It’s been a while since I wrote a proper blog, so I figured you deserved a good update!
I had my left full hip replacement on June 4th, and it went extremely well. It was honestly one of the most painful things I’ve experienced yet, but once it healed it felt SO much better than my old hip and I feel much more stable. I went from using a walker, to a cane, to pretty much nothing most of the time in about 8 weeks. I still have a bit of a limp which is caused by weak hip flexors so I am working on that a lot in physio. I am currently speed walking about 5 miles (yes miles!) a day, and last week I started using a weight vest which has added a fun challenge. I’ve even gone swimming and out on the paddle board a few times. They have told me that my right femoral head is also around 60% necrotic and will collapse in 6-12 months, so I will go back to a cane at some point before getting the full right hip replaced.
My kidneys were doing really well but recently destabilized a bit after my surgery so we have started a new treatment plan and are hoping for positive results at the end of this month. Otherwise everything else is going really well. We corrected a lot of nutritional imbalances using supplementation and I have so much more energy than before.
The last few months have been insanely busy, but honestly just so amazing. In January I started working with my husband to develop a new visual brand for his HVAC business which has been in business for 15 years. Words cannot describe how proud I am of my husband for all the incredible goals he sets for himself, and then smashes right out of the park. For the last 8 years I’ve gotten to watch him move his family-based business from operating out of his garage, to a storage unit, to four storage units, to a storefront, and now to a large shop. He is always in motion- always motivated to reach his next target, and just so unbelievably smart and good at business and customer service.
So I got to work designing a new logo, and then vehicle wraps for his fleet (three vans and two trucks). We also developed a ton of promotional material: Welcome packages for families, Maintenance and Protection plan books, Brochures for some of his services, custom HVAC sticker kits for kids, thank you cards, magnets, business cards, clothing and more. The biggest task of all has been a brand new, brand-aligned website that contains all products, with streamlined UX including customer guided instant-quoting and booking online for our most popular jobs, Tons of useful content, recurring subscriptions for monthly maintenance plans and more, which should be launching in the next week or so. I’m very excited! It was a serious but incredible deep dive into so many creative skills that I haven’t gotten to use in a while or hadn’t even really gotten to develop at all because my focus has always been on music. I advanced my illustrator skills a ton, used my ipad to custom draw all the faces of our employees in the sticker kit, learned how to use elementor pro to create a custom responsive theme for the site and just really make it all pop. It was a ton of work but so much fun and it made me recognize how amazing and valuable a lot of my non-music skills are, and see a true opportunity for me to start doing more freelance design work.
When I got sick, it got hard for Bill to keep up with managing the home and business, while worrying about me at the same time. Fortunately for us, our customers are wonderful and were very gracious with a lot of our chaos- but what we wound up with at the end of the last three crazy years was a business that had grown WAY more than we were prepared for- with no systems or process in place to manage it effectively, or even consider growing it further. I could see that my husband was becoming more and more frustrated, and it felt like we were both working all the time, just trying not to drown but never getting on top of things. We had to take a step back and evaluate what he wanted out of the business, what it needed to keep running, and what we wanted the future of our relationship to look like as a team, and as individuals.
This required a lot of serious discussion, and a lot of turning inward on both of our parts to be truly honest with what we wanted for ourselves and for each other. Bill recognized that his relationship with his business was being hurt by spending too much time doing tasks he didn’t enjoy. He had created something out of true love and it had grown to a point where he had to accept he could no longer run the business ‘out of his head,’ alone. So we started working to identify what he DID want to do, what he didn’t, what wasn’t getting done at all by anyone and needed to be etc. Then we brought in an amazing consultant (Heather Ostertag & Associates) who helped us create a strategic plan for organization and growth so we can start working towards putting more effective management systems in place, automating more tasks, and remove ourselves from the day to day aspects of the business operation that neither of us want to be responsible for any more so we can focus our energy on the things we love and are best at.
One of the things I recognized during this reflection was how much my perspective had shifted since my cancer diagnosis. I see almost everything in my life differently now. Am I cancer free? Yes, and I thank the universe every day for that. Did my cancer treatments leave me with permanent health challenges? Yes. I have stage 4 kidney disease, which will likely shift into stage 5 and require intervention via dialysis or transplant at some point. Depending on how stable I can keep them, I may get 5 years, I may get ten. I don’t know when that clock is running out. So, in a lot of ways, while it feels like I’m out of the tunnel and finally see the light- I know another one can come any time and I don’t want to waste a second of sunshine while I’m in it.
Prior to my transplant, thinking about the possibility of my life being over so soon led me down endless paths of analyzing the opportunities I had been offered; the mistakes I had made, the people I loved, the person I had become and most importantly- the fear that had dominated me so many times. I was keenly aware of many regrets- feelings I hoped to never have but were insanely loud in my heart as I faced my potential end. Did I do the right things? Did I make the right choices? Did I say how I really felt? Did I love enough? Give enough? Did I sabotage myself from success?
I recognized repeated patterns in myself and in my behaviour that constantly led me to shame and regret. I struggled with self-care. I would forget to eat or shower. I struggled with social situations and major anxiety. I struggled to stay focused, keep a routine, complete tasks fully and not get overwhelmed easily. I avoided a lot of things in life out of fear of shame, ridicule, failure and just generally being not accepted. My internal dialogue was vicious. I always felt like I was letting myself down; like I was never reaching the potential I knew I had. I promised myself if I lived, I would work hard to eliminate those behaviours, and truly live the best version of my life.
I thought that after my transplant, making that ‘shift’ would be effortless. After all- my perspective had changed, so why couldn’t my behaviour? I became very aware that I was starting to repeat those similar patterns and my seeming inability to stop them made me feel powerless and worthless. How had I fought through so many challenges, only to fall victim to my own silly brain?
About a month ago at my parents we were cleaning out the garage and I was going through all kinds of papers and projects from school. Among them we found some tests my parents had requested; some in elementary school and some in high school. I didn’t really remember these tests being done since they happened so long ago, but when I began to read them and the results it felt like a punch in the gut. I had been entered into the gifted program in grade 3, after testing revealed learning exceptionalities. This was probably a great choice for me, because I was kind of a weird kid that most of the other kids made fun of. My classmates in the gifted program were amazing and accepting and I at least felt like I could kind of be me without persecution. But over time I still really struggled- I couldn’t sit still, I was always shuffling papers or singing and dancing around my desk and I struggled to manage my emotions and interpersonal relationships. I constantly felt like a failure. Letters from my teachers and further testing in grade 7 indicate a student who was very talented, but lacked the ability to channel focus or energy into the right tasks at the right time. This was labelled ‘gifted boredom,’ and it was suggested my parents create a point system to encourage me to complete tasks and self manage.
In high-school I continued to struggle, and I failed grade 10 gifted math, which automatically triggered the requirement to be fully tested again in order to qualify to keep my spot in the program. During this testing I placed in the 99th percentile for reading and writing, but in the 29th for math. I was officially diagnosed with a learning disability and was given the opportunity to drop out of gifted math but continue forward in the other programs so that I could still graduate with my gifted certificate. The testing found that I struggled with similar issues as before- task avoidance, emotional dysregulation, failure to meet expectations or potential, but not for lack of skill or ability. As I looked at these tests and thought back on my life, it was like a switch flicked on and I could clearly see for the first time, that I was struggling with something bigger than just ‘anxiety and depression’.
Throughout my cancer experience I have been incredibly blessed to have an amazing therapist at PMH who has helped me manage the massive ups, downs and traumas that I have faced. After my transplant I started taking an anti-depressant to help with my mood. I was really struggling, and it wasn’t fair to my family and friends who had to support me, to have to deal with my profound sadness. The medication helped, but it was always my long term goal to not need them anymore. A few weeks ago as we discussed stopping it, I built up the courage to share with him all of these feelings about myself that had nothing to do with my cancer, but had everything to do with my truly claiming my second life for all it was worth.
I sent him the tests, we talked about what they meant, how I felt, what patterns were destructive to my life and why I wanted them to just stop and how powerless I felt to stop them. How disappointed in myself I was, that I was still using cannabis a lot more than I wanted to, just to ‘centre myself,’ and slow my brain down. I was an adult. I didn’t want to be doing this anymore. I offered him this perspective: “What if my anxiety and depression, is simply a symptom of the endless shame and guilt I feel, about not being able to function the way other people do. What if we just accepted that I’m different, and found a solution.” We decided to discontinue my anti-depressants (which were actually putting quite a strain on my kidneys) and chose to immediately try something bold: Ritalin.
The first week was a bit of a rough adjustment (Big shoutout to my very patient husband) and the addition of an evening sedative (olanzapine) greatly reduced the heightened emotions I was feeling as my anti-depressants wore off, and really turned down the volume on my typical inner narrative I like to call ‘Becky,’ who often tells me the usual things we tell ourselves: “I’m not good enough, pretty enough, useful, etc.”
Within a week I felt like a switch had been turned on in both my brain and body. Suddenly things just felt easier, instead of overwhelming. The volume in my brain turned down to a comfortable level and I began to think about everything with hope and excitement instead of dread. I wasn’t at war with myself to complete things, I had energy, motivation, and there wasn’t an endless Becky war happening internally. My brain felt quiet, and clear. I felt less anxiety, I wanted to talk to people, I wanted to reach my goals. I wanted to show up for myself.
I started creating a schedule for myself and creating accountability systems using apps and notifications that would remind me to complete the goals I set and why they were important. I found a community of online workers who work together in a digital space to create social accountability and practice monotasking for a dedicated time. I began to schedule my work days and slowly saw I was getting more done, and had more time for physical activity, creativity and leisure when I planned in advance my goals and tasks, and accounted for the time needed to complete them. Above all- doing all these things felt simple. It didn’t feel exhausting like pulling teeth. I didn’t feel overwhelmed and want to give up half-way like I usually do. I actually let myself think about setting realistic long term future goals for the first time in my whole adult life.
When I let myself start thinking about what those goals truly were, I was surprised. In my heart I expected cancer to change my course entirely. Obviously, it already had- it stopped my career dead in its tracks and caused a three-year detour not just for me, but my band mates as well. I thought that I would return to the world with a clearly defined and new direction, or inspiration. I thought perhaps I would want to become a nurse, a motivational speaker, or maybe even work for my husband full time and start a family…But what I truly wanted most, was to eliminate my regrets. To return to where I was, to pick up where I left off, and to continue forward, without fear.
Fear stopped me from achieving a lot of things in my life and they all came into focus when I was facing my death. Over the last three years I’ve experienced so much fear and had such little control over it, that fear slowly became irrelevant to me. It just became this thing, that was there… but that didn’t really matter anymore. It lost its voice. The things I feared the most have already happened to me. I understand I am incredibly lucky to still be standing, to have a chance at a second life. I will be absolutely damned if I waste even one second of it continuing to worry about fear, failure or judgement.
What does that look like for me? Well, that was a hard conversation with my husband. My husband knows better than anyone what being a great teammate means. He had my back so hard the last few years. He never skipped a beat. Never stopped supporting or loving me. Never gave up on me. Kept working hard, kept the house together, kept providing, kept my spirit going. He was my rock. Under intense pressure, He was managing a rapidly growing business, and the loss of his father. Sometimes I honestly don’t know how he held us all together, but he did- and he kept smiling almost the whole time. He is the greatest leader I have ever known. He knows me so well, and truly cares about my happiness. He knew part of being a team meant recognizing that his teammate has personal goals too. He recognized that regardless of who the majority income earner is in our relationship, both of our goals and dreams are equally valid, and both deserve equal investment into having an actual chance of fruition if that’s something we can financially manage. He believed in my dreams. I believed in his. So we chose together to align our interests and decisions, support each other’s dream fully in every way we could, and show up for each other, and ourselves with full accountability moving forward.
One of my biggest dreams growing up was the move to Nashville. To make music my life, regardless of what that looked like. To just always be around music, where I get to feel and make magic whenever I want. Music is where I feel most connected to the universe; where I find my purpose. It’s never mattered to be if I got the success I imagined as a kid, It just mattered that I got to do it. Because of my ongoing health issues, moving to the states permanently wasn’t really an option for me anymore… but we brainstormed other approaches, and this morning became proud owners of a condo in Nashville. I have been crying with joy non stop. I may not exactly have a complete plan in place… I just know in my heart this is something I have to do, and my husband’s heart is big enough to let me do it. I thank my lucky stars every day for that.
As I look forward to the future, it is filled with opportunity, happiness and love. I can’t wait to live every second of my second life to the max. Thank you all for being here with me for the ride. Your endless encouragement and support truly kept me going through what felt like never ending darkness, and I hope I get to pay you all back by sharing some light from now on.