How Accepting Where I Was Made Me Feel Like Me
Cancer destroyed my sense of adventure. After treatment I would get sudden take your breath away, cry your eyes out abdominal pain. During these unpredictable episodes, I’d end up hospitalized and hooked up to an IV morphine drip. Always fearing the next attack, I’d ensure to remain within a twenty-minute radius of a hospital. I also developed radiation colitis which basically meant my bowel was burnt, bloody, and raw. The nerve and tissue damage had me regularly scurrying for a toilet. While I’d struggled with IBS for most of my adult years, this was different, I was basically incontinent.
Between pain attacks and surprise diarrhea, I developed mad anxiety about leaving the house. Shut-in, sitting on the couch, I’d look back longingly at photos of my healthier days, pictures of me diving the Great Barrier Reef, mountain biking in Hawaii, and surfing in Costa Rica. In them, I saw glimpses of who I used to be: a happy, easy-going adventurer. I used to push myself. I used to venture beyond my comfort zone because I liked the thrill of what I might discover. Without a sense of adventure, I wasn’t me. My physical restrictions were improving… slowly… but I could no longer tolerate watching from the fringes as my life plodded on. Cancer had contracted my world for long enough. It was time to tackle the anxiety and to put things into perspective. It was time for new rules.
New Rule #1: Time is finite, don’t waste it.
I didn’t battle cancer so I could sit at home and watch bad daytime TV in my pyjamas all day. How effing boring. Regardless of how I was feeling I aimed to do one outing a day. At the very least.
New Rule # 2: Re-define embarrassment
To overcome the fear of
incontinence, I redefined what it meant to be embarrassed. My spastic bowel was
an aftershock of life-saving treatment, a trade-off for being alive. This
wasn’t shameful, it was simply a fact. I would never judge anyone else for
having to work around these issues and therefore I wouldn’t judge myself. I’d
rather deal with poop in my snow pants than never go skiing again. And if I did
experience embarrassment… Oh well!
Some things. Most things are
worth the risk.
New Rule # 3: Don’t wait for pain. Deal with it when it comes.
I am really, really lucky! I married an emergency doctor who can administer my pain medication (via IV or injection) anywhere in the world. We curated an emergency kit that would act as my health insurance and our peace of mind. I may have looked like a drug mule and have been on the receiving end of some thorough baggage inspections — but it worked! Whether we were in remote Costa Rica or stuck on an airplane at high altitude we could deal with my violent symptoms.
With these new rules in place, I eased off the couch and began saying yes again. I said yes to picking strawberries with a friend, an out-of-country bachelorette party, multiple weddings, and a Mediterranean cruise with my family. But it’s important to note that NONE of these things went smoothly. I used many porta-potties, sought emergency medical care in Italy, injected pain medication in an airport washroom, and basically vomited or had the shits everywhere I went. But I did it! I added photos to my albums but most importantly I made memories – some bad, most good. It took accepting where I was in order to grow and expand. As a result I finally felt like myself again.
Stephanie Sciuk is a guest blogger for Rethink Breast Cancer. She lives and works in Port Perry as a naturopathic doctor at The HealthSpace Collective. Outside of the clinic, she spends her time writing, teaching, and being a mom to her almost 2-year-old son. Apart from family, friends, and a 90 lbs golden retriever, her greatest loves are surfing, travelling, and tacos. You can learn more about Stephanie and her practice by following on Instagram.