Resilience Through Trauma
When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer it was the most devastating year of my life. The fact that she had been suffering with the disease for over 2.5 years was even more horrific… I mean how comes I never knew? Was I that naive to notice any changes in my mothers health, a person who I looked up to and considered to be my best friend? Maybe I was caught up in my own life and had paid little or no attention to her or her health!
I remember the weekend clearly in September 2015. Making a call on the Thursday night I asked my father if I should come for the weekend. Expecting the usual response of “no you have things up there to keep you busy, we will see you another time” I was surprised when my father said “Yes, I think that would be a good idea”. Never did I expect the news I received.
Sitting in the warmth of the living room with the brown and gold carpet pushed cosily into each corner my father murmured “your mother has cancer and its terminal…” I had always thought how lucky I was that my parents had never suffered horrific conditions such as strokes or cancer but this was real, an experience that you only really appreciate when going through the journey with someone so close, who is dying and deteriorating before your very eyes.
My first response could have been one of anger at not knowing my mother had been suffering from Cancer for the last 2.5 years but what good would that have done when I knew I only had a matter of months left to enjoy and celebrate her life. Literally every millisecond became precious. I understood why she never wanted to tell me… she was still protecting me and not wanting to burden me with her troubles.
I never saw my mother as a gambler but she had taken the biggest gamble imaginable. She was told she only had 5 months at most yet lived two years beyond that death sentence. Who was I to criticise or change her fighting spirit that had got her this far? Yes, it could be considered selfish but this gave me the hope that my mother would overcome the disease even though in reality it had become a losing battle.
Resilience is a powerful word in sport and business that seems used in much the same way as people apparently in love tell each other “I love you” without appreciating its true essence. In my experience resilience is a buzz word and has lost its greatest impact until my latest experience where resilience has a powerfully impressive meaning.
My mother never listened to the Consultants who continuously told her to face reality that she was going to die. Only a few times was there any indication that perhaps my mother was going to throw in the towel but generally I was amazed by the steely determination to push forward and approach each day with a new level of grit, telling herself “tomorrow I’m going to be better” despite the pain and suffering that she was experiencing. Retrospective accounts by my father spoke again of the resilience demonstrated by my mother when the Consultant told her to go away and think about the course of chemotherapy discussed. My mother didn’t need to think saying “When can I start” as fighting against the disease was the only option no matter how tough or whatever the potential setbacks likely to be experienced.
Mentally my mother was extremely strong. Demonstrating how compelling the strength of ones mind can be to overcome and push through many of life’s challenges that confront us daily. I recognised the continuous use of positive affirmations to allow her to focus on those things within her control whilst holding onto any aspect of hope. It became clear that we have a choice in everything that we do and whether we chose to listen or dismiss what others tell us, for me was extremely important to my mother living far longer than expected. Three weeks before my mother passed away through her own resilience and determination we managed to get an accurate diagnosis that shifted from Cancer of Unknown Primary (CUP) to what is known as Cholangiocarcinoma (Bile Duct Cancer). This would never had been possible had my mother listened to the doom and gloom of the Consultants rather than approaching the disease in her own positive and perhaps dismissive way.
Working as a Performance Psychologist within elite level sporting and business environments I saw the power of the mind and mental strength required to perform at the optimum level in often highly pressurised environments. Yet when it came to resilience I felt I learnt far more through one persons journey with terminal cancer than any other life experience. Living on the brink of death and experiencing the horrific changes that ones body goes through whilst battling on and not giving up is remarkable.
Through the persistent bouts of sickness, the loss of hair together with the significant weight loss through a severe decline in appetite never seemed to deter my mother. My mother constantly reiterated that the Consultants did not know what they were talking about and refused to be treated any differently. The stairs leading up to the bedroom were steep what with living in an old cottage yet my mother refused to sleep downstairs as recommended by the hospital staff and MacMillan nurses. Instead each night she would walk on her hands and knees rather than taking what she deemed to be giving up and the easy option.
Ones outlook on life can be influenced greatly through the power of the mind by refusing to focus on the negatives but looking for the positives in everything that we do. This comes from surrounding yourself with people who uplift, awaken and instil an energy that ignites and motivates rather than saturates your desire to look at life through a lens of realistic positivity. I feel that I learnt my greatest life lessons over the course of the first week in September 2015 through to the night my mum passed away on the 1st December 2015. Yes, my experience with previous trauma (suffering the broken tibia, fibula and full rupture of the patella tendon along with my diagnosis with a potentially life threatening heart condition) really reinforced my toolbox of coping mechanisms at both a subconscious and conscious level.
What astonished me was the way in which the human mind can be extremely resilient when required. Whether it be starring death in the face or actually dealing with the very real prospect of losing someone you love dearly the ability to dig deep and overcome your greatest fears is unbelievable. I often thought about what life would be like when the two people you depend upon most in your life would no longer be present. It appeared unthinkable but your ability to deal with the ups and downs and challenging circumstances that are thrust upon you really push you to the depths of who you are as a person. Not only did I learn about another person I held in utmost regard but what I learnt about myself was paramount to who I was and what I would become.
Knowing I could deal with the most hardest of circumstances that anyone has to face in their lifetime was extremely comforting and made me realise how the best athletes, entrepreneurs and successful people generally elevate from the most difficult life situations. My attitude to life changed in the most powerful and energetic way. I no longer worried about what others thought and really made a conscious decision to make things happen. My commitment to business and ability to step outside of my comfort zone was more frequent. I now attend networking events on a regular basis, make phone calls to key people of influence and look towards a life of progression everyday.
My focus on mistakes has shifted dramatically where I no longer look at them negatively as long as I fail fast and implement my learnings directly. My mindset is what has changed because I have seen how life is so precious that you never ever know what is just around the corner. Already hit by my own personal trauma makes this reality all the more real and is why I have shifted from thinking that I have all the time in the world towards changing the lives of others immediately as I strive towards the vision of Class of Courage.
I miss my mother dearly but what I have learnt about life and how to live it to the best of my ability is down to her. From my mothers own accounts of hardship when arriving from Jamaica to struggling with numerous knee operations yet still pushing forward so she could create a better life for myself instilled a mindset of determination and resilience in whatever I have looked to achieve. Inheriting a never give up attitude from my mother has pushed me where I am today and guided me towards making the right choices in sport, business and life.
The Greatest Control you have is in the Choices you make
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