2018: A Year in Review

I mean sure it’s a cliché. A post right before the end of the year reflecting on all which has come and gone. How predictable. And yet I think there’s this inherent compulsion within all of us to want to sit down and reflect on our year and try to gain a sense of closure. We want to be able to look back and remember who we were, what we did, the places we traveled, the lessons we learned, the obstacles we overcame. To review our lives at the end of the year seems fitting. The closing of a chapter and the beginning of something new.

I used to really believe in this sort of thing. The whole concept of “new year, new me”. I liked the idea of being able to start over, to wipe the slate clean, tabula rasa. Except as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to see the fallacy in this. I mean, if we’re being honest, a lot of us begin the year exhausted, with a pounding headache, feeling the same or far worse than normal. The whole concept that suddenly we’re changed is pretty absurd. Nothing’s changed. I mean humans invented calendars. It’s just another day. Still, though, there is something admirable in our attempt, at least, to make resolutions; commitments to exercise more, eat healthier, start a new project, finish an old one, take up a new hobby; whatever it is, even if we most likely give up or end up failing.

Or maybe it’s just that this whole notion of “new year, new me” feels particularly illogical to me this year. That’s because right now I’m smack bam in the middle of climbing my mountain. I’m not at the bottom of it, which is good, but I’m not at the top either. And, I’ve still got a ways to go. This mountain is obviously a metaphor for my cancer relapse. You know, that thing that happened in October when I was told my lymphoma had returned, after two and a half years of being in remission.

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Relapse

I wish in some ways (obviously besides being diagnosed in the first place) that I had relapsed earlier this year, say in July. Then, who knows, maybe I’d be completely done with chemotherapy by now, done with my stem cell transplant and in recovery, all just in time for the end of the year and I could start 2019 renewed and healthy, ready to begin my life again.

Except, that’s not how it works. And I’m realizing that’s not how anything in life works. Just because the calendar says it’s a new year, doesn’t mean we get to leave all our troubles behind. We carry all of our stuff with us into January, whether we want to or not. I’m not trying to be cynical, I don’t actually think this is a bad thing. It’s not about starting again, it’s about accepting who we are and where we are right now, setting goals for the year ahead, thinking about how we want to achieve them and how we’re going to react to the hurdles that life will, inexorably, throw at us.

So instead of starting fresh this New Year, I’ll simply be carrying on. I’ll be continuing to climb my mountain; I’ll be putting one foot in front of the other and slowly but surely making my way towards the finish line. Which as of right now, looks to be around the end of February. Just after my birthday. So perhaps that will be my “new beginning”.

If I’m going to blatantly honest with you, I’ll admit that 2018 has probably been the hardest year of my life. And I’ve had some pretty tough years. 2016 for example, the year I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time and my mother was institutionalized with dementia. That year sucked. Still, though, 2018 has been kind of rough. Not because I haven’t had some of the best times of my life, which I have and we’ll get to those, but relapsing has shaken my world up in ways I never imagined.

Why? What is it that’s made it so much harder than the first time?

It’s this feeling of regression, of going backward. This feeling of having worked so hard to recover mentally, physically and spiritually and for it to just fall apart, once again. This feeling of looking around and seeing everyone I know progressing and moving forward, working, studying, traveling, living and here I am, seemingly stuck. Accepting that the masters will have to be put on hold while I am hospitalized next year. It’s accepting that this big life-changing move to London, this version of myself I saw living and thriving and flourishing, just isn’t who I get to be right now. It’s accepting that currently, my story is one of rest, healing, recovery, and survival.

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Moving to London

This year I mourned the story I’d imagined for my life. But, I also picked myself up and carried on. I let go of the hair I had so patiently grown for two years, I let go of this narrative of the person I thought I would be and I let go of trying to meticulously plan my journey. I learned that cancer doesn’t care how healthy you are and that life is simply unfair sometimes. 2018 was turbulent, it was messy, it was filled with heartache.

It was also one of the most beautiful years of my life. What a strange paradox. But such is life. Because the beauty and the pain go hand in hand, and it’s the pain that inevitably allows you to see the beauty so much more clearly. I began this year working as a teacher in Ecuador. I taught teenagers while living in the mountainous city of Quito, with the most beautiful human who showed me what it means to be truly loved. We explored his country together, spent weeks in the Amazon jungle, hiked crater lakes and Andean mountain ranges, we danced under waterfalls together. I took my dad into the jungle, we drank ancient plant medicine and ziplined through the cloud forest. I flew to the Galápagos islands, swam with turtles and sea lions and ate the best lobster of my life.

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Teaching in Quito
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Hiking Ancient Crater Lakes
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Love
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Dad in the Amazon
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Morning Swims in the Rio Napo
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Ecuadorian Road Trips
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Galapagos Sea Turtles

This year I said to goodbye to the person I loved, I cried on airplanes, danced in a plaza in Barcelona, sipped sangria and swam topless in the Mediterranean sea. I drank Aperol spritz with my best friends in an Italian villa and drove through the Tuscan countryside. I saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the Statue of David, ate authentic Italian pizza and threw a coin into the Trevi Fountain. I moved to a new country and into my own apartment on the same street that I grew up in, reconnected with old friends, made a bunch of new ones and began studying again. I read a lot of books, started an online column and blogged. I danced, I practiced yoga, I swam in the sea.

I celebrated Christmas with some of favourite people in the world.

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Tuscan Villas and Best Friendship
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Reuniting with Old Friends
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Making New Ones
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Christmas with my Family

I also had a PICC line inserted into my arm, spent two weeks in hospital having chemo, shaved off all my hair off before it was taken away from me again, had several public meltdowns, many lonely nights and a few quiet moments of wanting, quite simply, just to die.

And yet, I carried on.

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Letting Go

I know 2019 will not be a fresh start for me. It will indubitably bring a multitude of challenges. I’ll spend a lot of time in and out of the hospital. I’ll battle with my self-esteem, I’ll feel like I want to give up, but I won’t. I’ll keep climbing my mountain until I reach the top. And when I do I’ll celebrate.

I’ll travel again. I’ll sing at the top of my lungs at concerts with my best friends. I’ll kiss someone who makes me feel butterflies in my tummy. I’ll get my strength back. I’ll visit family overseas and perhaps go on a pilgrimage alone to somewhere I’ve never been before. I’ll get lost in foreign markets and rediscover the taste of freedom and anonymity. I’ll practice meditation and continue to fall in love with myself. I’ll write more, I’ll read more books, and I’ll live as adventurously as I possibly can.

Because if this year has taught me anything, it’s that you simply never know what’s going to happen. Who you might find, who you might lose, what might afflict you, what you may have to let go of. You never know what’s coming around the corner. So give up trying to plan. You have no control anyway.

Have goals but don’t be too rigid. Have ambition but don’t be fastidious.

And mostly, above all, don’t take it all so seriously.

Life is short, life is so fragile, life is supposed to be fun.

As the philosopher (and my personal guru), Alan Watts, once said:

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun”

Happy New Year to all you blessed souls,

Love Mich x

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2 Comments

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  1. Your writing is wonderful, Michelle. I am sending you prayers, love and hugs while you bravely continue your mountain climb. Keep writing, keep believing and keep dreaming! You are an amazing woman!

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  2. Hi Michelle, I enjoyed your writing very much as it contains so many precious ideas, teflections… I am Marina, 29 years old, and just completed my ABVD treatment in Dec 2018. I was told I have less than 5% chance that the beasts come back. Reading your story makes me sad for us both as it is difficult to accept what future may bring but this is how it is. However, I still feel fortunate for the whole experience I lived which made me grow and somehow feel less fearfull of life. I wish you the best Michelle, keep figthing. I will keep doing that too, even being in a diferent stage.

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