Last summer, I undertook the most difficult challenge I'd ever attempted: A 200-km bike ride over the course of two days to help conquer cancer.
I was scared, and as the day approached, I found myself fighting a familiar battle with myself. October 10, 2016, is World Mental Health Day, and I am proud that I have used social media over the years to help do my part to break down barriers around mental illness via Twitter and my blog. While the event is all about raising funds to eradicate cancer, to me it is so much more. It was a way for me to tackle my health anxiety which has often left me frozen with fear.
With health anxiety, people just assume you're lying, or after attention. But it's not about that for me. It's about being scared of dying. If I hear about a new disease on the news, I immediately think I have it. I feel every single ache and pain in my body, whereas most people go through their day without even realizing those aches exist. Cancer terrifies me more than any other illness I could face.
You name the type, and I've self-diagnosed myself with it. A pain in my side -- liver cancer. A headache -- brain tumour. My knee hurts -- bone cancer. There could be any number of rational explanations for my symptoms but my thoughts always go to death first. Sometimes, as I get ready for bed, I think, "what if I don't wake up?" I'm not at an age where I should be thinking about death -- I am only 31. But the sad thing is, I know people my age who have died.
I don't want to miss out on life. But sadly, anxiety has done just that sometimes.
A couple of years ago, a young woman named Laura Anderson, who I knew briefly, passed away of liver cancer. She died within a year of getting married to the love of her life, and was diagnosed upon returning from her honeymoon. It rattled me. I had panic attacks several times a week. I was convinced that like Laura, I too was dying of liver cancer. It was during this time that I sought professional treatment for the first time in my life.
Then I met Alison Salinas in 2013. She passed away at 34 in November 2015 after a two year battle with cervical cancer. I am proud to say that I ride on Team #TEALPOWER, a group that now rides in her honour. Alison started #TEALPOWER as a way to spread awareness about cervical cancer, to empower yourself and listen to your body. A lesson that I often take to the extreme but am learning to manage.
Alison was also more than a cancer patient. She was a radiant woman who so many loved to be around because she exuded an amazing energy. I wanted to have her outlook on life. I wanted to tackle my fears with the same perseverance and strength that she used to battle cancer.
Seeing two beautiful women have their lives cut short by cancer is exactly what terrifies me. I am scared of leaving behind my family. I don't want to miss out on life. But sadly, anxiety has done just that sometimes. I have spent years being scared, and have wasted hours worrying about things that don't exist.
Getting on my bike and gearing up for next year's event allows me to focus on a few amazing goals: Beating cancer in my lifetime through the funds I raise; honouring incredible people; and silencing my thoughts by enjoying the moments I spend outdoors on my bike and living in the moment.
It's also about proving to myself that I am capable of great things. I've participated in different running events, but the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is a different endeavour. It can push you to your limits. However, I walked away from those two days with so much appreciation for my health, my body, and being alive. It helped reaffirm within myself that I have to stop fearing the future, and enjoy the moment. I soaked in every second of the Ride, and it reminded me that I can't spend so much time wrapped up in my own fears. I don't know what's around the corner, but it doesn't have to be scary. I will get through it.
I can't wait to see what new life lessons I learn along the way to the 10 year anniversary of the Ride to Conquer Cancer in June 2017. 2016 gave me so much - now when I start to think that my heart is going to give out at any second, I just remind myself that I crushed over 200 km on a bicycle. When I feel down, I remind myself of all the love and support I felt in the lead up to the Ride. When I feel alone and scared, I think of the wonderful team I ride alongside, and all the love they showed to Alison. 2017 will be my year to Ride without fear, without worry, and with just pure joy in my heart.
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