I'd never really thought about community or its importance in my life until I got sick. I moved through life unconscious of the environments I was in, the company I kept and the impact it had on me. Now more than ever I value being around like-minded people who lift me up.
It was only when I was plunged into the world of cancer treatment that my perspective changed. I was suddenly in environments that I'd never been exposed to and around people I might never have met. Over the course of eight months, my routine mainly consisted of visits to the chemotherapy ward at fortnightly intervals, then surgery, followed by 25 daily sessions of radiotherapy. The rest of the time I spent recovering or having the odd visitor at home. It was a dramatic change from the busy life I had lived, on the road giving presentations in schools or in meetings - generally surrounded by a lot of people, a lot of the time.
As I waited at home before my first chemotherapy appointment in March of 2016, I had an awful feeling of dread. I had no idea what lay ahead but I imagined it would be a very harrowing experience. I just couldn’t believe that this was where I had ended up in life as I’d had my fair share of struggles before cancer. At the same time, I knew that life as I had been living it couldn’t continue. That was my saving grace. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was ready to do whatever it took to change my life.
Chemotherapy was very challenging physically, but ironically, it ended up bring much easier overall than I had anticipated. That blew my mind. Every time I arrived for treatment, there was lots of laughter and uplifting conversation all day long. I was surrounded by people who had every right to moan and complain about their circumstances but they didn't. This was a far cry from the world that I had inhabited, a world where I had often complained about my lot and witnessed others do the same. Despite the outer trappings of good fortune many seemed quite discontent. It was hard to fathom.
I was happy to meet new people, with different attitudes and perspectives on life. I usually left the hospital feeling buoyed up and alive. It was a time of great revelation for me in so many ways. I could very easily have felt depressed and out of sorts as I went through the gruelling rounds of chemotherapy but I didn't. And the main reason for that was the wonderful community of patients, visitors and caregivers who lifted me up. Granted my prognosis was good but I genuinely did feel very grateful, optimistic and like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. So even though I was delighted to eventually finish treatment, I did miss the sense of camaraderie from being around like-minded people for quite a while after.
I decided that whatever lay ahead, I was going to seek out people and communities that reflected who I was becoming and what I wanted for my life. I felt a great desire to be around people who had a positive influence on me, who filled me up, who were interested in self-discovery, who were courageous in their lives and who I could learn from. And the funny thing is that once I set that intention, they started turning up with very little effort on my part.
I became a member of a local leisure centre, attending aquafit classes and swimming regularly to support my recovery. As I got stronger I moved to the gym and I tried out lots of different classes. I became a regular visitor there and met some wonderful people who are still in my life. It has not just been about exercise for me. It has been about connecting with like-minded people who are on a similar path.
I also joined an Artists Ways group, which is based on the book of the same name by Julia Cameron. That really was life-changing. I was surrounded by women who supported and encouraged each other, who got me and believed in me, even when I didn't believe in myself. I have said it often, but I would not be where I am today, doing what I am doing without them. Old friends and new appeared. I was finding my tribe and life was becoming a lot easier. They have taught me so much and continue to do so every day.
I learnt that the only place I have the power to change is inside, so I need to focus my attention and energy there. I also learnt that it is possible to be happy despite, and even because of, the difficult circumstances of my life. I am genuinely the most content I have ever been and it is because of everything I have been through.
We all need the support of like-minded people who get us. In the same way, we are then in a position to support others who may benefit from what we have learnt from our life experiences. When we live authentic lives, honouring who we are we change the lives of those around us. That is the true power of community.
We do nothing on our own, so make sure you plug into the power of community that is all around you.
"Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames." Rumi