by Bernie Kirwan
As we start breast cancer awareness month in October I reflect back to my own diagnosis in 2000, to the words my surgeon said. “Stage 3 invasive carcinoma of my right breast” to the feeling of overwhelming dread, fear and terror as I faced a mastectomy chemo and all that goes with it. And here I am 18 years later, I survived. But what does it mean to be a survivor. Generally, when we think of survival we look at the end result, the success story, the happy ending, but what about the bit in between. When I was diagnosed I wanted to be the person who was 2, 5, 10 years ahead of me, I wanted to fast forward time, so I could skip the living in between and coping bit. But like anything in life it wasn’t that simple.
Then we have the people who really do mean well who tell us about Maggie or Johnny who had the same illness years ago and there’s not a bother on them now! Of course, they come from a good place and it’s really great to hear the positive stories but there’s a lot of living and learning to happen to get to those years.
In the news a while ago we couldn’t but be touched by the story of the group of students who were rescued from the caves in Thailand. I was deeply moved and in awe of the bravery of the divers who risked their lives to save them .What fascinates me is how they survived minute by minute for the two weeks or so when they were trapped in the cave, not knowing if they would ever be rescued. I’m sure they faced every possible range of emotions, despair, fear, terror, hope, concern, to name but a few. Ok, so the end result was great but one day alone is a long time to cope with those fears. I’d love to hear them speak about those moments sometime. Because in my way of looking at life that’s what it’s all about … moments.
My wonderful surgeon gave me a two-word piece of advice that resonates with me in every aspect of my life especially, if I’m challenged in any way. I honestly believe that when we are faced with difficulties of any sort, we cope by going back to basics and living minute by minute, hour by hour day by day. The other alternative of jumping into the future and all the “what if’s” is enough to drive anyone mad.
So, to all of you who are reading this the two words are “baby steps”
Each and every one of you are already survivors. Think back to before you were given a diagnosis. I’m sure when you heard about someone else you would think to yourself “I’d never cope with that”.
You’re here; so you did.
All of you dear readers are at different stages of your treatment, but if you focus on today you got out of bed this morning no matter how bad you were feeling.
In other words you survived.
The day you were given your diagnosis was probably the worst day of your life and your whole world was flipped right over.
But guess what, you survived.
If you had or are having surgery, chemo, radiotherapy ….no matter how tough it is you are surviving. Yes; it’s awful and no one deserves it, but something is keeping you going. Ask yourself what that is? Keep asking and keep focusing and the answers will be there.
Continue to focus on the little moments and the bigger ones take care of themselves. Instead of jumping ahead of yourself bring everything back to the here and now. Yes; you heard me …right now. Just stop for a minute as you read this and allow yourself to be totally present to where you are, what you can see, hear, smell, all around you. Focus on your breath and just let the awareness of everything be with you. As you start to do this it becomes more and more natural and its amazing how life subtly changes.
Survival is getting up each day, putting one foot out on the floor, letting the other one follow and dealing with what that day brings. As each day begins, find something to be positive about. You see, no matter how bad things are there is always something to give thanks for.
And as the day closes, say to yourself, “well done me, I survived another day”. As you focus on the little moments they will give you the strength and tools for the next one and so on and so on. And you will realize that you have such a powerhouse of strength within you so when another day dawns you will give thanks for the learning.
And of course, you can’t smile all the time so it really is important to vent your fears and concerns to someone you can trust. Being honest with your feelings, asking for help, and having a good cry are all acts of survival so don’t ever apologize for having a bad day, you are more than entitled to. For me real positivity is being honest and present to whatever the feelings are.
To each and every one of you reading this I salute you.
I want you to do one more thing before I leave you. Close your eyes. Put both feet on the ground, place your hand over your heart, feel it beating, acknowledge it’s gentle rhythm. That’s called purpose, you’re alive for a reason.
Never ever give up.
Finally to quote Eleanor Roosevelt.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ Eleanor Roosevelt
With much love Bernie xx who continues to survive and learn and survive again.