I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately. It keeps turning up in conversations. Just a few days ago a friend and I sat on the front verandah and talked about infidelity, and how the real issue is the betrayal of trust.
At the time of my retirement I was the Commander of the NSW Police Fraud Squad. When I took the job on, fraud wasn’t considered a particularly serious crime because the impact on victims compared to crimes of violence was considered negligible. Over time I observed that, in fact, the impact was more severe than many people realised.
When you’re a victim of fraud you’ve been tricked into parting with your money. Really effective fraud offenders will build a relationship with you in order to get access to your money. What I found interesting talking to victims was that the monetary loss was not the worst part of this crime. It was the loss of trust.
When you’ve been betrayed you question your own judgement. You beat yourself up for trusting someone. You retrospectively see all of the signs that something was wrong or you observe that there were no warning signs at all and this makes your mistrust a slow moving cancer that infects all of your relationships.
A friend asked me a couple of months ago for my opinion on her husband. Did I think he was having an affair. How can you ever answer this question? Apart from saying ‘Not with me!’ I had no immediate answer for her. What if I defended him and she later discovered he was having an affair? What if I shared her concerns and unfairly condemned him? I’d been in a similar position myself, a long time ago, when I suspected that a person I was in a relationship with was secretly drinking, even though he’d promised not to. Ultimately I discovered that the depth of his deception went way beyond just breaking that promise. I ended the relationship because I came to understand that if I didn’t trust him I couldn’t possibly say that I loved him. I believe that trust is an essential part of love. I also recognised that real love is unconditional. If you don’t love someone exactly the way they are, if you have a list of changes you want them to make, and if your love is conditional upon those changes then you do not really love that person. You love some mythical version of them that you’ve created in your head.
Lately it’s occurred to me that one of the biggest hurdles for me right now is trust. I’m not worried about my husband. He’s the man that managed to win my trust in spite of the disastrous betrayal of that past relationship. He’s one of the most honest people I know. My trust issues are with my own body.
At the time of my initial diagnosis I would have told you that I was healthier than I’d ever been. I was completely convinced of the physical and emotional benefits of yoga and had started practicing at home every morning. I was eating a largely organic, whole food diet. I was, for the most part, a moderate drinker with occasional over-indulgence at social events, but I hadn’t had a hang over in more than a decade. (This was before I knew that alcohol was a group one carcinogen and as bad for me as cigarettes!) I didn’t take any illegal drugs and was conscious of the need to lose about ten kilos while being frustrated that anything I’d tried so far to actually lose that weight didn’t seem to work. Compared to my friends, I was at least as healthy as most of them and healthier than some of them.
Mentally and emotionally I was in the best place I had ever been. My relationship with my husband was strong and supportive. Like all couples we were not without room for improvement but it was more of a slow refining over time. My daughter had made it through her teenage years with a surprising absence of drama, drugs, alcohol or racing around in cars. We had started to work on our relationship as mutually respectful adults. I loved my home and my life. Things were good.
I got cancer anyway.
It’s part of the reason I get so annoyed at alternative treatment posts that want me to search inside myself for the emotional causes of my cancer. Try as I might I’m unable to locate any ‘repressed anger’ or ’emotional retardation’. I was practicing mindfulness and meditation. I was at peace with my self and in love with my life. I was doing all of the things you would normally recommend to someone seeking to improve their physical, emotional or mental health.
I got cancer anyway.
If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you’ll know that I met my diagnosis head on. I embraced the power of positive thinking and creative visualisation. I fine tuned my diet and increased my meditation. My daily yoga became as important to me as my daily shower. The days I least felt like yoga were the days I most needed yoga. I cut my drinking right back to the very occasional glass of wine in a restaurant. I probably drank a total of three bottles of wine in twelve months. I added turmeric and lots more leafy greens and cannabis oil and garlic and turkey tail mushrooms and flax seed to my diet. I made sure that all of the meat I consumed was organic and grass fed.
The cancer came back anyway.
I don’t regret my commitment to positive thinking. It’s made treatment more bearable and it’s made me more pleasant to be around. It’s ensured that through all of the treatment there has still been joy and humour and affection and love. My life has not been ‘on hold’ while I fight cancer. Life is far too precious to put on hold. My life has had to incorporate chemotherapy and radiation and surgery and surgery and surgery. I’ve lived through the fatigue and the hair loss and the bloating and the sometimes overwhelming fear of my early death. I have stayed positive.
The cancer came back anyway.
I’ve tried to emphasise along the way that I don’t think staying positive means excluding all of my other very human emotions. It’s about finding joy where there is legitimate joy and being grateful for what is really there. It’s the sweetness of small moments. My husband’s hand on my bald head, my daughter’s sobbing embrace, my friend’s thoughtful words, the kindness of strangers, all of it wonderful.
I realise that my body and I now have serious trust issues. How could I have been so sick when I seemed so well? When I was initially diagnosed I was pretty healthy. When my recurrence was diagnosed there was general consensus that I’d never looked better. Even then I had lingering doubts about being in the eye of a storm.
Now that I’m out the other side of treatment I need to learn to trust again. My body is slowly recovering. In just the last few days I’ve felt my energy starting to return. I’ve cut right back on any medication. The side effects of the prescribed drugs for nerve pain were worse than the nerve pain. The other pain relievers only have limited impact on my other pain, which could be arthritis or fibromyalgia or bone pain from chemotherapy. I’ve started magnesium supplements and that seems to have helped. Mostly I’m relying upon massage, hot showers and yoga to stay mobile and flexible. Some times I take a couple of panadol but it really only takes the edge off the pain.
My husband jokes that cancer has finally taught me that I am not indestructible. This is true. It’s a good thing to come to terms with. I am kinder to my body and much better at resting when I need to. As a naturally busy person this has taken time.
I suspect that we all float through life with a sense of indestructibility until life serves up something life-threatening. Suddenly we come face to face with our own mortality. Life is finite. We will all die.
This realisation is both terrifying and wonderful. The unimportant slips away. Decisions about what is really important become simple. I know that for some people a cancer diagnosis triggers major life changes as they realise there are aspects of their current situation that don’t fit with who they want to be and what they want to achieve. If you’re lucky, a cancer diagnosis makes you take a long, slow look at your life and allows you to come away with a sense of satisfaction. I am lucky. I have spent large chunks of my life mindfully creating something that brings me joy, pride and deep satisfaction. I appreciate it more because of my new understanding of its fragility.
I miss feeling indestructible. I miss that unshakable trust I had in my own body. I felt as if I was going to live forever.
I wonder if it’s possible to rebuild that trust now that I know the truth.
It’s a bit like people that have been victims of fraud. For a while, they find it difficult to trust anyone. Ultimately, those that recover make a decision to trust in spite of the betrayal.
I think that’s what I need to do. I have to trust my body to do everything it can to prevent the cancer coming back. I have to recognise that my reluctance is normal, human and expected but that the only way back to having a rich and full and meaningful life is just decide to trust. I am eating and sleeping well. I am slowly regaining my strength and my wounds are healing. As my physical range of movement returns I need to recognise that my emotional range also needs to be stretched and expanded. Slowly, slowly.
Trust is always a leap of faith. You can’t monitor another person’s behaviour twenty-four hours a day. You just have to make the decision that they are trustworthy and risk being betrayed. I think that’s where I am now with my body. I need to recover from what feels like a betrayal and learn to trust my own health. Will this prevent the cancer from coming back? I honestly don’t think it will make any difference either way.
In the same way that a lack of trust will doom a relationship with another person, I think a lack of trust in my own body will undermine my recovery. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting for cancer. I don’t want to be thinking that every headache or bone ache or stomach ache is evidence of metastatic disease. I know that fear of recurrence is now going to be a regular visitor but I don’t intend to let it take up residence.
I will trust my body for the same reason that I trust my husband. Because without trust there can be no love, and without love, life is not worth living. I will trust my body in spite of what has happened because even though I’ve had cancer, my body has fought back. I will trust my body again because the alternative is unacceptable. If this was a relationship, I could make a decision to leave it but this is the only body I have.
So I will learn to trust it.