In stark contrast to how I felt on the last day of 2013, I have had a great struggle with letting go of 2014. Twelve months ago I thought that 2014 would be the year that I would bounce right back into life, that I would recover quickly from the physical and mental assault of 2013, that I’d find a new direction in life and career to make sense and use of all that I had experienced and learnt in 2013. In looking back at 2014 that is not actually how the year played out; if I had to put a label on it, I would sum up 2014 as my healing year. It has been a year of wonderful milestones and experiences, a time of great personal growth and a big lesson in patience as I think about where-to next.
I was told by my oncologist and others that it would take at least a year or more to feel like myself again after chemotherapy. Having ones breasts lopped off and replaced with silicone means I’ll never quite feel like myself again, but I’m getting used to the new me and the scars are slowly starting to fade. I’ll be forever grateful that science discovered that many breast cancer tumours contain oestrogen receptors, allowing oestrogen to drive growth of the tumour, and that through research and development reagents now exist that allow blockage of these receptors. I am “fortunate” in that my breast tumour was 95% oestrogen receptor positive, meaning that if there do happen to be any stray tumour cells floating around my body, they should be kept in check by me taking tamoxifen (an oestrogen receptor blocker) for the next 5 years or more. I started my relationship with tamoxifen in January 2014, so now nearly a whole year ago, and it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. I initially had migraines and nausea but this passed after the first month or two. The most lasting effects are the bone and muscle aches and stiffness of joints, where some days I feel ancient. When I complained about this to my oncologist his reply was “Well, you are 50″. Nice, eh? I’d also like to know when the waves of fatigue will no longer hit me. In some ways I know I’m a victim of my own actions. I’ve had increasing periods over the past year where I feel great, my energy has returned and I just want to suck every ounce from life. But I don’t have the stamina I used to, I burn the candle at both ends and I eventually crash with exhaustion and fatigue. The practice of mindfulness has transformed my life and makes me view the world in a whole new light, but when I get too busy, time to spend in stillness is bumped and it’s too easy to be back on the hamster wheel before I know it. Developing and extending the practice of mindfulness is high on my agenda for 2015. As is working towards an improved level of fitness, backed up by a whole-food diet, to build up my stamina and energy levels.
So what of the highlights of 2014? – they are many and will be long-remembered in the years to come. Each of my children had milestone birthdays, 18, 13 and 10, and these were celebrated with wonderful parties. It felt so good to be well enough to do this for my children. There was also my 50th birthday, celebrated with good friends and family at our local pub before we headed off to celebrate the actual day in Paris. My birthday was textbook perfect and I still can’t believe how blessed I am. It was an amazing feeling to take part in the Breast Cancer Network Australia Field of Women in May; to stand on the MCG with the thousands of other women and men touched by breast cancer, with one of my best friends by my side, was a very emotional and grounding experience. There was much travel for both work and leisure in 2014; two trips to Paris, a trip to Texas and San Francisco and the long-awaited, dream-come-true family holiday in Europe. Europe in the summer of 2014 was everything I’d dreamed of and more. The flashbacks and reflections and photographs in my mind from that time with the family will sustain me for a lifetime. It cost a fortune and took an extraordinary amount of planning but it was worth it all, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
My professional life was not without highlights in 2014. I commenced the year by being invited to join an international Board as a Director; this is proving to be an experience I very much enjoy and am honoured that I can contribute in this way. This invitation prompted me to join Women on Boards and I have now also started attending a monthly Women Director’s breakfast with an incredibly interesting group of women from around Melbourne. In June our Cord Blood Bank released its 500th cord blood unit for bone marrow transplant. This was a wonderful day and we officially celebrated this milestone in August with a huge morning tea. There were many other achievements of note in my professional life – papers published, regulatory approvals gained, outcomes achieved. Throughout the year, however, I was feeling very much like it was time to move on and do something else. I feel like there’s so much more I could be doing. I applied for two very senior positions throughout the year and with both of them made it through to the short list and interview. I didn’t get either of these jobs and was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I don’t think either of the jobs were really right for me, and clearly not meant to be. However, the urge for me to move on and do something different, where I could utilise more of my experience from 2013 was very strong. It was only after re-visiting the amazing psychologist whom I had seen prior to my mastectomy, that I gained some peace about this. I love what I do in my job and still have valuable contributions to make; I have set new professional goals for 2015 and am excited about what the year may bring. Instead of changing jobs, the psychologist made me realise that now is the time to spend more time with my family (they are young for such a short time) and pursue my dream of writing – it is not a task that should wait until retirement. To this end, in September 2014 I attended a weekend Writer’s Workshop in Sydney. It was fabulous, and gave me so many tips for how to achieve my dream of writing, whether it be by blogging or published book; I have many new and exciting things to work towards.
As 2014 drew to a close yesterday, I felt a real hesitancy to let the year go. I loved 2014. It wasn’t always easy (with another two surgeries for reconstruction, an 18-year old trying to find his place in the world, a teenager coming to terms with the events of 2013 and parents who continue to have health problems), but it was a year of great peace and many, many happy events. 2015 is full of the unknown. For the first time ever, I really haven’t made any new year’s resolutions, but am happy to see where the year takes me. Life goes so fast and I am reminded of this constantly as I think of friends and loved ones who are no longer here – our time is just a blink. I want a life that matters, and that is what I’ll continue to work towards in 2015.
Happy New Year.
NB: Butterfly image from http://www.nathab.com