Introspection – “extrospection” through the breast cancer lens

This is the post I wrote a year ago, and which is eerily current.

March 2010

“There’s one thing about cancer – my goodness it makes you self centred!  Conversation and communication revolves around current treatment, side effects, what’s next, how well I’m coping (aye right!) and generously taking the p*** out of cancer as it takes the p*** out of me!

It’s not that I don’t care or think about anything external but rather that the whole cancer thing just takes right over.

So this is an attempt to see things a little bit “out of the box” and remember that there was a Feisty Blue Gecko before there was a need to fight back!  Indeed it is not as if I was short of things to say about life before the lump.

I have had a pretty amazing life in lots of ways, one of extremes and challenges and privileges and rare experience.  I could really honestly say that I loved life, and in particular I loved my life. 

And then I found the lump.

I do still love life, but it just all feels on hold.  And I don’t love the chemo-treatment-bald-twang arm life in the same way!!

So I have been prompted to look back over recent years.  I moved to Nepal (from Scotland) in mid 2000 and ended up living and working there until late 2005. I grew and learned enormously both personally and professionally in those years, and experienced some incredible times both frighteningly challenging as well as heart-stoppingly magical.   In November 2005 hubby J and I moved to Mongolia where we spent a hugely different year in a massively different context, culture and climate, never mind diet!………..More incredible learning and challenges.  A year later we packed again and set off back to the sub continent – this time to the tsunami affected areas of India (Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) and a professional shift from broad development work into post emergency/rehabilitation and humanitarian work.  It was also a very special opportunity to re-visit the Andaman Islands where we had been on December 26 2004 (and that earthquake and tsunami experience is a whole other tale, for another day…….)  It was wonderful both professionally and personally, and an invaluable experience which enabled great healing.

And that is when Feisty Blue Gecko was born.  I started blogging following my first visit back to the Andamans, when I was treated to a small earthquake just to remind me of 2004. After our year in India I moved next door to work in Sri Lanka for another year, when the conflict was at its peak in full scale humanitarian work.  It was an incredible change to begin my work in Myanmar last year and I was really settling into life and work here.  I was completely and utterly unprepared for the cancer call when it came.

Recently, I was kicked out of my cancer induced introversion by global events.  The Haiti earthquake immediately shocked in its severity and I was surprised to be contacted with 24 hours to ascertain whether I might be available to be deployed for the emergency response.  Clearly I was in no position to be any use there. However, it really made me stop and think.  I could see how small and personal my own “calamity” was, yet it hammered home just how much life has changed for me.  The thought that I might not be able to play a part in a humanitarian response again was particularly hard to contemplate.

At the same time, a lesser known disaster was emerging in Mongolia, a Dzuud – a kind of severe winter famine.   This received little attention because its toll on human life is perceived as far less.  The main impact is death of significant numbers of livestock.  The traditional nomadic herding communities however, experience the harsh after effects for many years to come.  These include immediate and often total loss of livelihoods, migration to urban areas and many are deeply trapped in poverty.  And that does not begin to describe how life is affected for the herding families and the real difficulties of such a change.  While I was working in Mongolia I heard of and saw over and over again the impact of the Dzuud disasters on families which had taken place 4 – 5 years previously.  Time and time again I heard of the effects on those families and how so many were still struggling so many years later.

So while my little, personal world has been knocked about as the big world is being shaken, I think it is good to be kicked out of my introspection.  However, I can see that looking outwards is now characterised by the fact that I see everything through the breast cancer lens.   So it seems that the global and personal worlds are in sync, and this outward look cannot fail but to reinforce it the inward one.  Ironically, this emphasises just how much my own life has indeed changed.”

March 2011

Apart from the fact that I was in the midst of active treatment when I wrote this, and Haiti was on the world stage rather than Japan, my thoughts seem to be very similar.  Although I am in a much stronger position now and have indeed recently been involved in a response in country, things have shifted and changed.  I am living life again, picking up the pieces and but it is most definitely through the breast cancer lens.  And as much as my own world has been turned upside down since diagnosis, the magnitude of what has happened in Japan and my reactions show that despite the fact that I am in a different and better place this year, I still need to be shaken from introspection.

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4 thoughts on “Introspection – “extrospection” through the breast cancer lens

  1. I so relate to this post. I, too, sometimes feel as if my life has been totally overtaken by the cancer demon. Then events outside my world remind me of my “smallness.” They remind me that people everywhere are carrying their own burdens and life challenges. As I approach my upcoming cancerversaries, of which I have many, I will try hard to view the big picture, still I know my “sight” has been permanently changed by cancer. Thanks for this timely post.

    • Thanks N – it really does strike me just how similarly we feel after this cancer beast invades our lives. It is so hard to convey the fact that it is in my mind for ever now, and that doesn’t mean being negative or whingey, it is just there. Lovely to hear your encouraging words about your many cancerversaries – may well all have many many more! P x

  2. Philippa, this is something I’ve struggled with. It’s just the way cancer is, it takes over our lives. It places blinders on our eyes and keeps it there until we’re emotionally and physically ready to see past it. You sound as if you’re ready. I loved reading about your life. So many adventures. I’m looking forward to more.

    • Oh yes I know what you mean about the blinders! I feel as if I am indeed looking beyond them now, but still through the breast cancer glasses. Thanks for your kind words, I consider myself really privileged to be able to live and work in such an environment. Thanks for your encouragement. P x

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