There are some obvious parallels between the journey involved in fighting and recovering from cancer and the journey involved in training for an ironman. Recently however I had an experience where those two parallel tracks merged.

One of the parallels is that the physical part, while enormously difficult in both cases, is nothing in compared to dealing with the mental aspects. I don’t want to underplay here how very difficult the physical aspect of cancer treatment and rehabilitation is. It is only in retrospect that I recognise just how awful those 7 months of cancer treatment were. In terms of physical rehabilitation, I have been very lucky in that having had a blood cancer, I have not had any parts of my body removed, and nor have I had any serious, lasting after effects from my treatment. I have a few small scars, my 5 blue tattoos and some numbness in my right hand as a reminder. And while it has taken me more than 2 years to get back to my previous level of fitness and that has required a huge amount of hard work and determination, today I am as fit as I have ever been. The mental recovery has however been more difficult and I believe that this is something that is common for many cancer survivors.

Previously I was the type of person who had endless amounts of energy, a tendency to restlessness and thrived the more balls I had in the air at one time. I am no longer that type of person. I get easily tired and stressed if there are too many things going on at one time or too many people around me. Luckily I have a lifestyle which for the most part allows me to plan to avoid situations which stress me, and when it is unavoidable I am very lucky that my nearest and dearest (in particular my husband) are happy to help me. But still, sometimes I get sad that I have lost something that I previously saw as a major part of my personality and a key strength.

The physical aspect of training for an ironman is obviously also pretty tough! But in my case it has been the mental aspect – my fear of water – that has been the biggest challenge. Yes, close to a show stopper. After pulling out of the half-ironman distance triathlon a few weeks ago because of a panic attack, I have been working really hard to try to deal with these issues so the same thing doesn’t happen for my Ironman on 18 August. The strategy has involved regular swims on the route where the Ironman will take place, regular open water training sessions with a fantastic swimming coach, Morten, plus a one-on-one coaching session with Torbjørn Sindballe, who has a special expertise in performance psychology. It was as a result of the latter that my two parallel journeys – the cancer journey and the ironman journey – unexpectedly merged.

I’m not going to give away all Torbjørn’s trade secrets, but as a part of my session with him we did a relaxation/visualisation exercise which included me imagining a yellow energy ball in my chest which is a part of me where my strength, energy and courage are located and that I can focus on when I am afraid or need energy, in particular when I am swimming, but also cycling or running. During the session I could not imagine the yellow ball, instead I could only see a lot of aliens running about in my chest. And now you think I am really nuts! Let me explain. When I had cancer the cancer cells were located around my chest area – my armpits, on my breastbone and my throat – and I had a very clear mental picture all during the 8 months from diagnosis until being told the cancer was gone – that there was a war going on in my body where the good cells were battling against the aliens. So, when Torbjørn asked me to visualise something in my chest, that was all I could think about. Still the rest of the session was really good and helpful so I wasn’t too worried about not being able to locate my yellow energy ball.

However that night something strange happened. I had a very clear experience where an energy ball grew in my chest. It was not yellow as Torbjørn said, it was golden and it rotated slowly shedding a very strong, warm and powerful glow. And inside this ball was all the energy and power that I used to have that had gone. I don’t know if I was awake or asleep when this happened but the next morning I had a strong recollection of it, and I have it still now.

I wish I could tell you that my golden energy ball has solved all my problems in terms of my post-cancer stress and my swimming stress. It has not. However it is actively helping with the swimming. However, perhaps more significantly, for the first time since the cancer I am starting to think that my more general stress may not be a permanent state of affairs and that something of that old energetic Kirsten my still return!