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This article is brought to you by Five Roses in the interest of education, awareness and support. The content and opinions expressed are entirely the patient’s own work and not influenced by Five Roses in any way.
Nadia Booysen speaks candidly about the unbearable weight of comparing cancer journeys and how she came to walk her own.
Nadia Booysen (37) lives in Morningside, Gauteng.
They called her Nightbirde (Jane Marczewski). Her golden buzzer rang as loudly in my ears as the doctor’s voice did when he said, “It’s not good; triple-negative breast cancer.”
Being an oncology counsellor for 10 years, I’ve stood next to countless death beds, spent hours listening to stories of hope, fear and regret. Suddenly I was faced with my own fears, uncertainties and endless expectations.
Nightbirde was on everyone’s lips, every Facebook page, every shared message; I felt a pressure to compete, compare and definitely do better – whatever that meant. There was an expectation of doing this right, doing it well and, most importantly, the expectation of surviving.
It felt so overwhelming, I couldn’t fail. Death wasn’t the issue. Losing my privacy and the fears I had was. Being exposed, vulnerable and most of all having to be dependent was. Unfortunately, so was Nightbirde, and trying to be as positive as she was. It was a heavy burden to walk with, a burden primarily created by my own expectations and fears. I tried to follow the advice I handed out so freely over the past years; it was the best way I knew how to separate myself from what was happening to me and treating myself (in essence) as an outsider, and at a distance.
I’m only diagnosed
From the onset of my diagnosis, I told myself (and everyone around me), I’m not sick; I’m only diagnosed. It felt like it would mean that I was coping, it meant that I wasn’t sick and that I would live irrespective of what I feared so much. Verbalising those words, I’m only diagnosed was a label that somehow kept everything I felt (physically and emotionally) at a distance, as if it would prevent me from becoming ill. I quickly realised how difficult it is to cope daily, if you don’t know what you need to cope with, with death always leering its head in my mind. Something I could only truly fathom after the doctor uttered those words.
This battle is never lost
This was the start to my journey. I haven’t survived cancer, surviving cancer is a concept I have always struggled with (and forever will), I never felt like people with cancer had to survive cancer, I never saw anyone as a victim to start with, and I personally never felt like one.
If I were to lose my life to cancer one day, I would hate to think that people thought or had the perception that I lost the battle when in fact I fought every day that I breathed; and the reality of life is that no one can outlive life; we will all die, someday, due to something. Sometimes too soon, due to illness unfortunately.
However, it doesn’t mean that a battle has been lost, every day lived is an enormous victory which needs to be celebrated, even after death.
May every person on this journey be freed from the burden of feeling like you always have to be strong, that you can’t show emotions, and that being emotional equates to giving up hope, being negative, or losing faith.
Be your authenic self
Please take time to make meaning of your journey, worry less about how you measure up to everyone else you see in treatment areas, waiting rooms and online groups. Everyone isn’t doing as well as what they appear to be doing, and it’s okay if you aren’t either.
Life is to be lived; sometimes some days and moments in fear, other times fearlessly, but do it on your terms, when you are ready.
We all need a Nightbirde in our lives but mostly we just need our authentic selves, confounded by emotions, fears and hope.
Day by day, moment by moment, the battle is yours to fight, primarily in your own mind, and no one can translate exactly what that means to you or what that looks like nor how it makes you feel. The only universal thing is that the battles are very similar; often more in our minds than our bodies, often more in our relationship with ourselves than with others. Never again will the face staring back at you in the mirror be the same face, that is okay too.
So, in memory of Nightbirde, Please always remember that “We truly are so much more than the bad things that happen to us…It’s okay. It’s okay if you’re lost, we’re all a little lost sometimes and it’s alright.”