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.

Dealing with Fear

DoYouFearCancer7 People talk a lot about fearing cancer. They seem to be intimately connected.

False-evidence-appearing-realWhen I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t feel much fear. I just knew I needed to take action. From the first diagnosis until now, I have generally found my fear comes from those around me. When it visits, I have to take strong steps to keep myself “on the wagon” and fearless so to speak.

The first time I felt momentary fear was when I was having dye injected into me to locate my sentinel lymph node prior to having a lumpectomy and sentinel node removal. The radiologist was talking to me about breast cancer and likely progressions. She said you may find you need to have your ovaries removed. Momentarily I freaked out. I’d gone from being in for a lumpectomy to possibly having my ovaries out. I noticed what was happening and stopped my brain going in all directions and let go her comment, trusting my doctor had me in for a lumpectomy only.

The next occasion was the middle of the night, after my lumpectomy and the woman in the bed beside me was a few hours ahead of me in coming out of her anaesthesia cloud. She was on for a chat about all the details of her cancer, surgery and prior chemotherapy. I had to ask her to stop talking to me. I was starting to get very anxious taking on her fear. I hoped I wasn’t going to go on her journey.

fear-is-in-your-head1I came out of my first surgery feeling confident, until I went to see my surgeon. He told me I had a grade 2 cancer and would require all my left axillary lymph nodes removed, six weeks of chemotherapy, 6 weeks of radiotherapy and 5 years of hormone therapy. That’s when my fear did kick in. I thought I was losing myself, my power and my say over my life. I had become a number, a statistic. That generated a great deal of fear until I started reading, seeking more information and advice.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, the chemotherapy generated the most fear in me. As I started to lose myself, I got very scared. I thought I was dying. I sought help on a number of fronts – acupuncture, meditation, yoga, counselling, shiatsu – to assist me to deal with my fear. Meditation empowered me most and still does.

Once I had finished chemotherapy, I occasionally had friends ask if a friend, who had recently been diagnosed, could call me. Initially I said yes. These calls took me back through my whole experience, bringing up my fear. I had to decline such requests. Any mention of someone with breast cancer tends to kick start fear. Instead of talking I started this blog and have been referring people to it ever since. I hope it is making a difference.

feel-the-fearFear is never far away. Over the past 6 months I have been dealing with mild phantom breast pain and lymphoedema. It is hard not to think the worst when the pain starts. Instead of worrying, I take action and see my lymphoedema physiotherapist and lymphatic drainage massage therapist. Visiting them is always reassuring and sets my mind at rest again. Their treatments are helping my condition. As is my morning meditation. Just 10 minutes seems to set me in a great and peaceful frame of mind for the day.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a birthday dinner and a beautiful young woman started to talk to me about her recent breast cancer experience, her treatment and life on hormone therapy. I could feel her fear. Whilst I talked a little about integrated therapies I have used, the supplements I am on and how effective they have been, I felt her fear ‘invading’ me. I know that sounds dramatic. It was palpable and difficult not to absorb. I suggested she read my blog and if she found it interesting or of benefit, then perhaps we could speak further.

o-BECOMING-FEARLESS-facebookIt took me two weeks after this conversation to stabilise myself and feel fearless again. I realised, no matter how courageous I am, fear is never far away. It’s important to acknowledge it and not let it take me over. Fear is an accomplice of cancer. I believe keeping fear at bay will assist me to stay cancer free.

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 Power of Meditation

In the Namib Desert, Namibia

In the Namib Desert, Namibia

I’ve been in Africa for the past five weeks. Most of the time was spent in the desert. What a wonderful place it is for meditation and mindfulness. Whilst we travelled great distances and were up early most days, there was a rhythm and beauty to the landscape which enabled mindfulness. Each day was meditative, spiritual, peaceful and rejuvenating at the same time. I felt fully alive.

Meditation has kept knocking on my door for most of my adult life. I resisted it for years, afraid of losing or disconnecting from myself. How wrong I was.

I have been quite an anxious person most of my life. I was given a meditation tape by my doctor in my 20’s. It had nothing on it. I thought, “he’s playing a joke on me”. Then a previous boyfriend gave me Dr Gillian Ross’ “Meditation for the Third Eye”. It took me many attempts and a few tears before I let go enough to do the meditation. Over time I got a calming benefit and found peacefulness. Then I stopped. Why? Work and life got in the way. And I think, subconsciously I thought I was ‘cured’!! Of what?

When I started to go through menopause I would wake up several times a night especially at 3.00am, alert with my mind racing. To get myself back to sleep l would do Ian Gawler’s ‘White Light’ meditation. A friend had told me about it when he had prostate cancer.

Then, when I was diagnosed with early breast cancer, I realised I had lost my calmness of mind. I had completely given up meditating. My mind was racing more often than it was calm.

Lying Down Meditation

Lying Down Meditation

Post operations I started my daily practice again lying down. I did two 5-minute meditations each morning where I would breath deeply, relax my body and visualise love and light radiating through me, and I’d experience the miracle of being healed. For the next 5 minutes I would envisage the presence of love, light and miracles throughout my day.

After attending the ‘Quest for Life’ programme for people with cancer at Petrea King’s Quest for Life Centre, I did many of her guided meditations – Golden Light, Forgiveness, Rainbows to Healing, Healing Journey. When I woke up each morning I would ask my mind and body which meditation do I want today. It would tell me instantly. I call this my intuition and I always followed it. Invariably during the mediation any questions or concerns in my subconscious would be resolved.

The calming healing aspect of the meditation gave me strength and put me in a beautiful place every day, no matter how I felt physically.

If I was unwell, I meditated lying down. When I had some energy, I sat in a chair or cross-legged on a cushion.

No DrugsDuring this time, a friend introduced me to a beautiful energy healer, Michelle Richmond. She suggested I do Joe Dispenza’s meditations, ‘Water Rising’ and ‘Body Parts’. These meditations were miraculous. They put me deeply in touch with my intuition. After the fifth chemo session I was struggling physically. My breathing was very laboured and I had developed a persistent dry cough. In my meditation, on the 4th day after this session, my body clearly told me, “NO MORE DRUGS. Please do not put anything else into me”. I also got this message at Quest for Life, but was too scared to heed it. It was like a light turning on. It opened a new episode for me in my treatment. (I am not recommending this decision. I am using it to show the power of meditation.)

I had breakfast with some girlfriends that morning. When they said, “how are you?” I broke down. “No good” I sobbed. They said I looked like life was being sapped out of me. I told them about my meditation and that I didn’t want to continue chemotherapy.

And so began a new discussion with my husband, family and doctors. I ceased chemo after session five. I felt it was starting to harm me more than I was willing to experience.

I decided to LIVE A QUALITY LIFE however long that may be.

Walking Meditation experiencing the day's beauty

Walking Meditation experiencing the day’s beauty

I continue to meditate every day, whether it be by allowing the beauty of the world to greet my body for several minutes each morning, a walking meditation, a guided meditation, my personal meditation or through yoga. I have received the GIFT of meditation and will not let it leave my life again. It is very powerful.