Epic Nerves, Hopes, and Fears

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In the days leading up to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, I have been a mixed bag of emotions. I am sad, anxious, scared, excited, and everything in between. My adrenaline was kicking in as early as Monday as I started to fret and worry about what I needed to pack. My anxiety was off and running (or shall I say pedaling? …. I’ll just see myself out…). “Do I have a sleeping bag? Why did I think that was provided? Where are the flashlights? Should I start asking around now for a spare sleeping bag if we don’t have one? When will I have time to buy one if no one can let me borrow one? Have I trained enough? How much should I train this week?  What if I injure myself? What if I slow my team down? What if they don’t like me? What if I am not ready for this? What if I do the Ride, and then find out at my physical next month that I have cancer? Is this some sort of sign that I am destined to get bad news right after I do this event? Am I going to become one of those tragic stories immediately following the Ride? Should I wait to sign up for 2017 in case I get sick?”

The last few should really stick out to you. Only someone with a pretty good anxiety disorder can start to have disastrous thoughts like that. I’ve been doing a decent job of managing my health anxiety as of late. I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought “UH OH. SOMETHING IS REALLY WRONG.” But I’ve usually talked it out, or solved the problem, and been able to move on with my life. I haven’t Googled any symptoms for at least a month (a VERY long time for me). However, lately, it’s started to creep in. My follow-up colposcopy is coming up in July, and I am terrified that things have gotten worse on my cervix, or that I still have abnormal cells and will need another round of scraping, lasering, and all the rest of it. I’ve been thinking of running another half marathon. However I worry that if I am stuck with another laser treatment it may mean I won’t have enough time to train for the race. But again, this is my anxiety getting ahead of itself. For all I know the tests will come back clear, and I’ll be free to plan my training. But until then, the thoughts continue until I can do something to distract myself.

Those fears aside, I also felt a number of different emotions around all the support I am receiving. It was so inspiring having so many people donate their money to the cause. Money is tight for everyone these days, and I know that feeling of wanting to donate to someone’s cause and thinking “I really can’t afford this” or “I already donated to someone else’s event, so I wish I could donate to this one.” I’ve been there. We all have. So I was very touched that so many people thought to themselves “this is the one I want to support”.

I also know that nowadays, there’s even more awareness about just how much of your money actually makes a difference. I know people who only donate to smaller charities, or local ones. And there is by no means anything wrong with that. So I was also equally happy that so many believed in this cause, and supporting Princess Margaret. I am also happy people didn’t seem to get too annoyed with my postings, fundraising, etc. I don’t like to ask for money, or even ask for help, so it hasn’t been easy for me to be so vocal about fundraising. I am so happy that so many helped me achieve my goal and didn’t just shut me out.

Above all, it was the incredibly kind words that people said to me either when they donated, or after I thanked them. People called me brave, strong, told me what an amazing thing I was doing, and one person even told me “there needs to be more people like you”. Wow. I’ve never felt so empowered, yet humbled, all at the same time. Who am I to be called these things? I’m just saddling up on my bike. To me, the real heroes are the ones doing the scientific research, the ones fighting the good fight every day to beat cancer. I’m not getting chemo. I have my health (as much as I fear it). I feel I am just doing the best I can to help end this disease. I felt like saying, “don’t say these things to me. I don’t deserve them!!” But there again is my anxiety and depression trying to tell me what my self worth should be. I can already hear so many of you getting ready to type “Tesla! You ARE those things because  very few people wouldn’t do this challenge!!!” Don’t worry. I think once I cross the Finish Line I will truly believe all of those words.

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Cheesy selfie I took when it was exactly one month until The Ride

Tying in to that, perhaps the greatest thing I’ve gained in the lead up the Ride is some of my confidence. I feel so incredibly strong when I am on my bike. There’s also an incredible freedom. The city is suddenly my playground. I don’t have my license, so I imagine what I am feeling is what most 16 year old kids experience when they get to finally drive a car. But I have a sense that this is different. Riding a bike is all because of me. My legs get me there. It’s much the same as running. A car didn’t take me 21 km, I did. I’ve found that since getting back on my bike, my body issues have slowly started to fade. Climbing up hills, riding alongside cars, (don’t worry mom, I am being careful on the roads), discovering new parts of my neighbourhood, all of that reminds me to be thankful and be proud. And it gives me a sense of empowerment! I don’t need the TTC! I don’t need a car! I can do it myself!

And remember how I was talking about fixing my spiritual side? Being outside does wonders for that with me. I’ve always felt very strongly connected to nature. Living in a concrete jungle can often take that feeling away. And being stuck indoors all winter can really take its toll on me (this is one reason I try to keep running all winter long). But thankfully, Toronto is a surprisingly green city and you can easily escape the noise, and find tranquility. (Don’t believe me? Head into Sunnybrook Park, or the wetlands behind The Evergeen Brickworks, or down to The Beaches). Whether it’s a run or bike ride, getting to see those sides of the city, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, meeting new animal friends, and seeing a beautiful sunset, that does wonders for reminding me of all the beauty that’s around us, and that just maybe, something else is out there beyond us.

So all this, all of those thoughts and feelings, will be with me as I hit the Starting Line Saturday morning. My legs will be shaking, butterflies in my stomach, I may be crying, and or might even be laughing (maybe both at the same time!). More than anything, I hope I will be a stronger person when I finish on the other side of the Golden Horseshoe.

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Thank you to everyone who has supported my journey to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. As you can tell, it truly has made an impact.

Thank you also, to Team Tealpower for letting me join the ranks, and embark on this adventure with some amazing people. 

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One for the Ladies

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This month I faced another fear, and made it through. At the end of August I went for my yearly pap smear, and to my horror I received the dreaded phone call “you have high grade abnormal cell changes, and you’ll be required for a colposcopy”. I had a colposcopy done last year when I had low grade changes. My biopsy thankfully came back clear and I was discharged. This time felt worse. I wanted a clean bill of health. I didn’t want more people poking around downstairs. But, that wasn’t my reality. And the fear started to sink in.

Getting told you have an abnormal pap doesn’t mean cancer. It can be anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an STD either. Through my intense Googling over the years, I’ve learned that abnormal paps come from a wide variety of cell changes. But most importantly, the pap is there to help screen you for cells that could become cancerous over time. But for many of us, just hearing the word “abnormal” is enough to trigger anxiety. It’s scary. For me, it leads my mind right to a cancer diagnosis. So as I waited for my appointment at the colposcopy clinic, I did my best to keep myself from totally panicking.

The first step was telling people about the results, and seeking support. I couldn’t keep this to myself. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and that if things went south that people would be there for me. I needed to hear stories of how others went through similar situations and are OK. My friends were amazing at helping me to stay calm.

It also helped to remind myself that this is exactly why women get pap smears, and why they’re so important. We do this so we can catch things early. Now, I know sometimes people aren’t always so lucky. I know someone right now going through treatment for cervical cancer and she did all the right things. Sadly, life sometimes kicks you in the crotch. I had to just hope that this wouldn’t be my story. I just had to hope that this is just the pap doing its job, and our health care system working in my favour to get early prevention. Therefore there was nothing to fear, because catching it early means not catching it too late. If I wasn’t taking these steps, then yes, I was allowed to worry.

It saddens me to read online stories of how many women are too scared to get their paps done because they fear the results. Or that they avoid their colposcopy for the same reason. Some use the excuse “I am just too busy and keep forgetting”. And assuming “everything is fine” isn’t OK either. I have zero symptoms that would point to me having abnormal results. And this is why I have decided to write about something so personal. We can’t be afraid, or not make time for ourselves ladies. In this case, my anxiety is potentially saving my life because it’s caused me to be diligent about doctor’s appointments. In Canada, especially here in Ontario, we have access to paps covered by our health care system. We are so lucky to have this type of access. We need to be open and honest with ourselves about our reproductive health. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor and ask about any changes related to your body, or to ask for a checkup if you haven’t had one in awhile. The doctors won’t judge you. They’ve seen it all and you likely don’t have the craziest story to tell. They just want to know how busy your sex life is (or not busy in some cases), if you wear protection, and if you’ve had any changes. This helps them figure out what could potentially be causing any issues. Even if you haven’t had any changes, go get checked if you’re due! And ladies, get the HPV vaccine. You can still get it into your late 20s and 30s. I just had mine done this year because I couldn’t afford it when I was younger. Ask your health benefits provider if it’s covered. Even if it isn’t covered, save up for it, and then claim it on your income tax. It’s worth potentially keeping you protected from the really nasty strains of HPV. But please stop being scared. Please put yourself first. And let’s talk to each other. Keep each other reassured, and share our similar stories. It’s really a shame that so many women feel they can’t openly talk about their reproductive health with each other.

So time ticked on for me, and as the day approached for my exam, I went through a lot of emotions. I was ashamed if it was HPV related. I felt dirty. I was scared. What if it was more serious than the pap let on? I was anxious. I just wanted it over with so I could get rid of these cells. I was worried that if I did need LEEP or laser treatment, that I wouldn’t be able to exercise for a month. I am already struggling with losing weight, the last thing I needed was a month of not being able to bike or run. I was depressed. How did I let this happen to myself? But I was also hopeful, which is an emotion I usually don’t have leading up to a medical appointment. That really shows how far I’ve come. I was hopeful that the doctor would reassure me and tell me I wasn’t sick.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened. I was told the abnormal cells were quite a small area, and the doctor even told me he thought it was a stretch to call them “pre-cancerous”. He took a sample for biopsy. We’ve set an appointment six weeks from now for a LEEP procedure, but he feels confident that I won’t need it. I feel so much relief. Now, I just get to wait for my biopsy results, and I feel hopeful. And again, I often reflect on those who aren’t so lucky. Female reproductive cancer is no laughing matter. Getting clear test results just reminds me that along my journey to good mental health a strong part of that is embracing the health and wellness I have now, because anything can happen and one day I may not be so lucky. One day I will face adversity. So I need to enjoy myself, be happy, and be vigilant now.

And because things could have turned out so differently, doesn’t mean you (or gentlemen, someone you care about) shouldn’t go. Yes, I get scared about my health. I fear death. But I will never keep myself from getting help. My fear of not knowing far outweighs my fear of finding out.

Take care of yourself ladies. And if you need to talk, I am always here.

Thank you for reading as always. If you want to learn more about pap smears, their results, and next steps I found this website to be very helpful. But always talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one and are a resident of Ontario, you can get on a waiting list here