Not everyone will understand this one – and by “everyone” I mean those who have not gone through a cancer experience – whether a patient or a caregiver. It’s hard to understand until you’ve been through it how something like going for my first walk during treatment could be so scary. I was seventeen years old and I was afraid to go out on my own. It was a couple of months into my treatment, and I was so used to being around people all the time – especially my mom who was always there. But I knew I needed to take this brave step, not only for my physical health to get out more and be ‘active’, but mainly for my mental health, because I needed to feel some sense of independency.
In my last blog, when I talked about my own recovery and “taking sickness to fitness” post-treatment, I credited my first walk for being the first steps in getting back to the old me. I also shared how scary those first steps can be - I hope that this story inspires someone to have the confidence to take theirs.
It was a cold February day when I decided I was going to walk on Bloor Street – just to see how far I could get. A lot of thought went into preparing myself for that first walk. For one thing, I did not want to carry a purse with me because I did not know how I would be with the little bit of extra weight to carry around. It might be hard to imagine how even my purse became a hurdle in this moment, but up until this point, my caregivers usually carried all my stuff for me. I found the smallest bag I could that would still allow me to carry the essentials: a bottle of water, an extra hat, my wallet with all my identification and a list of medications inside of it that I had made at the start of treatment, tums for heart burn since I was on steroids and a few granola bars to snack on.
I was only planning on being out for a few hours, but I did not know what to expect and I was nervous. The only thing that was going through my head was, what if something happens? I made sure my phone was fully charged and my shoes double knotted because, what if my shoes untied in the middle of the street? This probably sounds a little much, but it was that nerve-wracking. When I left my house that day, I felt as if I was a teenager going out alone for the first time. Before I ventured out, my mom ensured I had everything I needed, checked that I was feeling okay to go out and told me to call if I needed anything. She was calm and made me feel confident that I could handle this, but I’m sure she was even more nervous than I was. I added some cash to my bag of essentials in case I needed a taxi home. I left feeling reassured I was ready for my first walk.
Finally outside, the cold air against my face felt refreshing –even with my hat pulled down over my brows, my sunglasses pressed against my face and bundled to the nose with my scarf. It was not freezing that day, but I needed to feel bundled up, protected from both the cold and the world. I felt self-conscious that people would know or see that I was a cancer patient, so I kept my head down. I also feared people bumping me on the streets because of my Hickman line and was scared I would fall – scared ANYTHING would happen (of course we always fear the worse). So I stayed on the inside of the sidewalk as I made my way. I knew I had my phone and money on me in case I needed to call it quits and get home, but I needed to finish this walk and make this brave step towards facing my fears of being independent.
I stayed out for an hour and a half and just walked. I did not go inside any stores or stop anywhere because I was enjoying the cold air on my face (steroids always made me feel hot and sweaty, so this was a good change from being inside). I made it back home and I could tell my mom was eager to make sure I was okay. I smiled. I felt strong and like the old me, being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and for me that was walking. I used to love walking before I was diagnosed, I would walk for hours. It was a form of self-care and some time for just me and my thoughts, something you can take for granted before treatment. This short walk had instantly made such a difference in my motivation. I was excited to do it again – and for what I would be able to do next. My mental toughness returned because I knew that I would still have some independence in these two and a half years of treatment. It had been scary and seemed out of reach, but encouraging myself to take these first steps was a big milestone. I felt stronger and in control. These were the first steps to being me again.