Last Monday I went to see my GP about a pain in my back and shoulder that had recently spread to my ribs.
I’d had the pain on and off for nearly a month and while my weekly massage helped, the pain relief was only temporary and I was waking up with chest pain and more recently, referral pain down my right arm.
After she asked me a few questions about the pain and listened to my chest, she suggested I go for a CT scan. My wave of mild concern rose exponentially when her voice lowered to a serious tone as she said ‘it’s really important you have the scan today.’
90 minutes later I was lying on a cold bed in a hospital in a disposable gown having dye injected into my veins through a cannula in my right arm. The radiographer then left the room as the bed was slowly moved feet-first into the circular scanner. The room was cold but I felt a warm rush through my core as the dye flooded my organs and the whirring of the scanner broke the eerie silence in the room.
It’s funny what goes through your head when you’re in a situation like this, with little time to think about it or prepare. I found myself considering the irony of delivering the keynote presentation at the Anytime Fitness conference just 48 hours earlier, jumping around on stage in front of 750 of the fittest, healthiest people on the planet, feeding off their energy and delivering one of the best presentations of my career. Now, I was being instructed to lie completely still and hold my breath while the scanner whizzed around my lungs, searching for something that shouldn’t be there.
I then thought about my baby boy Oliver and I suddenly started to panic and cry. What would happen to him if something happened to me?! Would I miss his first full sentence? Would I miss his first day at school? His entire childhood and a hundred mini milestones flashed before me. Would he remember me? I should start making some videos. I will write him a birthday card for every year I’m not there. Jesus, am I going to die? Should I cancel our trip to Hawaii? Will I get a refund on the AirBnB? How will I find the client a replacement speaker in time? Will anyone come to my funeral? Should I plan my funeral? What songs should be played? Where should my ashes go? Somewhere where Ollie can visit them. Ollie. Poor Ollie. Is he old enough to even understand? Maybe that’s a good thing. He can’t be sad if he doesn’t really understand. What about Christmas? Will I be here for Christmas?!?
Take a deep breath in and hold still for five seconds. More scanner whirring.
I suddenly felt calm. It was like the white light from the machine was circling me like a halo and I don’t know why, but I felt quite peaceful. I relaxed into the thought that if something was really wrong, I would just need to face it and deal with the consequences. I also made a deal with the universe that if everything was OK, I would make better decisions around my health and wellbeing and make it my number one priority.
The sonographer came back into the room. ‘There’s something on the scan but I’m just waiting on the full report which will be with your doctor within an hour and then she can discuss next steps.’
Rise of panic again, followed by an agonizing hour and a half before I can speak to my doctor. She explains that the scan detected some sort of chest infection, coupled with what looks like some pulmonary cysts that need monitoring but no immediate treatment. I then had full bloods done to clear the last remaining sinister possibility, pulmonary lymphoma.
I wept with relief and hugged Ollie so hard he squeaked. I barely left the house for the next few days, processing the whole experience and letting it all sink in. I decided that I wouldn’t let all the panic and worry be for nothing and while I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I chose to see it as a gift.
Reflecting on the whole experience nearly a fortnight later, I wanted to share my five key epiphanies. I realise these may sound a little cliché but here goes …
None of us are getting out of here alive, so do what makes you happy
Looking death in the face gives you important perspective around just how short life really is. Without wanting to sound morbid, you’ve only got a certain number of summers left so take the trip, eat the ice cream and do the cartwheel. I don’t mid admitting that in the last fortnight, I’ve booked a bucket list holiday for Ollie and I for next year, bought a bikini I thought I was on the wrong side of forty to wear and seen more sunrises and sunsets than I have all year.
Do work you love
I feel immense gratitude for the fact that I earn a solid living from doing something I truly love. I have a new-found appreciation for it and have gained much greater clarity around what aspects of my business I don’t get joy from and I’ve outsourced every single one of them. As Gary Vaynerchuk says ‘stop doing shit you hate.’ If you’re spending a third or more of your life in a job that makes you miserable, change it. Pronto.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
The day before my visit to the doctor and scan I had my nails done and I’m ashamed and embarrassed about how annoyed I was that it was the wrong shade of pink (insert palm to forehead emoji).
Life gets busy and has a way of turning us into self-absorbed assholes. We get caught up in the day-to-day and there aren’t many of us that don’t have minor shades of narcissism on display at various times. Someone cut us off in the traffic, our online shopping delivery didn’t arrive in time, it rains on our day off. We lose perspective, rush to catastrophise and react incongruently to the relative size of the problems. I pledge to get better at getting all Taylor Swift on the insignificancies of life and shaking that shit off. And it already feels liberating.
Get better at saying YES and much better at saying NO
Speaking of liberating, the day after my scan a meme popped up on my instagram feed: Life’s short. Don’t wait until you’re on your deathbed before you let people know how you really feel. Tell them to fuck off now.
As well as pledging to say ‘yes’ more — to opportunities, to travel, to adventures and to things I feel are outside my comfort zone or ability level — I’ve also gotten much better at saying no, in just two weeks. No to what doesn’t bring me joy, no to behaviour that I don’t need to tolerate and no to people who suck my precious energy, time and right to live a peaceful, prosperous, positive life.
Life is already better and more exciting as a result of a few more yes’s and a few more no’s (and one long overdue ‘fuck off’). Sometimes we need to communicate with greater clarity and set much stronger boundaries in order to live life at a higher standard.
Your health really is everything
This last one hails from the land of the obvious and we’ve all heard it hundreds of times. But when you’re forced to think seriously about your own mortality, it takes on a whole new meaning. In two weeks I have a new-found respect for my body and while I’m not planning to go all ‘paleo gluten free one hundred percent organic raw vegan’, I’m eating, moving and self-caring differently and more consciously and making daily meditation a not-negotiable. And it feels good.
The big out-take from all of this has been that being more conscious of death encourages us to live more consciously, something I’m grateful for.
Don’t wait for a health scare — or worse — to start living a life you truly love.