Losing It

I didn’t expect to have chemo – I’d found the lump early so the doctor told me it would most likely be a course of radiotherapy after the operation.  When the news came that it was an aggressive cancer, and that I was to have chemo over the course of five months, I was gutted –  mostly because I would probably lose my hair.pexels-photo-973401.jpegAfter receiving my initial diagnosis I’d deliberately left my hair long.  In a strange sort of way I was almost willing it not to happen, trying to subliminally convince my doctor that chemo wouldn’t be necessary.

Why was it so painful?  For me it was a symbol of my strength, health and vitality.  The shock of possibly losing it was heartbreaking.

The doctor told me that a cold cap during chemo sometimes worked in preventing hair loss.  As I moved closer to my first chemo appointment, I knew I needed to prepare myself which meant a short haircut.  The cold cap needed to have contact with the head in order to work, and also if my hair was to fall out, then it would be easier to deal with.   Going to the local hairdresser just seemed too difficult as I imagined staring at myself in the mirror sobbing as long strands of my auburn hair fell to the floor.

Then one of those little miracles happened, which seem to happen all the time when you’re going through a traumatic experience – ‘out of the blue’ our neighbour mentioned to my husband that she was an ex-hairdresser.  I was relieved to be able to have my hair cut in the privacy of my bathroom.  When Fiona came round the following day, I deliberately chose a seat which wouldn’t allow me to see my reflection, I just trusted her to do her job. I closed my eyes so I couldn’t see my hair fall, and then after it was all over, I looked at myself in the mirror, and it wasn’t too bad.  That was the easy part though.

The first time I went to hospital for chemotherapy the nurses came in every fifteen minutes with a cold cap – a soft helmet which is kept in the freezer – to try and paralyse the hair follicles I presume.  Unfortunately the cap didn’t work, it just gave me a excruciating headache – after three sessions my hair began to fall out….

My hair already seemed thinner, and then I began to notice hair on my pillow, the kitchen table, the sofa….wherever I sat really  It was also extremely itchy, as if a rash had developed on my skull.  A couple of days later,when I put my hand on my head, the hair would come out in handfuls.  I found this so distressing, more than anything it was the feeling of hopelessness, and the lack of control.  One morning I woke up and decided it needed to be shaved off.

Luckily my good friend Andrea was staying with us during this time.  I asked her that morning if she would do me the honour, but knew it was a big ask.  Andrea was a doctor, so immensely practical, but also extremely kind and sensitive.  I had thought of asking my husband to do it, but I think we would have both been too upset.

Sitting in the bathroom, I put my head in her hands, literally and metaphorically.  She first cut it as short as possible with scissors and then started to shave it, gently and methodically.  Tears rolled down my cheeks, as I had flashes of negative images of Jewish people having their heads shaved in Nazi Germany or women shamed after the war being paraded through the streets.  I needed to take my power back, rather than be a victim so I tried to change my vision.  I started to think of Buddhist monks or strong female actresses such as Sigourney Weaver who had shaved their heads for a film role.  This somehow made me feel more powerful.

After it was shaved, I put a soft cotton/silk cap on my skull, but wouldn’t actually look at my head for at least a week.  I then needed to decide how to cover my head for the outside world, but that’s another story.




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, 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.


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”

Where it began


When I first learned I had breast cancer, I was shocked.  I was lucky that I’d found it relatively early, but I wasn’t to be spared surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  I was too frightened and didn’t have the confidence to question what was being offered, so I decided I would complement conventional medicine with alternative healing whenever possible.  My lovely husband, family and friends were always there for me throughout my journey, but something else was happening which made it more remarkable.  People came into my life to give me advice and information at what always felt to be the right moment – some plain common sense, some pretty ‘out there’ – but I listened and considered everything.  Little did I know that alternative healing is deep rooted in rural South West France, where we have a house, so some of my experiences touch on this local knowledge.  I hope this blog helps other people who are confronted with illness – I certainly think it will help me, to get through this terrifying but remarkable experience.


The first person who helped me on my path was Dr Criscuolo, an extraordinary doctor who treated me from a rather non-descript hospital in Mont de Marsan, South West France.  His consulting room was in sharp contrast to the bland hospital corridors – on entering the room there was a large Buddha with an offering of fresh flowers at its feet, together with angels and various deities on the shelves and walls.   This gave me faith that a doctor working in conventional modern medicine clearly believed that there was much more to healing than simply treating the body like a machine.  So I began my journey, combining physical, mental and spiritual challenges – always with help along the way, which I am forever grateful for.

After being operated on by Dr Criscuolo, I found out one month later that he had died in a diving accident.  I, like many others will never forget his open smiling face, his kindness, along with his skill and knowledge.  He was an exceptional man.