I beat cancer but had a breakdown when I got the all-clear
Today I wake up and I feel excited about the day. I am able to fully enjoy the moments. I love to play and I enjoy my work. I take joy in planning our next family holiday. We are thinking of going to Costa Rica with our friends next year and I know our three girls would just love that so much. Today, I also get annoyed by the little things in life. In a nutshell, life is good.
A little over 5 years ago, my life began to crumble. Between then and now, I rode a long road to recovery. But before life became a little bit easier, I hit rock-bottom.
I was 33 when I was told that the lump in my left breast was a highly aggressive cancer. My eldest daughter was 4 and my twin girls were only 2.
As a family, we went into ‘doing mode’. It was like life was happening to us and we were the puppets playing along. My husband and family were amazing at supporting me throughout. I had made a deal with myself: that I would get up every morning and take my girls to nursery. And I managed…nearly always.
It felt like I was climbing a mountain. I had to get over surgery first, then six cycles of chemo and then daily radiotherapy for a month. All along, I just needed to get to the end of that, thinking it would also mark the end of my journey with cancer.
But I was wrong. I remember walking out of the hospital after my last blast of radiotherapy and I just broke down. I had arrived at the top of the mountain and I felt an all-time low. What next? Was the treatment enough for me to survive? Would I see my girls start school? Anxiety, panic attacks and doubt became part of my life for years to come.
I had lost all trust in my body and had no idea of how I should feel anymore. The well-meaning but constant ‘just stay positive’ from people around me really started to bother me. It made me feel guilty that I wasn’t able to feel positive.
But I knew I had a problem. From the moment I woke up to the moment I shut my eyes at night, cancer was with me. Everyone around me was so happy when I was told I was in remission. I was experiencing a very different reality.
But I have to give myself credit. Panicked that my conventional treatment wasn’t enough, I embarked on many things in the hope it would help me heal my scars; emotionally and physically – counselling, therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, restrictive eating (I gave up alcohol, caffeine, meat, wheat, sugar, dairy), walking, running, fasting, intravenous-vitamin cocktails, green juices, supplements, visualisation, just to name a few.
I can’t tell you what exactly helped me in my recovery the most, but I am sure each bit contributed to my overall wellbeing in some way or another. It’s like I was putting together my very own toolbox for my personal wellbeing.
It took years for me to be able to look into the future. My husband did all the holiday planning and he even bought our family home on his own. I was too worried something bad was going to happen in the meantime. I could only plan my life from one hospital check-up to the next.
But the day came when I got to lunch time, without worrying about cancer. And that was the day I knew something inside of me had shifted. From then onwards, life was a constant up and down, but the days started looking a little bit brighter than before.
During my treatment, we discovered that I was a BRCA carrier, which means I carry a faulty copy of the BRCA gene. This puts me at very high risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer. I opted for a preventive double mastectomy to reduce my risk of getting breast cancer again and I had my fallopian tubes out to cut my risk of ovarian cancer.
My yoga and mindfulness became solid and daily building blocks to my recovery and I began to discover real, whole and fresh food. Today, my family and I celebrate all foods. No longer do I feel the need to restrict my diet so much, our diet is full-of, not free-from.
I became a yoga teacher. I run weekly classes, wonderful yoga retreats, host supper clubs where people come and cook with me and I run a blog sharing my family friendly and healthy recipes alongside things that have helped my emotional wellbeing. I sometimes have to pinch myself that I am able to do all of this, to see my girls grow into beautiful humanbeings and to enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve met many along the way who have been much less lucky than me and I will always remember them fondly.
So do I feel like a survivor? The answer is no. I still feel like cancer is a big chunk of my life. It’s part of me and it’s shaped who I am today. I have decided that I will remove my ovaries in order to further reduce my risk of ovarian cancer in the near future, so I have another op waiting for me.
Today, I know that I have a brilliantly stocked toolbox and I feel much better-equipped to deal with life’s challenges. Bring it on!
A final note: No-one can and needs to feel and think positive thoughts all the time. When going through a challenging phase in life, whether it’s an illness or relationship difficulties, it is absolutely ok to feel rubbish at times, and it is also ok to say so. We need to talk about our mental state of being much more as a means to lift the stigma associated with mental health problems.
Dani Binnington is a yoga practitioner, wellbeing expert and founder of www.healthywholeme.com