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.

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.

 

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.

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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.