Take Me Back to Normal

What is it they say? If you want to make God laugh tell her your plans? Well, I hope someone up there is laughing because I certainly am not. I am fed up. Actually that’s F.E.D. U.P. with a good half a dozen exclamation marks for emphasis. (!!!!!!!!) For fear of seeming to contradict more upbeat and positive blogs that I have written in the past, it would be disingenuous of me not to express the flip side. Living with stage four cancer is not black and white, we cannot always be the noble and exceptional patient nor are we always self-pitying and woe-is-me. Life on this path is far more nuanced see-sawing somewhere between the two; there are sunny days and there are days when dark clouds glower ominously and oppressively. To sum up, I am fed up of being fed up. And I’d like a break please.

Having a moan and a whinge does not come without a sizable chunk of guilt. I know there are people out there who are enduring much worse circumstances than I. I know that I have a great deal about which to be grateful. But that little part of me that is feeling sorry for myself just wants to be seen and heard. She wants to jump up and down shouting “It’s not fair” “I want my life back” “I want to feel normal again”.

Normal – now what does that mean? I suppose to me, now, it means not having the state of your health on your mind, or at least lurking around the periphery 24/7. It means maintaining one’s independence, not having to rely on people in order to complete simple functions that you once took for granted. It means being able to make plans without first consulting the diary to see whether you are due to attend hospital appointments. Not wincing when others tell you of their plans for later in the year, and your mind finds itself begging the question, will I have the luxury of even being here later in the year? Simple stuff – driving, walking, breathing. It’d be nice to do those with ease again.

October was the last time I remember normal. I made a six hour journey by public transport to Devon to see my wonderful friends “the poncho fairies” where I was spoilt rotten, and we enjoyed mooching around Totnes, eating naughty cream teas (I’m told it’s the law in Devon!) and strolling on Dartmoor in search of cairns and ancient stones and piskies. Of the latter we did actually spy one.

That slice of heaven was followed by a spontaneous trip with my husband across the channel to Brittany in the van where we ended up at St Malo, an old corsair town. To walk around its ramparts, or explore inside the city walls feels like stepping back in time. However, the town itself was almost completely destroyed during the second world war but was painstakingly and lovingly rebuilt in its original style. We filled our bellies with mussels, chugged around the town on le petit train, marvelled at the beautiful light cast by the stained-glass window in the cathedral, and I even got to indulge my literary nerdiness and walk in the steps of Marie -Laure the young heroine of “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, the best book I read all year.

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From St Malo we headed south west towards Carnac, detouring briefly at Monteneuf where there are some truly spectacular huggable ancient stones, if that’s your thing. Carnac was impressive in a different way due to the sheer number of stones laid out, there are thousands. Like Stonehenge, the more sacred ones are cordoned off from the public, to the annoyance of many who believe that they belong to everyone, but most stones are quite happy to be photographed, kissed and hugged by anyone who has the urge.

We discovered a stone burial chamber – 5000 BC the Tumulus de Kercado incongruously tucked away behind a Franco-Indian restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It would be fair to say that both were interesting in their own way.

As I write about those times, I recall the joy, the delight of getting out and about, worries pushed to the back of my mind, and the sheer bliss of normality. On returning to England, and re-entering the routine of treatment in London, life took a little turn off course, and rather than being allowed to return home, I was admitted immediately via A and E to a ward where I was treated for an infection, (I had been hacking away in France but thought that I’d shake it off no problem, just like the good old days) and slightly more seriously to prevent sepsis, for which I was borderline.

About my stay, I will say that I had a great view of the London skyline for Guy Fawkes night. I also discovered the delights of Deliveroo for the very first time, who actually deliver to your ward. I was gobsmacked and impressed. Also hugely relieved that I didn’t have to endure anymore of the sinisterly glistening and unidentifiable substances served up to me on a plate embarrassingly described as “food”. Why, why is it, that the food served up to people when they are at their most physically vulnerable is of the lowest possible quality? They can attempt to fool and seduce you with glossy laminated menus, elaborately describing meals to tickle your palate and make your mouth water. But the reality is a huge and unhealthy disappointment. During a recent stay in hospital, I ordered fishfingers and chips. Please don’t have a go, my appetite was zero and I was losing weight so figured how can you go possibly go wrong with a childhood favourite? More fool me. When it arrived, in its tepid post-microwaved state, I was disturbed to discover that my meal was actually sweating.

Please can someone consider improving the food that we deliver to our sick, and remember that healthy nourishment is a priority.

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I have digressed. Diverting my whinge into NHS meals. So, I was discharged from London, only to be readmitted a few days later nearer home. This time I barely bothered telling friends and family, I was getting bored of it, so I figured they would be too. It took longer than I would have liked to get my strength back, something which frustrates me like mad. Life is short and precious and I want to be up and running ASAP, not hobbling around all weak and feeble. At the end of November, I undertook my first major outing in a month and attended a charity function at the House of Commons. And following that my health seemed to find balance again and I enjoyed two whole weeks of near normal activity, slowly getting back to full strength. Walking in the woods, planning for Christmas and writing. And then my back went. I was under the bed at the time. On my belly waving my new sooper dooper, suck-up-everything-in sight- including-the-cats lightweight (Ha!) vacuum at some sinister and unidentifiable nasties that had been there since I don’t know when.

I had to wait until my husband was free to come and pull me out by my legs, at which point I discovered that I couldn’t stand, roll, sit, or really walk. I was completely buggered. Now I figured that this was an old war wound, one I’ve had almost thirty years since first becoming pregnant. Every now and then it flares up and I am reduced to crawling around, clinging to walls, and leaning on shopping trollies and umbrellas. Ordinarily I’d have dashed off to the nearest chiro/osteo practitioner and said “get me upright!” As I’d had to one panto recently with three shows to perform and no understudy (to give him his due, he succeeded.) But now, because the cancer has caused some fractures and weaknesses in my bones and spine, it is unlikely that many will touch me. Nor would I want them to. So it was a matter of fistfuls of paracetomol and waiting it out. When illness reduces you to being “cared for”, to being dependent, to being reliant, it fundamentally changes how you see yourself. What’s more it fundamentally changes how your partner or loved one sees you too. The nature of the relationship shifts, tilts out of balance. Your loss of power is reflected in the eyes of the one who is left to “care”; where I used to see partnership and mutuality I can now see worry, fear, exhaustion and helplessness. It is so important to hold onto memories of how it used to be and hold tight to the belief that it will be so again. This is one of my BIG fed ups. I am fed up of needing to be looked after, of not being able to fend for myself. I don’t want to lose myself to a new incarnation where I no longer have the strength or will to be who I want to be, to be who I am.

Sometimes it feels like you are trapped in a cage. If only you could find the door and step out to freedom and life as it was before. If only you could wake from the nightmare: dawn breaks and you realise that it was all just a bad dream. And life is wonderfully normal again. Yes, if only.

Early January and finally, after a Christmas where I did, by necessity absolutely nothing, my back was finally on the mend I was back to tentatively trotting about the woods and driving a little. Then came the incident of tripping over the washing. Apart from labour, I can honestly say that I have never felt pain like it. So once again, there I was, as helpless as a baby. X rays and MRIs mercifully showed that I hadn’t suffered a vertebral collapse which the team were concerned about what with everything else that is going on internally. Now some of you may be thinking that its great to be waited on hand and foot, I haven’t cooked a meal in months, or done the washing, or done any housework, or shopped. I’ve barely got off my backside to get myself a glass of water. But it isn’t. And if it wasn’t for Jez I’d have probably starved by now or been eaten by the cats.

I was back in hospital again for a few days the other week. Ridiculous temperature. 100 degrees, for about ten days. They never did really discover why. Me more fed up.

Jez has been making herbal compresses for my back out of the comfrey plant. He rubs it along my spine then trusses me up in clingfilm to marinade for a few hours. Amazingly it has been helping. So at last I had the temerity to think that a corner was being turned, a vision of normality was peeking over the horizon and I could banish the Me that was feeling sorry for herself; the Me that couldn’t see the point in anything; the Me that required “caring for”, the Me that was well and truly pi**ed off and fed up with it all. Oh but that would be far too rosy. How about a scenario where they discover a little abnormality concerning my heart and want to send me for further tests. Like it or not that is the hand dealt me this week. So treatment is on hold while the cause is determined. My poor beautiful tender heart. Where it all started back in 2016 when I had a cardiac tamponade. (Fluid in the pericardial lining prevents the heart from being able to work)

My heart, which has been broken both literally and metaphorically, how I send you love and healing. How well you are doing, and how grateful I am for each blessed beat. Thank you.

It is OK to feel fed I up. Though whether it is completely wise to express it quite so publically is another matter. But I maintain that this blog is about my musings, a desire to make sense of it all, and in many ways to reach out so that I am not alone on this journey, and maybe, I hope, neither are you. I look all around me to find inspiration: in nature, in books, TV, Film, other people, art, and one thing that always lifts me is you. If, by sharing a fragment of my story it helps just one person, it can completely transform my darkest mood. I see value and purpose and meaning all around. Although private by nature, I set myself the challenge of writing the blog to open myself to taking risks and living life a little differently than I previously had done. It is an unexpectedly cathartic process. But if there is one thing that it has taught me above all else is that we are not alone, and together we lift each other up.

Meanwhile, I do not accept this is my “new normal”. I look forward to better days, and looking Jez in the eye and seeing my husband, and seeing him looking back at his wife.

Nourish Your Soul

nourishThere is a hunger in my belly. A gnawing rumble. An emptiness. A hollow entreaty to be satiated. It is not food I crave. I am lucky there, food aplenty in my fridge, or delivered to my door. No, it is a deeper yearning, a desire to be fed, to suckle and be nurtured and be nourished by life itself.

I savour the sweet spots of my existence, like a nectar, a mystical elixir that sits precious in this challenging world. Those moments that are like gold. Framed in a timeless shadow of a memory, that I wear like diamonds around my neck. Time with my loved ones, sunrise over a frosty field, the hug of friends and community, a prayer shared around a fire, a good book under the duvet, lunch club, the weight of a purring cat on my chest, caravan adventures, ceremony, pilgrimage, cold healing springs, a buzzard overhead, an out-of-the-blue email from a friend, belly laughs; these gems are sustenance to my soul. I harvest these moments greedily and display them in the scrap book of my mind.

And what warms your heart and nourishes your spirit when the nights are long and dark and quiet? What brings a smile to your face, and lifts your spirits? Do you make time to feed that empty place within that makes you sad, or makes you ponder the meaning of it all? What makes your heart sing? What brings a smile to your face? Can you taste Joy? Life can become swallowed beneath a regime of duties and do’s, and don’ts, and oughts, and musts, and expectations, and habits, and lists, and distractions until we are so caught up in the wheel of it all, the relentless frenzy of the everyday, the white noise of our existence that we have forgotten why we are here at all. That life is more than merely something to be ‘got through’, it is a gift, even if it sometimes feels like a relentless pass-the-parcel with nothing but forfeits beneath every layer, there is a prize awaiting you at the centre. It is up to us to make a life a work of art. And it is not about the applause or the reward, but about the effort you put in, the journey you undertake, and the beauty you seek to manifest. Seeds sown reap their own reward. It is not about success or failure, it lies simply in the act of having a go. And of the keeping going – the keep on keepin’ on when the road gets tough. If you do not make the effort to prospect for gold then you are unlikely to find it. If you do not believe that it may lie hidden beneath the dirt, then for you it will never exist.

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It now comes as no surprise to me that against the backdrop of all that currently challenges me, life can taste sweeter than ever. And I don’t say this with any sense of irony. Not every day nor every moment, but here and there, like a shooting star that illuminates the night sky or the glory of a rainbow before it fades. Small nuggets of gold reveal themselves to me, glinting beneath the water on the muddy river bed. And in those moments I am rich. Where once life was something I took for granted, about which I was at times cavalier, not mindful of its divine preciousness, and even perhaps had an ambivalence towards. Now I have been taught the lesson of humility and gratitude. Illness has given me the eyes to see. I marvel at my prior capacity for blindness, where the spotlight of attention illuminated those things that aroused fear or lack, and the blessings in my life hid themselves in the shade.

And so I return to the question of nourishment. How do we nourish ourselves? Why do we need to nourish ourselves. As humans the first nourishment we receive originates from the mother, first from within the womb, and then for most of us at her breast, where all the nutrients we require to develop, grow and remain healthy in the physical sense are provided and tailored to our needs. But nourishment comes to us in more than just nutritional form, if we are lucky, our mother, our parents, our wider community nourish us on an emotional, psychological, intellectual, creative and  spiritual plane. And so we develop a robustness and resilience to help us negotiate whatever comes our way. But what if we are mal-nourished? Like a diet lacking in nutrients and overloading on sugar and processed foods leads to weakness to sickness, so too does a life poor in the things that feed the soul. So how do you nourish your soul? Do you remember to make time for those things that bring a smile to your face, a glow, a sense of joy and contentment, an appreciation of the here and now, when the mind is not caught up in the worries of yesterday or worrying about tomorrow and what is yet to come?

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Have we mistaken distraction for relaxation, for quality time? A glass or two of wine, hours lost on social media: comparing,  competing and validating our existance, TV, magazines, games, drugs legal and illegal – junk food for the soul – all help us to forget and numb ourselves from what is hard to endure.

 

 

 

But don’t get lost in getting lost. Cherish the time you have. Give yourself permission to savour what is sweet and discard what doesn’t serve. To nourish and nurture yourself and what is precious to you is vital to your wellbeing. It reminds you that you are worth it. That you matter. That you are worthy. That you deserve life. It feeds your self-esteem, which feeds confidence, which fosters your sense of being loved. And when we feel loved, and worthy, and confident we can become proud of who we are, we bring ourselves back into balance and feel less inclined to compete, to compare, to judge, to exclude, to be in conflict – both with ourselves and others. To nourish oneself means that we are less likely to need to seek nourishment or approval or permission from elsewhere: from another person, a habit or society at large. Instead, perhaps discontent, anger, fear, boredom, helplessness, sadness, rage, guilt, resentment, blame, meaninglessness could be replaced by a meaningful sensation of contentment, purpose, satisfaction and inspiration.

I am hungry. My spirit is craving to be fed. A walk in nature is the meal I desire. Alone in the woods where the breeze blows new strength into my being, where the stream washes away my worries, where I sit upon the wet earth and feel her heartbeat, my back against a tree for support, my fingers buried in the damp, green mossy carpet. Plugging into the pulse of life. Interconnection. Inspiration. Belonging. Where before and after dissolve into here and now, where my heart calms, where beneath a rock or in the whisper of the leaves I find restoration and rejuvenation, and I look up not down, forward not back, and I breathe in the beauty of life. A true feast for the soul.

Trouble is, I tripped over some washing (I know, ridiculous, and painful!) and have been forced to slow down, to stop, confined to the static safety of the sofa out of harm’s way for a few weeks. Good in the sense that I have no alternative but to get on with writing my book, but oh the yearning for the sweet nourishment of my heart and soul. No matter, the memory and promise of nature’s caress inspire me daily, she is going nowhere. And neither am I.

Cherish the sweet spots. Nourish your soul. Bon Appetit! Oh and look out for the washing!

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Death and the Elephant

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There are some days not quite as bright as others, even when the sun is shining. The dark clouds of grief, or fear, or anger, or helplessness just roll on in like an impending storm to obliterate any rays of hope and possibility.

The elephant in the room looms impossibly loud and large, knocking the china flying like a bull in a china shop. The world stands still but you can’t find the exit. And the roller coaster lurches on, up and down, your face a rictus of terror, a silent scream, on this white-knuckle ride.

Oh for a spoonful of normality. When problems were just problems, and not everything was reflected in the mirror of mortality; not everything had a full stop.

Days when it is too painful to look back and too painful to look forward, that find you adrift and isolated from the everything you treasure. No analgesic to numb this wound. This is the deepest cut.

On days like this, collar turned up, back to the wind, your coat of self-pity a defense and a refuge, beneath which lies your nakedness and vulnerability and the scars of your human frailty.

And as I lie with this unwelcome bedfellow, who whispers unsweet nothings of nothing into my ear, fuelling the terrors and painting the world black, willing me to break, seducing me down the path of hopelessness and despair, I chose surrender. To surrender to the uncomfortable emotions, to honour my vulnerability, to let the cracks show and the tears flow. There is no shame in admitting that sometimes you hit a brick wall, that putting on a brave face just doesn’t cut it, that you want (and do!) to throw all your toys out of the pram.

Because it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard to keep on keepin’ on, it’s hard to GLIDE, it’s hard not to see the glass half empty, when you have been issued a sell-by date, and options – a word that can both give and eradicate hope – are running out. It’s hard not to be blinded by the PR, that cancer is a one-way ticket to you-know-where, that life with cancer is akin to going to war, combat unarmed, a battle, a fight against a hostile and deadly assassin. The unexpected visitor, who creeps in unannounced and univited to hijack your health, steal your future and evict you from your life. Who tries to recast us as victim, as tragic, as less than we were, not merely in our eyes but in the eyes of others, whose gaze as it falls upon you turns to one of pity, and fear. For the contagion of cancer is epidemic – it spreads from the unwitting host to friends and family, as if cancer contaminates and infection were a natural consequence, and suddenly one finds oneself in isolation when people can’t see beyond their own relationship with mortality which arises from a cultural fear of death.

Yet, is it death itself we fear? Death has become a taboo – a dirty word, something to be hidden away, expunged, talked about in hushed tones. Much like cancer, have you noticed that? How people change their tone of voice into a “cancer voice” How people brace themselves to see you, because they are never quite sure what to expect? The extra vigorous hug that lasts just a little longer than before. The surprised/relieved “don’t you look wells” The long goodbye – in case it’s the last time? Treating you like a china ornament as if having cancer might cause you to shatter into a thousand fragments right before their eyes.

A person can become concealed beneath the shroud of cancer: the myths, metaphors and cultural expectation of cancer and its association with death play to our deepest most primal fears. This, I believe is also an epidemic dis-ease: the “elephant in the room” which goes by the name of death. But rather than ignore it, which is futile thanks to its unswerving inevitability, let’s dare to look it in the eye. Ignoring the prospect of death cultivates a terrain of fear watered by our anxiety and ignorance, is it not better to explore what death means to us in order to navigate our way through to calmer waters?

My first experience of death came from the east. My maternal grandfather who was from China passed when I was very young. But I remember aspects of the ceremony which would be alien here in this country, but engage us with the passage and process of life and death. Offerings are made to ensure the deceased is well cared for in the afterlife, houses, money, cars, even mobile phones cut from paper are burned to symbolise the things they may enjoy or require. Families regularly tend their graves with offerings of food and incense to ensure they are well fed, and so that they know they are loved and missed. There is nothing a spirit loves more than to know they are still remembered and cared for. On some level it demystifies the whole process, and gives those left behind a means of continuing a relationship, not merely of grief, but of love and care and remembrance.

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The way I see it, is that death itself is not what I fear, death is a bridge between worlds: this life and whatever lies beyond. It is a gateway, a portal through which our soul, our spirit, will pass, in the same way we passed from some other time and space in order to be born into this life. I have smelled death close. Almost 18 months ago now, when it tapped on my shoulder and called my name, enticing me Pied Piper-like to cross over; but thankfully my saviour appeared in the form of Dr B who performed a life-saving procedure, and aided by my allies from the invisible realms, ensured that I hang out in this life for a while yet.

 

So, moving on does not scare me. I have glimpsed enough of the world of spirit, through working as a shamanic practitioner and healer for several years before I was diagnosed, not to be afraid. To understand that we have willing and able allies and ancestors in the invisible realms beyond the veil who want and yearn to assist us. And that, we too, when we pass on, may be able to assist those that remain and our ancestors yet to come.

In order to corral the landslide of invading emotions, let’s separate them out, and look at what’s really going on. When emotional response such as fear, anger, grief, bitterness and so on lock horns it is easy to become overwhelmed and enmired in confusion; one can become entrenched beneath the weight of despair which results in an inability to know what to do and may culminate in the futile resignation to give in. It’s unsurprising, there are only so many times you feel you have the energy and will to deal with it.

Let’s look at two of the most common sources of anxiety for someone with cancer, especially if, like myself, your diagnosis is staged 4:

Leaving loved ones. And leaving full stop.

No one wants to leave the people they love. The imagined pain of that final separation is intolerable. BUT, what is the emotion? If we can pinpoint what it is we are experiencing, perhaps, we can find a means to make peace or honour that truthfully, rather than remain stuck in the overwhelming storm inside heads, the resultant stress of which can be as destructive and as debilitating as the cancer itself.                                                              So ask yourself, how does it make me feel to leave my loved ones?  Afraid, angry, sad . . . etc?                                                                                                                                                    Using myself as an example, I can see that it is not fear, nor anger right now, but sadness. It makes me sad to think I may have to travel on alone, without the companions from this life that I cherish so dearly. Deeply sad. But, this is so for everyone, cancer or no cancer, one day, we all have to part and move onwards on the next stage of our soul’s journey. And who is to say that one hell of an extraordinary adventure doesn’t await us? Unlike me, you may not believe in a spiritual journey, an afterlife, but what I do know is that we leave a little part of ourselves buried in the hearts of those we love, that we live on in their memories, and that while we can, all of us, invest in their futures by expressing our love and gratitude for them.                                                                                    It strikes me how afraid we are of expressing what we truly feel to others, of showing or talking of love. Of all the fears we cling onto, don’t allow this to be one of yours. It is the greatest gift to be able to freely express your love, and an even greater gift to receive.

As a parent, one’s fear of dying multiplies. Actually, I don’t know if that really is the case, but it’s the only perspective I have. In order to put a positive spin on a devastating situation, I am only grateful that my children are adults, they are on their way, they have weathered the storms of childhood and adolescence and beginning to carve out lives independent from parental influence. That I may not be around to witness milestones, or be a shoulder and support for whatever challenges life brings motivates me and inspires me to live by example, to pay it forward. If I can have courage in the darkness, if I can face the challenges that I will meet, if I can enjoy my life, have adventures, turn tragedy into opportunity, show them that  no matter what, it is possible to rise, be empowered even when the winds are against you, be creative, be of service, contribute to the community, to pick yourself up and dust yourself off time after time, to acknowledge truthfully when it hurts, to ask for help, to be resilient, to laugh, to cry, to dare to love, then, then I am still doing my job, from that little place in their hearts where time and space are eternal.

And as for leaving. Well, I won Best Exit once, back in the day at the Soap awards, for leaving Emmerdale so dramatically and efficiently. I joked at the time it was a “glad to see the back of me” award. This time I am blowing up nothing except expectation – the expectation that cancer is a thief on a mission to steal my life. The expectation that one must follow the rules both of the disease and how one is required to behave when one has the disease. The expectation to go off and quietly die, without challenging the system to be a good patient, to follow the rules and embrace the noble victim personality.

Am I afraid to die? Of death itself – see above, of dying? Yes, of course, the uncertainty of the “how” is a rational fear. The universal hope for us all is that it is quick, painless and preferably in our sleep, but I suspect that the road will be a little less predictable. And a little less cinematically poetic than prosaic. What I would hope for is a “conscious” death. In which acceptance replaces anxiety, and love and grace are my companions.

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Another word for human beings is mortals, a word that contains the word death, a reminder that we are all on this cycle of birth, life and death. It’s how we fit into the rhythms of the universe, ever replenishing and renewing, all of nature, and indeed the cosmos is subject to this law of birth life and death. I look to Shiva for inspiration, the Hindu God who represents creation and destruction and everything in between, and who in his incarnation as Nataraja, Lord of the Dance is believed to release mortals from the snare of illusion: thus instilling an understanding of our place in the cosmos.

That cancer has severely compromised my health cannot be denied, but my spirit is intact. Bruised, battered and in need of some TLC from time to time. But please, please cancer is a physical malady, do not give it permission to infect the beauty of your spirit. Let cancer become your reason to be everything you hoped you might be, why not? There is  nothing to lose and everything to gain from discovering just who you are and what you are made of and celebrating life with every fibre of your being.

What futility to fear the inevitable and unavoidable. It is energy wasted and time lost. However, don’t reprimand or blame yourself when you become lost in the fog. We all need to surrender to that at times. Remember to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. It’s OK to struggle. It’s really quite OK.

And try saying  to yourself:

I deserve to live.

I deserve life.

I am worthy of love.

I am loved.

Take as often as required!!!!!

And go tell someone you love them, starting with yourself.

I’ll go first: I love you. Now pass it on.

Namaste – a thousand blessings.

Talk Update – Cancer and The Art of Living – with Leah Bracknell January 18th 2018

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Hello Everyone,
I just wanted to check in and say thank you SO much for such a positive response and support for the talk –
 
Cancer And the Art of Living on January 18th 2018 in London.
 
Just to clarify I shall be giving a talk inspired by my blogs somethingbeginningwithc.com and my own experience of learning to form a relationship with my disease based on my background in yoga, acting and shamanism.
Though those of you that know me will be unsurprised to learn that there will of course be an opportunity to experience a few practices that I have personally found incredibly useful on this journey, vital even, such as meditation, visualisations, perhaps even shamanic journeying. Suitable for everyone, as there will be no standing on your head or winding legs behind ears – those days have long gone!!
Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer, know someone who has cancer or if you are dealing with another illness or life challenge, we can all afford to reconsider what it really means to be alive, to forge a meaningful and fulfilling existence, to mend what is broken, transform what no longer serves and to find ways of being of service to others, no less than when life is at its most challenging.
This will NOT be an evening of doom and gloom, rather it is an exploration of how we may be able to discover the light even in the darkest of times. How we can might even discover resources of strength and possibility if we dare to allow ourselves. About being the best of ourselves. Of facing fear, honouring our experience, transforming and decluttering our lives of what no longer serves. Being honest with ourselves and others. Allowing a devastating diagnosis or life challenge become our teacher NOT our gaoler.
Cancer is healing my life. Am I cured? Well, I still have stage 4 cancer. They tell me there is no “cure”, but everyday I seek and find healing in the little things. I enjoy my life. I wake up each day ready to embrace ( sometimes with deep trepidation I’m not going to lie) whatever presents itself, and, despite what “they” thought, I am STILL here. I am alive, and I intend to share that joy and celebrate this wonderous gift with my family, my friends, students and with you.
It’s time to change the narrative. I hope you’ll come and change it with me.
For details of Cancer and The Art of Living January 18th in London please visit

Not Just An Ordinary Day – Sky Clad and Loving It.

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Between the trees the candles flicker and beckon, leading us down towards the clearing

Where the fire glows.

We gather, in circle, side by beautiful side, in anticipation,  bodies swaying, drums and rattles in hand. Nervous. Poised. Expectant.

And then, arising from the remnants of the day,  it comes.

The first call to action.

Like a heart beat in the night.

Boom. . . . Boom. . . Boom. Spirit horse is rounding us up and calling us to play.

Is that my heart or is that my drum? I no longer know or care, carried along, I am,  on the rising crescendo of sound and rhythm.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Like moths around a flame, we dance, we sing, we merge with the fire – heart and soul surrendering to this, the Dance of Life.

fire dancer4

Boom. To be blessed by the earth beneath our feet, protected by the guardians of the woods, under the loving watchful gaze of the Moon and an audience of stars.

Boom. Here I am. Naked. Daubed in body paint and drumming the guts out of a Saturday night with a load of strangers. And, yes, totally, stone cold sober. BOOM!

This is a celebration of what it means to be truly alive.

In this moment I am intoxicated on life.

I am SKY CLAD and LOVING IT.

This is not just an ordinary day.

This is deep healing. This is my medicine.

It is so. so easy, and completely understandable, if we allow ourselves to get lost or caught up in the fear, grief , anger or negative emotions that accompany a serious health diagnosis. It can be so hard knowing which way to turn, and overwhelming to come to terms with such shocking and shattering news, and it might feel as if nothing is within your control.  And, when we are at our most vulnerable physically  emotionally or spiritually,  the hardest thing to retrieve or retain is our sense of personal power. It becomes a vicious cycle: so the more disempowered we feel, the more threatened and unstable our life appears to be, the more opportunity for the newly created void to be filled instead with the negativity of fear etc. Until, we can only see the glass half empty.

As I gaze deeper into the flames and surrender that part of me that is judgmental, cynical or afraid. And, when I stop questioning the rationale behind my actions,  when I truly give myself permission, just to BE. To go with the flow. To let go. That’s when the power returns. Drummed up again from somewhere deep within, and from somewhere deep inside the Mother. Besides, when the chips are down, there ain’t nothing to lose. Not even my dignity. And there is everything to gain. Because when you meet the fear, face it, when you challenge the expectation, when you peer beyond the confines of the box, when you surprise yourself, that’s when you can take the reins. That’s when you can climb back into the saddle, at least just for now. And there, ‘neath the inky sky, drum in hand, entranced, I let my heart burst open to the magic of the midnight flames, as the fire flirts and dances with me, enticing me like a lover, guiding me like a teacher, mad, frenzied, exuberant, teaching, whispering secrets, purifying.

The way I see it, is that the potential for deep “healing” is within us all. And, the concept of “Healing” is very different form the notion of “Cure” in my opinion but no less profound.

Everyday, the focus of my intent, is for healing. It enriches my life, my wellbeing, and lies beneath almost everything I do. Carrying this intent within my breast, has made what is a difficult journey into an adventure, a pilgrimage. If in some small ,yet clumsy way, I can share my #glasshalffull with anyone, to lighten the burden of your quest, to spark a small flame of hope, to walk alongside you, then it would be a privilege.

I feel very blessed. When cancer called, it revealed to me a long overdue, yet golden opportunity to embark on a healing adventure. And, I intend, not only to walk it with my head held high, but to reach out to the tribe, to walk with me. It’s a funny thing; when you have cancer, the talk is all of drugs and chemo, and appointments, and scans, and radiation, or surgery, and mets, and mutations, injections, biospsies, samples, protocols, plans, options.

I’ve seen a lot of medical staff during the last 8 months, incredible people, doing an incredible job given that the resources available to the NHS are so severely stretched. My gratitude for their care and service is matched only by my admiration for their dedication. Yet, not one has made any suggestion of implementing healing practices which exist beyond the parameters of conventional allopathic medicines and treatments. I’m not merely referring to complimentary or alternative therapies, of which I am a big supporter, but with a background in yoga and shamanic practices , I strongly feel that we do ourselves a dis-service if we ignore our own capacity for being :

The Alchemists of our own Healing

the-fferyllt

We all possess our own unique Medicine. Medicine, is anything that heals.  Our Medicine is our unique gift from spirit, to the world, a spiritual gift or talent. The tragedy for us humans is that we have forgotton this fact, something our indigenous brothers and sisters still remember. Losing sight of the medicine and magic within us, makes human beings sick.

Believe it or not, being diagnosed with cancer, allowed me to explore my connection to my own medicine. If you are still not sure what I am talking about, it is anything that makes you happy or enriches your experience. For me, it may be drumming around a fire, meditating, listening to healing frequencies, making offerings, lighting a candle,  for you it may be enjoying a cuppa with friends, it really doesn’t matter. We just gotta find what is that does us good, then go for it.

Now, I don’t make excuses, if I know It makes me feel good, if it helps me relax, if it makes me see the joy in life, then it is Medicine.

The more we invoke the power and potential of our own medicine, the more we restore ourselves emotionally, energetically and spiritually. It is my thinking that dis-ease comes about when there is a psycho-spiritual malfunction. So, the more we can take the opportunity to resolve any wounds or unresolved emotional traumas that have or continue to cause us pain, the more we can cleanse harmful negative energy from our system.

So, for example, I have found it challenging, yet so, so liberating to do some work around forgiveness, both of others and myself.  It’s a question of making peace with things, and it feels so clean, clear and good. I’m not there yet, it’s work in progress. But I’m in the driving seat. So, next stop, anger. Well buried, that one, Let’s see which stone that’s hiding beneath.

I am grateful that I have the foundations of a strong spiritual practice. I cannot imagine facing this journey without it. Within it I  find a world of magic and possibility, of imagination and power. It reminds me that, within us all, we have all the answers we will ever need to truly know, that within us all resides an inner warrior, inner teacher, inner guru, and our inner healer. It furnishes me with an opportunity to practice gratitude, for everything. And the more I can embrace this attitude of gratitude, the more joy and fulfilment I receive from life.

Every morning, I open my eyes, and the first thing I say to myself is: Thank you for my life. Every damn bit of it. Why not? I am alive, I have my family, a roof over my head, food in my belly, and love and support. That makes me pretty rich. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my Life. The more I take the time and space to honour it, the more it becomes my truth and reality. It is cancer that has shown me just how plentiful my life is, how blessed it is. If we open our eyes, and charge ourselves with really observing and witnessing how things are, what will we find once we strip away negative and entrenched belief systems that no longer serve us? We will perhaps find the person that we are truly meant to be. And there is no time like the present to begin to set them free get to know them.

One of the hardest things a human being can do, is to remember how to love themselves. When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

Do you immediately cover yourself in a cloud of judgement, negativity and criticism. What message is that reinforcing? That you are not worthy? That you are unloveable? That you are unattractive? Where do these thought forms come from? How long have you been telling yourself this. When did this arise? And, how healthy is this for you? How might you feel, and what impact might this have on your healing and wellbeing if you were able to challenge and change this thinking?

No matter where, when or who makes you feel this way, you have the power to transform this story. Yes, you really do. If you believe it to be so. Just give it a try.

Clear your mind. Place your left hand over your heart centre, and your right over your solar plexus. And, looking into a mirror bless yourself with these words borrowed from Hawaiian and Polynesian traditions.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

I love you.

Thank you.

hoopono

Begin with 12 repetitions. You could build to 108 using it as a mantra. Please practice this excercise with an attitude of compassion, non judgement and loving kindness towards yourself. Even if you struggling with receiving the blessing you are bestowing upon yourself initially, commit to it. There is an ancient and powerful energy/vibration within the affirmation, so don’t be afraid to fake it ’til you make it. If you trust that it can work, then it will. If you experience resisitance within you, that’s OK, it’s normal, don’t give up. You are worth it!!

And, if you want to take a leaf out of my book and dance naked around a fire, just you go for it. Being naked reminds us of our vulnerability, it reminds us we are all the same, it connects us to the elements, it challenges our beliefs about our bodies their attractiveness etc. So, I wanted to let me body know how proud I am of it, to tell it it is doing really well supporting me through this, how amazing and beautiful it is. We all are. It’s a primal act of encouragement. I am sending a message of positivity to it, not hatred and disappointment.The fire teaches us all about strength and courage, it ignites our warrior spirit, shines a light where there is darkness, burns away and purifies anything that no longer serves us, it wants to gobble all that pain, and fear, and dis-ease. The fire is hungry for your prayers, it wants to hear the deepest secrets of our hearts. our dearest wishes, the fire wants to remind us how to dance, how to sing, how to be in community, not just with one another, but with all life on this beautiful planet, and this universe. The fire is our most ancient ancestor, come to us directly from the sun. And it resides within each and everyone of us. A flame, a spark of life.

(Below, harvesting the energy of the sun)

catching the sun

Rub your hands together, do you feel that heat? Do you? Do you feel the fire? YOU created that, it comes from within you. Now place your hands upon your body wherever you need healing right now.

Gently, with an intention of love and compassion.

Feel the heat pass from your hands to your body, and imagine all the love in the world , right now, is surrounding you. Holding you. Flowing into you. Caressing you. Protecting you.

There you have it. Medicine in the palm of your hands.

Om shanti. Peace. Peace. Peace. Always. With love.

Oh, yes. And my #glasshalffull tonight?  Prosecco!!! It may be a banned substance, but I am going to give myself full permission to savour , relish and enjoy.

Salut! xx

The Journey

buzzard art

Above

Two buzzards circling,

Sky-spiralling.

Spread-winged, eagle-eyed, in freedom flight,

spring soaring. Roaring by

Gone now in a flash, the bat of an eye, the beat of my heart,

the train speeds on and life flashes by.

This journey wears a groove in my life, deeper it cuts each time I say

“Return to London, please”

No Madame Tussauds, No Big Ben, No all singin’ all dancin’ West End Musical.

No all-seeing London eye. No, not for me.

What would it spy if it gazed my way,

something beginning with c?

Or a scan here, a blood test there, just a scratch, biopsies galore, are you seeing the pharmacist today? Well, I won’t beat around the bush, Disappointing, not what we’d hoped.

Well, it’s not what I hoped to be pumped full of drugs, or radiation, or chemicals.

Not what I’d hoped at all. Just saying.

Passing by familiar landmarks, at speed.

The station where you used to meet me, and leave me. Hello, goodbye. hello. goodbye.

Happy, sad, happy, sad.

Pat and Jim’s. But no one’s home. No one’s waving, not today.

Field after field. Tree after tree. House after house. Allotments. Gardens. Trampolines. Toys. Washing. A thousand lives passed by in a flash.

And are gone.

A thousand stories, a thousand tears and a thousand reasons to be joyful.

Lambs, birds, rabbits,  sometimes if I’m lucky,  a deer.

This green and pleasant land is testament to the mastery of the mystery.

And onwards we rush, destination –  cancer,

Do NOT pass Go.

Do NOT collect £200.

And, I’m terribly sorry , but your get-out-of-jail-free card has, regrettably, expired*. 

(*Which, conversely, is something I am doing my utmost NOT to do.)

monopoly

Past the airport. A plane landing overhead touching down just yards from the train tracks.

Last year, that was me.

That was then.

Before,

And Before, is a very different country from Now.

Now, is a land post-apocalypse, post-invasion, where anarchy and chaos preside. Where fear and grief and anger are on the daily menu.

Three courses for £12.95. Bargain.

Now, does not always feel like a safe place to live.

I declare myself a refugee from Now. I want a holiday from my life. Time out. A sabbatical. At least let me get off the ****ing train.

For here, in Now, the ground shifts beneath your feet. The waves close in over your head. You are falling from a high cliff, and a hand reaches down to help you,  yet you – just- can’t- quite -reach. You shout and shout until your throat is raw, but no one can hear.  You try to dial 999 but your fingers are jelly and your phone just won’t work.

That’s what Now feels like.

And then, there it was.

Large as life, and incongruous as hell.

In the doorway of a warehouse

On the crinkled, edges of Croydon

a fish out of water, metaphorically speaking,

seven and a half feet

of

polar bear.

(And, please look away now if you are vegan – )

deceased and stuffed.

Now, I’m not suggesting the sight of a stuffed polar bear on the streets of Croydon, or in fact any suburban town gives me any pleasure at all. But, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t, just for a sliver of time, make me smile at the unexpected absurdity of this urban arctic vision.

Whatever journey we are on, if we remember to look out of the windows with an open mind, and an open heart we may see the unexpected, we may experience the unimagined, we may taste the impossible, and we might live in the wisdom that life has a way of showing us a little breath of magic, a glimmer, a chuckle.

Don’t close your eyes, for the beauty is all around, in nature, in friends, loved ones, strangers, and in polar bears.

Above

Two buzzards circling

I spread my wings,

And now we are three.

Free.

3 buzzards

buzzard4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saggy not Loose.

lw

The LW ladies were absolutely lovely. Not at all intimidating, nor indeed remotely loose, but genuinely warm and friendly. In fact everyone was. I was bowled over by their generosity. In make up, Jenni McAlpine and I played the “have we met before?” game, decided that we probably had somewhere in our past, and chatted on from there about mutual friends and colleagues. Emmerdale and Corrie have always been quite closely entwined.  Linda Lusardi, also ex Emmerdale, never looks a day older, with her lovely daughter, also stopped to say hello.

I am no stranger to TV interviews, but where in the past, I may have been required to discourse on my character’s  trials, tribulations and traumas, no problem, just switch on professional mode, sell the storyline etc etc this is unchartered  territory. No script. No character to hide behind. My life on display. Raw. Naked.

I wouldn’t have chosen it. So I ask myself, why expose this personal challenging episode so publicly? Why hang my washing out for all to see? Especially as privacy is something so sacred to me. In answer, I suppose that I hope by not hiding away, by shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room, we can change our thinking about cancer or “terminal” illness. Both individually and collectively. As patient, as treatment provider, as a society.

During such a fearful, stressful and uncertain time, one has to navigate a sea of confusion and contradiction. Even when surrounded by loving friends and family, it can feel like being afloat, alone in the dark. The isolation can be deafening.

The truth is that there are already many of us in that boat, trying to stay afloat, like Noah, on the look out for land. Each day I receive dozens of stories of people’s journeys. All of us hoping for the dove to return with a branch in its beak.We are all searching for that beacon of light that says help is here, you are safe. Reaching out in the dark, and hoping that someone will hold our hand. And guide us to where the light shines a little brighter.

uplift

The almighty swell of positive feedback following my appearance on Loose Women truly took my breath away. (Hmmm, maybe I should stop saying that, the irony has only just occurred to me!) I don’t think I can express enough times my immense gratitude for the support, love and prayers I  have received.( I am just sorry I can’t reply to everyone all the time) And if people found the discussion helpful I am grateful for the opportunity to be a voice piece for the many, many people who are living with cancer today. And I honour the many many people who are far braver and have endured far more than me. The people facing their journey alone. The family, loved ones and carers of those who have cancer. And  the amazing dedicated people who treat us and tend us and want to give us life.

My own experience is showing me how vital it is to participate as fully as possible on the journey of your own healing. To be informed, to research, to challenge and question and, if need be, to dare to say “no”. To shrug off the mantle of “victim”, step into one’s  power. To be prepared to make radical changes to lifestyle and thinking. When cancer moves in it is your body trying to alert you to the fact that somehow, something has come out of balance. It necessitates change :physically, emotionally, spiritually. And knowing that can either be daunting or a challenge and a gift. Getting a diagnosis of cancer is like saying “Ok,  the chips are down,  gloves off, sleeves rolled up, now what are you going to do about that?” Sometimes our inner warrior comes to our defence and gives us the strength to face the challenges, and sometimes a sinkhole of despair opens up beneath our feet and engulfs us. Which feeling wins, depends on which one you feed. I’m going to ensure my warrior is well fed and watered. I’m going to need her.

img_1104

It also occurs to me, that when faced with the reality of one’s mortality, there’s nothing to do but try to exceed our expectation of ourselves. We hide too long from being our true brave and beautiful selves caught up in the distractions and duties and mundanities of modern life. So it’s time to love as much as you can, to live full and big, to dare, to say YES, To quest towards healing , to nourish and nurture yourself, to give yourself permission to receive, to be prepared to fail from time to time, to honour the pain and grief and anger and fear, and to know that not being OK is OK too.

And I just wanted to say . .

You’re doing amazing.

We are all amazing.

And in the darkness we reach , grab hold and keep one another afloat.

Thank you for keeping my head above water.

Om shanti. Peace.