Clearing your drains

I haven’t written my blog for a while, as it’s nearly two years since my treatment ended, and I seem to be in pretty good shape, god willing.  I still see a physio once a week to help restore me back to full health.  At first it was because of the tension in my back, but now I am learning so much more about how the body works and how to support it.

One of the knock on effects post breast cancer, particularly after an operation, chemo and radiotherapy is that the lymphatic system can be damaged  Your underarm lymph nodes may have been removed, or perhaps reinserted after examination, plus radiotherapy in particular can mean you are unable to sweat from your underarm.  As this is a major gland for removing toxins from the body, I was worried my impaired lymphatic system would damage my future health.

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There are various things you can do to support your lymphatic system.  The simple act of swinging your arms above your head and then downwards invigorates the lymphatic system.  Also a gentle massage of your collar bone helps drain those toxins away.  More than this, just breathing properly has an incredible effect on the body.  My physio told me to do big belly breaths, five counts for intake of breath, then five for holding and then five for breathing out.  Really push your belly out as much as you can.  This aids the lymphatic system and also helps to release stored emotions in the body.

For some reason, I had stopped breathing into my belly, perhaps for thirty years or so – really breathing into it, so your belly balloons out.  My breathing had become so shallow, that my diaphragm barely moved.  Why was this?  Perhaps I had subconsciously trying to avoid my deepest feelings, or perhaps I’d read some teenage magazine which said that pushing out your belly was unattractive….who knows.  What’s for certain is that now my back seems straighter, and I feel more connected physically and mentally.

Whilst working on my back and spine, my physio said there were all sorts of blockages in my body.  These can be due to emotional shocks, past accidents or operations which can disrupt the flow of energy in the body, hence leading to illness further down the line.  When my physio first tried to stretch my neck by pulling my head, I froze, and feared she may actually pull my head off – probably due to an old ski injury when my neck got caught in the rope barriers leading to the ski lifts!  So over time, my physio is unblocking my body and I feel so much better for it, not just physically, but by unblocking my body, my life seems to flow more easily.  Breathe and move, and do those things you used to do when you were a kid – a handstand, swinging like a monkey, dance around and sing.  Singing is also great for the lymphatic system and for relieving stress.

Try and tune into your body and what it’s trying to tell you.  The lymphatic system is really important (who knew!) and it helps you stay disease-free.

 

 

 

Lean on Me

When I first had my cancer diagnosis I was gutted.  I remember so clearly driving back from hospital with my husband and actually wanting to just drive off the road.  It sounds dramatic, and it was, I had no idea how I was going to deal with this news.  Then I looked at the man next to me, who I love so much, and life seemed worth fighting for.  What I didn’t expect, was for my friends and family to rally round to such an incredible degree.  You are going through this horrible experience on your own, but at the same time, you are being lifted by your team, all of whom have a particular role in your new-found state.   Going through my treatment, I would call on each one for their particular expertise.  At the beginning, I wanted to give something back in return as I was so grateful, but in fact what’s important is to accept the kindness of others, and know that you will do the same for someone else when it’s they go through something horrible.  Each friend is important, but your core team will be there for you, each, in turns out, with a specific role.

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The StraightShooter Survivor

She’s already been through the treatment, and she tells it like it is.  It’s the person you call for practical advice from the moment you first find out, to the recovery period.  She doesn’t hold back, and will tell you all the gory details, preparing you for the realities of what you’re about to go through.  In my case, this was my friend Chloe, who was always at the other end of the line

The Dynamo

Immensely practical, this friend will come to your side to organise your day-to-day routine.  Cooking great batches of healthy food for the freezer, making freshly squeezed juices, cleaning the house, and making sure you get exercise every single day, even when you hate the idea.  My sister Ruth fulfilled this role – she was like a magic fairy, coming in to sort me out.

The Healer Expert

Your expert friend, who not only understands conventional medicine, but also food as a medicine.  I was really strict with my diet from the moment I found out, but not in a bonkers way.  Everything Andrea told me to do, I followed, but she wasn’t draconian about it.  Andrea’s basic rules are: eat hot foods during chemo and cold during radiotherapy; cut out alcohol, sugar, wheat, dairy and eat very little meat; and always put a Japanese pickled apricot in your belly button before chemo!

The Visionary

A couple of days after finding out about my cancer diagnosis, Clare drove up to see me.  She has tons of positive energy and knows me well.  She looked at every area of my life, where toxicity could have occurred – food, lifestyle, thoughts – and helped me vision a future for myself to help me get better.  Combatting cancer isn’t just about taking the medicine, it’s about reviewing your life, and taking steps to be healthy in all sorts of ways.

What struck me when going through this process was how kind people are, and for me the lesson was to accept that kindness, without having to return anything.  Your friends and family are there to support you, and you will do the same for them whenever you are needed.  They will all fulfil a different role, and your relationship will never be the same again, it will be stronger having been through this together.  There may also be a couple of people who let you down – this happened to me, and I was angry they weren’t there for me – but now I just keep them at a distance, it’s fine, but I know who my true friends are.

Regime Change

One of the first changes I made after discovering I had breast cancer was to my diet.  At first I was blown away with the amount of information, not just on the internet, but in well-intended emails which arrived in my inbox.  If I only ate more celery, carrots, flax seed, avocados, broccoli…..the list went on….I would be cured.  I probably would have done the same thing had it been a friend of mine, thinking I was helping, but I actually had to tell people to stop.  I was so stressed by the whole diagnosis, trying to get my head around what was about to happen, I couldn’t cope with the ‘quick fix’ solutions which were being offered.

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I wanted my liver to be in good shape, in preparation for all the toxins which were about to be put into my body – general anaesthetic, chemo and radiotherapy.  I thought I ate pretty well, but everything I read stressed the importance of cutting out dairy, sugar, meat and alcohol.  At the beginning I think I went a bit overboard.  I even tried only eating alkaline foods – the theory is, cancer cannot survive in an alkaline-only environment – but saying no to fresh in-season organic tomatoes seemed crazy.

I lost weight very quickly, but the nurses at the hospital stressed the importance of having some protein to keep me strong in terms of energy and in building muscle mass.  In the end, after a slightly extreme beginning, I made a no sugar, dairy, meat and alcohol rule in the house but I could eat anything (within reason) out of the house.  My daily diet usually included porridge (with lots of seeds, nuts and fruit) in the morning, and then vegetable soup for lunch, then something with beans or pulses for dinner. The other thing which happens of course with chemotherapy was my appetite was pretty low, but I would make an effort to eat regular small meals to keep my strength up.

According to my friend Andrea, an expert in Chinese medicine and healing foods, chemotherapy makes the body cold, so you should only hot foods.  Conversely, radiotherapy heats up the body, so it’s important to eat cold or cooling foods, to create balance in the body.  This is one rule I stuck to throughout the treatment.

There is tons of advice out there about miracle cures, as well as the properties of various foods, but I found it too difficult to make extreme changes to my diet – mainly I just didn’t have the head space for it.  For me, cutting out meat, sugar, dairy and alcohol made it much easier on my liver to process all the other toxins my body it was having to deal with.  I drank loads  of water too, of course, and following the hot/cold rule made a lot of sense.

On a final note, I find it interesting that French hospitals take nutrition very seriously, whereas friends of mine in the UK had no nutritional advice – quite the opposite – the rule was, ‘carry on as normal’.  More worryingly, a friend’s mother in the US was told that she should absolutely not make changes to her diet during her treatment.  It’s almost as if the Anglo-American conventional medical culture is positively hostile to any form of natural healing.

 

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls

I remember as I was nearing the end of my treatment, an Irish friend Anne told me about a large bell in a cancer wing of an Irish hospital.  When patients had finished their treatment, they were encouraged to ring the bell to mark the end – a sort of celebration – it seemed like a lovely idea.

When I first heard about this, I couldn’t get the image out of my mind.  I couldn’t wait for my treatment to be over, but would it be a celebration?  Every time I imagined ringing the bell I wanted to rip it off the wall.  Rather than it being an ‘air punching’ moment, I imagined screaming out, relieved it was all over, but angry too that I had been subjected to this treatment.

pexels-photo-633497.jpegAs part of my ‘therapy’ I would listen to songs on Spotify whilst driving back and forth to the hospital.   The song Ballerina by Van Morrison would often crop up on a playlist from his album Astral Weeks.  One of the lines of the song is ‘All you gotta do is ring a bell’.  The song went round and round in my head, conjuring up the vision of me trying to ring the bell in the hospital.  While singing along there would be tears rolling down my face.

As the final day of radiotherapy neared, I was exhausted and literally burnt out.  I stared at the wall during the treatment and then pulled my gown back on, feeling numb.  The radiologist turned to me at the end with a smile on her face, and said ‘this is your final session.’  I just burst into tears, sobbing as an enormous weight lifted from my shoulders.  She comforted me by saying that I had been well dressed with make up on every day.  I replied ‘yes, I’ve tried to be strong for too long.’

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….’