The Gift – and why unexpected ones are always the best
Way back in the weeks before I was diagnosed I was running a carers group , nothing unusual in that, a group of older women caring for their husbands with a variety of serious ailments and a few with dementia – which was meant to be the focal point of the criteria selection – but anyway. Amongst the group was a petite woman who was so organised, her husband’s care routine ran to clock and she managed to have time for herself and recognised the importance, something some, well, let’s face it most carers do not consider in their attempts to look after their loved ones, self-sacrificing everything including their sanity and health over long periods of time. This woman reminded me of me, and her control of the situation was screamingly obvious, coming from a family of control freaks it made me smile. But what this woman was about to give me was the biggest surprise of my life and also the biggest gift which I feel I have retold so many times but never written down before, so here goes….
‘One day I fell over and broke both my leg and my arm’, she began, shocked faces around the room, ‘So I took myself to hospital.‘ As you do! I smiled as remembered driving myself to A&E with a fracture, tis a scratch and hiring an automatic car after I broke my foot – shhhhh. Aha, I thought a fellow Monty Python knight who is going to tell me even with her half hanging off limbs she continues (as I would do) with everything she has to do like a mature superwoman with her M&S pants over her tights.
‘When I got home,’ she continued, ‘I put myself to bed, I remembered this huge book my friend had given me and I said I’m not getting up until I have finished it.’ Quizzical look from me, I was almost waiting for her to say like Borat NOT!! I was waiting for her to say that didn’t last long so I jumped up and ran a marathon and you just carry on don’t you? She didn’t , she continued , ‘I knew that my family would be in a mess and not do things the way I do things but I thought they will get on with it and manage and I need to really recover.’ I think I was in shock, it felt like the most important story I had ever heard, it was shouting at me in high definition. At the time I didn’t even know why, but it really hit home and in the following weeks I retold this story to carers and staff alike truly proud of this woman’s grasp of acceptance and letting go of control. I never ran my last carers group of that series as by then my diagnosis had appeared from nowhere and Bone scans and CT scans forced me not to attend. I never ever forgot that story though.
Fast forward to now, I honestly wonder why I was given that lesson just weeks before the most life changing diagnosis of my life but I have never been more grateful, if I was the Queen I would have given her a knighthood. For me before diagnosis my diary was so packed with meetings, events and juggling life and home I had no time for annual leave, sick leave or time off in lieu. I needed a holiday from myself – hello Breast Cancer!! Now in the past, let me share, I am not a person to be stopped by ill health or misfortune, I’d be like a character in a fighting game, lose a life and carry on for the KO even with limbs missing.
True to character at first a few days after diagnosis I was like I’ll just carry on as normal, of course I will work through this ….my boss, who although I may have thought crazy at the time and doubted her motives, ordered me to have time of work. What?? Don’t you know work is a coping strategy and distractor?? I almost screamed. I think I may have sulked but then this story came into my mind and like Obi One Ken Obi a voice was there saying ‘Acceptance is key’.
I’ve always been a 100 mph person, I was even born prematurely, trust me my slow is still others fast and probably even now I’m moving faster than people would expect, but that’s my intrinsic nature and my authentic self. I have always carried on when ill, forced myself into work, put others before me and felt that I had to. My dad would tell me as a kid when I would be frustratedly kicking my legs whilst laying on the sofa with fevers and viruses, ‘Just let it work through you, you can’t rush illness it has to work its way out of your body in its own time’ Another brown cloaked Jedi Master.
What this wonderful woman gave me even without realising was the right to go with the flow and relinquish control. That’s the message I want to share with everyone. Acceptance is not defeat or being weak. Acceptance is not being submissive and giving up the fight. Acceptance is going with the flow, letting go of the tight reigns when you need to, letting others help even if they rearrange your house in the meantime LOL. Acceptance is letting the side effects of chemo do their worse and just thinking everything passes. Acceptance is knowing that this period of ill health is temporary and better days will return. It’s the thought that I cannot plan in advance and push myself to get well by a deadline, but I do know I will be well and I will be able to pick back up the things I choose to. Acceptance is about letting go of the old parts of you that will never fit into the now or the future you. Acceptance is saying ok, I never wanted this to happen, but now that is has I choose to make the best out of this and work through this. Acceptance is empowering.
I have never been more grateful in life for this story and indeed for the words my dad gave me years ago. For some people they learnt this lesson years ago and it’s old news for them, but for me this is a headline. Thank you Cathy for this gift.