Re-Braving in 2023

Re-Braving in 2023

“I am re-braving after a difficult stage that un-braved me.” – Jeff Brown.

2022 was indeed The Tower’ for me.

January 2022, things were starting to open up, people had already started planning for a mask free future, but my hesitation had all but turned me into a paranoid skeptic who saw how ugly and selfish the world had become.  I had already distanced myself from certain social media platforms and as much as much as my reflection started to resemble Shrek in his swamp, I reveled in the luxury of just being able to put my phone down to alleviate any drama that was going on in the outside world.  It was generally nice not having to people.

School began, my eldest heading into year 12 and my youngest being able to attend his first year since commencing high school.  Just getting accustomed to having the house back to myself felt weirdly quiet.  I can’t say I missed the smell of the air fryer or the fridge door constantly opening and closing, but we had worked out daily routines so we were not constantly getting under each other’s feet.  Getting reacquainted with myself took some time but I missed the kids and the company.   I knew that life, as we all knew it, had changed and just as I had had an enormous amount to time to think and contemplate the last 2 years, I was not prepared for what was to come.

On January 18, 2022, I went in for my yearly colonoscopy. This is part of my cancer screening and is something that I have done since 2011.  My histopathology came back showing the removal of a tubulovillous adenoma with extensive high-grade dysplasia, and lots of other medical terminology that no one ever wants to see on a report.  I cannot tell you how much my heart sank. My specialist of 11 years was now all but retired to Queensland and his office admin were under strict instructions not to contact him under any circumstances (unless it was his week on in Melbourne) so getting hold of the right people to give this the urgency I felt it needed was nothing short of challenging.  Getting past the frustration of pouring out my history to medical receptionists and being able to speak to ‘someone’ that would call me back sent me into meltdown.

Living with a genetic predisposition to gastrointestinal cancers is not something you can fully appreciate unless you are living it.  Its not like a cough or cold that you ‘get through’ and then your life becomes healthy again.  Living with this constant threat of another ‘C’ is my life.  Fatigue and fall out from multiple surgeries is a daily grind.  I have to prioritize everything, and I mean everything.  From what I can do in a day, to who and what I give my energy and time to.  What I eat on a daily basis can affect my hydration levels, my bowels, my ability to complete tasks and how much I can do physically.   AND let me tell you, no matter how much spiritual work I do and how positive I am, shit things happen.  Shit does not discriminate. It doesn’t care how kind or generous you are. It doesn’t matter if you give your last $20 to the homeless guy outside Woollies or how many self-help books you have beside your bed.  Shit doesn’t care how much money you have in the bank or how many friends you have.  Shit just happens.

Two gastroenterologists, my oncologist and a colorectal specialist later I was given the option for a partial colectomy or close monitoring (quarterly colonoscopies).  It was explained to me that the partial colectomy involved the removal of ¾ of my bowel with a 12-18 month recovery and the possibility of a temporary or permanent colostomy bag.  The thought of having to endure the same recovery as my gastrectomy was more than I could cope with so against my oncologists wishes I went with the latter.

This experience cracked me open to my very core.   My mental health suffered on a scale I have never experienced.  For the first time ever, I knew I could no longer do this on my own. I sought medical intervention for my anxiety and depression and by May 2022 I was speaking with a psychologist and on medication. It almost seems insane that I waited until I was right on the edge of self-destruction before I took these steps.  My belief was always ‘I can do this on my own.’ Surely with all the self-help and spiritual guidance I had for support, seeking medical intervention seemed weak. How can I be a Reiki Master, a Lightworker Practioner, lead women in Circle, know all that I know and need help for my mental health? It felt like I had failed. That by doing this I was ‘a fake’ and clearly not spiritual enough to heal this myself.  Pushing past all these belief systems was challenging.  I accepted that being vulnerable was not a sign a weakness and even if we have all the answers we need inside, sometimes its a hell of alot easier if someone is holding your hand as you walk through it.

Not all that long ago I listened to a podcast from the Spiritual Tradie and he spoke to someone regarding our ‘Spiritual tool shed.’  That we have all been living in a state of overwhelm for such an extended period of time that even if we feel we had all the spiritual resources at our fingertips, some of us forgot where we put the key to the shed.  This was me in a nutshell.  I was thrown back 11 years when I was just a babe on my spiritual journey.  While everyone else went on re-planning events that were delayed through the pandemic, I was being thrown back into a space of the unknown, of poking and prodding, tests upon tests, hospital and specialists’ appointments.  So, not only was it was imperative I stay virus free but I had to navigate what this potentially meant for me and my family. And I cried and cried and cried.

2022 was also a huge year of acceptance.  Finally facing my health issues head on and really accepting my limitations, which grieved me more than I had imagined it would.  Letting my grey hair grow out (for a time) and seeing the 100% me.   It’s a weird feeling being a woman in her 50’s, it truly is a bit of a void.  It’s like a light switch turns on and you start the see the world differently. You certainly may not feel ‘old’, but your reflection lets you know otherwise. I remember my mum telling me that when women hit a certain age they suddenly become invisible. We sort of slink into the background. We let go of the last strands of youth but have to learn to reshape that into something new.  Something inside us stirs and if we give ourselves permission, we can make own rules. Simply nod your head and leave the youth to make their own mistakes as you start to weave a new life, your way.  No ‘bullshit.’ But this to is something we need time to adjust to, and for a while anyway we feel suspended in that space ‘in-between’.

Last year un-braved me so much that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to face what may lay ahead.  I am proud that I resourced myself, learned how to take better care of me and I am happy to report I am in a much better place now.  If you are having a tough time, know that there is help out there if you seek it, and if you don’t know where to start, go and speak to your GP or a qualified medical practitioner.  It is okay to be a complete mess and to have no idea where your life is going, no matter how old you are.   The Tower always brings extreme emotional turmoil, chaos and scary adjustments.  If The Tower has entered your life, then it’s time to rethink your foundations, open yourself up to a clearer spiritual path and a more truthful existence and remember you don’t have to do it alone.

Today is not forever. <3

Michelle

Image Credit https://unsplash.com/@sammiechaffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Hope You Never Understand

I Hope You Never Understand

Late last week I felt a thickening of my left breast tissue.   A small but noticeable lumpy bit that just managed to get more painful the more I poked and played with it.  I made an unscheduled visit to my doctor, followed by a lengthy mammogram, and ultrasound.  At least some relief was given to me at the appointment and although nothing was found in the left breast a fibroadenoma was found in the right. This will require some monitoring due to my history and genetics as Lynch Syndrome also carries a slighter higher risk of breast cancer.  Yet another reminder that no matter how positive I am, how healthy I live, how self aware and #ultraspiritual I feel there are just some things that I cannot control.   It doesn’t seem to matter if I’m a good person , a bad person or something in between. Sometimes shit just happens. 

 

Having gone through an enormous life changing experience in 2011 I  know I have grown and changed in so many ways.  My family is the most precious gift I have.  Watching my children grow up is such a blessing that many of my cancer friends will never get.  Every year that ticks past, and every photo that I can get with Santa fills my heart with so much gratitude.  I have focused and continue to develop in my craft and work at it every day.  My art has been at the forefront of my ability to heal, help and express myself.   I also devote my time to helping others to connect and give a platform to so many out there that also live life without a stomach.  I have used the last 4 ½ years positively, productively and creatively in the hope to better understand myself and what I have to offer the world.
My ability to discern which relationships I allow into my life is extremely important and anything I feel is toxic just has to go, no question. When you are sitting in a doctors office waiting for test results you are not thinking about what the mums at school are saying, or what sale you might be missing out on.  You are worried about your kids, your husband, yourself .  You worry about how you and your family are going to cope. How you are going to stay positive? How you are going to get through this?   You ponder on the what ifs, no matter how hard you try not to.  The anxiety and anticipation of an outcome you cannot control is the scariest thing you can possibly imagine.  It shakes you to your very core and nothing else matters to you accept those that are close to your heart.  
I feel like I am continuously being grounded and reminded of what matters most. As much as I can appreciate the experience from a spiritual awakening sense, from a human perspective it is absolutely exhausting. And this isn’t just a little bump in the road, I have to live like this for the rest of my life.  I have been reminded this week that no matter how much I put the cancer behind me there is always, always going to be a percentage of it on my mind.  Every lump, every blood test, every scan brings another wave of anxiety that unless you have experienced it, you can never possibly understand it.  
Why wear a dress if it doesn’t fit you anymore?  Of course you might put up with it for a while but you will eventually get to a point where you think “I need to let that go that, it doesn’t fit me anymore”. Nothing has changed with the dress, it’s exactly the same as when you first purchased it. Its you that’s changed. 
If you were once a part of my life and are no longer then it’s nothing personal.  Seriously, it’s got nothing to do with you, it just means that you are no longer a reflection of me. Why wear a dress if it doesn’t fit you anymore?  Of course you might put up with it for a while but you will eventually get to a point where you think “I need to let that go that, it doesn’t fit me anymore”. Nothing has changed with the dress, it’s exactly the same as when you first purchased it. It’s you that’s changed.  We all have our light bulb moments, the ones that put our lives into perspective.  Well, my life seems to be one massive light bulb!   Your perspective on life is based on your own personal experiences, your truth, your belief systems and I respect that, but it also means my experiences have evolved me to a point where I have outgrown you. It doesn’t mean I think I am better than you, it just means that I am very selective about who I allow into my life and the energy they bring. I truly hope you never understand, but if one day you do then you might appreciate just a taste of what its like walking in my shoes.    
Through My Fathers Eyes

Through My Fathers Eyes


I remember getting alot of adult attention after my father’s death.  A steady stream of people flowed through our family home bearing food and gifts to cheer us up. I guess it worked because I cannot remember being a grief stricken child. At school my art design was chosen for the Christmas card competition (and it wasn’t very good!). I was given leading roles at my ballet school and my teachers were nice, caring and generally overcompensating especially around the father’s day celebrations. I was never given a real opportunity to grieve the loss because everyone around me always wanted to make me happy.
The earliest recollection of my father being sick was visiting him in hospital.  I remember that visit because I buried my head in his overnight bag so I didn’t have to watch the nurse change his drip.  He thought it was extremely funny, although my fear of needles lasted for the next 27 years!   One day I sat on his knee and looked him right in the eyes.  ‘Dad’ I asked, “Are you going to die?’  My father had been diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.   How do you tell a 6 year old the truth without breaking her little heart, so of course my Dad lied ‘No Princess, I’m not going to die’.  When he passed in 1978 at the age of 36, I was 6 years old and my little baby brother was 4. 
The magic in life just seemed to slowly disappear.  Quite suddenly as everyone got back to their own lives things got hard.  I not only lost my Dad that day, I lost a part of my mum as well. As I grew older I became angry and resentful that my father had not only died but lied. I was never able to let go of the hurt although my adult logic knew why he done what he had done. I guess you can never really appreciate what someone is experiencing until you experience it yourself. 
When I was 39 years old with young children of my own  I was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer.  The frightened little girl, who stuck her head in the overnight bag resurfaced.  I was given an opportunity to see my father’s diagnosis through my own eyes and I was finally able to grieve the loss of my father.  I would look into my babies eyes at night and feel the overwhelming sadness and heartache my father must have felt knowing he was not going to see us grow up.  I cherished every moment with my family, not knowing if I was heading into the same terminal diagnosis.  The time I was able to sit on the floor and play with my boys became ever so precious.  My husband became my career, my strength and support. He took over the running of the house to the organizing of everyone’s life.  I only had one job, to get myself well so I could give my boys the opportunity to have what I never had growing up, two parents.  My surgery was successful and after months of chemo, radiation and healing I was given a second chance at life. 
Four years after my surgery and 37 years of my father resting up at the crematorium my mother decided it was time to scatter his ashes.   I think we all would love one more day with a loved one that has passed and I feel so blessed at having had the opportunity. Even though I always know he is with me in spirit, I had a physical connection and something to hold onto for one more day.  His urn lay next to me while I watched TV, I held him in my bed and cried.  I told him how much I love and missed him, and he spent his last physical night watching over me from my bedside table.  I got to hold him in my hands again as my mum and I scattered his ashes in the sea and I now keep his plaque in my garden.  I felt life come full circle and I was finally able to put some closure on the funeral I did not attend as a child. 
My experience with cancer allowed me to open up and release the part of me that needed to let go.  I still feel sadness even while I re-read this blog. I don’t think that will ever go away but the anger and the sense of being robbed of my childhood no longer has a place in my heart. 
 
Michelle Lykokapis
Stomach Cancer Survivor
“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.”

“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.”


“Some old wounds never truly heal, and bleed again at the slightest word.” 
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones 

We strive so hard as humans to be happy, spending so much time trying to fill the void.  We go to work, build our nests, take vacations.  It is almost impossible not to feel like a hamster going around a wheel sometimes. ‘Ground Hog Day’ for those that can remember that classic early 90’s film.  A year passes, two years pass then all of a sudden it’s ten. Time has a way of flying and before you know it you are standing there middle aged looking at your life. If you are lucky you may feel somewhat pleased at the job, house, car or family you have surrounded yourself with, but chances are you might be one of those people who are thinking “Well, this didn’t quite work out how I planned it”. 

Everyone has problems; I have never met a person without one.  The degree of those problems and how you handle them however is measured by the amount of personal shit you have had to endure. The type of person you become is molded by how you get through them.  I remember when my brother’s girlfriend was killed in a car accident. I was in my early 20’s and worked at a sports store at the time. I remember looking at customers who took hours pondering over a pair of shoes. I honestly couldn’t believe that someone could waste so much time and energy on something so trivial. It really shook me up and put my life into perspective.  

I have had people through my life that have made their problems their armour. Instead of walking through the fire and becoming an inspiration to others they have chosen to be victims and have spiralled downwards into alcoholic or drug induced depression. It really saddens me, when I see what has become of people I once called friends.  I feel like giving them a bloody good shake. For goodness sake they were the fastest sperm! Surely that has to mean something, but sadly not. And it’s not that I don’t feel for these people, they are simply no longer a reflection of me anymore.  To invite their drama and negativity into my life would tip the fine balance that I have to delicately tend and nurture so I stay a happy and healthy person. 

I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to keeping my life busy. I have lists, for lists. Life simply couldn’t go on without me and I have to fit as much into a day as humanly possible.  I will often forget that not so long ago I was a very sick person. After surgery I was barely able to walk to the car let alone race around a shopping center.  Slowly Ground Hog Day sucks you back into this illusionary world of material happiness and then you get news that slaps you right in the face.
A colleague and friend, someone I consider to be one of the support beams in my life has just been given a terminal cancer diagnosis. This has affected me on so many different levels that I could do nothing but cry for three days.  It is just awful to say that my genuinely upsetting photo on facebook reached a ridiculous 2,332 people. I was very touched by the people that left comments and contacted me personally to see if I was okay. The outpouring of support was comforting but I knew I didn’t need ‘to talk it out’. I needed a few days away and some journaling to help me work out my feelings in all of this. This hit to my heart feels like I have been thrown back into a place of fear and despair. 

 

 Sometimes the only thing that helps a hurting heart is a paint brush and some loud music. Hug your loved ones tonight peeps. Life can change in a heartbeat xox

 

My friend has looked after me like a sister and as the years have gone by, we have been able to share more personal experiences inviting each other into parts of our private lives that have forged an emotional sisterhood of sorts. She has seen the birth of my babies, the heartache of my cancer and my slow and steady recovery to wellness. I am so indebted to her and so grateful.  She has genuinely cared for me and my family, and now I feel so totally helpless. I am getting a sense of how people felt when they heard of my diagnosis. 
I have been of working through my cancer issues for four years now. Constantly and consciously looking inwards and working with the shadow side of myself. Committing to meditation and self awareness classes to release the cancer part of me and to help me become an enlightened version of myself. Dedicating my energy to my art and using that as a healing tool.  All the while staying as grounded as I can be with looming genetics and the constant vigil of medical appointments and intrusive procedures.  It is very hard for some people to comprehend the hard work and commitment it takes to stay true to your destiny path. 

 

A recent visit to the oncology gynaecologist , which at the moment is on my annual ‘to do’ list revealed that the ‘preventative surgery’ of a full hysterectomy should be done sooner rather than later.  My funky MLH1 gene makes way to an increased risk of cancer of the uterus by 60% and ovarian by %15.  Part of me wants to hang onto what I have left for as long as possible, if they take much more out I’ll be a walking tube. The other part never wants to put my family in a position of ‘helplessness’ ever again. Of course there is also the part of me that NEVER EVER wants to go through cancer ever again, and then there is the enlighten part that reassures me that my biography becomes by biology and I may never ever get a cancer again.  This bamboozle of thoughts and emotions is played out almost every day of my life. Hence the small circle of friendships I keep and the immediate rejection of anything toxic which might want to invade and play out in my life.
Emotional? Yes, I am after all a Cancerian.  Sense of humour? Most definitely. It is probably what has helped me get through as much as I have.  The security of the support team I had locked around me is starting to shift again and that is where the most fear has come from. It is embracing change and knowing that nothing in life is set in concrete. My heart however still needs to come to terms with what is to come, although my friend has been given the best of a worse case scenario. If I was to make an analogy of the situation it’s like this – most people think that I would be use to all the medical procedures by now, but infact it is quite the opposite. I know what is coming and that is what makes it even harder to deal with.

 

  

I Have Lynch Syndrome

I Have Lynch Syndrome

I was a normal six year old girl enjoying a carefree life, laughing with my friends, and starting my second year at primary school. I was Daddy’s little princess and my life literally changed overnight. My childhood was ripped away from me and the harsh reality of Dad’s death stole my innocence. It all seemed to happen so fast — my tiny little head did not have time to take in the reality of it all. Having been diagnosed in December of 1977 with a secondary bowel cancer, my Dad died four months later at the age of 36 in April 1978. After my Dad’s death, I was thrown into a world of grief; I no longer had my Dad to comfort and to hug me. I no longer had my Dad to read me bedtime stories, to tuck me into bed at night, to praise me after my ballet concerts, or to hold my little hand when we went for a walk. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my Dad had Lynch syndrome.

Experiencing the death of a parent at a young age is certainly a character building experience and can be the catalyst for a young girl to develop “daddy issues”. These daddy issues manifested themselves in the form of  manipulation and promiscuous behaviors during my teenage years. I sought father figures in all my male relationships throughout my twenties, which only led to broken partnerships and a failed marriage. Independence was my armor and I gave power to the masculine side of myself and not necessarily in a healthy or productive way. I consciously quelled the very essence of my feminine side down. I feared I was weak, could easily be hurt, and was vulnerable — I was a survivor who needed to be in control.

My second marriage came with its own set of challenges. Despite our backgrounds and former spouses, our union seemed strong but after ten years of financial pressure, challenging teenage stepchildren and two babies of our own I had started seeking a way out. I began with riding my bike taking every opportunity to escape. I had commenced self-development class once a week in the hope of rediscovering myself, picked up a part-time job, which got me out of the house mainly at nights and on weekends because blended family time was finally taking its toll. I just couldn’t do it anymore. It broke my heart to be despised in my own home every fortnight; I was at a complete loss. The environment around me was becoming so toxic and I didn’t know how to fix it. If I really wanted to self sabotage my life the Universe was about to give me a permanent way out if I chose to accept it.

You know when you just know certain things? Well, my intuition knew that I had cancer even before the doctor’s appointment. My husband and I went up to the mountains and sat quietly in a little tea house. We held hands, cried and made a promise to each other that no matter what the diagnosis we would get through it together. We walked to a small gift shop and I was drawn to purchase a beautiful aquamarine pendant. I didn’t know at the time but the benefit of using this crystal is that it aids you to let go of emotional issues from your past that you have been holding on to. When I paid for the pendant we started talking to the owner of the shop, she just happened to ask what my star sign was. When the word “Cancer” fell out of my mouth I just knew the heaviness in my heart was a fear I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to face. It wasn’t just my star sign, that same afternoon my doctor confirmed I had stomach cancer.

 During treatment and surgery something beautiful happened. That little girl that lost her Father resurfaced. She finally had an opportunity to grieve the loss of her Dad. She looked into her own children’s eyes at night and felt the heartache her Dad must have felt, knowing he was not going to see her grow up. She had time to sit on the floor and play with her boys. She had to hand all the masculine stuff over to her husband from the running of the house to the organising of everyone’s life. She only had one job – to get her adult self well so she could love and guide her little boys into men. The cancer diagnosis exposed the my feminine side that had been so carefully hidden high in my subconscious for so long, had finally re-emerged, and spilled back over into my life.

I took my power back, faced my own mortality, beat the statistics, and chose to live a life of self awareness. My feminine side was not to be feared. She is kind, nurturing, creative, healing, and most of all incredibly powerful. Allowing the creative side of myself to explore my emotions through art was my modality for healing during my illness. Painting was my passion prior to my illness but the work I was starting to produce began surprising me.

Yes, I have Lynch syndrome, but it does not take over every thought of every minute of my life. I am not my genes and I am most certainly not the cancer. I have used the experience to empower my life and to make a difference. I count, I am a survivor but I am also a creator, a healer, a mother and a wife. I am grateful for the knowledge of my genetics because I can now be a proactive, a happier person who doesn’t sit in drama or sweat the small stuff. My perspective and ability to bring hope and healing to others through my experience and my artwork has changed my life. The cancer and the Lynch syndrome diagnosis have opened my eyes, saved my marriage and awakened me to possibilities far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

Michelle Lykokapis
Melbourne, Australia
http://michellepotter.com.au