Teen Spirit

It was very hard for me to come to terms with having chemotherapy, it seemed so counterintuitive that something which killed healthy cells in my body was going to cure me.  Finally I managed to process it, by imagining it being a factory reset of the body – cleaning it out and rebuilding it post-treatment.  I wanted to remember a time when I felt vital, strong, relaxed and happy, in order to revive these feelings in my body, and to help the healing process. Looking back, it was my teenage years and early twenties when I felt joyous and hopeful, as I had not suffered any major shocks, I had very little stress, and life felt full of possibilities.  I had put a series of photos on my desk of my loved ones, and I included a picture of myself, at the age of 19, laughing, suntanned, and with sparkling eyes – it seemed to be a good image to focus on.

pexels-photo-761963.jpegI was also conscious of the fact that I had stopped listening to music so much.  I used to love dancing, and I had fantastic recall of lyrics.  My music collection had disappeared due to the transfer from vinyl, cassettes, CDS and now downloads.  Then my stepson Jamie got me set up on Spotify.  As soon as a band or singer from my youth, popped into my head I would search for it, and then sing along in the car (especially during my long journeys to and from hospital).  It immediately made me feel uplifted and would usually connect me to a happy memory or feeling.

Exploring this further, I thought about my clothes, and how I had neglected my appearance in recent years – being more practical than fun.  I didn’t go crazy, but if something caught my eye, I didn’t immediately search for reasons why I shouldn’t buy it, but instead, thought ‘why not’.  This was especially useful when I had lost my hair, and was not looking my best, I actually started to take more pride in my appearance – wearing make-up and maybe a cool pair of shoes, or something sparkly.  It really helped and it’s something I’m going to continue doing.

Smell is also meant to be the most important sense for evoking memories.  After starting chemo I read an article in a magazine with Juliette Binoche, who said her favourite perfume was Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel.  This is the perfume I always wore when I was a teenager, so a couple of weeks later when I happened to see it in a duty free shop, I put a little on my wrist to remember its smell.  I was immediately transported back to my youthful self, and so I now spray a little on my inner wrist each morning to get me through the day!

Another thing, I felt was lacking in my life, was laughter, real belly laughter when you feel completely alive.  It was winter, and I was going to be spending a lot of time in the house, so I found comedies online from my youth, such as Alan Partridge and current stand-ups, such as Ricky Gervais.  There is something incredible about really laughing, it completely lifts you out of your current state and your body feels so relaxed afterwards – teeming with positive happy cells!

I also stopped focussing so much on the news and world events.  In the run up to my diagnosis, there had been frequent terrorist attacks, Brexit and the inauguration of Donald Trump.  I needed to feel that life was worth living, and so just stopped tuning in so much to the bad stuff.  It’s not that I don’t care, but if I can’t do anything to change what’s happening, I feel powerless – in reality I can only try and change the environment around me, and by constantly watching the news, it was a huge distraction from what really mattered.

Oddly enough, after instinctively trying to tap in to my inner teenager, I read something similar in Deepak Chopra’s The Healing Self: Supercharge Your Immune System.  He describes an experiment by Harvard professor Ellen Langer, who put seventy year old men in a sort of time capsule – wearing the clothes from their youth, and listening to music from the same period – recreating that environment actually made them healthier and more youthful on a physical level.

Later on in the book, Deepak Chopra suggests ways to cope with a delayed flight, in terms of reducing your stress levels.  As I’d downloaded the book in the airport, whilst facing a three hour delay – I thought ‘yes, I’m on the right track.’

 

 

Breathing In

One of the first people I spoke to on receiving my breast cancer news was my friend Clare.  Clare is a ball of energy, always positive and vibrant.  She drove up to see me immediately, and boosted my spirits, not only giving me the confidence that I would get through this, but also talked to me about changes I needed to make in my life.  Her Mum Catriona sadly lost her husband to cancer, and has since become and expert on alternative medicine, and the importance of diet.  She is just like her daughter, full of energy, and a real inspiration.

blue-sky-merge-clouds-675977.jpegCatriona sent me lots of information on  supporting the body, one of which was Oxygen drops.  The theory behind it is that in our industrialised societies, our bodies are receiving less and less oxygen, which is making it harder for the cells to repair themselves thus creating illnesses such as cancer.  As I already live in the countryside, I decided not to take them, but it did reinforce the importance of exercise during this period.

During chemo I felt pretty dreadful most of the time, but I was by no means bed-bound, just lacking in energy, coupled with rather dark thoughts, as the chemo coursed through my body.  One of the other side effects, especially towards the end was little pains in my thighs and hip area.  I forced myself to go out walking every day, or on my bicycle if the weather wasn’t too grim.  I was especially buoyed on by my sister, who always has lots of energy, and if she wasn’t with me, I would still make sure I took the dog out, for thirty minutes or so.  Not only did it take the pains away in my thighs, but for the first time I consciously breathed in the oxygen into my lungs, and I really felt its benefits.  I would return home with colour in my face, a little more tired, but less depressed that I had been staying in the house.

I’m also bringing meditation into my daily routine, being conscious of my breath, in order to reduce my stress levels as well as clear my head.  I’d neglected this in my pre-cancer life, and think it’s important going forward.  I’d also read quite a lot about breathing into my belly – this is where your emotions are stored so breathing in (four counts in, six counts out) is a really good way of relaxing.

I don’t want to sound like Mr Motivator, as at the time it was really hard, and still is,  but on reflection, I am really glad I managed to do it, most days at least, and I think it’s helping my body to recover now as I go through radiotherapy – physically and mentally.

Maori Healers

Whilst going through my treatment, I couldn’t help asking myself, why had this happened to me?  It’s probably a whole host of factors, or just simple bad luck.  However I wondered whether I had buried emotional shocks in the body, which had somehow contributed.  As an English person, I was only too aware that I had been brought up to repress my emotions – anger, sadness, frustration – you name it – I was always uncomfortable vocalising my feelings, from a young age.

When I saw through a website called www.littlefrenchretreat.com that a group of well-known Maori Healers were visiting a small village in South West France as part of a global tour, I wanted to find out more.   The basic idea of Maori healing is to remove the physical, emotional and spiritual blocks in the body.  If you hold onto these energies it can create disease.  The Maori Healers are guided instinctively and use a method of deep body massage work to release these blocks.  You can find out more on this link: www.maoritelevision.com/news/regional/native-affairs–maori-healer

I booked my session with Sandrine Ruchoux who was co-ordinating the sessions in France, and then turned up to the beautiful village of Astaffort.  I had already seen on video clips that rather than it being a one on one session, you would be treated with others in an open space.  I was a little apprehensive, afraid that I would be screaming and crying in front of a bunch of strangers.  When I entered the room, there was music playing, and the atmosphere was uplifting, despite the groans!  When it was my turn, Sandrine asked me to lie down on a massage table, while she shook my legs vigorously, presumably to get my body energised.  She then sat on my back, to straighten my spine and pelvis.

atarangi

Atarangi, the lady who I’d seen on the video clip, came over to me and gently asked me what she could do for me.  I told her I’d had breast cancer, and was afraid that I had emotional blocks in my body which may have contributed.  She began work immediately, kneading my buttocks, and moving down to my thighs.  The massage work was intense, and hurt  but nothing like the agonising pain when she reached my calf muscles.  I swore and screamed out, as she dug her fingers into my muscles.  I said ‘I didn’t expect to feel pain in my legs’.  Atarangi explained that old emotional pain is stored in the calf muscles.  I then lay on my back, whilst she started working on my front,  always focussing on the areas which needed the most attention.  When she put her hands onto my belly, silent tears streamed down the sides of my face.  Her hands then made a very quick and intense movement into my belly, almost like jump starting a car.  At the end of the session, she cupped my head lightly and whispered a prayer, and the treatment was over.  Throughout my healing she had also been guiding the others, as to what they should do with their clients, so it felt like a very supportive environment.

At first I felt a little shell shocked, as I sat on the sofa watching the others, drinking a glass of water with a blanket wrapped around me.  I definitely felt lighter, but it was really the days following in which I really felt a difference.  My body felt readjusted, and I felt more ‘in the flow’ in my every day life – little coincidences, kind gestures, and just a feeling of being where I should be.

You can follow Maori Healers on their Facebook site.  I’ve recommended them to a good friend of mine in the UK when they visit Brighton, so I am hoping it will have a positive effect on her too.

 

Skin Deep

One of the many side effects of chemotherapy is dry skin.  After I had the initial diagnosis, I decided to remove anything from my bathroom cabinet which contained sodium laurel sulphate, which is in many shampoos and shower gels, and is suspected to cause health issues.  That along with the many other chemicals in everyday products, made me want to seek out natural alternatives.

I am lucky to live near Julie Wackrill who makes soaps and skincare products from organic ingredients, so when I found her stand at a music festival last year, I asked her advice.  Julie advised me to use Rosehip Beauty Balm on my face during the day, and then a couple of drops of Sea Buckthorn Oil at night.  The products were absolutely perfect for my skin, and lasted throughout my chemotherapy treatment.  What was astonishing is that people remarked on how good my skin was looking, despite receiving a heavy dose of toxins on a regular basis.  I used Julie’s soap to clean my skin, which I am sure really helped to support my body.  It wasn’t until the last two weeks of chemotherapy when my body had decided it had had enough that a rash appeared on my hands and arms.  I also became very sensitive to sunlight, so I needed to add Factor 50 suncream on top.  I am now finishing my radiotherapy and have burning and blistering on my skin – I’ve just received a jar of Calendula and Dandelion balm, so I’m hoping it’s going to do the trick. Julie’s website is www.thatsoap.eu if you’re interested in seeing her products.   Julie suggested going without shampoo ‘no-poo’ when my hair starts to grow back.  I’m going to give it a go.

 

I was reluctant to put moisturiser and oils on my body, as the skin is the largest organ of the body, and I wanted to try and detox as much as possible.  Blocking the skin’s pores didn’t make sense to me.  My stepdaughter Kirsten brought me Epsom Salts and Dead Sea Salts, which really worked a treat.  Having a bath after each chemo treatment, and soaking in the salts, kept my skin soft, as well as helping to get rid of the toxins.  Dry brushing your skin before hand also helped.  Lying in a bath, listening to guided mediations helped me cope psychologically with what felt like an attack on my body.

 

The Fire Prayer

I first heard about the Fire Prayer Healers in South West France when our builder told my husband a story about his nephew.  He’d put his hand in scorching hot potato puree, and his mother had rushed him to the Fire Prayer Healer to stop the burning.  The following day his hand was perfectly normal apparently.    I was fascinated by this story, and I wanted to know more.  I spoke to friends and neighbours, who told me that in emergencies sometimes hospitals in the area would call Fire Prayer Healers, who would come and work directly with the patient or on the phone.  It never occurred to me that I would need their help too.

fire-orange-emergency-burning.jpgAt the beginning of my cancer treatment, I asked the hospital nurse if there was anything I could do to help with my healing – expecting advice on diet or creams for example.  The nurse produced a list of local healers, one of whom lived very close to my house.  All the healers had a list of their specialities – mine was a Magnetiseur (energy healer) and Fire Prayer Healer.  I was so surprised.

After my chemotherapy treatment, I thought radiotherapy would be ‘a walk in the park’.  I hadn’t really thought about what was in store, as I was just so relieved to be out of chemo.  The radiologist told me that I might have some slight burning to the skin, but after three weeks, the burning was severe, with blisters appearing under my arm.  I called the Fire Prayer Healer for an appointment.  I arrived at her very simple cabin, next to a rural road, opposite a heating fuel supplier.  The room had a simple massage bed, a chair, and the walls were covered in crucifixes and angels.  I laid down on the bed, and she gently massaged my solar plexus, and then put her hand on the burnt area on my breast and underarm.  From time to time she would shake her hand to remove the heat.  She whispered a prayer and then made small signs on my skin with her finger.

I went to my radiology appointment the following day and the radiologist remarked that my skin looked much better.  I told her I’d been to see a healer the previous day.  She smiled and said ‘Aah, la magique….’

 

 

 

Nailing It

When I first found out I was going to have chemotherapy, I was so upset about losing my hair, that I hadn’t even considered the other side effects.  When the news had begun to sink in, my friend Chloe, who had also recently been through the same treatment, told me that chemotherapy could also cause your nails to fall out.   Something else to think about, just as I was preparing to lose my long thick hair, which I had always taken for granted.

So I did some research, and asked the nurses at the hospital, what I should do.  For some reason, I presume it’s something to do with photosynthesis, I needed to use a dark nail polish, and wear it ALL the time.  I thought I may as well buy a classic, so I decided to wear Chanel’s Rouge Noir.  I wore it non-stop, filling in the chips with additional coats whenever needed.  Occasionally I would take off the polish with non-acetone remover (this is important) and every night I would rub in a couple of drops of tea tree oil into my nails, and toe nails , to stop them becoming infected.

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My nails stayed intact, but two months later I still have brown marks, which I’m hoping will disappear in a month.  A week after my final chemotherapy I ceremoniously threw the Chanel nail polish in the bin, and have been au naturel ever since.  I’m still going through radiotherapy, but it makes sense to me that the more I expose my nails to the sun the stronger they will become.  I’m also taking shark liver oil tablets to make me strong, which is packed with vitamin D.  I think it’s helping….as long as I don’t develop a fin.

PS – that’s not me in the picture, as I never want to see that nail polish again!

 

 

In the Soup

A recurrent theme throughout my cancer treatment is soup.  Its nutritional properties take on an almost magical feel not only for healing, but the way it is often delivered.  A close friend of mine, Andrea Scholdan, is the Queen of Soups in Austria, and runs a ‘soup kitchen’ in Vienna, called www.suppito.at  Andrea is a qualified doctor, who worked in a hospital for twenty years as a urologist.  She had always had an interest in nutrition, and later on her life studied Chinese medicine.  One of the key elements of Chinese medicine is the balance of hot and cold in the body.  So for instance, chemotherapy has a very cooling effect on the body, so it’s important to eat warm foods, in order to help the body recover. Soup is also full of vitamins and is very easy to digest, so is the perfect food for the liver.  The liver is working so hard to try and rid the body of any toxins during the chemo, that the soup makes the process easier.   Andrea visited me during the first stage of the chemo, and created diet sheets for me to help me support my body, and to keep me strong.  She also did me the honour of shaving my head, as my hair started to fall out, but that’s another story…

pexels-photo-539451.jpegSoup always appeared throughout my recovery.  My sister Ruth also visited several times, leaving her busy life in Rome to come and make huge pans of vegetable soups, with an Italian twist, which she put in the freezer as meals for when we were too tired to cook.  One day, I was feeling particularly low, mentally and physically, lying on the sofa, unable to eat.  Tristan, our builder and friend, came over with soup for me – a secret family recipe he said – it revived me almost straight away.  He continued to bring the soup for the next month or so, just leaving it by our kitchen door.  My friend Victoria wooshed into my house with gigantic pans of soup, made from organic vegetables from the local health food shop.  She put it into jars, told me to relax while she cleaned the house. People’s generosity and kindness blow me away.   Continue reading “In the Soup”