Balance it out
By Kate O’Callaghan
I think by now most of us know my story but for those of you that don’t, the last 4 years of my life have been shadowed by blood cancer. My own battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 4 years ago, followed by my mums diagnosis with Multiple Myeloma just 6 weeks after I went into remission. There have been some humbling lows, some incredible highs and everything in between.
People have told me more times than I can count that I am strong, that my mental resilience during hard times is impressive. It is true that I am mentally resilient, it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle or find these times difficult, it doesn’t mean that I don’t break down or suffer, believe me I do. Losing my mum is something I am struggling my way through, grief is something unique to each person. For me, during the day I am doing okay but during the night I am haunted – I won’t share the details here but I am really open to discussing my grief with people if you want to hear more.
I have been thinking more recently about why I am “strong” or “resilient” – I was raised strong, my parents are hardworking, independent, strong and resilient people and they raised me to be the same. My mum raised me to be fierce and focused, I remembered recently when I was young, I am not sure how old I was, but it was young, she gave me a sticky note which quoted – FEAR – Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise – You decide. She told us before she died that she wasn’t afraid of dying, she was afraid of leaving us behind, but she knew we were strong enough to survive her loss and that made her proud. She was a warrior my mum, through all her suffering over the last 4 years she continued to show us how far her strength and dignity would carry her, her nurses and carers told us she taught them so much about strength, positivity and how to defy the ageing process. Even in her last days when she couldn’t put on her own mascara and lipstick she made damn sure my dad did it for her. My dad, also a warrior in his own right, his care and dedication to my mum their whole lives but mostly this last 4 years is admirable beyond words. If anyone was to ask who my heroes are, who I want to be like when I grow up (because I haven’t yet) – it is 100% them.
Being strong and resilient doesn’t mean I don’t suffer but what it does do is give me the capacity to focus my way through hard times. I don’t do it alone, Danny, my friends and family all support me, endlessly, they all have my back and when I do fall they catch me and I them, being loved fuels strength.
Sure, I have had a rough run but haven’t we all – that is life, there is always something testing us. Even more of a reason why we need to make the most of everything, make the most of every single day.
I have gone completely off track with what I was planning to write but a bit of context can’t hurt hey. What I wanted to talk about was balancing out the pain, turning pain into positivity. Whenever I find myself in troubled waters and the walls are closing in, I take myself outside. Nature, in all its glory is healing – it offers so many calming, healing, moments of appreciation it can only do good. When you climb a mountain in the dark and watch the sunrise over the sleeping world you can only feel alive, when you push yourself and achieve something you never thought you could, you can only feel proud. The outdoors is a powerful place, our oceans, our mountains, our forests, and our lakes – they all offer life changing and healing opportunities – it is up to us to seek them out.
When I was coming through cancer I focused on traveling the world, every day adventures when I wasn’t traveling the world and also challenging myself. Challenging myself last time was the 36 hour WWW challenge. Incorporating everyday adventures in to my lifestyle and saying yes to new adventures has opened up my world, I have learned (well learning) to surf, I have pushed my progression on my mountain bike and it even has me occasionally swimming in freezing cold waters through winter in a swimming costume… I mean if those things don’t make us feel alive, what will?
This time, turning my pain into positivity was for two reasons:
A. to give me something to focus on through the hard times and;
B. to raise money and awareness.
My mum chose a poem for her funeral that had messages in for us (she didn’t say it was for that reason but I am 100% sure it was) and one of those messages read “and bury your sorrows in doing good deeds, miss me but let me go” reading that and reading some words my mum wrote to me “I’ve so enjoyed watching you travel the world but also how you make the most out of life from home, making each moment count even in the face of adversity. Oh how I’ve enjoyed to follow your adventures” I decided that I had to push myself, to balance out the pain with an epic adventure for my own benefit, but to also make it challenging enough that it was worthy of raising money for Myeloma UK in the process.
- A 400km MTB journey with 7800m of ascent and descent across Scotland, from coast to coast.
- Starting at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and finishing in Aberdeen.
- 7 days to complete it.
Myself and my friend Sophie will be tackling this challenge, neither of us can navigate (yet), we are both useless at bike mechanics and neither have put a tent up in years.
What could go wrong?
If we can do something everyday that adds value, makes us smile, balances out the stresses of life big and small, wouldn’t that be wonderful? Wouldn’t that mean we aren’t wasting the little time we have to live?
It is inevitable that bad things will happen to us but if we can counteract them, life might just be as incredible as it should be.