gratitude

What it really feels like three years on from diagnosis day

I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I remember the quiet waiting room. I remember half reading Bridget Jones Diary and wondering whether I'd be back at work in time to make a meeting. I remember the face of the nurse who called me in. I remember the face of the young consultant before and after she broke the news. I remember struggling to get a mobile signal. I remember weeping down the phone to my parents hundreds of miles away on their way to a funeral. I remember the blur of a mammogram. I remember the stunned silence from my partner and a good friend. I remember the kind nurse who made me tea and let me sit in her office to escape the faces looking at me as I broke before their eyes. 

I remember. 

I will never forget. 

But, three years on from that day, I am not the person who sat in that chair wondering whether she would live to see another Christmas or ever walk down the aisle. 

Diagnosis day is quite unlike any other day I will ever experience. It wasn't the day that changed me. But it was, in many ways, the day that saved me. It saved me from an early death before I'd even got started.

It saved me from a life of just doing and never really seeing or living. 

It was the day I realised just how fragile life is and how easily that life can be taken away. 

Three years on, however, I don't dwell on what did happen, but on the life I was gifted back as a result of that diagnosis – a life filled with sunshine, friendship, charity, kindness and gratitude. And, most importantly, a life filled with hope.

It is only by nearly losing my life that I realised I have everything to live for. 

So today, I reflect, but I am not sad. 

I am grateful. Grateful for the people who bring light into my days and my years. Grateful for the sunsets I never thought I'd see. Grateful for a body that is stronger than I ever imagined it could be. Grateful for a brilliant family who will do anything to support me. Grateful for the fact, I can get up, run along the Thames listening to podcasts and inch closer to our marathon wedding charity fundraiser. 

I am grateful for what is rather than what could be.

So, make any milestone days in your life, days when you reflect on the bits that make you smile. The bits that you will be able to cling onto when you're lying in a hospital bed wondering when it was that time slipped away.

Bank happiness and you'll always be able to make a withdrawal.

Happiness hacks #10: Say thank you - every day

I thought today would be remembered as the day that I came back from injury to run my first 10k race in eight months. 

But, while heading out on a wet Sunday morning in January to face a few challenging hills and test out your newly-rehabbed legs is a pretty memorable way to spend the say, it’s not the race that will forever stick in my mind. 

It’s the volunteers.

It’s one thing to get up early on a Sunday and run. It’s quite another to head out even earlier to put up signs and then stand in an oversized high vis jacket on one of those hills just to make sure each and every runner finds their way.

As I reflect back on my rather laboured performance on this challenging course, I think not of the hill that wanted to take out my lungs or the 6km point (which I was convinced was 7km), but of the selfless people standing in rain doing their bit.

Because of those soggy high vis jackets and wet hair, I conquered a ‘back-from-injury’ demon today. 

And, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

These volunteers, however, didn’t just stand there dripping. They clapped. They smiled. They looked concerned. They offered encouragement. They were kind. And, they gave me the confidence to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could call myself a runner once more.

And, so I thanked them. I thanked the man who looked more drenched than me – for just being there. I thanked the lady with the brilliant smile. I thanked the man who handed me a much-needed cup of water. I thanked anyone in high vis in Greenwich Park. 

And it felt really good.  This currency called kindness makes us all millionaires. 

So, I encourage you to thank the next person you see that makes you thankful.  

I didn’t imagine it would take a run to get me thinking about thanking. But, I’m glad it did. I shall try harder to thank people as often as I can. 

So to race volunteers everywhere, I thank you. I thank you for the early mornings and the soaked clothes. I thank you for your energy, your time and your commitment. I thank you for your kindness and your willingness to help. 

And, I thank you for the opportunities you offer others and the gifts you share every day just by existing.

Life lesson number three: Be grateful for what you have right now

One of the most vivid memories I have from the last decade is the moment - standing in my parents' kitchen after having had my pelvis sawn in three and pinned back together again - that I took my first post-op step. 

I remember that moment because I remember thinking beforehand that I didn't know that step would be possible. I remember looking at my feet and wondering why they couldn't move forward. I remember smiling when I managed to cross the room unaided. 

I also remember turning to my parents and saying that I would never take walking for granted again. 

I am ashamed to admit now that the feeling didn't last long.

Why think about this now you ask? Well, having been in pain for more than three months, I have come to realise once again, just how much we take for granted. How many of us wonder if we'll get to work in one piece? How many of us wonder whether our next trip to the swimming pool will be our last? How many of us stop for a moment to thank the bits that work? 

Pain has a brilliant way of focusing the mind.

I was speaking to my dad at the weekend and he said to me: 'when you feel well, it is easy to delay and convince yourself that you will always have tomorrow'. And he's so right. Sitting here with my throbbing calves and steroid-filled back, I regret the times I turned over in bed and missed the chance to run to work along the Thames with a motivational podcast for company. I regret not entering the races I thought would be best left to next year.

Sometimes there is no tomorrow.

I know regret is not constructive. But, right now, it is certainly a brilliant reminder of the fact that while my legs may be protesting, I can still carry myself through the water. I can still stand. I can still walk the length of an airport and get on a plane for a break. I can still taste food. I can still feel the sunshine on my face. 

Pain hurts. But what hurts even more is living in the knowledge that you once had so much and you didn't say thank you for that gift every day. 

I've been here before. And, it pains me to think I am back here again, having forgotten to cherish the bits that just work in the background without you even asking them too. 

So, join me in taking a moment to thank your body. Thank the toes that wiggle (and you can feel). Thank the spine that keeps you upright (and is the reason you can still hold a pen). Thank your ears for hearing and your eyes for seeing. Thank your hands for writing and your brain for dreaming (and banking happy memories). And, thank your heart for pumping. Basically, if it works, thank it. And, if it doesn't, now is the time to find a way to live without it.

I am grateful for the fact I will, one day soon, hit the Thames path. And, I am grateful for all the physios, friends and hospital teams helping me along the way. 

I'm off to the pool...