Sunday, 26 August 2012

Food glorious food

Finally, I'm beginning to take on board that I am actually quite seriously ill, and that I need to start behaving accordingly. Don't worry, I've no intentions of dragging a poor, pathetically limp barefoot body around the place wailing woe-ridden self-pitying nonsense, more that I probably need to slow down a bit, take stock and accept that I can't actually attempt to change the world on every single day. 

Two days away at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care Centre on their Living Well with Cancer course has done me the power of good. They used to be known as the Bristol Cancer Care Centre, and they are world famous for their "Bristol Approach" philosophy. WM and I had a glorious time! Think 5-star hotel accommodation coupled with getting the type of welcome and care you'd get from your very best and oldest friends. Add in the most amazing 4 acres of gardens and fabulously delicious food, and although it was only two days, it gave me the chance to step back and take stock of where I am, what is happening, and how I can get through it all. 

They take a "whole body" approach to cancer, working alongside the very best of what we are offered by our Oncology Teams, their focus is on keeping the mind, body, spirit and emotions healthy and balanced. The two days were jam-packed with workshops and talks on everything from nutrition to meditation, exercise classes to getting lots of rest, and it was quite intensive, but this meant it had quite an impact on me to. 

There were nine of us on the two day course, 6 with cancer, and three "supporters" including WM. It really bought it home to me how arbitary and random and unexpectedly this disease strikes. All of us were just bumbling along, minding our own business and living our lives when BOOM we get cancer completely out of the blue. Everything from that moment changes, with hospital appointments, treatments and procedures taking over every aspect of one's existence, and dealing with post-operative pain, mulitation, self-confidence and self-esteem issues, drug-related side-effects, hair loss, radiotherapy burns, the list goes on and on and on. 

It's very easy to go over the edge into depression and despair - not only about the fact that this cancer may actually kill you very prematurely, but also just because dealing with all the brutal but highly-effective treatments can be very traumatising, painful, and almost unbearably dehumanising. Privacy goes out the window, as does any sense of being in the driving seat of your own life, and how you live it. Cancer and it's treatments create people who feel broken and frightenend and lost, and the Penny Brohn Centre is there to give people back a sense of control and ownership of their ability to get better.

I was quite apprehensive about going, but now I'd really recommend it to anyone. Watching the change in other people too was really uplifting - some arrived in despair and left with real hope. I had done a lot of reading around the topics of complementary cancer therapies, and they all made a lot of sense, but trying to fit them into an already over-busy life just seemed one step too hard, and also packed me full of a load of unnecessary guilt too that I wasn't implementing everything. The Bristol approach is much more realisitic - make one small change every now and again and really work at it, rather than set yourself up to fail by trying to making too many radical unrealistic changes all at once that you'll never be able to manage.

I learnt as much from the others on the course as I learnt from the Centre too. How to deal with hair-loss, how to maximise the effects of chemotherapy, where to buy the best underwear for mastectomy prosthesis - even how to feel more positive about my horrible mastectomy scar - someone asked me how long my "shark bite" was, and I just found that really funny. So I'm now calling it my Shark Bite, which makes me feel like a proud, brave survivor instead of someone who has been just been hideously mutilated. I hope to keep in touch with everyone online and through facebook, and yesterday a lovely parcel arrived for me from on of these new friends - lots of beautiful headscarves and hats to wear for when my hair fall out, probably in a month or so from now.

I also lost 4 whole pounds from all their healthy eating. Not a biscuit or any sugar in sight. This is the part of the two days that I am really trying to continue at home - so far I have already baked a rice-flour loaf of bread, made my own houmous to spread on it, created a rather strange, but OK, salad dressing, and we've eaten more salad in the last couple of days that we've had in the previous two years. There is so much evidence about diet and banishing cancer, and how cutting back on additives and eating mostly plant-based foods creates a physiological environment that cancer really struggles to survive in. 

I've also bought myself an exercise bike. Gone are the days when those of us who are seriously ill are allowed to lie and bed and look wan and romantically weak, oh no, now you are expected to exercise yourself back to fitness. But a girl has to do what a girl has to do. I'll be a stick insect by the end of the week with a Jessica Ennis stomach. 

The one big change is that I have finally realised that I am seriously ill, and that the rules and the goalposts have to change accordingly.  Normally every morning I get up and make a "To Do" list, and race through the day beating myself up for everything I haven't managed to tick off the list, either because I was over-ambitious, or because procrastination set in. I have finally accepted that I am  much more important than the house and the housework, so although of course there will be a bit of that on the list every day, there will also be loads of things like rest, read, watch TV and enjoy being alive, too.

I've got a whole week before the chemo starts, and the steroids and the hairloss and the sickness and the muscle weakness and the mouth ulcers and the lack of tastebuds and the weight-gain and the total wipeout exhaustion that that is supposed to bring. Everyone who sees me is amazed how well and "normal" I look, some have confided that they were really apprehensive to stop by expecting to find me looking really weak and ill. Between now and Christmas I'll probably look terrible and feel even worse, but that's what's got to happen to get better, and to poison any little cancer cells still wanting to party inside me means that I'll have to cope with some of that poison too. It's not going to be easy, but anything that is really worth having very rarely is, and at least I won't have to deal with many "bad hair days" in the next few months because I won't have any to worry about. Bring it on, let it happen, and I can't wait til I'm through it all and out dancing on the other side.


  1. What a wonderful place!! Will you have the opportunity to go back there again? It sounds as though it's somewhere that can give you a boost just when you need it. I'd really love to come over for a bit of a cookathon (let me know what's on or off the food list!). xx Love you to bits missis xx

  2. I'm SO glad you had such an enjoyable experience and that you've taken so much from it. I hope if I ever have to face anything so scary that I manage to do it with the same attitude as you have. Reading a blog about someone who is going through so much should be depressing and tear inducing, but I love reading your blog it reminds me, in a way that only you can do, what a special friend I have.

  3. Thank you Benedicte and thank you Sian. Almost as soon as I arrived, miles away from the stresses and busyness of real life, I realised that I was simply exhausted. The first day I missed a couple of hours of the programme because I just had to crawl back into bed and sleep solidly. It really has brought into sharp focus that changes need to be made, and pretty damn fast, if I'm going to come through this intact. Benedicte, the cookathon, to fill my freezer with decent nosh for when I'm too ill to cook would be wonderful, but I'll have to blitz the kitchen and declutter like crazy to make room for it to happen first. Sian, I don't have a choice about having cancer, but I do have a choice in how to deal with it - and I know you would make exactly the same choices. I love having you both as good friends. Yvonne xx