Midway is such a terrible word. It has no inspiration attached to it whatsoever. Finish has far more allure, and even Start can inspire feelings of hope and excitement. But midway? Nobody likes midway. Starting and finishing something is relatively easy in comparison to continuing steadfastly. This is where we run out of steam, out of motivation, out of strength to ‘just keep swimming’. It’s the hard slog, the pushing crap uphill with no foreseeable end in sight. It’s especially hard for people who need to see the end in order to find the will to keep going. In relation to cancer, well obviously the start isn’t exactly easy either, but it’s always the midway point of your journey that’s the hardest. Not to be confused with boring and uneventful, because this journey was neither.
If we were looking at a really big mountain, the death zone would geographically be somewhere in the middle of your journey, so already it’s not easy by any psychological stretch. Midway is where it begins and it continues all the way to the top. Sorry to break that to you. The beginning of this journey is where the rubber hits the road in terms of learning how to continue steadfastly, which is where the skill of acclimatisation really comes in handy.
Acclimatisation isn’t like a switch that you can just flick on. It’s a process of learning, and you have to work at it continuously. There is no way you can survive in the death zone, let alone keep climbing to the top without learning how to adjust and maintain performance in that environment. That is the very definition of acclimatisation and it is further defined in this context, by a supernatural partnership between your body, mind and spirit. And here’s the thing; you have to learn how to acclimatise even before you hit the death zone as your body is physically incapable of adjusting further once in that end zone. But I’m jumping ahead! My personal recipe for acclimatising during hard times is this;
Understand that this is a battle on all sides. Once you understand that your body, mind and spirit will be stretched to their limits, you can prepare for battle much more effectively. Asking for help is at the top of the list, and my first ask was to my Father God. I then had to learn how to ask for help from the people around me. Pride has no place here. Kick it to the curb!
Choose your travel buddies wisely. These people will keep you steady and moving forward during those moments when the going gets too tough. My first choice of travel buddy was Jesus, followed by my superhero husband, family, and some good friends who didn’t run a mile when I was first diagnosed.
Keep your truth goggles handy. When the snow storm is trying to blow you off the mountain, it's natural to lock your head down and focus on one step at a time. This in itself is not a bad thing, in fact sometimes it's all we can do to just move forward one step at a time. But there is a better view and a greater truth that you need to see every now and then just to keep your bearings. The top of the mountain cannot be seen unless you lift up your eyes.
Be prepared to grind. There’s no getting around it, there is often a point where we just have to keep grinding to get through the mud and mire. The thing to remember is that respite is always just around the corner, and the grind will end altogether depending on whether you do the next thing….
Change your perspective. Remember what I said about perspective in a previous chapter? “Your reality can change in a heartbeat depending on how you choose to look and respond to what you’ve been dished up with at any given moment. Your circumstances may not change, but your ability to handle those circumstances in a way that benefits you and others is entirely possible. It is absolutely within our power to shape the final outcome, whether emotionally or physically, but this all hinges on our perspective”. Get the right perspective - that’s the key.
Give it to God. Throughout your journey there will be many times where you believe you just can’t do it anymore. The longer you travel through the death zone the more this is likely. Giving it all over to God and allowing Him to do His thing is the only way through. When your body surpasses the point where it can no longer acclimatise, God will get you through the final leg. It’s what He does.
This is just the shortened version, or summary of how to acclimatise in my opinion. But back to the story...
MURDERED FROM THE INSIDE OUT
The death zone was looming right up ahead and part of me was beginning to wonder if my body could withstand the pressure. It had already been through so much, I just couldn’t imagine it taking on any more. Physical limitation in the human body will always be a factor, but even under the incredible stress this high altitude may inflict on our bodies, they are capable of doing amazing things. For example, the higher we go, the harder we breathe which inevitably increases our heart rates. This in turn produces more red blood cells which provide us with more oxygen in our blood. It’s our body’s natural way of adjusting to higher altitudes. It’s totally in us to do that with lots of training, patience and lesson learning. We have been created in the most extraordinary way. We are adaptable, resilient, determined, and full of untapped capacity. Don’t forget that about yourself!
I remember the experience of my first Chemo dose like yesterday. This was the kind of stuff nightmares were made of without the blood, guts and Halloween makeup. I literally felt like I was being murdered from the inside out. I swear I could feel my individual cells dying in a screaming fit of despair. Ok obviously that’s a little exaggerated, and one might think right now that I’m being a tad dramatic, but let me assure you….there was no feeling comparable. I also remember coming out of that fiery pit thinking ‘There is NO WAY I can go through that again. My body just won’t take it.’ Of course I had many more of those experiences scheduled in my calendar so there was nothing to be done about it. Except do it. And I did, and guess what?? - my body handled it. Against all perceived odds, my body rose to the occasion and did what it was created to do.
When we face challenges, trials and the odd mountain placed in our pathway that requires us to put our climbing boots on, our bodies are often on the frontline. Just when you thought your poor old body couldn’t take it anymore, the battle worn trooper pulls through against all odds. You spend so much time thinking it’s never going to happen, that your body just can’t take it anymore, but then it just…..does.
FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE
We have been fearfully and wonderfully made, and our bodies have been created to withstand much despite the mental limitations we sometimes impose and indulge. That’s why it’s so important to align and look after our body, mind and spirit because this life we are a part of is indeed challenging. The terrain is harsh, the environment toxic, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the things we do to our bodies - they all add up. But as we know all too well, disease can strike regardless of these things. You just have to look at the babies and children battling cancer to know this truth, yet even they fight with a resilience and tenacity that defies all odds. Maybe it’s because they believe...have hope....are untainted by a lifetime of disappointment and fear. They trust in goodness, whether it’s through their family, the doctors, and what they’ve been raised to believe. I think on some level their bodies are somewhat submitted to the purity of their minds and spirits. Simplicity and innocence has its precious place here. Our minds, bodies, and spirits are incredible, especially when they work together. Acclimatising to the death zone is a powerful testament to this truth.
Two days after my first Chemo injection I ended up in the emergency department at hospital. Much to our horror, it appeared as though I had an infection throughout my reconstruction site. I wasn’t sure how long it had been there for as my nerves were well and truly shot after both surgeries, and consequently I couldn’t feel anything on that breast or under/around my right arm. I called my good friend (and part time guardian angel) Nettie who had been through the same chemo treatment as myself and asked if I should be taking it seriously. She came and picked me up right away. No mucking around when you're having chemo that’s for sure! They even give you a yellow card you can flash at the ER front desk, so you don’t have to wait for hours on end. Flash this yellow card and you get instant access immediately and even your own isolated room where the coffee is held. Nice. (One of the perks of doing chemo I guess….got to appreciate what we can get!!)
Assuming it was an infection they admitted me into the ward, pumped me full of antibiotics and painkillers and told me I may have to have further surgery to remove the implant. NOOO! I really could not handle the thought of more surgery at this point. I can tell you now there was an awful lot of praying happening around this time, and I was definitely struggling to work out that acclimatisation partnership between my mind, body and spirit! I stayed in hospital for four (hideous) days before they decided the antibiotics were doing their job and I could go home. Can you stop to imagine just for a minute how agonisingly frustrating that was, and incidentally, what that did to my family? One week out of hospital and we consoled ourselves with the fact that this little detour was just a freak occurrence, as even my surgeon was a little surprised by the whole thing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more calm and peaceful doctor in my life, I mean this guy just oozed calm, but even he looked a little rattled by the situation. Thinking the whole ordeal was behind us, we geared up for the next Chemo dose and what do you know?! The exact same thing happened again, exactly two days after my chemo! So I packed up my bags and dragged my sorry behind back to the hospital where we went through all the same motions. Third time lucky? Nope. Same thing happened, except this time they (my team of specialists) all decided that it couldn’t possibly be an infection as infections don’t behave so predictably and look exactly the same - every single time. As it turns out, I was ALLERGIC to the chemotherapy, and there wasn’t anything I/we could do about it except suck it up and hope there was no lasting damage done to the reconstruction site. They figured this out after my third hospital ordeal of course. Yikes.
WHERE THE RUBBER HITS THE ROAD
Could I have done with that information minus all the injections, hard core antibiotics, poking, prodding, dozens of trainee doctors eyes, further stripping of my already scantily clad dignity, sleepless nights, bad (don’t touch with a 10 foot pole) food, shared rooms that required ear plugs, shared toilets that were dodgy at the best of times, the lottery when it came to grumpy vs nice nurses etc etc etc??? And let’s not forget being away from my very stressed out family - the biggest heartache in all of this. You see, cancer and cancer treatment doesn’t just affect the person who has it. It is a greedy disease and takes over every part of your life and the lives of all those around you. Both my husband and daughter were fighting their own battles thanks to this greedy disease, some of them just downright nasty, but that’s their testimony so I’ll leave it for them share one day.
Could I have done without all of this? In a politely restrained word - Yes! But what was done was done and I was nearing the end of chemo anyway so the only thing left to do was keep plodding along through that deathzone. This was the middle part of my journey up that mountain and boy was it agonisingly slow and unbearable at times. This was where the real rubber hit the road in terms of acclimatisation. Knowing you have to do it - and actually doing it, are two totally different things. You can’t turn back when times get hard, you have to push through and grind it out. You just have to.
I know I made that sound really (REALLY) depressing, not to mention pointless, but the truth was after the first hospital visit and all those days of sitting around staring at the white walls, I decided that I was still the master of my own attitude, and time could be used wisely even in that place. This is where relief can be found and the grind can be alleviated - purely through changing your perspective. Mind over matter, doused in a whole lot of truth only the spirit can provide. I determined within myself that I would try and be a blessing to whoever crossed my path regardless of how disgustingly sick I was with that disgusting chemo. At least I wasn’t beyond hope and struggling with undiagnosed illnesses like some of my room buddies. I had high hopes of living well even in that place, and maybe (God willing) I would be a light to other people who were suffering in my own small way. Well, maybe my hopes were a bit too lofty as I’m not entirely sure I succeeded given the state I was in. I probably resembled a grimacing dragon more than anything HA! Who knows, but the point is - at least I tried.
Here’s the truth; if we all just tried to turn our eyes from the inwards to the outwards, our issues and challenges may not feel so big and terrible. I think that’s called a reality check! This process isn’t entirely unselfish, and not as holy as it sounds, because the truth is something happens TO YOU and FOR YOU when you’re able to take the blinders off. You’re problems don’t always feel so insurmountable, especially in comparison to others who may be doing it tougher. Try it out next time, put it in your how to handle catastrophes in life toolbox, and make it your default mode of choice. It’s a skill worth having, and one I’m sure you’ll never regret!
There is a point where acclimatisation is no longer possible from a physical point of view (mid death zone) but although our bodies may be physically incapable; our spirits are not, especially when in partnership with the Holy Spirit who as we know is quite capable of producing that which defies our physical realities. Aka miracles. Your spirit, partnered with the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit can defy all physiological and even spiritual odds. This is where the God factor kicks in. This is where Christ IN you outshines even the deadliest death zones. I wouldn’t have been able to walk through my death zone without these essential factors making a way forward for me. We may have been created tough, but impossibility will eventually rear its ugly head and once again we are found in that corner curled up in a foetal position, with only snot and tears to keep us company. Is that the truth or what?
What I’ve discovered throughout this and every other journey I’ve been on, is that God is the God of the impossible. Not us, as wonderful as we are - but Him. But we have to learn how to let Him do it for us, and this is the essence of acclimatising spiritually. In all my research travels (ok ok, in all my google searches), when I have searched up acclimatisation, I have only come across references to climbing from a physiological perspective. But we do not just climb physically do we? Our minds are developed, our emotional intelligence is increased (hopefully), and our spirits are built and renewed with every step we take forward. In other words, this tough terrain we navigate is there to benefit our spiritual development also. The hard part is giving it over to God. Who would’ve ever thought the hard part of this terrible journey would be handing it over to someone who can help. It’s ridiculous in theory, but anyone who has their head down and locked on survival knows what I’m talking about. Let me make this explanation of acclimatisation simple:
YOU have to adjust, so that HE can maintain your performance!! Give it to Him now so you can walk right through that death zone and onto the summit!
Special Blog Post Discount
Rebecca Tereu, otherwise known as 'Bex', has been passionate about writing and reading for as long as she can remember. Married to husband NIkolai, and mother to sixteen year old Faith and six year old Kohen, Rebecca also runs a business consulting firm as well as writes every chance she can get.
Purpose Driven is a deeply personal account of my journey facing cancer and the multitude of challenges that accompanied it.
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