The Truth About Surviving Cancer

I won't sleep tonight and I haven't slept much for the last few nights either. My appetite has gone over the last couple of days and a constant feeling of dread has sat behind the things I've distracted myself with.

I've never shared the downsides of surviving cancer before - it's always felt wrong to admit feeling a bit shitty about it, like it's some kind of dirty secret. There's an ongoing mental conflict between being endlessly grateful and constantly fearful - much like an emotional tug of war.

As I prepare for my annual results tomorrow I fluctuate between thick anxiety and teariness as I ponder the 'what ifs', and serious repenting of my sins for overindulging in chocolate, avoiding the gym and telling rude jokes - aware that chastising myself won't really impact the outcome!

Sometimes being a cancer survivor is a bit shit - but we’re not really supposed to say that. The fear of recurrence is always in the back of my mind but I never talk about it. Instead I fake it and pretend everything is OK. By pretending I almost start to believe it too, for a while, but going back to hospital brings the emotions flooding back - and it scares me.

Being 'cured' of cancer doesn't mean it's the end of the journey, it stays a bit like a scar. And whilst I'm unbelievably thankful for my outcome, it's hard to stay upbeat and uplifting all the time.

This has not been an easy post to write or share but I want to be honest - there's already too much smoke and mirrors on social media - so that's the truth!I won't sleep tonight and I haven't slept much for the last few nights either. My appetite has gone over the last couple of days and a constant feeling of dread has sat behind the things I've distracted myself with.

What do you stand for?

I am often asked about how I went from working full-time to living the way I do now and it's really not a simple answer. So I have decided to create a series of weekly blogs that unpick my journey and hope this may provide inspiration in some way for you too. 

I used to dread going back to work after the weekend or a holiday. I felt deeply unfulfilled with a constant nagging feeling that gnawed away and brought up the same questions,  "Is this it? Is this what you survived cancer do with with your life? Is this really all you've got to offer the world?"

I'd spend my commutes dreaming about a new life and toying with possibilities of what I might do instead. I wanted feel better about myself, my future and the contribution I was making to the world. 

It was the risk of failure that stopped me from making change. The good intention that came from being strong and ignoring my heart meant I was becoming more out of touch with my needs. I was spiralling further into unfulfilment yet I was desperately seeking   more meaningful connections and personal growth - I just couldn't access it.

And now? I wake up feeling excited about the day ahead. I'm passionate about the mission I'm on and don't really consider it work - I'm just investing time in something I love and issues I care deeply about. 

The journey has been far from easy but after finally quit my job in 2016 - the year after I was diagnosed with cancer - without any plan for the future I can say I have found a rhythm I'm at peace with. Back then, by all accounts, I had already failed. I walked away from a well paid job and couldn't tell anyone why or what was I was planning next. I'm sure my family thought I was having a breakdown from the fallout of my diagnosis and, in some ways, maybe I was.

My work leaving drinks at work - a few tears goodbye that night

By the time I came to quitting work I had developed a quiet confidence in knowing that I'd got through the worst, most draining experience of my life with cancer so felt I could deal with anything thrown at me down the line. The future was uncertain but there was one thing I was convinced about -  I couldn't ignore that anxious itch inside anymore. 

What cancer hadn't already stripped of my identity, quitting my job finished it off.  I struggled to recognise who I was initially and it took time to construct a new version of myself and understand what I stood for and valued - a journey I'm still on today.

How did I work through it? I considered aspects of life where fear held the balance of power, working out if the perceived security it provided was worth giving up. Ultimately I had to allow myself to believe that the unknown life outside the existing narrative I was living in would be better.

We’re all hardwired to avoid change. We don't want to deliberately expose ourselves to anything that might threaten our routine, identity or security but it's by doing exactly this that we eventually come to a place of fulfilment.  

In the time I had after quitting work I did a lot of paddle boarding - the one thing I knew I enjoyed - whilst I mulled over and questioned what I wanted to do... and so began the unwitting start of my 'second career'. Funny how things work out! 

Our lives are as big as we dare to make them.

How can you start that journey yourself?


Firstly, and very simply decide what you stand for. Whatever lights you up - follow it. Whatever makes your shine sparkle - grab it. Release yourself from expectations of others and live by your own design. Locate that little voice within, let it rise up and listen to whatever it's telling you.

Paddling in dense fog on Windermere

Your head and heart will always be in a push-pull. We all want to feel accepted, safe and secure, it's basic human condition. It's only when desire for growth and self-expression outweigh the former that will feel empowered and strong enough to make a change. We all have a threshold for the mundane and we all, at some stage, reach a breaking point before taking action. It's not about turning our lives upside down - I realise mine was a drastic measure - but we do all need to give ourselves the time to listen to what we want and then act on it. We owe ourselves that much.

Only when you committed to stand up for a purpose greater than yourself will the bravest part of you rise up.

Think about how you define success. Does that align with who you are? Most of the time we've bought into a measure that revolves around superficial accomplishments and material possesions. These are external markers that place us firmly on a never ending treadmill of slogging away but never arriving! 

Success that emanates from a deeper place driven by a desire to find true fulfillment and clarity over what authentic living means is the starting point for something more meaningful. 

Views across the Atlantic Ocean

Of course, a comfortable life is easy but it's not always right. We only get one shot - as cliche as it sounds, it's so true. 

Live the best and most authentic way you can in the context of something bigger and more profound than your own ego and sense of pride - you'll reap the benefits,  I promise. .  

Next blog: How to redefine your success… 

The little moments aren't that little

My sudden reminder of my own mortality came five years ago in my mid-twenties when I was diagnosed with cancer. Until then my life was largely unremarkable. I was stuck in the rat race and defined success by job titles and paychecks. Outwardly I was successful, but I felt deeply unfulfilled.

Cancer, for all its downfalls, has been the greatest blessing of my life. The clarifying force that came with the prospect of death gave me confidence to re-evaluate and reconstruct a new way of living. It gave me the courage to live with real passion, unrestrained by expectations. It showed me the importance of throwing myself into everything that makes me feel alive with my whole heart, and without regret. It taught me love hard and go full throttle at what I want from life. 

Lizzie Outside

Cancer gave me the opportunity to remove myself from fear, from ambitions, from attachment to material things and the concept of status. It also reminded me to appreciate the everyday moments that I once took for granted. It strengthened bonds with family and friends in a way words can't describe. It brought me close to nature in a way I couldn’t have imagined possible and what I learnt from that life-affirming experience continues to shape and strengthen me. 

Ultimately, cancer taught me to cherish the simplest moments that make up my life and take pleasure in the smallest of joys. Opening my senses to the world and deeply connecting with the moment I’m experiencing makes me feel alive. Those fleeting, unexplainable seconds that appear as nothing, yet mean everything, and leave an imprint on your heart once they’ve passed are what make up our memories. 

I've been given a new lens through which to view the world, now seeing things that I had never paid attention to before with striking vibrancy and vividness. I feel incredibly lucky to experience the beauty that surrounds me every day and to still have a place within it. 

I choose to live deliberately and purposefully, knowing that there is a deep connection between my good health and the ability to enjoy every aspect of my daily life. A recent study by Bupa Health Clinics  found that almost 70% of adults overlook the role that feeling well plays in enjoying our everyday lives. I can believe this – I was one of those people – and until I fell ill I believed I was as invincible as anyone. 

Society is plagued by a perception gap driven by a ‘grass is greener’ culture where we consistently live for the future rather than the here and now. The ‘I’ll be happy once I’ve xyz’ mind set is skewing our sense of reality and the sad fact is that all these special (yet seemingly insignificant) everyday moments we are gifted with are lost in the noise of life. 

After my diagnosis I made a promise to myself that I would fully embrace the second chance I’d been given and build a life that I’m both deeply in love with and truly proud of. The journey to living as my most honest and authentic self is still work in progress, and I’m still learning every day. Sometimes I lose sight of what it means, sometimes I'm plagued with fears around my biggest insecurities to the point I hardly recognise myself and my decisions, but I know that every challenge and obstacle I confront is a stepping stone closer to where I want to get to. 

The prospect of death has a transformational power that is accessible to every one of us, provided we’re courageous enough to embrace it. We can use it to make conscious choices that create meaning in our lives, providing liberating and awakening experience to help us take better control of decisions around both our health and lives. 

By maintaining consciousness of our own mortality it will encourage us to live authentically and fully - for the very first time. Try it.

You can never predict the future but you can make sure you’re giving yourself the best possible chance by looking after yourself now.  

paddle boarding Barbados

 

Chat to your GP about any concerns you have about your lifestyle, or you could consider booking a private assessment such as Bupa’s Health Assessment which will give you a picture of your health, and provide coaching on the improvements you could be making.  And you don’t need insurance!

In the meantime, please get involved in the #EverydayMoments campaign by sharing what you’re grateful for and using the hashtag.

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
— Bruce Lee

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Bupa Health Clinics. As always, my opinions are honest and my own. 

 

The Antidote to New Year's Resolutions

 

 

Having a long-term vision of the future and goal setting to achieve that is pointless.

Bold statement? It may sound defeatist but the truth is we don’t have control of the future. The only two things we control are our thoughts and our actions. No amount of planning or goal setting is going to get us to our desired destinations if external variables aren’t playing ball, so let’s all just chill out a bit.  

 

I had my life all mapped out five years ago and New Year was an important time to reflect, evaluate and set goals for the following year based on my achievements and perceived failings. At that time I was in a happy relationship and career climbing to buy me the lifestyle I was striving for. Cancer was the curve ball that ruined everything – all my plans had been scuppered overnight.
 

I got better and rebuilt my life again but had given up on my vision for the future. I had dealt with the unwanted feelings of unfamiliarity and uncertainty that cancer brings and the experience re-shaped my outlook entirely.

 

“Uncertainty is where things happen. It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.”

 

I continue to set myself short-term goals that align with who I am, what I value and ultimately what makes me feel good. Recently I wrote a blog about my struggles with anxiety and the response was incredible – so many people could relate to it – but that got me thinking about resolutions.

 

We’re in the midst of an anxiety epidemic that all comes down to the expectations we place on ourselves to live a positive, happy life ALL. THE. TIME.

 

It’s no longer acceptable to feel bad or a bit miserable anymore, and even less so to express it publicly. Everything is screaming for us to live in a constant state of happiness and if you don’t, you feel even worse.

 

I feel bad for feeling bad, but why shouldn’t I feel OK about feeling bad sometimes?

 

If we go into 2017 obsessing over goals and setting expectations that serve to lessen our discomfort with uncertainty, isn’t that going to make it worse?

 

My resolution for 2017 is a simple one:

 

To give myself a break

 

·     Give up.

 

·     Try less hard.

 

·     Be wrong.

 

·     Lower my standards.

 

·     Care less.

 

"Of all the disappointments in life, there isn’t a kind more hazardous to happiness and more toxic to the soul than disappointing ourselves as we fail to live up to our own ideals and expectations."

 

If we keep envisaging the future and the illusion of a fairy tale ending we’re missing all the potentially new – and better - directions that might be possible in life.

 

If I hadn’t survived cancer, I wouldn’t have quit my job, I wouldn’t have started paddle boarding and I wouldn’t be living the life I am now. Life’s ambiguities and doubts are what living is about.

 

No matter how hard we try to create perfection in 2017 there’s going to be challenges, failings and under achievements for all us - because that’s the reality of life.

 

Let’s go into 2017 and embrace negativity and celebrate our failures, setbacks and disappointments because these will undoubtedly be the things that we’ll grow from the most.

Changing mindset

Lizzie Outside Walking

When I want to find stillness and solitude, I paddle board. It gives enough distance from land to muffle sounds and blur sights, offering a rare feeling of escape from the madness of life. 

Today, instead of paddle boarding, I went for a walk. I closed my front door without any plan or direction I put one foot in front of the other and covered seven miles, mostly in a daze. That's what I love about walking, it's so mindless that your subconscious kicks in and works its magic. 

I covered everything and nothing and was reminded how good it felt to have a clear head away from distractions. I started thinking about next year and what it might bring, but that usual feeling of excitement at possible opportunities was replaced by a thick sense of anxiety. The lack of control I have over my ambitions and future suddenly overwhelmed me. And the fear of my limitations, or worse, what people might think of me started to hold me back. I couldn't think clearly.

This time last year the feeling of uncertainty and unfamiliarity had me bursting with excitement, but not today. I had let my inner doubts take control and it made me question myself, my values and my ambitions. 

Getting back into a positive headspace can be tough when everything in your conscious mind is working against you. I struggled to work out what part of my thinking was rational, and what was a result of my flight response to the fear I was feeling. 

It took a lot to silence my mind and force it into a hard reset. I focused entirely on breathing, pushing out any thoughts that rose until my thinking was completely clear, concentrated solely on my breath. All responses to our thoughts - including these - are a conscious choice, but knowing that often doesn't make it any easier. I had the power to turn it round, but I had to find the will to do it. 

Getting over cancer taught me a lot about willpower and the importance of positive thinking. And every time I experience these wobbles I remind myself that I didn't survive it to let fear of my inadequacies dictate my decisions, or let what people might think hold me back. I quit my job last year to live the life I imagined for myself - and I'm determined to see that through.

I don't want to sound like a self-help book littered with cliches, but that walk - for the rollercoaster that it was - helped shape my mindset for the year ahead. I feel ready to start 2017 and all of the unknowns that it might bring, and I'm adopting a new outlook and I want to share it with you. 

Firstly, and most importantly, give less of a shit, and live a happier life for it.

Control the controllables and embrace change.
Don’t let fear dictate your decisions, use it to push yourself. It’s when we face what scares us most that we really come alive and realise just how much we’re capable of.

It's OK to be selfish to keep yourself sane and happy, and it's normal to doubt yourself and your abilities from time to time. 
But compromising on what you want to achieve from life, what you stand for and the very essence of who you are in order to fit expectations is always going to lead to unhappiness, resentment and frustration.

Let's make 2017 the Year of Fear.

Stand up to what scares you, embrace what inspires you and stick two fingers up to anything that tries to get in your way.

We're all stronger than we know.

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE

Remember the iconic Banksy drawing of the girl chasing a red balloon with the caption ‘There is always hope’ planted next to it?

A little cliche, I know, but it resonates strongly with me and I have a print hanging in my flat. It implies that hope is essential and that hope gives us the motivation to continue on in life despite the challenges, set backs or disappointments we’re facing. And we all need a sprinkling of that from time to time.

Over the last three weeks of my #SuperSUPEngland challenge I’ve witnessed humanity at both ends of the spectrum; the total idiocy and disregard that some people have for our planet, countered by the love, goodwill and kindness that I received along my 400 mile route. And, because of the latter, there is still plenty of hope left in me for humankind to make a difference.

The challenge, now, is sustaining that hope. And what better time to talk about how and why than World Ocean Day.

You see, I paddle boarded 400 miles across England to make a point. Whilst the global issue of plastic polluting our oceans is a hugely important one I struggle to get my head around why there isn’t bigger focus on the fact nearly 80% of it starts inland – on our canals and rivers.

That makes it a local issue and by drawing on this very fact it becomes very much our responsibility. Once we scale up the problem and look at it globally it transforms into an overwhelmingly large and often meaningless statistic far beyond our ability to grasp. The result? Simply cover our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ignore it.

When it’s a global problem it suddenly becomes everyone elses problem. But it isn’t. It’s yours, mine and their problem. It’s our planet, it’s our future generations, it’s our health and livelihoods. It’s a collective problem that flows from our very doorsteps.

In our lifetime, and under our (mis)management, we’re facing a serious, immediate and very real threat to the our oceans that, if we don’t start controlling, will leave them in a state of dire disrepair that, sadly, we won’t be able to rectify.

Plastic is an entirely man-made material and therefore we are wholly responsible for the destruction and devastation it’s causing to our oceans globally – and canals and river locally. There’s not way of absolving blame or pointing fingers elsewhere. Each and everyone one of us – unknowingly or otherwise – has contributed.

By plotting plastic hotspots and pressure points in our canals and rivers up and down the country my aim was to draw out the how serious the problem is inland – places we all recognise, visit and hopefully feel the desire to protect from plastic pollution.

Cleaning up our waterways not only improves the aesthetics and desirability of the area around it and allows wildlife to thrive but it goes a long way to resolving the global threat we are under.

If you don’t think it’s bad take a look at some of my findings here and visit the map I’ve started plotting with more than 1000 images from my route.

I’m hopeful in the belief that my actions will make an impact and get people to think serious about how to address the problem. I’ll stay persistent in the pursuit of change and focused on my determination to make a difference.

You might be happy to trade nature with plastic, but I certainly am not.

There is always hope.

THE CANALS ARE CHOKING

As part of the #SuperSUPEngland challenge I want to try and capture the reality of the threat we’re facing from plastic pollution along the waterways. Just in the few months of training for this challenge I’ve seen witnessed some fairly astonishing sights on the canals from buggies and umbrellas to traffic cones and dismantled scooters… but the amount of plastic I’ve seen in the form of bags, bottles, packets and even kids toys is both shocking and saddening. The health of our waterways is suffering – and eventually this will end up in our oceans causing all sorts of problems. It’s a problem that we can all address by making some very simple changes… something to think about.

This tracker will plot what I’m seeing in real-time and location specific so I can start to paint a picture of the scale of the situation along the country, bringing it all together visually in one place for the very first time.