Friday, July 6, 2012

To Live and Not Dwell

I am coming up to my last chemo treatment. Tuesday, July 10th is the final day and I couldn't be more ready for it. This chapter of my life has sure been a real test of what I am made of. It is said that The Universe/God/Life doesn't give you anything you can't handle and I guess that is true in a sense. I am doing it and getting through. It has been excruciatingly difficult to deal with of course at times. Cancer is a whopping pain in the ass that way.

As I near the end of my toxic cocktail therapy I find myself wondering what life is going to be like without it... Life after treatment... and life after breast cancer. I am definitely excited to be finished and look forward to feeling like my old self again. But I know that isn't going to happen over night and I know I won't ever be the same Ashley that I was before my diagnosis. It could takes months before I begin to grow back non-patchy hair and it may be awhile before the chemo brain affect has worn off. Energy levels should hopefully return in a few months after radiation and then I wonder often how my spirits will be...? How my attitude is changed and how I am going to assimilate into every day life outside of cancer treatments.

The very kind Dr. Wadge at St. Mary's who oversees my care mentioned that some patients find it especially difficult when treatments are all complete. She said this as sort of a warning of what to expect. After all of the constant routine of appointments, travel and follow-ups is when it can be hard to adjust.

At first I had to think about what she said and I thought "Me? Adjust to NOT having to go for chemo/neupogen injections/radiation?" I welcome the day that it is all behind me! And I do! I can't flipping wait! But having had a few weeks to let that idea marinate in my mind I really got what she was trying to say.

Having a cancer diagnosis can kinda take over your life. I mean, I try to not let the idea that I was diagnosed at 28 consume my thoughts every moment of my days, but the truth is, everything about what I have been going through has been all up in my face for close to 7 months now. How can it not be on my mind all the time!? And once all of the go-go-go is done with the recovery I wonder if I will struggle with what to do with myself? When something like this is taking up 95% of my 2012 year I now wonder what the heck I will be like after it's behind me. Because it's not easy to get away from the constant reminders that this has happened. And it certainly makes it harder to be able to block out all the bad and look forward to the future, have vision and make plans.

Says the girl who got engaged this year and bought a house. Ha!

Yes, Mike and I did do those things. And they are good positive life changing events! Yes, I intend and plan on being around for all of that and want to have things to look forward to. But the aches, the fear of recurrence, the constant reminder when I look in the mirror, the fake boob, the scars, the fatigue, the numbness in my arm, the stress, the anxiety, the future appointments, the Tamoxifin I have to go on for 5 years, the fact that I can't get preggers until after that... it all floods in and looms over me like a thunder storm and is obnoxiously flashing self-defeating statements in my mind.

"You might be one of the ones who doesn't make it. You might be like the people who finish treatment and has a secondary cancer show up right after. Will you live to 40? What about 45? Are you going to be in that percentage of young adults who dies young and doesn't even make it to have children? What's the point of buying that house anyway? Who are you fooling!? You can't make plans and be too hopeful for your future! Cancer runs your life now Ashley!"

Brutal, right?

Yes. Despite all of the confident reassuring statements said by my oncologist I still seem to come back to these self-sabotaging thoughts. And a lot of them are rational honest fears. But most of them, I know, are just très f*cking ridiclous. Pardon my frenchlish. But they are Fuuuuuuuu**ed up stupid thoughts!

Who is really that mean to themselves?

Well, I am obviously! But really, so is everyone. We as human beings are so incredibly hard on ourselves. We criticize, put-down, quash good ideas, ignore glimpses of inspiration, think we are not worthy, let fear take over and therefore really miss out on so much that is good. And in doing this we are totally torturing ourselves and restricting hopes and dreams without even really realizing at times.

When I was in full on "Positive Ashley Survival Mode" (a.k.a. waiting for surgery hoping to God that the tumour cells in me weren't dividing too rapidly and taking over organs) I made this secret promise to myself that I wasn't going to let stupid negative thinking ever hold onto me again. My promise was to always live the best way I knew how. Packed with love, joy, things that make my heart happy and other juicy goodness!

During the month of January I had realized how much crap I had been putting myself through. It was all in the mind and it was making me sick. It was stress and anxiety that was keeping me from doing what I wished I had done with all my being. I was always sweating the small stuff, fretting, worried and in a perpetual state of confusion and lack of focus on what really mattered.

And what really matters?

...Truly living life to the fullest.

So I made this promise hoping it would stick. And for awhile I really was IN it. I was feelin' this whole Thich Nhat Hanh zen-like "I'm on top of the world...Being Peace... I may have had cancer but it doesn't have me" thing.

Then came the unpleasant and irritating reminders.

I feel the need to check my other breast on a daily basis (Obsessively I might add). And I think: What if it grows back on that side? What if between the time I had surgery and now it has spread? Then come the overwhelming paranoias from every sudden pain and ache. Every pain equates to a bigger issue for me with the way my mind has been working lately. Examples: My legs hurt: I have bone cancer. My armpit hurts: It's in the lymph nodes. My chest hurts: I have lung cancer. Then comes the sadness that I needed to do chemo... that this is my reality. Then comes the cancer-coaster of emotions. Then comes the fears and negative thought pattern gremlins in full force completely ruling my mind.


And so I sit with this kind of thinking. I sit in our super cool awesome and open new house that we just moved into last Saturday and I ponder. I ponder because I can't seem to get myself to fully relax, be joyful and LIVE. What is wrong with me!!??

Those feelings of happiness do emerge of course, but they are sparse lately. Like my eyebrows.

But lately I have to actively THINK about being relaxed, joyful and motivated for life right now. I WANT LIFE! I really really do! And I want to be happy and have a future with Mike in our house, with kids, a veggie garden, art projects, camping trips and the occasional holiday to Tofino or Hawaii. I want all of that.

But something is holding me back to fully just live in the now these days. The present moment. The therapeutic unpacking of boxes, putting up pictures happily, colour-coordinating my books on the bookcase (don't judge) and puttering about in the kitchen. It is all so difficult to do right now though. Not just because my bones ache and it hurts to bend and physically do things. But because I over think it all. So much in fact that I will spare the indepth painful details of how insanely anal and overly obsessive compulsive I can be. (Should I hang the clock on the north wall or the south wall?...followed by a long period of time where I stand in one spot and think about coming to a decision regarding this perplexing matter)

*Smack side of cheek to pull out of time wasting trance* Does it really matter Ashley!!? lol - Come on!

It's not just the orderly organized freak show in me that is holding me back. It's the sabotaging gremlins mocking me with taunting "What's the point?" bullshit.

See, before all of this cancer stuff I will just come right out and frankly admit to having suffered some bouts of depression. When I say suffered, I mean this in the lightest way possible. A depressed day for me consisted of a grey day, loads of laundry waiting to be done, a feeling like time was slipping away, endless wasted hours looking at other people's artistic success online and sad Fiona Apple music.

I never had a doctor flat out say it, nor have I ever gone to one asking for that because I was and still am pretty against taking prescription meds (Unless absolutely necessary!) and I know that is one of the first things recommended. And because my downer days were typically around the Fall and Winter seasons I just sum it up to a seasonal thing. I have never really been worried about it to actually NEED help. Other then the time I decided to start working with a Life Coach, which by the way, if you are like me and not into traditional therapy, is so beneficial and amazing.

And so I did some personal growth work. Because I was stuck and I was struggling. And it has helped.

But then the cancer diagnosis. The fact that it exists and that I am actively in treatment makes it really hard to go forth and conquer those downer grey days. Even when we've got glorious sun out there I am inside worried about what might be the best way to use my time each day. It's the only life I've got! My one chance to be me and to live life in my body as Ashley Doyle. So what should I do with myself?

That's my dilemma.

It's not that I really actually am sitting here wasting away my days wondering every waking minute if I am gonna live to be a Mother. It's that I made this promise to LIVE to the fullest while I am here! And my nutty over thinking brain is worried about it... HOW to best spend my days here on earth? How do I want to be?

And I think that's something everyone really should ask themselves though (without overthinking it obviously... because clearly I have an issue with that!). Cancer diagnosis or not, what the heck do you want to do with your time here, for real?

It is something we don't always take time to dig deep into. Because we are so distracted a lot of the time. We go on with our routines of work, errands, nagging people around us, make an uninspiring dinner, juggle to get the kids to their activities, get to that meeting, check the smartphone, the news, the worries of money, the fears of rejection, the shit I gotta do list, the bills, eat a bunch of crap to fill a void, eat a bunch of crap cause there's no time, be mad about traffic, bicker with our spouses, forget family comes first, set unrealistic time restrictions on ourselves, complain about things we can't control, wonder if we matter, wonder who cares, take pills to sleep, treat ourselves poorly, treat others poorly, drink too much, stay stuck in a state of unhappiness, act out of selfishness and it goes on and on and on and before you know it 10 years of your life have just passed.

Everyone I am sure can relate to some of what is mentioned in that random rant. It's all stuff that takes up too much space in our lives. It's the drone-like routines that shut off our creativity... and it's the negative events/thoughts/emotions that take front row and push back all of the good stuff.

So where the heck am I going with all of this? ...As I ramble on and realize I've just written probably close to 2,000 words with no exact idea where it going...

I'm saying that I personally have been dwelling too much on things. The past, my diagnosis, the fears of recurrence, whether or not I should go sit with a book in the yard and relax or be productive and do dishes. Some of it is silly and some of it is deeper heavier stuff.

And in a lot of ways what I am going through could be similar to a lot of what others are dealing with. Anyone really could be struggling with the stuff that's holding them back. Because I think it's natural for us to dwell on certain things in life. Not forever, but enough to sometimes really keep us from living life with gumption and spontaneity.

What I wish for everyone else... anyone who is still here actually checking in to follow my story here... and for everyone I know... I just wish we would dig deeper into what it is that brings us joy. And really hone in on it. There is so much potential in all of us. We are such resourceful and creative human beings with so much to offer. And there is so much in life that is truly amazing and we are sometimes fogged by all of those programmed distractions that we don't even see the little mini miracles or special moments right in front of us.

When was the last time you can remember just sitting in silence outside in nature and really taking note of all the sights, sounds and great things around you while feeling completely at peace with everything? No worries, no nagging thoughts, no dreaded commitment to make, no media in your face, no device screaming at you to click on something... just you and this amazing life that you were given to enjoy on this beautiful piece of earth that you so gratefully are now relishing in...

Damn, that just makes me want to jump outside right now, hit the beach and get my feet grounded in some sand!

I know I have a vision in my mind of how I want to be after my cancer treatments are done. I know that it might be hard to get used to my new normal. I may have some emotional fits, some roadblocks and the occasional mind-hijacking gremlins... but I know what I want for myself and for my life. My focus can get lost at times when those negative thoughts, mindless routine-based chores and fears begin to take over but my intention is to make them either not matter or even just change the way I look at them. And to just live. And be. And love this wonderful gift of life that I have been given. It shouldn't take getting cancer to realize this... and it's stuff I knew before. But now it's so real and really right here in front of me staring at me in the face as I battle with my mind alone on this sunny Friday.

I made that promise, and although I may not be able to keep it 100% of the time, I am trying and I am working through my last stages of cancer treatment and hopeful for how I will cope in the future. I am acknowledging the things I dwell on. I am noticing when I have just spent 1/2 hour worrying about if the cancer will return. And I am trying to shut it up and not let it take over my days.

As for the small petty stuff where I have a full on daydream breakdown in my mind about where to put a dresser... or wondering whether I should be outside picking some weeds before I need a nap? What about organizing the pile of clothes that need to get put in the closet? That stuff is just a part of who I am I think. I fret unnecessarily... but my goal is to see it and stop it before it gets me all in a huffy pathetic mess. And to make it not matter.

And I think that's the first step. Just recognizing these pestering quirks, nags, stresses and fears.

The fact that I came to the computer this afternoon with no real intention to write this I think was a step in the right direction too. Because now it's out there. I've let the word vomit over-share run rampant! With no real direction or plan of what it was I wanted to even say, I am admitting to myself that it's ok. It's ok to have these worries, stresses and fears. But I can't let them linger. No one should let the bad stuff linger! Life is so precious and is best spent doing things we love. As often as possible.

So I'm getting out there! With good music playing, sunshine, a sweet new house with cool things that I love to fill it, Mikey coming home in a few hours, a short stroll down the block perhaps, the weekend filled with gardening, clean-up, organizing (and play too!).

Which reminds me: It's not chores, errands and stuff I HAVE to do. As my best friend Tanis said recently "It's stuff we GET to do." We are meant to be grateful for what we GET to do and we are here to enjoy those things. After all, it really is a gift. And we are lucky for it.

A little side note before I sign out from this somewhat tumultuous post: The move itself went very well! Thanks to EVERYONE who pitched in and offered to help us over the 2 days. I plan to share pics when I get on here for my next post.

Off I go! Adios to those discouraging and destructive little mind meanies! I'm just going to do shit! Screw over-thinking it all! I'm excited for this next week! Stoked on life and ready to make space for amazing things!

Peace out! xo


  1. I love your word vomit over sharing!

  2. Hi Ashley,

    Thanks for the great blog. Reading it today was difficult and heart warming for me. Difficult because I am just starting down your path. My 15 months of chemo has just started and then in the middle of that I will have the surgery and radiation, so in some insane way I have something to look toward. You know, something to do. I cannot wait until I am where you are, on the other side of this all, however you shed a light on something that is a concern of mine too.

    How does one go back to ones old self after Cancer? As you put it, how do we keep the Gremlins away. I was such a work alholic prior to my diagnosis, will that part of me come back? Will I still have a passion for my work? Or will I just fade back into this do nothing wait for Cancer to heal phase?

    Do you have a plan to keep focused? How are you going to keep motivated and keep the bad thoughts down? I look forward to following your story and learning from you. I'm sorry that you had to go down this road at all, but I am grateful that you can provide me with some insight as to what is to come.

    Big hugs,

  3. What makes this a truly great post is that you are raising big issues that need to be adressed by everyone...we should all be asking these questions, living with cancer or not.

    A kinder, more gentle path should be directly firstly to the person we should be loving the

  4. Ashley,

    This is such a thoughtful piece that I had to respond. I especially like the question you ask in the following passage:

    "When was the last time you can remember just sitting in silence outside in nature and really taking note of all the sights, sounds and great things around you while feeling completely at peace with everything? No worries, no nagging thoughts, no dreaded commitment to make, no media in your face, no device screaming at you to click on something... just you and this amazing life that you were given to enjoy on this beautiful piece of earth that you so gratefully are now relishing in"

    The philosopher in me has always had a strong appreciation for golden moments like these. The challenge is maintaining that very sense of life and joy in most social circumstances. If Aristotle is right, to succeed at this, we just need two things. We need to "live life to the fullest" as you say, and we need to surround ourselves with people who are doing the same. You are clearly exceeding at the first my dear Ashley, the second is up to the rest of us. Your courage and strength is a torch of self-actualization in the face of adversity. May that torch serve as inspiration to guide us all, and bring us together under its light.

  5. YOu sure have a wise friend ;) hehe. It took me two nights to read this (cuz i wanted to read it at night and sat down too late the first one and now am getting to finish it. I love this. It is a full on beautiful rant and totally right out of your head. I can see us sitting and having a conversation where it just all comes out at once....not that i ever over think things like this either :) And i love that you used the word gumption :)

    You are an inspiration, even in your dark days, you inspire me, and i look forward to happy and sad days to come, but just sharing life and enjoying what life has ahead....and those quiet moments where media and cellphones don't matter and the stars and the ocean and the moon and the birds are all that we are admiring and thinking of.

    love you!!!

  6. oh my ... still a bit teary, and smiling

    this is brilliant Ashley (as in wise and also shining) - and no, one shouldn't have to have cancer to realize it, but clearly, you've known it all along.

    wishing you mountains of "love, joy, things that make [your] heart happy and other juicy goodness!"

    loving you, heathy

  7. Hey Ashley, I haven't commented recently, but I've been following your posts and sending good energy your way. You have come so far, gone through such difficult times and yet generously given so much hope and inspiration to others (as seen in the other comments) by making time to share your experiences on this blog. That is truly amazing.
    Congratulations again to you and Mike on your engagement and new home!

  8. Thank you everyone for all of the support and encouragement. It's really nice to read such thoughtful comments like these. Means a lot to me.

  9. Thanks for such an honest and interesting post Ashley. I think that your thoughts reflect the human condition and it's experienced by most people, cancer or not. It's part of our journey in life. Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that having true, deep joy, no matter what is going on in my life, is something that I have to work at to achieve. It's not something that I feel at all times but when I do feel it, it's often because I'm reminded of the things I get to do and appreciate after coming through some sort of adversity. I often question why I so easily forget that I should be joyful and not get bogged down by the things that go on around me. Isn't that life, after all? I can't control everything that goes on around me but I can control how I react to these things. I just hope that, over time, the joy lingers for longer periods of time without me needing to be reminded. Your post is a reminder that we're not alone.

  10. Ashley,
    Your energy, actions, and the ability to share such thoughts in writing are a true gift. Thank-you for sharing this gift.