Strength. That trait that all humans long to have. Mankind spends hours in the gym, honing muscles and strengthening their cores, Putin sails a war ship through the English Channel, grown men take steroids to enhance their bulging biceps, Beyonce rides a horse, Boudica like in her video for Who Run the World (Girls) all in a desperate bid to show off their (apparent) strength.
When I first got ill I was inundated with messages of strength. Every next person was sending me some sort of strength vibe. “Stay Strong”, “You’re so strong”, “Sending you strength”, “You’ll be a stronger person after all this”. Bicep emoji after bicep emoji where frantically text to me and every other card had a message of strength plastered inside. So all this got me thinking. What is strength? Real strength? And how does it manifest and mutate when you’re ill?
As with lots of things since being diagnosed with cancer, my notion of what I previously thought was strength has totally been turned on it’s head. Everyone keeps telling me I am so strong but I sure don’t feel strong. Trust me when I say this, this is definitely the weakest I have ever felt physically. I’m no gym bunny, but at the start of the year if you’d asked me to run 5k and then do an hour of power yoga I would’ve been like “Bob’s your fucking uncle, no problem mate!” But when I was ill there were days I struggled to open jars, cut vegetables, walk up stairs or open the car door. Physically all my strength had been sucked out of me. Easy, everyday activities at times felt near on impossible and the thought of even walking up a slight hill filled me with dread. The cancer had literally eaten my muscle mass. And then there’s the mental weakness too. Mentally I’ve always been quite tough. I don’t take shit, from anyone, which has sometimes got me into trouble. I am strong minded, independent and a fighter. Or I should say I was, I once was all of these things. Cancer and chemo can at times make you feel mentally fatigued and emotionally exhausted. That strength can quickly and very easily disappear, almost as quickly as the hair falling out of your head.
When life throws shit at you, there’s only two real options, a fork in the road. 1) Freak the fuck out, shut down, pretend it’s not happening and consequently massively fuck yourself over or 2) Dig deep, deeper than you have ever dug before into your soul and face it, full on, trying to garner some positives along the way. And so, like a crazed Beyonce on (actual) steroids I rose to the challenge of becoming a strong, fierce woman, as if my life depended on it – which it did, obvs. Whenever I was asked how I was getting on my reply would always be “Oh, great, I’m doing really well actually” even if, lets be honest more often than not the evening before I’d been crying my eyes out with fear. I forced myself to walk as much as I could, even when it was a struggle to walk up the stairs, I cycled as and when and practised yoga almost daily. I found space for me and my body and my own self healing. I thanked my body constantly and most importantly I believed that my health would return back to me. I did not push myself and I accepted that some days were just too tough to get out of bed. And slowly I began to heal, slowly my strength began to return to me. It is the most AMAZING feeling.
So for me I’ve realised that strength really is just belief. Belief that I am getting better, belief in my doctors and their amazing, medical knowledge and scientific powers, belief that my body is slowly healing, belief that chemo is the greatest, live saving thing on earth and belief that, every-fucking-thing possibly crossed, I will be cancer free in two months time. For all you Putin/Beyonces out there who feel the need to show visible signs of strength (yes, I did just compare Beyonce to Putin, but hey I’ve got cancer, give me a break!!) save your energy a little and know that true strength comes from within.