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I started this blog as I entered my 40th year, and now firmly in my 40s, I continue to learn so much about life. I'm learning that life rarely goes according to plan and that there's something new to learn every single day, be it a subtle nudge or a smack in the face.... This is my blog about muddling through my 40s-working hard, writing a book, being an ammateur photographer, trying to exercise and eat well, endeavouring to be the world's best aunt, as well as having fun and laughing out loud every single day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#10 Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

In a recent conversation with a new friend, also single, I asked whether they had ever pondered if there was anything inherently wrong with them that ultimately led to the demise of every relationship up until this point.

I asked the question not because I believe there is anything inherently wrong with them, or with me, but because I'm interested in what people discover in self reflection.

The first piece of important information that can be ascertained by asking such a question is indeed whether or not a person exercises self reflection. 

I think it is around age 7 in our development as children when we are able to 'put ourselves in someone else's shoes' and learn to empathise.  As adults, this hopefully has extended to being able to reflect on the impact our actions may have on others.

This is not to say that everything we reflect on or come up with is factual.  Far from it in my experience.  But what is important, is the ability to take some responsibility for our actions and recognise that sometimes we need to realise we have not always been in the right.

At times of relationship breakdown, conflict or tension, I have mostly always managed to walk away and ponder my role (usually based on whatever criticism may have been hurled my way).  At times I have been able to agree and take on board any changes that may be necessary.  And just as importantly, I have also been able to disagree based on my own self-knowledge and integrity.

My friend asked me what I had come up with when I pondered my role in relationship breakdowns.  I said that I realised that I might not always be easy to live with.  I also said that I thought I sometimes expected too much of myself and that sometimes that might transfer across to the person I am with.  Upon reflection though, I don't think that's true.  I think my only expectations have truly been to be treated with the same love and respect that I show for my partner.

My friend summed it up beautifully by saying that although no-one was perfect, they felt they could be perfect for someone.  I love that they have such healthy self worth and self esteem.

I'm happy to say that at the age of 40 I am also comfortable in the skin I'm in and am happy to be the person I have become.  Hopefully one day, I'll be perfect for someone too.

"Beneath clever conversation, no finer heart could ever beat for you."  Firefly, Sister Hazel

Sunday, May 26, 2013

#9 And running will set you free...

When I finished my doctorate in 2008 I needed a new goal.  Done with flexing my brain, I needed a physical challenge and so, I decided I would train for my first marathon.

A miracle arrived in the form of my running coach Al.  Al, a gentle man in his 60's, had a passion for running rivalled by none.  Every Saturday morning Al arrived bright and early with his infectious smile and ran with me.  We started slowly and walked for a large part of session.  He told me I didn't run like a girl and I became his biggest fan.

Al wrote me a program that I followed through the week on my own and looked forward to showing off my progress every Saturday.  Before I knew it, I entered my first 10km fun run and sprinted up hills without much huffing and puffing at all.  I felt so alive.

Six months in, I fractured my foot and took a break from running.  Unfortunately, not long after breast cancer got in the way and I have only relatively recently been able to put my running shoes back on.

Instead of running 10km, I'm only running 3 or 4, but that doesn't matter.  I am running!  I love to run.  I love that it hurts as I challenge my body.  I know what it can take.  It can take a lot.

On the weekend I purchased a new set of headphones and I ran with music for the first time in a long time and guess what..... I doubled my exercise time!

I sang out loud and ran faster than usual, motivated so much by the music playing only for me.  It's only been a week and I've run four times.  Once again, I'm starting to think about it when I'm doing anything else, planning my day around when I can run.

This is living.

Al changed my life and sadly I don't live near him anymore, but I think of him every time I lace up my Asics running shoes - one of the best people I have ever known.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

#8 Team Jolie

Well I think I have finally recovered from the A-Z Challenge and am ready to post again.  I did not set out to make this a blog about cancer, but Angelina Jolie's recent revelation about her prophylactic surgery is too topical and too close to home to not write about it.

Like Angelina, I too carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.

Unlike Angelina, I had two primary breast cancers which made my decision for bilateral mastectomies a relatively easy one.

Like Angelina, I had immediate reconstructive surgery.

Unlike Angelina, the entire world was not in a position to judge my decisions.

Like Angelina, I didn't want to be afraid of getting (more) cancer.

Unlike Angelina, the majority of people supported any treatment decision I made because I HAD cancer.

Like Angelina, I want to live a long and happy life.

Unfortunately, I have read a few Facebook posts and articles that have judged Angelina's decision harshly and to be honest, such views make me sick to my stomach.  There appear to be many misconceptions about genetic mutations.  One such misconception is that we all carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation and that we can switch it on and off based on our lifestyle choices, meaning that each individual is literally able to control whether or not they get cancer.  Please, let me refute this claim.

Firstly, we certainly all DO NOT carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation.  We do all however, have the BRCA1 gene.  This is one important gene as it is responsible for gobbling up any breast cancer cells to prevent a tumour growing.  When someone like Ange and I have a faulty BRCA1 gene, that means that our gobbling of breast cancer cell ability goes array and unfortunately doesn't always work - hence, the increased chance (up to 87% more likely) of getting breast cancer.  The number of people with faulty genes is minimal.  It is unlikely that you will have a genetic mutation in your BRCA1 genes.

Secondly, the decision to remove healthy body parts, particularly body parts that are so closely linked with our gender and sexuality (not to mention career, in Ange's case), is not a simple one.  As I mentioned, my situation was much more straightforward.  I do not envy anyone who has to make the decision to remove their breasts or ovaries in case cancer appears.  Psychologically, that must be a much more difficult dilemma.  And if not the decision to have the surgery, then the decision of when.

Early intervention is so vital.  Breast cancer is a disease that CAN be cured if it is diagnosed and treated early enough.  Angelina is not leaving anything to chance.  She made an empowered choice to minimise her risk, effectively controlling her future health outcomes.

Fear can paralyse many and make them stand in judgement, as if belittling someone else's choice protects them from ever facing the same fate.  Genetic mutations are inherited randomly.  They are nobody's fault. 

I am attending Sam's "after party" today.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, just like me.  But her's was found a little late and had already travelled throughout her body providing her with an arduous battle over the past 3 years.  She died on May 8th, aged 43 and leaves behind two young twin boys, a teenage daughter and a loving husband. 

Sam would have given anything to be able to make a choice like Angelina and still be here today.
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