|Photo spoiler. More to come.|
So, life eh? Honestly, life has been tricky for the last little while. You may remember this time a year ago I was zipping off around the country, working all of the hours of the day (and then some more, sometimes, somehow?!) doing ecological surveys for my MSc? You may also remember that right near the end of that time the doctors signed me off with exhaustion. Urgh. It was a really frustrating time, both personally and practically. Suffering from exhaustion is the worst, because you can't show someone what's wrong - it's the whole 'hidden illness' thing - you can't carry on doing what you had been doing, you simply cease to function. And cry a lot (which is very unlike me).
|Eco-warrior, saving the baby newts|
Then in February-ish, I got the standard late-winter cold. After the coughing and spluttering stopped, I realised the energy had not come back: and thus, the onset of some weird form of post-viral fatigue. Not the whole-hog, there was no crippling debilitation, but just enough for my doctor to look at me with her head slightly askew and say 'Hmmmmm? Let's do some blood tests, shall we?' Enough that I would feel the room swimming as I blinked furiously to stay awake in evening meetings, or morning meetings...or, increasingly, not in meetings at all, because I simply wouldn't go. My capacity had shrunk down to that of a five year old (but without all the running around and splashing in puddles) - really, I needed an afternoon nap, and to be in bed before 9pm. Who, in their mid-twenties, has a schedule that allows that? No-one. Exactly. So, on with the prodding and poking we went.
Mid-March, just before another appointment at the doctors, I discovered a lump. Here's where we go all Miranda...I discovered a lump, in my...*mouths-awkwardly-and-almost-silently*...breast. Yep. So, my maternal grandmother had breast cancer when she wasn't all that old, so I'm just aware. And I checked. And I felt something different to normal. And I thought I should just get it checked out, and they'd tell me it was nothing, and it'd be fine. Better to be safe than sorry.
So, I got it checked, and the doctor winced a bit, and said really, to be safe, I'd better just go to the clinic to have a scan. Just to be safe. So a few weeks later at this clinic they scan my top half as if it's pregnant, stroke their beards a bit (why are there so many men here?!), and say hmm, there's one lump that's fine but there's another underneath it we can't quite see. We'd better just send you for a biopsy. Just to be safe. So the next day, I rock up at the hospital and they perform an incredibly sore pokey-proddy procedure I would never wish on anyone, and tell me to come back the next week for the results.
Honestly, waiting on results from a breast-cancer screening clinic is one of the most unsettling things in the world. Objectively, you know you'll probably be fine. I mean, come on, I'm 24 and relatively healthy. And it would be such early stages that everything would be fine, right? But it's probably absolutely nothing. Just nothing.
In my head there were two possible outcomes: 1. it's nothing, just a fibroid, it's nothing, no action required. 2. The Other Option Which We Will Not Consider.
My wonderful, WONDERFUL friend Helen came with me to all these appointments at the hospital, including the results. Having been kept in the waiting room a ridiculously long time, we eventually went in to see the consultant, and she very brusquely explained that I did not have malignant cancer. My heart soared, for a brief moment, until she told me that I do have a benign tumour, though. One that wouldn't spread but would keep growing if not removed, and that needed operating on. Just to be safe. And that operation would be in two weeks' time. OK?
A tumour? A TUMOUR?! Two weeks' time!? No, not ok! Do you know what my first thought was? "I'm going to Zambia in a six weeks! I can't have an operation in two weeks' time! That only gives me a month to recover!?" Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. "Will I be allowed to fly?"
I had not considered that there would be this middle-ground, the third option. It's not cancer-cancer, but I do need an operation. Ha. Great. So, I quickly told my boss, started closing down my office, and prepared myself for some slicing and dicing, and two weeks of sick-leave.
I won't give you the gory details (although there are entertaining stories I might divulge at a later date, particularly those of wandering through the Churchill hospital with a one-sided Madonna-esque cone bra look, created by having a plastic cup surgical-taped to my chest to protect a bit of the pre-op procedure. Hospital gown protruding hugely. All dignity cast aside.), but, it all went well. Everything was removed safely, I came round happily ('Please can I have some tea?!'), things started to heal quickly, and I spent two very, very, very quiet weeks convalescing back at home with my parents.
Those two weeks seemed to drag on incessantly with not-being-better-yet-ness, yet sped on with wait!-I'm-not-quite-better-yet!-ness. The general anaesthetic, while quite easy to come round from, still pumped with adrenaline, took its toll a few days later when the adrenaline left. I was wobbling around even trying to walk downstairs, incapable of doing really anything, and essentially became a pathetic and needy toddler. Good job I was with my parents, given their experience of dealing with me in that state, albeit twenty years ago. I spent huge chunks of time just watching the fledgling blue-tits in our garden, being constantly tended to by their parents, who flew back and forth, back and forth, across the garden to feed them, absolutely incapable. I knew exactly how they felt.
|'Feed me!' (photo credit: Papa Sturge)|
I've spent a lot of the last year wondering why I don't have enough energy, brain space, capacity, to do the things I normally do. I think of being a sixth-former - doing A-levels, grade 8 violin, learning to drive, doing youth work, going to church twice a week, youth orchestra, a Saturday job, and somehow still having friends - and wonder how I did it. All I've been managing this year is getting to work and back each day, maybe having dinner with a friend every so often, and that's about it. Going from a speedy-speedy, all-go person to a 'sorry, no, I won't be able to be there' person is really frustrating - especially when you've said 'YES!' to accompanying a group of 16 year olds to Zambia and that's looming in a fortnight's time, and you still feel like a Zombie.
That situation really isn't easy. And God, I think, has had a lot to say to me about pace of life, where my value is, and trusting him. But all I can really say is, by his grace, that month long period between being operated on and flying to Zambia got me back to just the fitness level I needed to be.
I wasn't able to do all of the activities with the young people: no rope swings, ropes courses, team sports or climbing mountains for me - internal healing says no. And that's also not the easiest to say to the faces of 16-yr old boys when they say 'oh, come on Emily, come and have a go!' and you want to say 'but my boob!' and know there's absolutely no way that's appropriate. BUT, I was up, active, brain-functioning, energy levels high enough and TOTALLY up for having an amazing trip, and helping the young people process all they were doing, seeing and experiencing.
So, today really this post is to explain some of why I've been 'away' for so long, and some of the context behind the amazing trip I came back from, just a week ago. It's like, an emotional trailer for stories, musings and reflections on Zambia, teenage-life, God, community, and everything else, that are still to come.
As ever, I'll end with a video. Next time, I'll introduce to you properly the phenomenal group of teenagers we took away, but this guy gets an early introduction: Rowan is a Youtuber, and all-round brilliant guy, who videoed our whole experience and is making daily vlogs to document the trip. Much as this post is like my Zambia trailer, here's Row's trailer for his Zambia Youtube series.
Next time, Zambia stories, lots more photos, and all that jazz. Until then, lots of healthy love, Em x