This article will be more personal than usual. I would like to tell you the story of the last four months of my personal and professional life, which has been a complete rollercoaster. I would like to share with you the challenges I faced, to (perhaps) give you calm in this tumultuous time, and convince you that even though we may be experiencing difficulties and anxiety right now, I believe that, with the right attitude, we’ll survive this extraordinary time. We may even become stronger and more mindful because of it.
At the age of 36, having been a healthy woman my entire life — a marathon finisher, a skier, an owner of a fast-growing business, a traveller, a wine lover, a friend, a partner, a sister and a daughter— I was diagnosed in December with an aggressive lymphoma. It’s a malignant cancer, a type of a blood disease. I was devastated. I’ve always been very mindful of my health and every year I did a smear and blood tests, and breast ultrasounds. I had done the last tests in May 2019, just seven months before I was diagnosed with the cancer. I was even more shocked, as you can imagine, when the doctors told me that there would be many months of difficult chemotherapy in front of me, that I wouldn’t be able to travel or work, or even exercise.
So, on the 10th of December, I started my first chemo. It was a scary and unknown land for me.
Meantime, at M-Powered, we were working on new Erasmus+ courses for 2020-2021. We were preparing five courses in Ireland for over 100 people and I was supposed to be leading them as a trainer and company director. Yet, I was stuck in a hospital bed, scared to death, and totally uncertain of my own future.
Do you remember Kung Fu Panda saying that yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift; that is why it is called the “present”? I reminded myself of these words of wisdom from a bumbling panda when I was waiting for a full diagnosis during my first hospitalisation. Was there only one tumour? Or had the cancer already spread to my bones, brain and other organs? Will I survive it? Oh God, I want to live so much.
I experienced fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, and much, much more as the situation slowly unfolded.
What really helped me during these first weeks was the support of my family, my partner and friends. I felt their love and energy.
It turned out that there was only one cancer outbreak, but the illness was very aggressive, so the doctors proposed a course of strong chemo treatments. I was about to lose my hair and probably get sick and isolate myself when at home. I also had to accept my new routine: two weeks in hospital, then two weeks at home, and then back to hospital again.
Quite a change, don’t you think?
Trust my tribe
I decided that I would do everything possible to retain the structure of my previous, “normal” life. So, although the doctors warned me that I won’t have energy to work or exercise, I tried to keep active as much as possible. Kasia Piecuch, my friend and business partner, visited me at the hospital for our weekly M-Powered meetings. (Kasia, thanks so much for delicious tofu soups and pastas!!!)
It occupied my mind and made me enthusiastic about the work I still loved to do.
We’ve recruited a new trainer Luiza Szafranska, who together with Kasia taught our project management courses in Ireland (the feedback was amazing). Emma Murtagh took over communications and we managed to develop a comprehensive course offer for the next 2 years. It all made me realize that I can fully trust my tribe!
What is helping me to survive the treatment? I made a list of things that have been working for me and would like to share it with you now, seeing as we are all currently experiencing difficult times. Ok, you probably won’t need a stylish head scarf! But my other tricks and tips might be helpful 😊
- Self-compassion and self-kindness – I’m learning to be kind to myself, to rest when my body needs it, to reward myself. The chemo isn’t a pleasant treatment, but it’s manageable.
- Exercise – My doctors were wrong when they told me I wouldn’t be able to exercise. I don’t do serious cardio training right now, but after a consultation with a hospital physiotherapist, I re-discovered resistance bands. They’re small and handy, a perfect piece of sports equipment for home workouts. I also stretch with a tennis ball. (I hope all of you who participated in my courses remember our everyday exercises!)
- Mindfulness and breathing exercises – Wow, such a powerful practice that helps to calm mind and body!
- Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy REBT– I was introduced to this therapy by a hospital psychologist. She told me that patients who suffer from depression or anxiety don’t heal very well. I experienced a lot of stress during that time and found REBT to be very helpful.
- Work – I was able to continue working, organise the courses from my “hospital office”, and chat on the phone with clients.
- Sense of humour – I try to laugh and joke as much as possible!
- Being in touch with loved ones – I ended up having lots of time to talk with my mum on the phone and video chat with my nephew. I’m actually grateful for being forced to reconnect with old friends.“Let us hurry to love people, they depart so quickly” said a Polish poet Jan Twardowski. So true!
- Good food – Nutrition is so important. It was a challenge for me as a vegetarian to eat enough protein during my hospitalisation. Thanks to a dietician, I get special vegetarian catering in hospital and, when at home, I am more mindful about healthy cooking.
- Cleaning my apartment, cooking for my partner, feeling needed!
- Not reading about famous people who died because of cancer – I admit being guilty of this sin. Nothing good came out of it.
- Being creative – Writing and drawing again, after years of “being too busy” to do it.
- Finding turbans which I love to wear – I tried a wig but it was a disaster 😛
And then the coronavirus came…
The pandemic was announced in Europe more or less at the same time that I found out my treatment was successful. No cancer cells were found in my body after the first three months of chemo! I was delighted, but at the same time millions of people faced this new threat. It felt like the rest of the world was joining me in quarantine.
We had to cancel all our scheduled M-Powered courses. However, we are trying to look at these challenges as opportunities. Finally, we have time to develop our project management products! We’re evaluating all our workbooks, handbooks, cards and other tools we have tested in the last three years with over 300 trainees. We’re putting the design thinking method into practice by reaching out to past clients to map their project management needs and we’re creating new, exciting materials!
Kindness, love, compassion
There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know whether my cancer will come back. I don’t know how long the coronavirus pandemic will last or what impact it will have on our economy, society and on my business.
But, on the other hand, there are many things I am certain of. I know that whatever happens my family, my tribe, my loved ones will support me, and I will always support them.
I wish you all health! Take care!