The Future doesn't have to be the same to be good
Four years ago today I came home from hospital, having had a mastectomy the day before.
The mastectomy was the final piece of the physical treatment journey for the triple negative breast cancer I had been diagnosed with in July 2016. That final piece came after a lumpectomy, seven months of aggressive chemotherapy, and a fairly impressive list of secondary illnesses and side-effects.
Within weeks of the surgery, and with wound drains still attached, I ran back into work - wild horses couldn't have stopped me. Work was where I was me. It was how I defined myself. Work was me and I was my work.
But much as wanted to be the old Claire, I wasn't. My brain didn't work as fast, I had mind fog, I struggled with my short-term memory, and I wasn't me.
And this scared me more than any of the physical symptoms! For the first time in 20 years of working life, I couldn't perform the way I wanted to perform and I didn't know what to do. Possibly not surprisingly, the stress and anger caused by this inability then impacted on the inability and the whole things started spiralling - the more I struggled, the more stressed and angry with myself I got. The more stressed and angry with myself I got, the more I struggled. My decision making went out of the window. The fog became thicker, and I became irrational and purposeless. I really struggled. I didn't know who I was. I didn't know how to get back to being the person I used to be. And I refused to believe that the former Claire was lost forever.
I also refused to stop trying (stubbornness was not a new personality trait!)
Unfortunately, my different worlds conspired against me. At the time I was diagnosed, my older daughter Sophie, who was 9 at the time, was one of four children in her class of 28, to have a parent diagnosed with a potentially life-limiting illness. One lovely dad, Rob, had mesothelioma, and died a couple of weeks before my treatment started. One other beautiful mum, Angela, also had breast cancer and died while I was having chemo. And my gorgeous friend Clare had motor neurone disease. Four of us, all at the same time, and all parents in one primary school class.
And in November 2017, Clare died, and left me as the only one of the four still alive.
And then I broke. Fully and completely. I couldn't function. I was wracked with guilt, not just about being the only survivor, but more so about my inability to function and my "wasting" of the life that I still had while they could not.
Then came a whole new level of guilt - the need to ask for more help from a system I felt I had already had my fair share of. I remember walking into my GP's surgery and saying "I know you helped me find and totally remove my cancer, and I am really grateful. But now I need help to actually live the life you saved". It felt wrong to ask for more. But it was the only thing I could do.
I also had to give up on my hopes of returning to my old work life, my old work self, and my old work responsibilities. And I gave notice on my contract.
This was my point of realisation - The past was in the past and it was gone. I had the luxury of a future and I needed to discover what that new future was going to be
And that was the beginning of my wellbeing discover journey. The need for me to create that future and then to live it, was the embodiment of wellbeing at the time - I needed to find career, social, physical, financial, community, and psychological wellbeing. And I set about doing so
This was how my journey as Claire Warner - defender of Fundraiser and Charity wellbeing, guardian of great management, creator of healthy cultures, believer of a balanced life - began.
And it's a life I now love. I can't imagine going back to the life I had before. That 'season' is over. Wellbeing and Culture are now my future. And I hope they are part of yours too
The future doesn't have to be the same to be good