The wrong definition of strong

By on Aug 31, 2017 in Blog Posts, Cancer | 5 comments

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I’ve been told I am strong more times than I can count this year. Thank you.

The thing is, though, that I don’t feel strong at all. On the best days I feel like I’m doing what any other parent would do. On the worst days…well on the worst days, I long for the oblivion of sleep only to find myself staving off midnight’s monsters whilst thirsting for first-light.

Perhaps it’s a matter of the wrong definition? When I imagine “strong” it’s along the lines of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. I didn’t much care for the movie. I admire, but never much wanted to be, that kind of strong. Strong people, in my definition, are stoic. They carry on without comment and “get on with things.” They don’t yield to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. They take up arms, against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them. (Sorry Shakespeare). They often come from Yorkshire (and say “nowt”).

Softer around the middle than I expected strong to be...

I, on the other hand, write sad blog posts when what I want is to be funny. I grow and cook food that I (and the rest of the family) reject in favour of fast food whilst simultaneously continuing my one-sided war against the faceless, nameless food-tyrants. I write endless lists of things to ask the oncologist and then worry that I’ll offend her by asking. I have turned mashing sodden, snotty clumps of tissue into an art form. And, frankly, I’m rather softer around the middle than Mr Crowe.

Mostly though, I look for trends. I spend my hours weighing up today’s lack of energy against last week’s lack of energy. Is it better? Is it worse? Is the trend, upwards or downwards? It’s a pointless exercise but one that started way before cancer. When I returned to work after maternity leave I presented Joshua’s nanny with a book to record everything from bowel movements to eating patterns to first words. The book is long gone but the need to record and analyse sticks.

Several times a day I make Josh rate his nausea, his pain, his energy and his happiness. He, bored with my pestering project, gives me the same scores. Always the same. His nausea is zero. His pain is zero. His energy is an eight and his happiness is a ten. It doesn’t matter if his head is down the loo, or he can’t summon the energy to get out of bed or if he’s scoffing handfuls of Panado. He always gives the same answer. My need to track it is futile, annoying, slightly obsessive and I can’t stop.

I am immensely pleased to be called strong, it's just that I thought I’d be more Colosseum-ready when you said it.


  1. Emma

    31st August 2017

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    Penny physical strength comes in all shapes, sizes and degrees of squidgeyness… what you and Josh have though is a mental strength that enables you both to continue to fight a battle no one should have to….you may not have been ready for it… but you are both gladiators regardless.

    • Penny Castle

      1st September 2017

      Post a Reply

      Thanks for your kind, kind words! I follow your FB posts each day and marvel at your unending energy! I still often think, with wonder, about how high you could always jump in netball!

  2. Renee

    1st September 2017

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    You are just wonderful ….. And I still feel, you’re immensely strong. Your courage, raw emotions, humour and quirkiness all amount to a awesome blend of penny strong’ness . I admire you beyond belief. No one should have to be on the journey you are on and yet here you are, taking us all along on a raft of information, insights, new understanding and beliefs – with your beautiful smile. My heart breaks for you and I hope you, just sometimes, sense the love I feel for you .

  3. Alma

    13th September 2017

    Post a Reply

    My heart goes out to you! I wish you every bit of strength you need to get through from day to day. It’s one of the most heart wrenching and difficult times a mother has to deal with. Take care of yourself.

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