Feeling Whole Again

IMG_1094Earlier this year I got a strong sensation that I needed/wanted to go and spend two weeks hanging out with my sister who is two years younger than I am. She has lived in Europe for 36 years and now splits her time between bustling, vibrant London and relaxing, charming Sicily. I missed her from the day she left Australia and I never really got over her not being nearby. We had shared a bedroom from when she was born until we both left home at the ages of 22 and 20. I got married and she went overseas to model.

I had a yearning, which wouldn’t go away, to have some sister time doing the things we love to do together – chatting, gallery hopping, indulging in great fresh food, hanging out, bike riding and doing a touch of shopping. And that’s exactly what we did for two whole weeks.

IMG_1061London was warm, sunny and inviting. We saw a fantastic exhibition, Classic Italian Fashion 1950-2014, at the Victoria and Albert Museum. From 1980-89 my sister had modeled on the Fashion Runways in Milan and Rome for most of the designers exhibited. How wonderful it was to hear her stories and walk down memory lane with her.

It was an emotional challenge undertaking the trip. In my heart I knew it was something I needed to do. Perhaps it was part of me getting my old life back, reconnecting with the things I love to do and had denied myself for some years with the busy life and responsibilities I had taken on. My husband wasn’t keen for me to go and didn’t understand my need. So I think part of me was in a state of denial, so much so that I didn’t read my itinerary or ticket properly and missed my flight out of Australia – a major inconvenience as all flights from Sydney to Hong Kong were full and I didn’t know when I was going to get on a flight. I decided to wait at the airport in the hope that someone wouldn’t turn up, like I hadn’t, and I would get on the next flight and I did. That wasn’t the end of it. When I missed my first flight, the airline (as they all do) cancelled all of my flights to and from Europe. I had to set about reinstating them, not without some difficulty. It was a salient lesson to me to pay more attention. Or was it a symptom of my occasionally occurring cognitive impairment, post chemotherapy? No matter what caused the mistake, it wasn’t the way I’d planned to start my special holiday.

IMG_1039I filled my creative soul in London. I visited Kew Gardens and indulged in the grandeur of it’s size and the plethora of English and exotic plants. Each morning started with a walk in beautiful Battersea Park taking in its magnificent trees laden with bright new growth. Meditation and yoga were still key. I found a fabulous yoga studio, Triyoga, which I visited every second day.

IMG_3314We walked and walked and walked through Chelsea, Knightsbridge, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, the City, Soho and much more. Our excursions included visits to commercial galleries to see the latest artists and art lectures with artists. With each day I felt more and more enlivened by the gardens, the people, the cityscape, the art and the history. I finished my stay in London with a visit to Tate Modern and the Saatchi Gallery, two favourites. My cup was full to overflowing.

IMG_1120Then we got up at the ‘crack of dawn’ and caught a flight to Palermo. My sister and her partner had finished their dream home in Sicily last year. I was keen to see it – a restored old country house – and its beautiful garden. I wasn’t disappointed. Her partner is a landscape gardener who specialises in old trees. My sister’s impeccable taste was evident everywhere – in the finishes, the furniture and the artwork. And, of course, the garden was exquisite – full of dry climate plants of all ages. I was in heaven and felt fully nurtured from the moment I arrived. I wandered the garden each day with my camera capturing all the different plants it housed.

As my holiday progressed, I could feel my old self stirring, renewing and returning. The feeling of being whole again, in touch with my past, connecting with what was dear to me, having time out and communing with nature.

We visited beautiful old cathedrals in Mon Reale and Erice, the seaside village of Cerfalu, the boulevards of Palermo, historic paved streets of Trapani, the Florio in Marsala and cycled around the peaceful island of Favingana visiting its azure beaches and hidden ruins. All good for the soul. I felt part of my sister’s life, even though it was for a short time.

 

Now I’m back home and into a busy schedule of planning a new business, having treatments for my lymphoedema, sailing, walking and tending my own garden. How easy it all is and feels. I really do feel whole again.

To top it all off, I had my two-year breast screen – mammogram and ultrasound – and check up with my breast surgeon this week and I’m all clear – cancer free. Being true to myself, following my intuition and living my dreams is paying off. How blessed I am.

The Power of Letting Go

IMG_0864Tuesday two weeks ago I was enjoying glorious spring skiing in fabulous Park City and Deer Valley, Utah. I was feeling fit, strong, happy and well. Life and my health were back to normal. Things couldn’t have been better.

Then I received an email from my sister in Australia saying my mother, who had a terminal lung condition (Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease) had contracted a chest infection. She’d been put on antibiotics and they were waiting to see how she would respond. Judging by how previous episodes of this nature had gone and her enormous resilience, my husband and I thought there was no need to take any urgent action. It was a wait and see situation.

Two days later another email arrived, the infection had become pneumonia and Mum was expected to live another week. The big question was, ‘did we need to rush home or would she live the full week predicted?’ I had to choose between going home immediately and staying an extra couple of days. It was a difficult decision because we’d had calls of this nature previously and Mum had pulled through.

I changed our return travel to arrive back in Australia well within the time frame suggested by the doctor. Whilst doctors can speak to us from the perspective of statistics, they cannot speak for us as individuals, as we see time and again. Someone is told “You have six weeks to live” and he lives 12 months. “You have 3-6 months to live” and she lives 18 months. The moment of death is the choice of the individual.

It was my mother’s 81st birthday on March 14. I’d sent her a birthday card before I left and was planning to buy her that black cardigan she wanted when I was in Park City. The realisation that I wouldn’t be getting it for her saddened me greatly.

My family organised a champagne lunch for her birthday and I arranged to call in for the party. Thank goodness for mobile phones. My husband, who is a prankster with heart, came up with the idea of doing a little performance for her, over the phone. Given the time difference, we were standing on a street corner in Park City with cold hands juggling the phone and my husband started. “Hellooo… Dorothy or can I call you Dottie (her least favourite name)? Dottie this is Pastor Ray from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Park City Utah. We’ve heard it’s your birthday and I’ve gathered together a small group of choristers to sing you happy birthday!” We then chorused happy birthday to her. She loved every minute of it and announced he was her ex-son-in-law. She laughed. We laughed. It was the best birthday present we could have given an ‘old performer’ who was holding court with her family.

Thirty-six hours later, on the day of our departure, I got a text to say the end was nigh. I wanted to be free with the choice I’d made not to leave earlier and to give my mother the farewell I would’ve given her had I been there. I called the hospital. They took the phone to her and I told her I was well and in the best shape I’d been in for many years. The skiing holiday had done wonders for me. I also told her I would follow her legacy and be with my husband to the end. Two things that were important to her. Finally, I said, “if you need to go before I get home, you are free to go.” I was at peace with our relationship. I had said everything I’d wished and needed to say. The nurse said she smiled and shed a tear.

I am clear I was with her in spirit for the duration of our holiday and to the end.

Peace StonesWhen we were in transit at LA airport, I thought, “I have to contact my family, NOW.” I called my brother. He said, “the end is near.” I asked him to hold my mother’s hand for me. He did and told her he was holding it for me. Then I said, “Mum I acknowledge you for your courage, love and commitment. You will always be in my heart.” As my husband spoke to her and my family laughed, she passed away.

She had survived breast cancer with great courage and determination 35 years earlier. She was an outstanding role model and inspiration for me and many other women whose path she crossed.

I am grateful for my life, the loving family into which I was born and for my extraordinary mother.

 

 

The Learning Never Stops

Where’s the last month gone? It must be that mad end of year rush and Christmas cheer getting in the way of my writing. It’s been a big month with lots of learnings.

Shiatsu MassageMy intuition has been guiding me ‘big time’. Last month it recommended I have some SHIATSU MASSAGE. A treatment I had let go. I had a sense that something was out of balance or needed clearing. As Amanda was working on me, she started asking about a tightness in my upper back, which I have had since I was about six years old. As we talked I realised I’d created a ‘metaphorical shell’ on my back as a protection against punishment which I experienced as a child. I actually had a small hump there. As we explored this, in my mind I broke it and it crumbled away, giving me an increased flexibility and freedom in my upper back. It was an extraordinary experience.

kinesiologyThe following week I had another session and went a little deeper exploring my heart and love. To clear it, Amanda suggested when I meditate, that I ask my my heart what the blockage is. A few days later I realised that my husband’s daughter had broken my heart a number of times over the past seven years and the heartache was still residing there. Magic! This lead me to have a KINESIOLOGY session with Angela, who I’d been coaching. She works on the structure of the energy in your body and clears any blockages. Nothing seemed to happen on the table, then I felt unwell for 24 hours as the blockages cleared. The next day I woke up feeling like a new woman. Angela had said to me, “holding on to pain and hurt and not letting love into your heart has been known to cause breast cancer.” Just what I’d thought. So whilst I had forgiven all the people who had hurt me over the years, including myself, there was some residue still there.

Whilst all this was happening, I had my 12-monthly check up with my oncologist. There was a little bit of anxiety coming to the surface in the couple of days leading up to this appointment. I didn’t know what she was going to do when we met. She asked me what my programme was and whether I had any side-effects from the chemotherapy. I went through all the natural things I’m doing and said, “my stamina’s still not back to what it was and my liver is still not healed”. Otherwise I feel and look (so I am told) fit and healthy. The result of the physical examination was ‘ALL CLEAR’. How exciting and what a relief! I have realised it takes something to trust yourself. It is an ongoing journey and learning experience.

I’m still learning about myself and the things that stop me from time to time. I’m using my team – integrated GP, lymphatic masseur and physiotherapist – to keep me on track with my new health programme and diet, supplements, exercise, massage and meditation.

Noosa National Park Coastal TrackFrom time to time I wonder whether I’m on the right track. What is the right track? I feel like I’m on a solo journey sometimes. This weekend I took myself to Noosa Heads, one of my favourite places in Australia, for two days R&R – an early birthday present and a rejuvenator. Each morning I walked the coastal track of the Noosa National Park, breathing in the fresh air, feasting my eyes the beauty of the ocean and the coast line, and skin and body with the warm morning sun and breeze. All food for my mind, body and soul.

From Cancer to WellnessWhilst browsing in a Noosa bookshop, looking for a good old-fashioned calorie counter book, I came across Kristine S. Matheson’s book, From Cancer to Wellness the forgotten secrets, a step-by-step handbook for beating cancerShe provides a prescription for healing your body without what she calls SPB – slash (operation), poison (chemotherapy) and burn (radiation therapy). Of course I bought it. As I read it, I thought, “I’m reading about myself”. Whilst I did the ‘slash and poison’, I realise that in the process, with integrated therapies, I healed and rejuvenated my body using the same prescription of diet, exercise, meditation, reiki, forgiveness and affirmation. My ‘right track’ is listening to my intuition.

Dealing with Stress. When any stressful situation arises or I find someone aggressive towards me I get anxious. A confrontational Board situation recently caused me to doubt myself. I seriously considered stepping aside. By trusting myself and working through it, I have been able to open a door to a discussion which I believe will resolve it. To guard my body now, I create love and light around me.

My Grateful. I love the festive season. Old friends and acquaintances get in touch and this reconnection will carry on well into the new year. I AM GRATEFUL for the LOVE AND FRIENDS I have around me.

Questing for Life

The Brain

It’s hard to believe it’s just over 12 months since I ceased chemotherapy. It’s taken the whole year to return to good health, that is, my brain functioning, what I call, ‘normally’; my energy and stamina returning; my hair ‘looking good’ and the feeling of overwhelm or the sensation of ‘I can’t cope’, gone. What a relief it is to experience the miracle of my body feeling healed.

However, this week I discovered that feeling good is not enough. I had a check up appointment with my integrated GP and was told my liver is still under par and my immune system is struggling. So now I’m on a 75% fruit, salad, bitter greens and vegetable juice diet, new supplements and a weight-bearing exercise programme. I’m finding it hard to follow this new eating plan and feel energetic all day. I’m giving it a go. A little more discipline is definitely needed if I want a healthy liver and strong immune system.

365-gratefulsPhotographer, Hailey Bartholomew released a beautiful book recently, 365 Gratefuls. It’s the result of her writing down every day, one thing for which she was grateful, during a bout of depression. She did this for 365 days and has accompanied her writings with photos she took. Hearing her interview with Sam Worthington made me think of how grateful I am for my life, my friends, my family and the opportunities that open themselves to me every day, and especially over the past 18 months.

One of the things I’m really grateful for is the Quest for Life Retreat I attended last year. After being told by my nutritionist and my integrated GP that the mediterranean diet would be best for my healing, I thought, “how am I going to cook the mediterranean way?” It is one thing to know, it is another to do!  I felt I had lost my ‘cooking confidence’. I checked out healing retreats and found Quest for Life in nearby Bundanoon.

With the assistance of my Oncologist, I set up the chemo sessions around the next Quest for Life retreat. My goal, as I said in my last blog, was to practice mediation, and reconnect with cooking and eating healthily – the mediterranean diet. Whilst there I also reconnected with myself.

Community GardenI felt very vulnerable when I was first diagnosed with early breast cancer. Who isn’t? Who could I turn to for advice and support? Whilst there is an enormous community available through the Breast Cancer Network Australia and Breast Care Nurses, I felt I needed something more. It was the powerful love and nurturing Quest for Life provides. We ate healthily, mainly vegetarian food with fresh juices and vegetables from the community garden. Each day started with meditation and yoga, learning a range of meditation techniques. Then followed seminars and workshops which gave us tools to empower ourselves given our individual circumstances. Some partners attended. They were able to express the emotional pain they were feeling.

Self-esteemThe most powerful sessions for me were two one-on-one counselling sessions where the counsellor took me deep inside myself. I connected with my power, joy, love, courage and sense of self. I forgave those who had caused great hurt in recent times.and saw myself as a ‘beacon of light’. I still use this image regularly to uplift and reaffirm myself.

Creating a collage of what we would like our lives to be over the next 12 months was the final exercise. Mine included many of my favourite things – children, healthy food, good coffee, meditation, yoga, travel and photography. Looking back, I have fulfilled on all of these goals. The final one was my recent trip to Africa – an adventure of a lifetime.

My priorities in life have changed. No longer do I work myself to exhaustion. My modus operandi is to love and value myself; to be present to the world and my environment moment by moment; to contribute to the health and wellbeing of others and to love unconditionally. Sometimes that is difficult, particularly when I’m sent unexpected challenges. Quest for Life gave me the tools to cope with this and a renewed confidence and trust in myself.

I am GRATEFUL for my health and my life every day.

The Recovery Journey

I’ve just passed the anniversary of commencing chemotherapy treatment. Whilst I thought there was no residual grief, I discovered there was quite a lot of sadness still there. I really wanted to get on an write this blog and I couldn’t. So I’ve taken a few weeks out to be kind to myself and just sit with the sadness rather than try and resist or fix it.

MY JOURNAL    The good news is that it is passing to the point where I have been able to open the journal I wrote last year and am really enjoying reading it, hearing my voice as it was then. Here is an excerpt from 28 June 2012.

My Journal - 'my best friend'

My Journal – ‘my best friend’

“It has been 8 days since I last wrote. A lot has transpired and very little has. I still have the drain (from the lymph node removal) in and am not coping well emotionally. I feel upset more and more. I know I need to speak with someone and I’m not sure who. I will ring one of the breast support groups. I want to be empowered around what I am dealing with. Perhaps I should just have a good cry and get out all the pent up emotions – the sadness, the grief, the longing to be my old self, the desire for vitality and for a sense of purpose. I feel I am in a recovery limbo.”

GETTING SUPPORT     Soon after, I rang the Breast Care Nurse at The Mater and found the ear and support I needed. What I was feeling 14 days after the operation was quite normal. I had found a ‘new normal’ and realised that I would be looking at a new normal for some time. My new normal was not working, going to the doctor several times a week and being loving and kind to myself – a very foreign place for me.

I’m a great believer in synchronicity. Around this time there was a segment on Catalyst about the benefits of walking when on chemotherapy. I have been a walker, taking a daily morning walk for a long time. Walking keeps my mind, body, spirit in equilibrium.

My favourite morning walk

My favourite morning walk

Before starting chemo, I decided I’d resume my outdoor exercise programme. I live on Sydney’s northern beaches, one of the most beautiful places in the world, a perfect place to walk to rejuvenate a sad heart and recuperate my body. My husband and I started the daily practice of walking together. If I wasn’t well enough to walk home, he would get the car and drive me home. He was and is one of my ‘Angels’.

I discovered wasn’t on my own and I didn’t need to do this on my own. My mother, who lives in Melbourne and has been very unwell for several years, started to ring me every day to see how I was. Up until that point I’d been ringing her daily. My sister from London, whom I love very much and had missed since she moved there, rang and told me she would be arriving in a couple of days. She stayed for 5 days and did everything she could for me. She shopped, cooked, cleaned, drove me to the doctor, counselled me and almost read my mind. It was a gift.

I was beginning to discover how much love and generosity there is in the world and how much I am loved. Grief transformed into LOVE. My sadness of the last few weeks has passed. Just being with it was perfect!

The Power of Love

This blog was going to be about nutrition. Two weeks ago I received very good news and I can’t resist sharing it in this blog. Nutrition will have to wait until the next one.

On 29 April it was 12 months, almost to the day, since I was diagnosed with early breast cancer. I had a mammogram, then an ultrasound followed by an appointment with my surgeon. The first thing he said to me when I walked into his room was, “you’re all clear”. How did he know? Why didn’t he want to see my scans? He had already checked them online and had the results. Today’s technology is quite amazing.

I knew in my heart that I was clear. In fact I had known that I was clear since my first meditation at Quest for Life. I remember saying to Petrea King, “I have just done a meditation and my heart told me I am cancer free and don’t need chemo”. She suggested that I get a second opinion and mentioned a doctor. I had already had a second opinion and didn’t think that another one would be of any benefit at that time, so I continued with the chemotherapy treatment plan. I created it as ‘love’ every time it went into my veins.

When in hospital, I had become present to a great love and compassion for myself. As I continued to meditate and to learn more about health, cancer treatments and the power of love, I felt stronger in my resolve to take my own path of ceasing chemo early, not having radiotherapy and hormone therapy. I interviewed the doctors and read as much as I could about all treatments. I felt the side effects were not worth it and that I would take the risk and not have further treatment.

Having the proof that I was clear provided a great sense of relief and a new freedom. I started to get more energy and clarity of mind. I felt like the old me again. At the end of the week I was due to go to on a trip overseas with my husband for some work and adventure in Hawaii, then Canada. I was free to go without worry.

I started the trip reading Anita Moorjani’s, “Dying to be Me”. She is a complete inspiration. During her near death experience 7 years ago she gave up her fear of people, life and cancer. She chose to live. She came out of a coma, the cancer began to disappear from her body and she completely healed. She is now living a full life. She realised, “if I’m happy, the universe is happy. If I love myself, everyone else will love me. If I’m at peace, all of creation is peaceful”. I couldn’t agree with her more. That’s what I found. When I chose to live and create peace in my life, I found that people around me who were unwell and dying rallied and started to find peace and acceptance in their lives.

Unconditional love and acceptance of myself and others, as we are and are not, has given me great peace. My friendships and relationships everywhere are stronger, even with people who do not like or accept me. I am at peace with them.

My husband and I are on our adventure now and are in “ranch land” near Calgary staying with friends. Each day we wake to a stunning view of the snow-capped Rockies which we are going to venture into tomorrow. Every morning since we arrived here I have done a walking meditation through the nearby forest. I experience myself as love when I walk and it is a wonderful feeling.

My Personal Prescription

PATIENCE, patience and more patience. That’s what I found I needed most of over the past 12 months. I have always been an action woman. Still am really. I became a different kind of action woman last year. I put myself on a crash course of finding out what had happened to my body, what the doctor’s wanted to do to it and how I could best look after myself in the process of returning it to full health.

I was stopped in my tracks following having the lumpectomy and then 18 lymph nodes removed. At this time doctors have no way of finding out whether lymph nodes are cancerous without removing them. Mine were removed and there was no cancer in them. This, of course, was a relief and good news. However, the healing process in my chest wall, under arm and arm itself has taken much longer than I imagined. I was used to my body healing quickly. It has been a slow process and it may take another year or two for the numbness and phantom pains in the left side of my body to disappear.

A month after the lymph operation I started chemotherapy. Whilst I had talked to as many people as I could about what might happen to me when on chemotherapy, I couldn’t fully prepare myself for what did happen to my body. I will talk about this more in another blog.

Meditation 2Once I was on the treatment course, I looked for ways that I could bring patience into my life every day, every moment. One of the greatest sources for building patience was meditation. At this time I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche and was moved and inspired by the Buddhist belief that “living is learning to let go”. I let go of many things – frustrations, anger, opinions, judgements, expectations – and took on being loving and patient, especially towards myself.

I have been asked about nutrition and how I used that on my healing journey. I’ll talk about that next time.