What is greatness? Part 3: Heartbreak

Have you ever had your heart broken? I mean, really broken? Heartbreak is something that will affect us all at some point in our lives. After discovering that my cancer had come back and was in my lungs this time, I was devastated. I had experienced hurt before. Relationships ended, losing touch with a friend and missing out on that “dream” job that I was so sure about and death. This was different. It cut so deep, I was numb.

Three nerve-wracking weeks after my diagnosis, I had surgery. It was successful, but this time I required chemo. Still, I put on a brave face and was ready to face all the physical side effects. My mental well-being was again on the back burner. I was to have chemo sessions every two weeks for six months. The first session went fine, and I thought to myself, “Hey, this isn’t so bad”. I could not have been more spectacularly mistaken. Within a month, the physical toll chemo took on me was near unbearable. It was then that I slowly started disconnecting from myself. I wouldn’t allow my mind to process the turmoil, the mental and physical trauma, and, unbeknownst to me, I was slowly making things worse. My natural instinct of trying to protect others and myself from my feelings kicked in. Greatness started slipping further and further away from me. How would I fulfil my life’s purpose in this state?

I was terrified, yet every two weeks, I put on a brave face when I went for chemo. I remember a room full of big red chairs, chairs that looked and smelt like death. Death was all around me, the pungent smell of it all-consuming and overwhelming. With each passing session, a piece of me was left in that room. My soul and spirit were truly being tested. Repeatedly I asked, “Why God? Why is this happening? My daughter is only two years old, and she needs her mother.” I could see the confused terror in her eyes every time she looked at me. Wondering when her mom was going to disappear for days again.

My husband looked defeated. All the love he had given me couldn’t spare me from this. He put on a brave face, comforting family members and keeping our household going. I could see that it was taking its toll on him, but he remained strong for me and for everyone as a proud man. Our lives had been turned upside down, plans halted. Tragedy had befallen us. At the time, we’d only been married for 3 years. We hadn’t had the opportunity to enjoy our marriage and our daughter. We’d both wanted to be parents for the longest time, and finally, our dream had come true. Somehow, through the pain, we managed to find solace in each other. The three of us were closer than ever. We retreated into our bubble and let very few people in.

After six months, chemo was done, and with that came new questions. I was lost. Who was I, if not the cancer patient? I had no routine anymore. It sounds strange, yes, but this had been such a massive part of me that I had to let go. I was cancer-free and in remission; however, my mental well-being was centre stage again. In the months after, I was hospitalised numerous times because of blackouts. The initial diagnosis was epilepsy, but scans showed no abnormality in my brain. I was so heavily medicated, barely lucid most of the time I inevitably lost all confidence in my body. I didn’t trust that I could do basic things anymore, and it turns out I was right. Indeed greatness was out of reach at this point. I was but a shadow of my former self. I couldn’t be left alone for long periods lest I have an attack, collapse and hurt myself.
Basic activities such as driving became unfeasible for me. The months turned into a year, and my attacks became increasingly unpredictable. The medication wasn’t working. More tests followed, and about two years after chemo ended, I was admitted into the Milpark Hospital Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. After five days of constant monitoring, we finally had a diagnosis. My Neurologist told me I had functional neurological disorder (FND), simply put, my brain and my body were not communicating properly. ” This is an absolute disaster,” he said. “It has been going on for over 20 years. Did you know that you don’t really sleep? I watched you sleep, but I could see you weren’t really sleeping. When I look at you, I see someone who is so traumatised, terrified and hurt. This is very upsetting…” as he spoke, his voice started fading away. I couldn’t hear what he was saying anymore. I was stuck on ” this is an absolute disaster.”

Another heartbreak. Greatness was most certainly unattainable now.

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