The breakdown I had to have

In the very early days of my diagnosis with cancer, there was a competition run by a lovely woman who ran healing cancer retreats for patients, and she ran a competition on Facebook where people could nominate someone to win a 5 day retreat. All the usual things you would expect, good Ayervedic nutrition, meditation, yoga. A bunch of my friends nominated me straight away and I don’t think any other poor bugger had a chance at it! I was of course so grateful to all my friends who wanted this so badly for me, the last thing I wanted anyone to know is how badly I DIDN’T want to go. I’d just been diagnosed, I didn’t want to be away from my family, and to be honest, there were few things that I wanted to do less than attend this retreat. But, I pushed myself through it, I knew it might be good for me. I flew up to QLD and stayed the night with a friend who was driving me out to the retreat and we sat out the back and drank wine while I begged her to tell me how I was going to get out of going to this thing. It was made all the more confronting by the fact I had found out that I was the ONLY ONE GOING. A captive audience. To anyone who was more in touch with their “spiritual” side, this would have been a dream – for me, it could not have been more of a nightmare.

My friend drove me out to this beautiful Queenslander house in the bush outside of Brisbane, and I met the truly warm and gorgeous woman who was going to be looking after me for the next few days. I took a deep breath and vowed to try to embrace it, even if it just meant enjoying the setting, and the infinity pool, and the opportunity to relax.

Unfortunately, right from the start, this lovely kind lady was not going to have a hope with me. She cooked me dinner, while we talked about my diagnosis, and I talked about the kids and started to cry. Then I swiped the tears away and told her in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t going to make my cry again, there was no place for breaking down and not being able to get up again and what good would that do me? To her credit she knew there was every place for breaking down and made every attempt to get me to do it. Over breakfast the next morning she told me of her studies of Gestalt therapy, and what she had learned about where we hold emotional pain in the body and how it makes us sick. I think I shut her down by telling her that I thought it was all bullshit and victim blaming, as though saying that my early years of sexual abuse and bullying and a mentally unstable mother etc MADE me get cancer, as i didn’t resolve it. I told her it was all resolved thank you very much, the early years just were what they were, I didn’t end up depressed, I didn’t let the abuser ruin my sexual relationships with men, I had a lovely family and everything turned out fine and that was all she needed to know.

Later in the morning, the art therapist arrived. The crayons and paper got layed out, and I almost giggled. A bit of drawing, like kinder, I could do this. Well, as it turned out, that was the closest they came to “getting” me (I sound like I thought they all had it in for me, honestly, I didn’t, I knew they were so kind, but I didn’t want a bar of what I thought might happen if I let it, and so I wasn’t rude, but I was hostile). We had just started planning the march towards the possible curative liver resection, so I drew a piece of string, with a balloon on the end, the balloon signifying the day we could have a party because this shit was all over. But the string was too long, it was too fucking frayed, it had too many weak parts where it could break. Oh no, tears. The lady running the retreat and the art therapist sat there and regarded me with so much pride at all this water squeezing out of my eyes, but I was just mad. Once again I told them I knew what they were trying to do, but they weren’t to keep trying to make me cry. Gosh, I just wasn’t giving them an inch.

All in all it was a restful few days. I was cooked healthy food, I swam in the pool, I rested and slept, and read some, and I did yoga and guided meditation, which I did enjoy…it allowed me to relax and didn’t make me want to cry. In the end, I did leave grateful for having had the experience, and as much as I would have liked to say it was all balony, there were definitely positive things that I took away with me, even if I didn’t realise it straight away.

Shortly after, I went back to TAFE on schedule, but I only lasted one class…I realised, sensibly I think, that I had to give all I had to what was ahead – there would be time for that sort of learning later. Then my friend Anthony, who I had shared some classes with over the previous couple of years, but didn’t know very well started gently reaching out to me. He really was the most restful kind of friend, he would tell me about close people in his life who he had lost to cancer, who found peace at the end and who didn’t, and why he thought that was. I wasn’t upset or confronted by any of it, I simply found it interesting. There was no poor you, there was no pity, there was no sympathy, just gentle tales that meandered through my brain, subtle suggestions of works of fiction I might like to read (I was all yeah yeah mate, maybe one day, I can’t even concerntrate on Facebook, let alone a bloody book!) I know he thinks I give him too much credit for the way he managed to shift some things in me, but he is a clever man, as he instinctively knew that the only way to get through to me about anything important was to make it look like he was really saying nothing at all.

Later that year, I was in hospital having a prepatory procedure on my liver and after it, I had to lay still and flat for 6 hours. I was off my dial on morphine, but asked Gaz to go out to the bookshop and get this book Anthony had mentioned a few times….I had spoken about it on the blog before, it was Veronika Decides to Die, by Paulo Coehlo. I didn’t think I would manage to read it in my drugged out state, but I read it nearly all in one go. Initially I didn’t understand, I found the protagonist a self-indulgent pain in the arse. But then, slowly but surely, I started to see myself in her. To realise that some people meander through life just existing, not living, but not realising that is what they are going. Because lots of us (definitely me), we THINK, we REACT, we DO, but we don’t FEEL. I had been scared of feeling all my life, so all I did was really exist, if cheerfully enough. Also, one of the central themes in the book is about how Veronika never realised she wanted to live until she was told she was going to die, so that hit me at an emotional level. There were tears, when I read this book, there was so much nodding that my head nearly fell off, and I messaged Anthony and said ok, I get it, I understand why you thought I should read this book. But there wasn’t a big sob session, I didn’t get broken open, I just felt….understood. I think it was the first time that I realised that there were other people like me, others with the same struggles, people who locked away things inside them very deeply, as they knew that they might completely destroy them if they ever let them see the light of day.

Lot’s of things started to “come in” after that. I went on a bit of a journey of self-discovery, but I didn’t fear it. I had recently started the blog, and was already getting quite a lot of messages from people thanking me for my ability to put their pain into words in ways that they couldn’t. I was a bit embarrassed about it to be honest, but then I started connecting it to the “moment” that I had when I read Veronika. It is one thing to be loved, but as my friend Bekkii said so perfectly to me recently, it is another thing altogether to be SEEN. It did change the way I write, and I think it is at the heart of Breakfast, School Run, Chemo’s very existence, as as hard it was for me to throw my life out there in such a no holds barred way after a life time of keeping people at arms length, if it was helping people to feel understood, to feel SEEN, then I HAD to do that.

So, what of my own journey of self-discovery? Lately I have been rather smugly thinking that I know all I need to. I’m knocking it out of the park, because I can cry now. Not huge sob sessions, but I can allow myself the sadness of my impending death, the heartbreak of leaving my children and my Gaz behind so many years before we got to finish living out the fairytale. That’s bloody sad, sometimes I think about it and silent tears fall out of my eyes. I get a scary test result, realise my demise is probably getting ever closer, as much as I hope I am wrong. Yep, that is scary, I cry. I walked into my oncologists office last week for the first time crying as I walked in, and he was quite frankly alarmed as in over two years he has not seen a woman without her game face on. Hey, I’m getting GOOD at this watershed stuff. I’ve turned into a FEELING human, not a robot. I’ve been kinda mentally hi-fiving myself about this stuff lately if you must know.

Weird things have been happening lately, and they’ve been scaring me a little bit, so I have been trying to understand them, and what they “mean”. In this case, I think it would be more appropriate to feel instead of think, just let these things come in, trust that the universe will provide an answer, but they have been a bit too “big” so I have gone back to my old habit of thinking, or rather, overthinking. People have come back into my life that I haven’t seen for 10, 20 years…people that I had things to resolve with, some big, some small. One of my childhood bullies contacted me through the blog with a heartfelt apology, and a need for forgiveness which I was able to provide. When I was going through my house, ransacking it, trying to find my birth certificate so that I could apply for my passport for Thailand, I kept finding mementos from the kids from over the years, letters and cards to me, lovingly made pictures and trinkets made out of pasta shells and glitter and love. I started to get upset, as it was just thrown all over different parts of the house, like it didn’t matter, and I decided that the time had come to get out the four “memory boxes” I have under the bed, and start distributing things into them. Time to get those four journals and start writing in them.

Then I kind of started to freak the fuck out. I always said that I would not start this process until I knew I was in my final months, until the decline to the finish line was certain – I accept that day will come, but I will NOT grieve my end until I know it is coming thick and fast. So what the hell was with the idea of doing the memory boxes. Oh FUCK, am I accepting this death is coming, and soon? Is that why I am having people come back into my life that I have wanted to make peace with for various reasons? Why I have been able to give absolution to people who want to make peace with me? Is this what happens when you get close to the end? Why did I feel a strange kind of serenity with it? Is this what stops you from going stark raving mad when you know the reaper is breathing down your neck?

The truth is, I don’t know. I’ve asked a couple of trusted friends, and they don’t know either. But it’s all been bringing me closer to the breakdown that I didn’t even realise had to happen.

Bekkii decided last week that she wanted to take me somewhere this weekend to prepare my headspace for an appointment today that is pretty much my last hope to be offered more time than standard last line chemotherapy can give me. She looked around all week for somewhere to us to stay for the weekend, and was about to book something, when I found out that a couple of spaces had come up on a girls weekend that other friends were going on. We decided to join this, and this culminated in a group of five women at a charming little farmhouse in Portsea who all needed each other in a big way. Around hot tub soaks, and sits in front of the open fire, with drinks, and angel cards, and way, way too much food, we all bonded over a shared issue, which I won’t go into out of respect for the privacy of the other women, but needless to say we all kind of looked at each other and wondered did we all land in the same childhood and come out of it with the same issues. It was profound and beautiful and indescribable, and I was completely comfortable with it, and the sharing in it, as it was not, as things often are, focused on ME.

On the Saturday, we went into Mornington for High Tea and some op shopping. Funnest day ever, we laughed so hard over so many stupid and random things, it was so cleansing and I felt great. As we were about to head back to Portsea, I remembered that I had run out of some sedative drops that I have been using to keep me calm when I feel panic approaching, as it is doing a bit more lately than it has in the past. It was after five, but I remembered that the chemist that I always used to go to when I lived in Mornington was a late opener, so we headed there. Bekkii came in with me and we put my script in, and she started wandering through the perfumes and I wandered to another part of the store. This place was so very familiar to me, it’s a huge chemist, and it always had a cafe in it. When lived at the end of the street when Dakota was a baby, and I was pregnant with Indi. It was without question one of the happiest and most innocent times of my life. I used to walk my baby in the pram down to that chemist and have a coffee in that cafe EVERY day of the week. I got to know the cafe owner as a friend, and a lot of the patrons were elderly people, who took so much delight in my stunning baby, as I happily passed her from one set of arms to another for an hour or so each day, watching her light up their lives, as she lit up mine.

So, there I was, standing in front of the Darrell Lea stand, next to the cafe of dreams of days gone by, and I felt something start to build in my stomach. I saw my baby, I saw those elderly people, many of them probably long dead. I felt the innocence of those days when I used to believe that I would sit front and centre in every big moment in the life of that baby, when she became a little girl, a teenager, a woman. For all the world, it was like I was looking at that pram, with that baby smiling sunnily back at me and someone came over, some shadowy and malevolent figure and said “you know you can’t have her, don’t you? She’s not really yours to keep? One day something is going to come and take all this from you” And I saw this figure snatch her right out of the pram in front of me and run away with her.

And then I lost it. The fucking Hoover Dam started pouring out of my eyes, and I bent double with the pain, while other people in the chemist watched on in alarm. Finally Bekkii realised what was going on and I eventually managed to tell her where it was all coming from. I tried to do the usual, wipe the tears, get on with the living, but I was quite unable to, I was a goner. I got back to the car and the girls rallied around me. I kept apologising, sorry, sorry, I am ruining this weekend, I am sorry, I will stop crying, just give me a minute, it’s ok. But of course it is not ok that that baby and the three that came after her are going to get snatched. And they all told me that I WASN’T to stop crying, I was just to let it all out. And all of a sudden, I felt safe, so I did. I kept crying until there were no tears left (well, I thought there weren’t, but there were a few more here and there later).

And there it was. After two years, and five months, in a car with four sisters, came the breakdown that had to happen. And far from feeling weak, ashamed, guilty, silly, or any of that malarky, I feel washed clean, SOUL clean. I understand the sisterhood like I have never understood it before, and it was beautiful.

I don’t know what happens next, but I am a different person today, I’m better, and I am much, much wiser. Thank you Bekkii, Sam, Sarah and Feona, I love you.

6 Comments on “The breakdown I had to have

  1. Ih Jules WE love you so much too. Thank you for blessing us with your beauty and for trusting the circle. I can’t wait to do it all again darling xx

  2. Sending you lots of love Julia. I don’t know why but our brain has the capacity to keep everything together until it just can’t anymore. The breakdown that you had to have is important, for you to be ready to take on this next challenge. Thinking of you today as you head off to your appointment.
    Kit xoxo

  3. Thank you for sharing Julia I think we all need to do this at some time in our lives for whatever reason Xx

  4. Hey Julia, I know two of your ‘sisters’ from way back, Sam and Sarah and I have to say, you’re in very very good hands. Let them love you, on your shit days and on your good days too. Let them help you be you on the hard days. They’re both wonderful women who would do anything for those they love, and girl, you fit that mold.
    Wishing you all the love and light I can muster. Xxxx hugs.

  5. So raw, so soul searching, so healing, so honest and so courageous and brave to reach into those innermost parts that many do not ever want to venture into, nor, willingly or not, have the chance too. I hope it brings you sunshine, warmth and peace, comfort and laughter and that equilibrium for the days ahead. xoxo

  6. Julia, someone posted this on another site. I have no idea about it but one of the feedback comments is from a patient with bowel/liver mets who is still well after four years.

    I guess you get all sorts of weird advice but I thought I’d best pass it on.

    Apparently some oncologists endorse it.

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