My fifth and penultimate chemotherapy session is tomorrow (hooray!). I have to take super high doses of steroids with this chemo, consequently this evening I am buzzing and wide awake. Not to mention melting in the heat of our June heatwave, and wishing to distract myself from the horrors in our beautiful capital of the past week.
I thought I’d share how important I’m finding having goals to help me through treatment. Hopefully this won’t read as a management training guide…..
Project Lumpy, one step at a time
My treatment has a number of phases
- Diagnosis (welcome to your new world! Get with the cancer club quick, because we don’t have time to hang around)
- Surgery (bye bye tumour! Hello scars and a new body, hopefully cancer free)
- Chemotherapy (hair today, gone tomorrow! I’ve resisted that joke for weeks…. This is the phase where I lose myself, but find myself again. And again and again. Unfortunately it’s also one of the longest phases)
- Radiotherapy (shorter, but could be tiring with its daily hospital visits)
- Tamoxifen (the longest phase, being at least five years)
- Then I’ll pop out the other end of active treatment and fashion my new reality.
Phew, that’s a big project.
From the start, this was unknown and overwhelming. I researched and educated myself so I could hope for the best and prepare for the worse. It was clear I needed to break it down in to manageable chunks (SMART objectives anyone?) For this I drew on my career as a manager, but also my running and cycling experiences.
Some of what running and cycling has taught me
When I set myself a goal of a 100 mile bike ride, there are months of training, then achieving the 100 mile ride itself. I feel like the last 15 years or so of my life have been, unwittingly, preparation for my cancer and its treatment. By this I mean: enjoying life (time with friends and family, travel, culture) especially to counteract the stresses of life, getting and staying fit, a relatively healthy diet, always being a healthy weight, yoga and mindfulness, living somewhere I love. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m no angel – I’ve loved drinking, spent too many hours at work over the years and been more stressed than is healthy. But on balance, I felt emotionally and physically resilient going in to treatment, the strongest I’ve been.
The treatment itself is the bike ride. When I’ve run half marathons or long bike rides I’ve learnt that breaking it down to goals gets me through. I didn’t invent this, it’s standard practise. And your brain usually gives up before your body does in such events, so finding the psychological plan is key. So, my first goal may be the feed station at mile 19 where I know there’ll be flapjacks, then the first killer hill at mile 28 with a thigh killing, lung bursting 18% incline (followed by, “yippee, I did it!” as I free wheel the descent at 38mph) and so on.
Experience has also shown me that I get a dip mid way on all long rides and runs. I start to tire, pain or injuries start to niggle, and the end is not in sight yet. This is what happens in my head:
“I can’t do this”
“Shall I take a shorter route?”
“You trained for this, don’t let yourself down! You’ll only beat yourself up!”
“But I’m really not enjoying this, and there are still 60 miles to go, not even half way yet. Maybe I didn’t train enough”
“What, all those 5.30am starts on a Sunday morning, you’re going to waste that? Get over yourself”
“But it hurts”
“You can do this. Keep going”
“But I’m tired”
“There are flapjacks 10 miles from here. Chewy, buttery flapjacks”
“Mmm, well I can do another 10 miles….”
And sometimes at this point another cyclist passes me (a very common occurrence, most road cyclists are men and I’m slow anyway, so it’s normal for me to be overtaken. I’ve seen hundreds of men’s bums in Lycra) and that cyclist will say something funny, we’ll share a joke or we moan about/praise the weather or curse the hills. And that fleeting human connection and shared experience can be a massive boost and push me on.
My treatment has been so similar to this – one phase at a time, then one chemotherapy at a time, set goals and rewards and remember there is a mid way dip, but I’ll get through it. The thick treacle after chemo #3 was a huge dip, and I could happily have given up at that point. But having goals and the support of family, friends and strangers are all invaluable. I may have more dips to come. I hope not.
Aside from the treatment goals, I also set recent goals of Race For Life, The Pink Ribbon Tour and my talk at The Haven’s fundraiser.
The Haven Grand Garden Party Fundraiser
As I wrote about in a previous post, I was asked to talk for a few minutes about what this fabulous charity means for someone with breast cancer at their fundraiser last week. I felt so privileged to have this opportunity.
Chemo brain, fatigue and public speaking are not a good combination, so I was very apprehensive but equally determined to do the talk, and to do it well.
I’ve attached the video (hope my limited technical ability hasn’t scuppered the upload) so you can judge for yourself. I was shocked to see how my hair looks, and it is not the best public speaking I have ever done, but I’m pleased overall. A number of guests, including women touched by breast cancer, sought me out afterwards to thank me, which was so humbling. Most importantly, The Haven raised oodles of money. Brilliant.
And my mum, brother and some dear friends were with me, which made it a very special evening.
Needless to say, I was completely wiped out for two days afterwards. But it was worth it.
Now I need to set some more goals.