Japanese wind-flowers, lupins and peonies. Tigger had plenty of places to lie in wait for an attack on any unsuspecting ankles.  No-one, not least my Gran, was spared his high jinks.

The  scar on my right hand is a burn. Too much rushing around in the kitchen and a failed attempt to remove something very hot from the oven with a tea towel instead of oven gloves. My oven gloves had broken and I couldn’t afford to replace them. Instead the money went towards my sons third birthday cake. I taught myself that rushing to bake cakes was a bad idea. I also taught my young  ‘soak up new words like a sponge’  son a word I didn’t intend to share with him. B*ll*cks.  I’ve never fathomed why children learn some words immediately while others take time and patience to be assimilated into everyday speech. That word was seized upon by my almost three-year old with instant glee. Fortunately it didn’t amuse him for long. We both laugh about this now… and we both have fully functional oven gloves in our kitchens.

I have a scar in the shape of Myanmar between the annular and little finger on my right hand.  I’d been out with friends but wasn’t drinking because I had to drive. I managed to slip on some gravel and some gravel managed to embed itself in my hand.  I was teased for being the only person who fell over when everyone else was drunk and I was the only one to remain sober.

The three newest, most visible scars include a 2cm line in my right armpit, two perfectly round scars that resemble a large vampire bite on my rib cage (they’re drain scars) and a 7cm diagonal scar across my right breast. These scars have no amusing memories to accompany them. They are the unholy trinity that marks my physical assault on cancer and  the handiwork of Miss M, the amazing oncoplastic surgeon who helped preserve my life.

All of these wounds have healed, repaired themselves leaving nothing more than some lines on the road map of my personal history. There are, of course, the other scars. The ones that can’t be seen. Scars of miscarried babies and my Mother, snatched from us far too early by cancer. Scars of past betrayals, misplaced loyalty,  forsaken friendships and lost love.  The cuts went away and for some of these scars the pain is a dull ache instead of the nerve-jangling wretchedness of a broken heart.  For others the pain doesn’t recede, it’s simply concealed behind a facade of optimism and the hope that in time, things will be better.

When facing a difficult situation, something painful or threatening we often try to console each other with clichés: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, every cloud has a silver lining, better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all… There are hundreds of these things but they rarely help.   When my Mother died I was deeply traumatised, receiving a cancer diagnosis myself was quite a shock too.  Many clichés were offered up by well-meaning people around me but those words didn’t help.  The words I fell back on, the ones that have really made a difference came from my Aunt a long time ago. “People will say it gets easier with time, that you get over it, life goes on. Life does go on, it doesn’t get easier. You just learn to cope better. Coping is what we become good at.”

Scar

Scar (Photo credit: Tattooed JJ)

No gloss or glamour just grit and determination

One of the (many) challenges of breast cancer treatment is the extraordinary change that happens to our bodies.  Not just the obvious changes – missing breasts, scars, hair-loss if chemotherapy is part of the treatment regime – but the unexpected changes too. Weight changes, skin changes, fluctuating energy levels, tinnitus, dry nails, altered metabolism, neuropathy. The list goes on.   The physical transformations are accompanied by psychological changes too; stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD.  Even the most relaxed people can find it difficult to stay permanently upbeat when the whole world seems to be caving in around them.

In spite of the sea of pink, in spite of all the hoopla about survival rates*  and in spite of the endless fighting-talk about cancer warriors, battles and survivorship there is no gloss or glamour about breast cancer.  This isn’t a Disney blockbuster complete with pink princesses, an assortment of vertically challenged helpers and a handsome prince who’ll undo the evil spell and save the day.  It’s more like a Hammer House of Horror production.  Zombies – rogue cancer cells resistant to initial medical intervention – might re-establish themselves in a multitude of locations anything up to twenty years after treatment, possibly even longer.

There’s no Disney is this realm.  All we have, all we ever really have is the grit and determination to make it through diagnosis, surgery, chemo and/or radiotherapy into whatever future lies beyond. That future is not the one most of us anticipate.   Regular medical check-ups, long-term side effects, living in a body that no longer feels like your own, mulling over the question no-one can adequately answer…Will it come back?  Gloss and glamour don’t see us through these things. Just as cakes in a French patisserie look so much better than those in my locale, underneath all the icing and decoration they’re not much more than eggs, sugar and flour just like the cakes in my local supermarket.  Gloss and glamour can sometimes help us feel better about ourselves  – when we look good/healthy/almost normal on the outside it allows us to more easily blend in with the rest of society. But it doesn’t take away what’s on the inside – scars, reconstruction (or not), pain (physical, emotional or both) and whispering niggles that pervade the recesses of the mind.

What if some zombies remained…

What if they reawaken…

What if they take control?

French Patisserie, gloss and glamour galore

French Patisserie, gloss and glamour galore

  It seems there is no easy solution. From the point of diagnosis we’re on the cancer conveyor belt.  For some of us cancer is slow-moving and discovered early.  Treatment, whilst challenging, typically doesn’t involve chemotherapy and its long-term implications for health – the risk of cardiac issues or a second malignancy at some point. There’s a very good chance people who discover a slow-moving cancer will go on to lead a long and healthy life.

For others the cancer is more aggressive, fast-moving and difficult to treat.  Higher grade hard-to-treat cancers tend to affect younger women and several of these sub-types have greater propensity to recur.  Many of my blogging friends have these kinds of cancer.  For others still, the cancer has already broken free of its original starting point via lympho-vascular invasion.  Many people are familiar with the concept of cancer spreading via the lymphatic system.  It also spreads via the vascular system – our blood.  Treatment for individuals with metastatic cancer is life long and although its possible to live with metastases for a number of years, the average is a meagre 26 months.  During the life-span of this blog – 7 months – I’ve already mourned the deaths of cancer blog companions.

As Dr Suzanne Herbert stated in the 2011 article ‘A pink ribbon race, years long’ (NY Times)

While the pink-ribbon campaign has raised awareness about breast cancer, it masks a relentless killer.  People like the pretty story with the happy ending…   you always hear stories about women who ‘battled it’ and ‘how courageous’ they were. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re courageous. It’s an injustice to all of us who have this. There are women who are no less strong and no less determined to be here, and they’ll be dead in two years.

Despite ongoing discussion about the usefulness (or not) or mammograms and the associated potential for over-treatment, the fact remains that our ability to screen cancer is limited and our capacity to predict whose cancer will metastasise is, at present, totally inadequate.  What is clear is that anyone who discovers inflammatory, or high-grade HER2 positive / triple-negative breast cancer will need treatment. These sub-types are not slow-moving and have a much higher propensity to break free of the breast to take up residence in bone or other organs.  Unfortunately hormone sensitive, seemingly small and innocuous cancers can also develop zombie-like characteristics, reawakening years after initial treatment concludes.

For many – possibly the majority – of breast cancer patients the future is by no means certain.  This disease can rear its ugly head again years or even decades later and there is no gloss or glamour when, as Dr Herbert puts it, a relentless killer is in our midst.  25 – 30% of breast cancers go on to become metastatic. Metastases are incurable.  Personally, I’d rather risk over treatment now than take a ‘wait and see’ approach.  In my case wait and see would severely curtail the remaining years I might expect on this planet. Cancer may go on to do that anyway but at least I and my loved ones know I went through treatment, lots of treatment, rather than leaving things entirely to chance.  If I’d relied on the clear mammogram result in December 2011, ignored the small dimple and almost impossible to distinguish mass discovered in May 2012 the chances are that by December last year the cancer would’ve set up home elsewhere.  Just twenty weeks after a clear mammogram, the cancer I discovered had already made its way into the surrounding lympho-vascular system and sat 1mm beneath the skin.

I support the view that women shouldn’t be afraid of their breasts, that confusion exists about the implications of  DCIS and whether or not it will go on to become invasive hence its treatment is open to question. I agree that our current screening methods fall short in far too many instances and the sea of pinkness surrounding breast cancer trivialises a life-changing disease for those who are unlucky enough to be over-treated and for those who are unlucky enough to die irrespective of treatment.

Prevention is better than cure but since we know no means to prevent cancer at this time we are forced to rely on detection, treatment and attempts to cure, no matter how crude those processes may be.  Cure does not equal relative five or ten-year survival in the eyes of anyone with breast cancer and whilst predicted ten-year survival is good, in my view it’s still not good enough.

Relative Survival (%)
1 Year 5 Year 10 Year
Sex 2005-2009 2005-2009 2007*
Female 95.8 85.1 77
*The ten-year survival rates have been predicted for patients diagnosed in 2007 (using the hybrid approach).
Note: Survival for one and five years is for England only and for ten years is for England and Wales  (Cancer Research UK)

The photo below on the left is one of my rare attempts at gloss and glamour – I was never particularly good at it but if an occasion arose I scrubbed-up reasonably well. This was an in-laws wedding, before the spectre of breast cancer entered my life.   The picture on the right was taken yesterday  345 days into life in the shadow of breast cancer. Surgery, reconstruction and six rounds of chemotherapy have all come and gone and I’m still a cancer patient.  Part way through herceptin, awaiting further surgery and possibly facing Tamoxifen for 5 years or more.

The events of the past year mean I rarely contemplate gloss or glamour for any occasion these days. Waking up each morning and reconvening herceptin (currently suspended due to side-effects) is excitement enough.  The cancer patient look – moon face, spartan hair, a tiredness that’s etched deep into my eyes and skin – is also impossible to disguise, irrespective of gloss and glamour.   Grit and determination have long-since become my only mantra.  Without them I doubt I’d have reached this point whilst avoiding a major infringement on my sanity.

sarahs wedding   today p

*Survival has improved for some, for others it could be termed lies, damn lies and statistics.
  • According to statistics from NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, the 5-year relative survival for women diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer during the period from 1988 through 2001 was 34 percent, compared with a 5-year relative survival of up to 87 percent among women diagnosed with other stages of invasive breast cancers.
  • A 2007 study of more than 50,000 women with all stages of breast cancer found that 77% of women with triple-negative breast cancer survived at least 5 years, versus 93% of women with other types of breast cancer. Another study of more than 1,600 women published in 2007 found that women with triple-negative breast cancer had a higher risk of death within 5 years of diagnosis
  • Breast cancer treatments such as Herceptin that target a marker called HER2 have dramatically improved outcomes for women with this type of cancer. But nearly half of these cancers are resistant to Herceptin from the start and almost all of them will eventually become resistant. Research has shown that women with HER2-positive breast cancer have a more aggressive disease, greater likelihood of recurrence, poorer prognosis, and decreased survival compared to women with HER2-negative breast cancer.

Time to move on

What do you do

When the world frowns at you

When your life’s upside down

Is there hope to be found?

 

Where do you go

When the rain turns to snow

When your life feels insane

Is your psyche still sound?

 

How do you know

When the words are all faux

When the light’s a feint glow

Is your ship run aground?

 

Why do you stay

When your heart starts to break

When the give is all take

Is your freedom now drowned?

 

Who do you tell

When you know it’s a spell

When the tears start to flow

Is your life come unbound?

 

When do you know

It’s the last picture show

Now its time to move on

Let the darkness be gone

ship

ship (Photo credit: deepwarren)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Impossible is a matter of opinion, it is not a fact.

Mission: Earth, Voyage to the Home Planet

Mission: Earth, Voyage to the Home Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A long time ago someone asked me if I thought I could fly to the moon.  “Yes” I said without stopping to give it any consideration.  “But that’s ridiculous” the person doing the asking then stated, “of course you can’t fly to the moon!”  Blessed with equal measures of resourcefulness and stubbornness, I continued to declare my ability to reach the moon in spite of the arguments thrown at me. The conversation went something like this:

Person A: You cannot fly to the moon.

Me: Yes I can.

Person A: Don’t be silly, you haven’t got a spaceship.

Me: You’re right, I don’t. I would have to get one.

Person A: You can’t just get a space ship!

Me: If I needed a spaceship badly enough I’d get one.

Person A: Spaceships cost money. You don’t have that much money.

Me: I know, if I needed a space ship badly enough I’d have to find a way to raise the money. You know I could do that if I had to.

Person A (slightly grudgingly): Ok, I know if you had to you’d find a way to get the money for a spaceship. But you can’t just go out and buy them and even if you could, you don’t know how to fly anything. You don’t like flying and you’re certainly no astronaut.

Me: If I couldn’t buy a spaceship and I really needed one, I’d have to learn how to build one myself. If I had to I could build a spaceship.

Person A: Hmm. Maybe. But you still don’t like flying and you’re no astronaut.

Me: You’re right, I don’t like flying but I could learn. If I’m going to learn to fly I may as well do some astronaut training too. I like to learn.

Person A: But you know deep down that its just not possible. You can’t fly to the moon because its impossible for people like us to do things like that.

Me: It would be difficult, but it’s not impossible. If I had to fly to the moon I would. I’d find a way to make the money, build the space ship, learn to fly and complete astronaut training. I don’t doubt it would be hard, but in no way is it impossible.

Person A: You’d fail. Crash or something. It’s definitely not possible.

Me: I might fail – I might build a dodgy rocket or crash into some space debris or navigate the wrong course and end up heading into the sun. Still doesn’t mean it’s impossible though – it would just mean I was a rubbish spaceship builder who needed to improve her map reading skills.

Person A: Oh for goodness sakes! YOU are impossible.

——————-

Maybe I am a little impossible. The easiest option when posed with a seemingly impossible situation (do you think you can fly to the moon?) is to shrug and say no. The question goes away, all the thinking about how to make it happen goes away and with it, the possibility goes away.

The trouble is, I don’t believe many things are truly impossible. They might be difficult – like climbing Everest or walking to the North Pole or dealing with cancer – but very few are completely out of the question. The most successful people have often overcome the most daunting obstacles, they aren’t prisoners of circumstance, they don’t blame their childhood, education or social setting for the situations they have to face and they don’t lie down and give in. They persist, retain a positive attitude and keep going no matter what gets thrown at them. They recognise that impossible is an opinion, not a fact and that a positive attitude in spite of tricky circumstances can lead to brilliant outcomes.

As Dr John Maxwell says “your attitude colours every aspect of your life. It is like the mind’s paintbrush.”   My minds paintbrush is like a rainbow, it rarely bows to gloomy greyness or melancholy black. I think having a positive attitude really makes a difference, not only in what I’m willing to take on or overcome but also in the kinds of people I attract into my life and the depth of friendship we develop. I wonder if its true that people who can find a way through almost any situation attract others who do likewise?

When your next obstacle comes along (as it surely will because our lives are shaped by them) what colour will you put on your minds paintbrush?

Be glad of today because tomorrow is a work of fiction

Human Heart(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Human Heart
(Image credit: Wikimedia)

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

My heart was examined once again today using ultrasound to create an echocardiogram.  This is standard practice because the anthracycline based chemotherapy I’ve endured and the Herceptin I’m continuing to receive are both known to cause damage to the heart.  I’ll find out next week if my 10 oz bundle of muscle is as healthy as it was three months ago. I certainly hope so and in three months time – all things being equal – it’ll be checked again.

The heart is an amazing piece of equipment. It beats around 100,000 times in a day, circulates blood through some 60,000 miles of blood vessels and if looked after can last a lifetime without needing too much maintenance. It’s also thought the heart can contain ‘cellular memories’ – recollections of the events we experience, preferences and attitudes we hold.  Although the idea of cellular memory is fiercely contested there are some astonishing and as yet unexplained examples, including the 8-year-old girl who provided information that led to the apprehension of her heart-donors murderer.

Irrespective of whether we believe cellular memory or not, if we start out from the premise that every day is the best day of the year I suspect it might help us be happier about what we have instead of feeling miserable about the things we don’t have.


You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die.  Or when.  You can only decide how you’re going to live.  Now.  ~ Joan Baez

If you wait, all that happens is that you get older.  ~Larry McMurtry, Some Can Whistle.

We die daily.  Happy those who daily come to life as well.  ~George MacDonald

Why be saddled with this thing called life expectancy?  Of what relevance to an individual is such a statistic?  Am I to concern myself with an allotment of days I never had and was never promised?  Must I check off each day of my life as if I am subtracting from this imaginary hoard?  No, on the contrary, I will add each day of my life to my treasure of days lived.  And with each day, my treasure will grow, not diminish.  ~Robert Brault

Tomorrow is a work of fiction, every day some of us discover tomorrow never comes.  So live today, all day and write on your heart that its the best day of the year 🙂