Tinsel and tinternet

I have just over an hour before I head to the airport, to spend a few days out of town over Christmas.  Apparently there is no internet in the place I am going to.  No internet at all.  Hard to imagine when it has become such an integral part of our lives.  So I am not even taking my laptop with me.

There are not so many signs of Christmas here (unsurprisingly) apart from festive lighting on various buildings, Christmas trees on sale in the supermarket and piped Christmas music in a couple of hotels.

I like being able to take the elements which are meaningful to me without the social pressure and commercial aspects of the season.  And without wanting to put a label on my own spirituality I guess that I you could call me a “born again Buddhist” (I found that term irresistible 😉 ), respecting and recognising all faiths.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about my plan here, because the last time I did that Cyclone Giri disrupted that.  However, I can say that I am going to a lesser visited part of the country, to an ancient city of jungle temples, waterways and tribal villages.  I have pens, colouring pencils, a notebook and camera, mosquito repellent, pink toenail varnish and a straw hat.  I also have a packet of festive Jaffa Cakes which my friend brought me.  I plan to spend the days cycling among the temples, reflecting, appreciating and healing.  I expect to have plenty to write about when I am back.  And of course, plenty of photographs to share.

And on the topic of healing, I have good news.  My upper chest is enormously improved.  I still have some residual tenderness but I am back to my usual 800 metre morning swims instead of gentle half hour meanders in the pool.  And this morning, with no need to time watch office hours, I put in a kilometre as the sun rose.  And I can also say that I can see that swimming has a huge impact on my lymphodema.  It was mild, but very painful and in the first few days of returning to swimming Twang Arm was squealing and yelping as I ploughed up and down the pool.  Now I can feel it, but the pain has almost gone and it is much less perceptible.  There is no pool where I am going so I need to keep an eye on it, but it is so good, psychologically as well as physically, to see how quickly a regular swim counteracts Twang Arms tricks.

So I am a much better space now.  I am ready for another adventure, though I will be alert to the effects of adventures on this post chemoed-radiated-scarred and Tamoxifiex body.  And ready for a festive season free of tinsel and tinternet!

I wish you all a special time, whether or not this is a festive season for you, with the things that are important to you.

Leaving you with a sneak preview of where I plan to be……

 

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Emotions stirred and thoughts provoked

Since writing about the unexpectedness and rawness of emotions sparked through friendships I have developed purely online, my mind has continued to ponder and I have found myself exploring this further at times at all sorts of times of day and night.  The reactions and varied comments, and even the flurry of twitter activity clearly told me that I am far, far from alone in this, and I guess that is at the heart of the matter.

There are a number of themes to emerge from the subsequent comments, discussions and blog postings and a couple of these have particularly taken my attention.  One theme to emerge is a comparison of the nature of online and “real life” friendships, or what I have seen termed “3D friendships” and the fact that they can feel in some ways as if they are more profound.

I also find the question of “overlap” fascinating.  This is where firm online friends meet in real life, or 3D.  The Accidental Amazon described meeting with 5 other feisty Breast Cancer Blogging Advocates at the recent  National Breast Cancer Coalition the US.  These women knew each other online, particularly through their blogs and it must have been a truly special if somewhat unreal experience to meet in person, as AA recounted in her comment on my unexpected emotions post.  On a similar vein, it was warming to read M of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer as she blogged about meeting up with an online friend recently and talked about how different that face to face meeting was in comparison with her expectations.   I would love to meet my online cyber sisters and friends and wonder how we would get along if we did have the chance to connect in the real world.

The theme which has caused me the most reflection is that of why we become firm “stranger-friends”, sharing personal details about our illness and feelings, without knowing or even protecting our names and other identifying information.

When I reflect back over this whole cancer experience, I recall discussing my blog with family members, anxious to protect their privacy as well as using the blog as a way to update detail in a way which they could choose the level of detail they wanted to know.  I had realised that when I was sharing updates and news I would focus on the practical aspects of the diagnosis, treatment plans, side effects and of course, matters such as hair loss!  And let’s be honest there was plenty of that to talk about.   However, we never ventured far into the topics at the root of those scary, dark thoughts and fears which would keep me awake at night – being confronted with my mortality, my fears and my sense of vulnerability.  It is no secret that I started blogging mainly as an outlet for offloading those thoughts.  Rather than allowing them to feed on each other and grow, taking over my mind, I started to compose these thoughts into prose and the early thoughts even took a poetic form.   These enabled me to take control over thoughts, crafting them into something I could be proud of, rather than something to feed my fears.  Many of the words on this blog were formed during the hours when souls usually sleep and troubled minds make trouble.

How does this relate to our online relationships?  I find that the level of detail that I put on the blog is greater than I would or could discuss in person.  Without a stage to myself that is!  Let’s face it, if I were to recite or share a fraction of what I post here, it would resemble some long winded monologue!  In a regular conversation we tend not to talk in that level of detail.  A conversation usually does not allow the free rein that a blog posting does.  When you add the deeply personal writings which we put online with our interaction, a link is made, often a feeling of close friendship, generally reciprocal and one which can develop quickly into a deep emotional connection.  The fact that the words we share are not bound by the diversions of face to face discussions means that our thoughts and ideas can develop and be expressed in a continuous train of thought, without diversions, interruptions or the subtle body language signals that guide a spoken conversation.  There are no raised eyebrows, or sharp intakes of breath to tell us while we are posting that we should move onto another topic, or give the current one a rest.  Being able to process and express these ideas is enormously healthy and helpful.  The fact that our site stats tell us that someone is interested enough to read our thoughts, updates and rants often in great detail gives us the signal to follow through our train of thought.  We lay our hearts and minds out for all to read in the public domain.

The beauty of this is that it is so often reciprocal.  I greedily read the deeply, personal thoughts and accounts of so many blogs, often initially because our path is similar and then because we develop a bond of friendship.  By laying open our hearts and by reading and engaging with each other through comments, Facebook, twitter and sometimes personal messages, we quickly reach a level of intimacy and familiarity, deepened by a shared experience and in a context frequently of feelings of vulnerability.  I believe that this combination enables such a strong emotional connection,

When I look back at the thought process that I have followed even in this post, I can see that the act of articulating these ideas has enabled me to arrive at my own slightly clearer understanding of this unexpected phenomenon of the depth and powerful emotions of online friendships.  It has helped me to understand part of the question “why?” these friendships spark such deep emotions.  It does not even begin to explore the question “how” to handle these feelings.  However, that process of rationalising and attempting to understand and acknowledging in itself will prepare us and thus help to equip us to handle these emotions.

Even more powerful is the fact that so many of us feel similarly and this reassures us that we are not alone in far more ways than one.

Loss

Loss

We never actually met
I never saw her face
or heard her voice
except through a strange
unreal, surreal link.

But we shared so much
became firm stranger-friends
bound together by a common
unexpected, uninvited, intruding disease
invading, consuming our bodies
too long undiscovered
too long undisturbed

We bumped into each other
in this virtual world
Sharing our tears of laughter and fear
Each other’s face, name
Unknown, unfamiliar
Yet holding each other’s hands
while pushed along our medical path
disease and drugs trying,
but unable,
to strip us of dignity

And then she was gone.
Stolen
Suddenly
Unexpectedly
From her family
From her friends

And from a woman she had never met