Saturday 11th July 2020

Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Women of Courage Series. #27. Sandra Kelly.12/2020.

Trigger warning: content: as advised by Sandra.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid-May 2019: Wednesdays: each week until the series concludes in 2020.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda.

 

 

 

 

Image credit: https://m.facebook.com/RhondaLockerPhotography/

If there is one place where I know I can find some care and support on-line it’s with Sandra Kelly who is 53. No, we have never met, but you can bet that if we did, there would be an instant rapport and a LOT of chatting together. This lady, known to me first via her blog, and now as a facebook friend has QUITE a story and it was she who asked for a trigger warning. I am in awe of Sandra and here she is, with her dear husband, with a photo taken as a memory of where they lived for quite some time before moving for family and medical reasons. What a great idea to capture the familiar for the future.

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

First of all I’ll let you in on a little secret… I don’t see myself as courageous at all (no disrespect intended to those who do).

Whether I’ve been tackling my fear of heights to absorb a breathtaking view, or staring boggle eyed at a bloody big needle about to be shoved into my boob, I’ve felt nothing but fear, anxiety, doubt, sometimes terror and many times hot stinging tears – but I have certainly not felt like a woman of courage.

You might say I fit the mould quite snuggly of Denyse’s musings that gave birth to this series – “We women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives”.

Yep, that’s me alright!

I guess I haven’t seen myself as a courageous person throughout our many years of adversity as a family because life in the face of adversity becomes… well… just life!  You get out of bed in the morning and get on with it because ‘it just is’.

It’s not always done with a smile or without a tear or fear, you just do ‘your normal’ that can appear so ‘abnormal’ to those on the outside looking in.

I’ve been married to the most courageous man for the past 32 years.  When I think of any courage I may have needed to tap into over time, it pales in comparison to the courage he displays each and every day.

My husband has severe Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis, among other ailments, and has been in a wheelchair as a result for about 25 years now.  Infections, joint replacements, pneumonia’s, heart failure, countless hospital admissions and so much more has been our everyday life… our normal.

I’ve had to battle my own shyness and demons to best support and advocate for him and my family over the years.  It hasn’t been easy but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else doing anything else.

I’m right where I’m meant to be right now, doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing.

 

On the days where it feels all-consuming, for us both, I trust in that little mantra and its undeniable truths.

Around 15 years ago our niece came to live with us permanently (she and her two brothers would come to stay every holiday since they were very young).  Around 12 months later the two boys joined us permanently as well.  They were aged eight, twelve and fourteen at the time.

We had a fourteen year old of our own, granny up the end of the verandah, hurricane Nikki the Labrador, Bing the allergy ridden Shih Tzu itchy dog, two cats, one bird and welcomed the boys two pet rats into the swelling family as well (yes, you read that correctly, two rats).

We certainly were packed to the rafters.  A full house but with much room in our hearts.

I’m in awe of the courage and intestinal fortitude my family showed during those early months and years of adjustment as all our lives changed shape. So much vulnerability at its best and its worst has woven a safety net of respect, love and connectedness that cradles us with its indestructible strength.  It is a privilege to call them all my family.

In early 2013 I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive breast cancer and under went surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  It was cruel.  Not only for me but for everyone around me.

Treatment wiped me out – physically and mentally.  I was a mess. In and out of hospital with infections and zero immune system fighting capabilities took its toll.

By September of that year I was a shell of my former self weighing in at only 38 kilos and not a logical thought colliding anywhere in my brain.  I was done.

I still shake my head and marvel at how I found the strength to crawl out of that hole and head space.  I think I used up a huge chunk of everyone else’s courage because mine was missing in action.

In 2015 I had a piece of my right lung removed because of suspected breast cancer spread.  Thankfully the lesion was not cancerous.

These few years were horrendous. My depression and anxiety were off the scale. I’m not ashamed to admit that I suffered two breakdowns in a three year period.

Thanks to the unconditional love and support of family and friends I survived it all.  Every cell of my being could not hold one ounce more of appreciation, gratitude and love for those very special people I have in my life.  Even that sentence falls way short in describing their dedication.  They fought for my existence in this world when I no longer had the will.

Recently we called on all our reserves of strength to sell our beloved home in a beautiful country town in Gippsland Victoria to move closer to health services and family.

We miss our lovely little community and our gorgeous mountain views and wildlife terribly but being closer to support services in ‘rural suburbia’ has been necessary and so worth it.

Being closer to family has brought us much pleasure as well and has enriched our lives for the better.

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

My life experiences have changed me in many ways.  Some for the better and some for the worse.

If I was needing to shine a light on just one of those ways it would that I am definitely a much more patient person than I was in the earlier years of navigating all this ‘stuff’.

People need the gift of time and empathy to heal wounds and find their way, without judgement. I’m much better at gifting myself that same time and empathy now… well, most days.

I desire to live a slower quiet life.  Sure there are things I’d like to tick off my bucket list but I won’t be regretful on my death bed if they are left unchecked. I love the sense of safety that my home, friends and family bring me and I’m quite okay with pottering around home spending time with them.

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Do the best you can and be okay with that. Try hard not to lament over how you think you should  be doing life in the face of your challenges.

Placing unrealistic expectations on yourself is a sure way to smother your courage and chip away at your spirit. I’m living proof of that.  Be kind to yourself, okay?!

Laugh at the absurdity of it all, cry your eyes out, go for a walk, pull the doona over your head for a day. What I’m trying to say is, the courage to get through your every moment comes in many different forms to every different person and requires acknowledgment of your individual needs to feed your internal resources.

Do what you need to build your resilience stores in your own way.

Do ‘you’ without shame.

Having said that I also need to say this:

 

“We are all angels with one wing, the only way to fly, therefore, is to embrace one another”.

There are a few versions of this Luciano De Crescenzo quote floating around and it’s been a long time favourite of mine. We are nothing without those who will quietly wrap their wings around us as we sit in the dark and still hold tight as we take flight towards the light.

Gather your angels… courage ought not be a solitary practise.

 

And finally, nurture your mental and emotional health.  At two in the morning when it’s just you and your thoughts you’ll be wanting to turn up the volume on your voice of reason to drown out that persistent fear monster and his incessant mouth flapping.  Explore ways that will work for you.

 

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

I believe I’m less fearful in dealing with situations now that require me to find my voice and advocate for my loved ones, or indeed myself.  Being fundamentally shy I have to draw deep on my strength for this to happen.

I found that not speaking my truth was far more crippling and detrimental than the actual fear of doing so – even if my voice trembled.  Experiencing the fragility of life through various filters, like feeling the loss of your own power and control over what’s happening, feeds a need to be heard and understood.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

I wish I had some profound, concise statement that I could wrap up in a nugget of gold for you to take away… but I don’t.

I’m still stumbling through life grasping hold of people to break my fall and trying to do my best for myself and those around me on any given day.

However, I do believe it’s very important to remind ourselves that courage is not defined by a puffed-out chest and an almighty roar striding head on with sure footed fearless steps in the face of fear or pain.  Thank you Hollywood for those illusions.

It’s more often than not a tentative negotiation of the stepping stones of life trying not to fall off and get stuck in the mud at the bottom… and that’s okay.

 

In the words of the amazing Kelly Exeter “Wobbly courage is still courage”.

 

Wobbly courage sits well with me. I identify with it and it speaks my language.

It just may work for you too.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  Then life would begin.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”  Alfred D. Souza

Please don’t wait for life to begin on the other side of crappy times like I have done in the past.  These obstacles are your life at the moment – look for the splashes of joy in each day and live the now with as much purpose and meaning as your circumstances may afford you, in whatever shape that takes and serves you best.

I wish the gift of love and strength for you all.

 

What a heart-felt and wonderful story you shared so courageously Sandra. Thank you so much.

Denyse.

 

Social Media:

Blog/Website:  www.sandrakelly.me

Instagram:  @sandrakellywhatlieswithin

 

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends.

Copyright © 2020 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Women Of Courage Series. #14. Veronica. 88/2019.

Trigger Warning: Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Treatments.

 

 

Women of Courage Series. #14. Veronica. 88/2019.

A series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here from mid May 2019: Wednesdays: each week.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

I have known Veronica, who is 50,  for some years now and we met way back via the blogging community in Sydney.  For some years we continued following each other via the usual social media and then we had a closer connection than either of us would choose. I was treated for my head and neck cancer in the same place where Veronica received the news she discloses in her story.  I welcome her to share today and her story concludes with a number of important links Veronica supplied. 

 

 

 

What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

My life changed forever in March 2018, just about the time I was planning how to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday.

After several hours of poking and prodding, I was sitting in the waiting room, trying to stay calm, breathing intentionally, focusing on positivity, yet bracing myself for bad news. The doctor finally called me into her office.

We sat down and I grabbed my husband’s hand tightly.

“I’m sorry…..you’ve got breast cancer.”

I tried to hold my composure as I attempted to absorb the news and subsequent information. “Treatment and outcomes have improved”, I heard someone say. A lot of the discussion was about the next steps. It was only when I mentioned what was first and foremost in my mind, my young daughters, that I burst into tears. I had to be here to see them grew up. I just had to.

 

 

How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.

There is no instruction manual for these type of moments. I didn’t realise it at the time but I found my natural problem solving drive kicked into gear. All procrastination seemed a thing of the past. I had to make quick decisions and take action to do what I needed to get this disease out of me immediately.

Amidst the persistent surreal fog I found myself in, my days were intentionally and determinedly busy. There were numerous tests, referrals, specialist appointments, scans, surgery and days and days of treatment. Attacking and overcoming this disease was the priority but keeping busy and distracted with work and a daily routine was paramount. It was my main coping mechanism.

Whilst I felt I could not control cancer or the treatments to come, I tried to focus on what I could control. Very early on, I knew I would lose my hair and chose to take control of that process very deliberately. I chose to embrace the hair loss and not hide it. It was liberating and empowering and still is.

The diagnosis and treatment forced me to look more seriously at my overall health. I started exercising after years of ignoring my general health and it’s helped with the after-effects of surgery and treatment.

I had to learn, and am still learning, to really be kind to myself and my body. Rest, sleep, eat well, let stress go. It’s still a work in slow progress but it’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Over the ensuing months, many people commented on how strong I was. The truth is I didn’t feel strong much of the time and I definitely did not feel brave.

Before my own diagnosis, I remember looking in awe at others facing this disease and the debilitating effects of the treatments. I would think of my children and be grateful that wasn’t me, feeling strongly in my gut that I’d never have the wherewithal to face such a battle.

Then it was my face in the mirror and I had to face it and there was only one choice. It wasn’t a decision made from bravery. It was a no-brainer. It was a choice to live; a choice to survive; choice to fight for my children, my husband, my family, my loved ones; a choice to fiercely hang onto this precious life we have all been gifted. The quote below rang and still rings so true:

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.” – Bob Marley

I also learnt that I can’t solve every problem. I can use my agency to control what I can, and when there is little I can do, I have to release my mental and emotional grip. I have to go with the flow and embrace the moment and deal with what comes on the other side when I get there.

I learnt that life is a precious gift and worth being grateful for every day. Not everyone gets the chance.

I learnt that worry is inevitable but it fixes nothing. It is a thief, just like the disease. Positive energy, staying hopeful and being in the moment are the best choices.

 

Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?

Yes, but being courageous is to me is feeling the fear but pushing through anyway. It’s not going forward with a sense of power and invincibility. It’s going forward, feeling fragile and vulnerable, yet knowing it is not an option to stay in that dark place. It’s searching for and moving towards the best possible choice that drives me.

 

Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Take things moment by moment. Make one brave decision at a time. Take one brave step at time. Be in the now, embrace the present moments. Your initial goal is to take the first step. Then, you take another “first” step and the so on. Don’t worry about the 10th step still you have to face the 10th step.

 

Do add anything else that you think would help others who read your post.

Please add a trigger warning. See above.

Breast Cancer resources:

Pink Hope – Know Your Risk, Change Your Future

http://pinkhope.org.au

Be Dense Aware (Did you know dense breast tissue can make diagnosis more challenging?)

https://www.bedenseaware.com/

iPrevent – Breast Cancer Prevention Through Risk Assessment

https://nbcf.org.au/19/prevention-through-precision-medicine/

Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation – The 3 Step Breast Check

https://www.sbcf.org.au/resources/

National Breast Cancer Foundation – Zero Deaths from Breast Cancer by 2030 campaign

https://nbcf.org.au/

 

I do admire Veronica for her honesty in sharing what for many would be a great challenge. Watching Veronica through the social medium space of instagram I have been in awe of her courage. It was so good to know that she was prepared to share her words. Thank you again dear V.

Denyse.

 

Instagram:  @mixedgems

Joining each Wednesday with Sue and Leanne here for Mid Life Share the Love Linky.

On Thursdays I link here for Lovin Life with Leanne and friends and on Fridays, it’s Open Slather here with Alicia.

Copyright © 2019 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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