What does inspiration mean?

I am often told “Kate, you are a true inspiration!” This makes me feel uncomfortable. In this short blogpost I want to try and explore what inspiration means and perhaps some of the inspiration I find in my life.

I am prompted to write as earlier this month I was named ‘Yorkshire Woman of Achievement 2013’ and I also recently discovered that my name has been included on the Health Service Journal’s inaugural ‘Most Inspirational Women in Healthcare’ list. All this attention literally bemuses me. I am just a Yorkshire lass trying to deal with a horrible situation in the most positive way I can manage. I never set out on the path of sharing my story thinking I will be recognised for it.

The dictionary definition of inspiration…

in·spi·ra·tion  

Noun

         

   
  1. The process of     being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something     creative: “flashes of inspiration”.
  2. The quality of     having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something: “a moment     of inspiration in an otherwise dull display”.

       

Not to forget that I am a doctor and inspiration is also the opposite of expiration!

So how does my story ‘mentally stimulate someone to do or feel something’? I wonder if really what people mean is that they feel sympathy for me, but that sounds patronising and ‘inspirational’ sounds less so? Perhaps my live for the day philosophy and Bucket List prompts us to reassess what is important in our own lives and think about ‘what if it were me in Kate’s situation?’ ‘How would I cope?’ However, in one definition it is suggested that inspirational means a desire to emulate someone else. I am really not sure that people out there want to be in my position with terminal cancer age 31. Maybe they want to emulate the fact that I still go to work despite the circumstances; that I try to smile no matter what the world throws at me…

Why do these comments make me feel uneasy? I’m not sure really. I guess I never expected all this attention in a million years. I find it extremely humbling that people often write to me and share incredibly personal stories or tell me that my writing has helped them or a loved one come to terms with a situation. That is a very special feeling which replicates the sense of achievement looking after someone in my role as a doctor. However, it still feels strange, touching the life of a complete stranger.  Perhaps I should embrace it all, but in reality I am an introvert, and it is just simply not in my nature to go about saying ‘look at me, I’m extraordinary!’

Where do I find my inspiration? What motivates me to get out of bed in the morning? My family, my work and especially my patients, my kitchen, my music… Simple things in life that allow me to be creative, to try and do some good and to live well while I have the chance…

 
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16 thoughts on “What does inspiration mean?

  1. Hi Kate,
    There are many reasons why people are inspired by you. Not least that you are sharing such a personal journey when most people still have difficulty knowing how to be with someone with a diagnosis of cancer. But I would say that your last statement answers your question … you are reminding people very powerfully that happiness, contentment, fulfilment … whatever it is we are all seeking … is to be found in the simple things in life. In this cynical age people are inspired by anyone who connects with them without having an agenda or something to sell. It is the simplicity and authenticity of your intention in your writing that is so inspiring …

  2. Oh no! It is precisely this type of thoughtful, humble post that makes me want to call you inspirational!!!! But thankyou for making me challenge the easy off the tongue “inspirational” phrase… Basically I think I just hope that I would be like you if I was in your position, whilst hoping I never will be. Thanks for making me think a bit deeper this afternoon! Jo

  3. I think it is the act of sharing the story that inspires. That is a creative act too, so there is a certain symmetry in terms of the definition. The other thing is that creative acts stand in opposition to something like cancer. Many people have the damn cancer sadly, it is the writing and sharing – the creative act that moves the experience into the territory of wider inspiration. I am sure you would inspire your immediate circle without the sharing of the story – a friend of mine is now facing his own cancer ordeal and he has become remarkable in so doing – but it is the writing increases the sphere of remarkable. It’s important, it helps others know they are not alone, that it is ok, necessary, to keep living especially in the face of cancer. As Curtis Mayfield sang: keep on, keeping on.

    & Thank you.

  4. Hello hun. Thank you for this. I know its not the same but people say the same to me and I equally feel embarrassed and genuinely don’t understand what the heck they are talking about.
    Perhaps I can tell you why I find you inspirational?
    I find you inspirational because if I was in a similar position to you I can think of no better way to be, no better person to provide a role model for me. I find your truth, love and humbleness truly heart warming.
    I know that will have embarrassed you. You are a Yorkshire lass like me after all. But I also speak truths.
    Love and hope we meet soon.
    Anne

  5. Dear Kate

    I too have terminal cancer, metastatic breast cancer which has spread to my skin and lung. I was a GP, but felt I had to retire because my treatment (aimed at slowing progression) has been solely chemotherapy making me immunosupressed and therefore at high risk of infection.

    People have told me that I am inspirational. I am living life to the full, and as you say, getting on with it around ‘scanxiety’ and hospital treatments & admissions. This feels normal not inspirational. Yet I find myself thinking of you as inspirational because you are working still, (something I would love to be doing) and for writing this fabulous blog. Your blog about funeral planning unblocked my thoughts & fears about planning my own funeral, and I’m happy to say that it’s all done and my husband and family won’t be burdened with this.

    I think people say we are inspirational partly because we are being normal despite our circumstances. We are not collapsed in a heap weeping, at least not constantly! People can’t imagine what it is like to have a terminal diagnosis, and I wouldn’t want them to. So even though it is weird to be thought of as inspirational when all we crave and are is normal, I think we should accept the comments as compliments.

    Please do continue this blog and continent inspiring me.

  6. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
    Nelson Mandela (born 1918);
    Former president of South Africa

  7. Life is a terminal condition. We all die sometime. I too have had cancer (late stage ovarian) followed by so far three plus disease free years defying my original prognosis (now gone with the wind). Any cancer diagnosis is insidious and ominous. The word itself is one of the most negative in the English language, used always to convey overwhelming negativity.
    My name comes from a much loved dog, who started her life as a star within the travelling/hare coursing community. In her youth she was cheered on by many and changed hands for a small fortune.
    When she got an injury she was bred and dumped.
    She came to me aged 8. Aged 12 she developed mast cell tumours which her vet and I monitored and removed when there was an risk of troublesome consequences. Chemo would not have helped and it could well have killed the old girl.
    Aged 15 she developed degenerative myelopathy, which is usually terminal/fatal within months. She lived on for a year, on a regime of supplementation, homeopathic support and acupuncture. She was a bit wobbly, so I walked her alone, but off the lead. Sometimes she would run and you could see in her the joy of that simple achievement. I have some very precious film of her taken when she was just days from her death.
    During that year she was utterly cossetted and kept in peace. I often think that was the best year of her life and I am so glad that I shared it with her.
    I think that old lady dog had lessons for us all.
    You have the same experience in your work and the knowledge that you can and are doing it helps us all.
    Thanks, Kirsty

  8. I first heard of you on Jeremy Vine’s Radio2 show last autumn. You were talking about the care provided in hospital for those that had reached the end stage of their illness. I remember thinking that you articulated yourself beautifully and was I also incredibly moved by your story, which you shared with refreshing honesty.

    Inspiration may be defined as influencing action but does that have to be a grand gesture? Is it so difficult for your to accept that people may see the normality and positivity that you maintain in your life as something that inspires them to do the same?

    Perhaps people that read your blog, follow you on Twitter, hear you being interviewed are inspired by how you get on with things, despite your diagnosis, and how in- your professional and charity work- you contribute hugely to allowing others the same. Who’s to say that you don’t encourage others to make a difference in their own lives or people around them?

    If people can be inspired by animals, celebrities, inanimate objects then why shouldn’t they be inspired by someone who I surmise is a down-to-earth, generous, fun, intelligent, creative and positive?

    Of course no one would want to be poorly but I suspect that they would want to live their life in the way that you do, if they were.

  9. I first heard of you on Jeremy Vine’s Radio2 show last autumn. You were talking about the care provided in hospital for those that had reached the end stage of their illness. I remember thinking that you articulated yourself beautifully and I was also incredibly moved by your story, which you shared with refreshing honesty.

    Inspiration may be defined as influencing action but does that have to be a grand gesture? Is it so difficult for you to accept that people may see the normality and positivity that you maintain in your life as something that inspires them to do the same?

    Perhaps people that read your blog, follow you on Twitter, hear you being interviewed are inspired by how you get on with things, despite your diagnosis, and how in- your professional and charity work- you contribute hugely to allowing others the same. Who’s to say that you don’t encourage others to make a difference in their own lives or people around them?

    If people can be inspired by animals, celebrities, inanimate objects then why shouldn’t they be inspired by someone who I surmise is a down-to-earth, generous, fun, intelligent, creative and positive?

    Of course no one would want to be poorly but I suspect that they would want to live their life in the way that you do, if they were.

  10. You are inspirational precisely BECAUSE you are just an ordinary Yorkshire Lass. You say it how it is and you talk and write with humour, compassion and honesty about the stage in our lives that we all fear (for ourselves and our loved ones). In doing so you make it safe for us to talk about it too thereby slowly chipping away at one of our society’s last taboos. Do not underestimate your legacy – if, by all the work you have done, you make it easier for just one more person to have the Good Death they desire then you have achieved greatness.

  11. Kate, you are inspiring because you are living life to the fullest and appreciating rhe moments you have. my husband was diagnosed with desmoplastic small round tumor cell in march of 2012 and you remind me of him. Some people would allow themselves to be bitter due to their circymstances and you live with an appreciation we all should have.

  12. I know this comment is a bit late but I’ve only today come across your blog today. I suppose when you talk in this post about being “inspirational”, you’re referring to your life and your cancer but I’d like to flip this slightly and talk about your words. I’m a physiotherapist working within elderly care with a special interest in palliative care and your words “inspire” me. They inspire me to be a better clinician, a better advocate for palliative care, and a better person. When I go to work tomorrow I’m going to try to avoid the office bitchy-ness, avoid the pointless meetings about meetings and really concentrate on the patients, because they are what matter. If thats not what you call inspirational, I don’t know what is. Thank You.

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