Donegal Town → Lettermacaward (Straight shot away from the coast)
Mileage: 37.4 miles Elevation gain: 1,499’
Total mileage so far: 876.1 miles Total elevation gain so far: 42,081’
When my best friend Ericka was fighting for her life through the pure evil that is breast cancer people would always say to me, “Oh she’s lucky. It could be so much worse.”
Eight rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy at 38 years old, breast augmentation surgery, more medications and side effects than we could list, early onset menopause, five years of hormone therapy and, most recently, complete ovary removal—you know, so she could stop the monthly Lupron shots in her ass.
I hated the sentiment so much I wrote an entire book about it. (Coming soon! Click here for more details 🙂)
Now she’s on the flip side with a new perspective on life. Now she is a survivor. Now she is stronger, happier, more vibrant with a glint in her eye and an energy in her heart that was missing B.B.C. (Before Breast Cancer).
I do not for one second mean to compare my minor accident with her experience, but I learned a lot from being close to her throughout that time. The lessons are helping me with all the people who are again saying, “Wow you’re so lucky! The accident could have been so much worse!”
Because they’re right to say that. It really could have been so much worse. I could be paralyzed. I could be brain dead. I could be all sorts of horrible things, but I’m not. My helmet did its job (Thank you Specialized!) and my back took a beating. I’m in pain, sure, but I’m also perfectly fine.
Recovery Day felt worse than Accident Day. Whiplash set in. My throat swelled as if I was coming down with the flu. I had random organ pain radiating from my kidneys and my liver. My right eye started turning yellow from jaundice and my tailbone screamed at me every time I took a step. But today is not Recovery Day. Today is the day after Recovery Day.
My other best friend Joanna’s brother is a professional skydiver. Many years ago she told me that when he first started training one of his friends died in a skydiving accident. All of his trainers told him he had to go back up and jump immediately. They gave him no time to stew about it. The very next day he was on a plane and then he was out of it, falling to the ground with nothing but a parachute on his back.
These days we would call that Exposure Therapy. The basic premise is if something you know you want to do causes you any kind of fear for any reason, then you have to immediately go do it. You can’t put it off. You can’t think about it. You just do it.
I ache today. I feel twenty years older than I am. But worse than that, I’m afraid to get back on my bike in the rain and I’m afraid to ride on a busy road. Two days ago I learned that it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing—fluorescent yellow, fluorescent green and fluorescent pink w/ flashing white and red lights, for the record—or if I’m riding on a bike path with the right of way—I was—I can still get mowed down by a car and sent to the hospital.
Quite honestly the experience was a bit traumatizing. On a stretcher in the emergency room, soaking wet with my teeth chattering, it became abundantly clear how wrong I was when I said that sitting on a cement wall eating yogurt in the middle of nowhere between Belmullet and Ballina was the loneliness place in the world. Being there by myself was a choice I made. But the hospital? Nobody goes to the hospital alone.
I’ve been having trouble dealing with this fear. I’ve been short-tempered, nervous. I’ve seriously wanted to just quit and freakin’ go home already. Last night the rain actually made me cry. Even so, deep down I know I need to rally because here’s the thing: Fear is a liar. And anything in life worth doing is gonna be at least a little bit scary.
This morning I’m well rested. My eye has turned back to white and my throat feels normal again. My mild concussion seems milder. Shooting pains have downgraded to strong dull aches. I’ve plied myself with ibuprofen and anti-inflammatories, and I am getting on my bike.
I’m not being stupid about it though. I have a secret weapon to help me do the crazy scary thing I need to do. Someone who has been in this position and understands first hand exactly what I’m facing. That’s right, Noel’s back.
He came to the hospital in Sligo to help me, got me fifty miles to Donegal to rest and recover, and is riding my last three routes with me. Let’s all take a minute to give a hand and a shout out to Noel Boyce, shall we? I couldn’t even try this without him.
We’ve decided to take it easy with a short direct route away from the coast. For the first two hours I flinch every time a car passes. As we pedal through beautiful countryside in a driving rain, Noel says hi to the sheep for me because I’m wincing too much to do it myself. “Be easy on her,” he says to them. “She’s had a rough couple days.”
It’s a slow wet grind. Difficult but necessary and he’s right there next to me the whole time.
Once we get to our B&B I feel a lot better. The physical pain remains but the fear is shrinking back into the darkness where it belongs.
The sun peaks through the clouds.
I stop to talk to a goat.
And when I look up I see the beauty all around us.
Bruised but not broken, sending love and light from Lettermacaward ❤