Life isn’t without unexpected bumps, turns and bridges to cross. There is no map or GPS that can help me find the best way to get somewhere because the road I walk on isn’t predefined. It unfolds with each step I take, and it keeps changing its course. Many might disagree and argue about the idea of destiny. And my response to them is that even if there was a well-defined road for me to travel, it would still be impossible to find any instructions on how to follow it. Nothing can alert me for what might come next, except for my intuition, which has failed me many times.

There are no manuals to teach me how to live and how to deal with the uncertainties and probabilities that throw me off the track. I have read many self-help books, guided by the hope that I could find the right instructions to handle my personal problems; I have consulted with psychologists and psychiatrists; I have even turned to the paranormal, seeking clarification, wanting to find answers through psychic readings. I have studied astrology in a constant pursuit for my deeper self and some light into the unknown.

When it came to my health, I always felt anxious and fearful, although I had good genes and had never faced a serious illness. When the unexpected occurred, I was forced to deviate from my comfortable walk and familiar route, and I changed direction. That compelled me to take a new look at myself.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, writing was one of the mechanisms I used to better cope with the volatile and scary situation I saw myself in. It was the best way to let my thoughts flow and for my silence to be heard. At the same time, it felt liberating and cathartic. Not only was I trying to make sense of what was happening but I also had a project to deliver. It gave me a purpose and it acted as a distraction, although this time it was an enlightening distraction, free from avoidance. While facing my emotions and accepting my darkest thoughts and fears, I was diving into my inner self and learning from that.

At first, the idea was to write for myself. The motivation was to appease my anxiety and to bring some kind of resolve to my disquietude. When turmoil happens and I’m shaken by strong emotions, I usually turn to writing.

I felt the urgency to write what I really needed to write – the candid and honest account of the changes and the choices I was confronted with and my reactions as they were unfolding.Later, more precisely in the second part of the book, and without shifting my initial motivation, I started a dialogue, including an unidentified interlocutor that could be anyone. This variation in the narrative discourse happened naturally. That’s when I realised that my exercise of probing, analysing and reflecting could be extended to potential readers. Through my writing I could reach people, offering an opportunity for them to see themselves in my story. My narrative was no longer only mine. It was theirs too.

The unknown road I had been given to walk on with its entailing doubts, uncertainties and fears, could be anyone’s road. Although I was not in the position of giving advice, nor did I have the answers to their questions, I could invite people to rethink and revaluate not just cancer-related situations but also other situations we all experience.

What had started as a portrayal of my responses to the encounter I had with breast cancer became a much broader narrative. My writing led me to revisit past experiences and relationships and look at them with a different set of eyes. It also led me to a change of perception regarding the mutable present and the unforeseeable future. And in the middle of all that, I gained insight into the way I started to perceive those who have been affected by a life-threatening disease, including myself.

In the third part of the book, another motivation became apparent. As I was moving forward and ‘normality’ had been somewhat restored, I felt the need to challenge the reader with different trails of thoughts whilst raising controversial issues.

To a certain degree, cancer has transformed my vision and my understanding of myself, of others and of my surroundings. However, it doesn’t define me and it doesn’t make me a lesser or a greater person; I am not any closer to sainthood than before and I have not become some kind of hero. Contradicting the overrated idea that places cancer patients in a sort of battle field trying to defeat the enemy, I needed to show others I had never felt that way. I needed to show that I am first and foremost human, and that makes me vulnerable, susceptible, fearful, and flawed. Nevertheless, I am not a victim. Whatever happens to me is neither a punishment nor bad luck. Everything is a piece of my life’s puzzle and it is there for a reason. Moreover, cancer also comes with significant positive side effects.

I am hoping others might feel challenged by my narrative and might take time to reflect on the issues I have raised. I am also hoping they feel less alone in their own lives. Even though everyone has a unique journey and responds to life situations in different ways, we ought not to forget our shared humanity.

Having already known changes in many forms, nothing had prepared me for the type of changes I underwent over this past year.

Since August 2016, I have been living the most challenging and also the most enlightening time of my life. I have learned lessons I wouldn’t have been able to find in self-help books, or in consultations with experts or psychic readings. I was taught by my own experiences and by the people closest to me, in particular, my daughter.

I learned to accept whatever I was feeling and to be kinder to myself, less critical of my emotions and of my reactions to upheavals. I learned to be more mindful and to appreciate the moment for what it is, without struggle or avoidance. I learned to recognise my need for support and to show my vulnerabilities. I gained a better insight on my capabilities and strengths as well as my weaknesses and flaws.

I was taught about cancer and its different ways of affecting people, and I changed my perception about cancer patients. Coming closer to mortality opened my mind to view life differently, appreciating every instant and not sweating the small stuff. Uncertainty, fear and anxiety will always be there. Nonetheless they don’t have any power over me. I am more prepared now to live with them and not to be consumed by them.

Most importantly, I have relearned I have the ability to make things happen – and I can rewrite my own story.

 

Julieta Ferreira was born in Portugal and now lives in Brisbane, Australia. She is an author, an educator and a student of life. You can Julieta at www.facebook.com/JulietaFerreiraBooks/ and her book ‘From Where I Stand’ here.