Up until a year ago I thought of myself as pretty darn (physically) strong. Fit as a fiddle and strong as an ox – and then it seemed like suddenly things changed overnight.
In the past year (it was actually ten months), I had a miscarriage, picked up COVID19, been diagnosed with pubic symphysis dysfunction and now most recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Also, all these diagnoses seem unrelated but I believe that they actually are related. The common denominator is my body. The body keeps the score.
Years of working hard and playing, even partying hard without resting hard perhaps? It doesn’t matter ‘why’ as much as it matters what now…
Of all that has happened, the miscarriage was, (is still at times) the most difficult one to process. I wasn’t expecting to fall pregnant in the first place. It was such a surprise considering my age and the newness of my and Tony’s relationship – yet it happened. After long deliberations like proper academics, we accepted it and we were looking forward to having a baby in January 2022.
Sadly that was not to be our reality. In early June I started spotting and on the 8th June 2021 it was confirmed that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. I cannot describe the overwhelming grief and the sense of loss I felt. The word ‘devastating’ comes close, but it feels like an understatement. Be that as it may, I understood that if healing was my objective, I had to work through it.
Another consequence of the pregnancy was a running injury – however, it was only officially diagnosed about seven months after the miscarriage when I just could not ‘shake’ the discomfort and pain I was feeling when I ran anything over 5km. There is a part of me that wants to kick myself for not recognizing that something was wrong sooner. I teach students how to do hypothesis testing, root cause analysis and risk analysis to work out when something is going wrong but I could not read – was not listening to – the signs of my own body
In hindsight I now know that I wasn’t doing enough strength training to support the mileage I was running – training for a marathon while I was pregnant and I injured myself. The pregnancy hormones softened my ligaments and joints and I developed pubic symphysis dysfunction – a condition where the cartilage joining my two pelvic bones is damaged.
It started to hurt like hell every time I went for a run after about 15/16km, but that didn’t stop me from finishing the Cape Town Marathon last year despite the pain. That wasn’t very responsible of me or respectful to my body.
Eventually, I consulted with a sports scientist early this year and started a rehab program. The most important thing now is knowing that I must just be patient and rehab diligently – a mixture of cardio, strength and flexibility. It still hurts when I run, but my aim is to complete my rehab and start running at least half marathons again one day in the future.
And then in the midst of my running injury rehab, I went for a random mammogram on the 29th March this year. It was discovered that I have breast cancer – on 11 April the results of a biopsy confirmed that I have grade 2 invasive carcinoma with an in-situ ductal carcinoma as well at 12 o’clock in my right breast.
The process of deciding on a treatment plan commenced with blood being sent away for genetic testing, then a CT scan, some more blood tests, an MRI, and two ultrasounds. I am very relieved to be able to report that my cancer is not genetic. Since I’m not genetically predisposed this means that I do not need a double mastectomy.
Test results showed that the cancer is responsive to progesterone and estrogen, and is not very aggressive. The scans also could not pick up any evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes despite my lymph nodes being enlarged.
Based on that the treatment team feel that it will be ok to just remove the cancerous lump, a small margin of tissue around it as well as just the sentinel lymph nodes (I’m not a medical doctor but my understanding is that those are the first four or five primary lymph nodes connected to the tumour). The plan is for me to only have two smallish incisions.
Ultimately they concluded that I don’t need a mastectomy – what I’ll be having is ‘breast conservation surgery’ (BCS). This is much less complicated than the former and I’m really grateful. My recovery time should also be a whole lot less.
I will need radiation about a month after the surgery. My surgeon explained that radiation therapy and surgery are a package deal.
Since the cancer has not spread to lymph nodes, at this stage, it is believed that I do not need chemotherapy. This will be confirmed after the operation, when they send the tissue they will be removing for histological testing to confirm that the type of cancer is not worse than what they think it is.
I will also need hormone treatment for at least 5 years and my surgery date is next Friday – 10 June. Almost a year to the date after my miscarriage.
As I reflect on what a year it has been, I see that each of these conditions has physical symptoms, as well as a physiological impact. My perception is the severity of the physiological impact is mild when compared to the mental and psychological impact. I took my body for granted. Took my strength for granted. I was not kind to my body when I pushed it so hard, working long hours and not resting properly for so many years. It’s come back to haunt me, physically and mentally. I have to own this.
Looking back as a witness, I experienced the full range of emotions, joy, fear, anxiety, disappointment, anger, heartbreak and depression. I want to be at peace with all that has transpired. Acceptance. Sometimes I feel at peace but sometimes I recognize that I am not totally at peace, even though I know that all that will happen, will happen and I do not have any control over anything – aside from my own responses.
It won’t make a difference to anyone but me if I lament or resist. The earth will continue to rotate around the sun. Life will continue regardless of what is happening to me. All that is left now is for me to be kind. It is time for me to be kind to my body… it’s talking to me. The body keeps score.