Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

“Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest said, “you never know what you are going to get.”

life is like

I couldn’t agree more. These words have been dancing around my head for some weeks now. A reflection of just how life has been these last few months. Many describe the experience of cancer as a roller coaster. I’ve always said that I’ve never been a fan at the best of times: gut-wrenching-stomach-turning fear at 60 mph on a bone-rattling metal serpent is not my idea of a good time. A screaming out-of-control hair-lashing hand-flailing adrenalin rush, no thank you – pass the chocolates please. Though one good thing about the roller coaster. It does eventually grind to a teeth-clenching halt and you can disembark. Not so with cancer, stage 4. No getting off. No candy floss. No hook-a-duck.

So back to the chocolates – cancer is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. Rewinding a few months, some bugger had snaffled all the good ones, and all I was left with was a few stale, half chewed nut clusters that nobody wants and sad empty wrappers. In other words, life was proving a wee bit challenging to say the least both physically and emotionally. Actually, who am I trying to kid? It was a dark time. A difficult time. It seemed as if the way forward was closing. My wonderful, supportive, highly experienced and eminent NHS oncology team for whom I have the greatest respect and gratitude, and who have been with me every step of this journey for the last 18 months advised me to go home, spend time with my loved ones, set my affairs in order and make contact with Macmillan home support ASAP. There was no more treatment they could find to offer at the moment. Maybe I would find a trial. Maybe. Regrettably though, from their perspective, and more crucially mine, our journey together looked like it could be drawing to an end soon.

It took a while for the significance of the situation to truly sink in.

IS THAT IT???

Do I just go home and WAIT …? To DIE …….?

When hope is snatched from you, it is so, so hard to know how to continue, how to be, who to be, how to live. What’s the point? Fear seeps in through the cracks and eats away at the spirit. Despair becomes your bedfellow. Waking is a nightmare, yet sleep never comes. Guilt walks in your footsteps, every time you witness the pain and sadness in the eyes of your loved ones having to endure this terror with you. Injustice justifies your anger and your grief. Why fight when you have been told there is nothing left to fight for? You cannot undo the inevitable. You have been told there is nothing more that can be done. I’m so so sorry. Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, yes, on diagnosis. I do WISH people would stop apologising to me. It’s not your fault. And believe me, you ain’t as sorry as I am! The medical establishment, and I mean this with no disrespect, have decreed that NOTHING MORE CAN BE DONE within the pathways and protocols currently available via the NHS. (Well more palliative chemo could potentially be on offer, but they know my feelings on that.) In the lung cancer vs science battle, there’s only one winner. And it isn’t going to be me.

With each day that passed, physical distress and discomfort was matched by escalating mental and emotional distress. For the first time since I was diagnosed the insidious canine of depression was curling up in my heart.

And then, one day, out of the blue I had a realisation: I had bought into “the fear”. Cancer adorns itself in fear, and dealing with fear and its impact on one’s mental, spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing is one of the biggest hurdles that a person diagnosed with cancer has to overcome. Cancer breeds fear. And fear is contagious. Fear disempowers. Fear renders us helpless. Fear makes us question our own mind, beliefs and instincts. Fear is heavy – it crushes us and restrains us. Fear builds a prison around us. Fear is like a thief in the night, it steals hope. No one is immune to fear.  Not even the medical experts. They are human after all.  I saw fear on their faces, a fear that they couldn’t do more to help; I felt it, I smelled it on their breath, I saw it in their eyes, and I swallowed it and gave it permission to swallow me.

Until I saw it standing there in the shadows. And I chose to reject it.

If I feel fear, let it be my own. Then I can seek to understand it, and develop my own relationship with it. Fear does not merely diminish, on some level it serves to protect us. It can motivate and help us to dig deep into our resources. The Fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system demonstrates that. But, let me not be bowed and broken by the burden of other people’s projection of fear at my situation, not family, not friend, not practitioner. Allow me to take ownership. To steer this in the direction I need to travel. Let me break free from the bonds of personal and collective limiting beliefs that are unable to acknowledge that the incurable could be curable, the impossible achievable, and deny us the fierce grace of our untapped human potential.

Unintentionally, the manner in which I was seemingly being released from the care of a team whom I trust and respect and of whom I have become fond and who have become fond of me, caused incredible distress and panic, and depression set in. As well as having to deal with a real physical illness, I was now combatting mental dis-ease. How delicate news is passed from practitioner to patient is undoubtedly no easy task. We are all different, we will all respond differently. Some may prefer a sympathetic approach, others a more pragmatic stance. But, having been the recipient of devastating news on several occasions, I recall the words from the Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm. I suspect that this oath is interpreted primarily in physical and physiological terms. However, I would strongly argue that health practitioners cannot underestimate or neglect the psychological impact that their words and demeanour have on a patient. Us patients are not merely slabs of meat. A more holistic, inclusive approach is required, we cannot continue to separate body from mind from spirit. I strongly believe that our physical wellness is entwined and interacts with our mental and emotional wellbeing. I would go so far as to say that physical dis-ease can originate in the psycho-spiritual realms. Personally, I have no doubt that certain distressing and devastating life events in my own experience subsequently translated themselves into the cancer I experience today.

If I cast my mind back to the day of my diagnosis, the young woman tasked with passing on the news came armed with pity. And pity, is something else which I find at best futile and at worst offensive. Pity from others is another disempowering sentiment. It casts one in the role of victim. It breeds self-pity, which now and again serves as a necessary release, but as an on-going state encourages passivity and helplessness. News delivered, she left me alone in an empty room with an appointment to see the oncologist, my future in shreds, all hope extinguished, trying to digest the undigestable.

Five minutes later, a Sister came in.

“I’m going to say three things, she told me,

  1. You are young (nice try I was 52 – BUT young for a lung cancer diagnosis)
  2. You are healthy  (Seriously? I just got diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer – but OK, apart from that she was right, I am strong, fit and have hardly ever been ill.)

And 3. You have your yoga. (Bingo, a rich spiritual life that inspires me, nourishes me and teaches me to look at life from a different perspective)

And, just like that, she gave me something so precious, so profound, so wise – she gave me back hope. And hope gave me back my power, just a little bit, but enough.

The second century doctor Galen held that “confidence and hope do more good than physic”. I couldn’t agree more. And if the medical professionals can’t see, or more crucially are afraid to trust in the positive power of hope, so fearful these days are they of proffering ‘false’ hope then I shall go searching for it myself. I shall create it myself. The first and last thing a patient holds on to is, Hope. And it is a person’s confidence, their belief in whatever healing is offered which can influence the positive outcome of their treatment. How else would placebo be so efficacious?

I have maintained right from the beginning of this journey, that we are the alchemists of our own healing. And I will only heal, if I chose to heal. And believe I can heal. Time to step up. Take command. Time to think outside the box, expand my consciousness of possibility to beyond the scientifically proven and statistical. Time to concoct my own Medicine. And believe that it is possible that by being open to different ways of healing you can influence the outcome and make a difference. That you can defy expectation. That you can achieve what is deemed impossible. Why not? What is there to lose? What is there to fear? To fail is not to try. To try is to succeed. Be here Now.

So I had the dog put down. Churchill’s black dog, that is. And, breathless as I was, unable to walk far as I was, recovering from operations as I was, I made a vow. NOT to buy into other people’s fear, no matter who or how expert they are. I vowed to participate as much as possible in the things that I love and that inspire me. I vowed to believe that something good is coming, however crazy that sounds. To believe in miracles. To never give up hope. To expand beyond my own limiting beliefs and the limiting beliefs held by the collective. I chose to believe in the power and potential of what Hippocrates describes as “the natural healing force within”.

I opened myself to the possibility of the impossible, and then, something amazing happened, the universe began to listen and respond. After two failed attempts to get on a trial (talk about being given false hope!) – third time lucky – I was accepted. Early stage trial, I feel I am of marginally higher status than a rodent, but it welcomes hope back into the room. And, yes please, I’ll take that.

 

st winifredCommencing the trial has coincided with a whole new chapter, a summer of adventure, joy and healing, woven together by a daily pilgrimage in celebration and gratitude for life. The journey first took me to Wales, where I chose to celebrate and give thanks for my birthday and my life at the sacred healing waters of St Winifred’s Well in Holywell. The Lourdes of Wales. Where, so they say, miracles happen. It was an opportunity to immerse in prayer and focus strong intention for the year ahead. And immerse ourselves we did – literally! three times, in the freezing mountain waters! Wow Wow Wow!

 

Did it work? Am I cured? I don’t know, but all I can say is that each day, little by little I feel better and better. I feel blessed.

As the days and weeks have progressed my strength and vitality have improved daily on a diet of spiritual nourishment, all night out-door ceremony, community, friendships old, friendships new, family, magical Mexican healings, hot sweaty camping, prayers of gratitude, prayers for the Earth, gathering around the fire with indigenous elders, dancing with the deer, feeding the soul, feeding the spirit, teaching in circle, learning in circle, introducing Marakames (indigenous Mexican shaman) to the delights of kebabs and fish and chips, feeding my belly with the womb food of my childhood days spent on the streets of Singapore, late night hammock star gazing, and trip upon trip to London to participate in the trial, and a huge thank you to everyone on the ward who make the process so easy to bear.        All mixed together in my cauldron of healing, bound together with a strong vision of the future I desire for myself and conspire to manifest.

 

411px-The_magic_circle,_by_John_William_Waterhouse (1)

All of this is medicine: My medicine. I believe in the power of spirit, plant, mind and medical.

Next week a scan will tell me the status of the cancer: same, better or worse? The result will determine whether or not I am allowed to continue on the trial. So, now I must consciously chose not to succumb to what we like to call scanxiety – the creeping terror of what ifs.

Because, judging solely on how I am feeling right now, on my quality of life, my physical robustness, my reserves of energy, my optimism, all of which improve every day and have transformed me from the person I was less than two months ago who was struggling to breathe or walk– I feel AMAZING. And I’ll take that. Some magical alchemy is at play, something is working. For all I know the trial could be giving me a placebo. Who knows, who cares? I believe it is going to work, just as I believe that the ancient traditional healing methods of the Wixarika marakames (indigenous Mexican shaman) will work, just as I believe that my mind is a powerful medicine, just as I believe in the power of plants to heal, or the power of the prayers people have been saying for me. I believe that there are ways to healing that we in modern western society as yet do not fully understand. Or perhaps we have forgotten. The light of hope still shines when I look at the horizon, long after the sun has set on the conventional medical establishment’s options.

All I know is that right here, right now,         IMG_3323

this moment is beautiful and life is sweet.

I pray life is sweet wherever you are.

Pass the chocolates please.

3 Ways of Healing – #Medical

butterfly 2

Perhaps if I had been born in another time, another country, another town, in another family, with another name and the planets had aligned in the heavens in a different configuration, then maybe none if this would have happened. I would not be the person I believe myself to be. When I look in the mirror who would I see? Perhaps I am him, or her. Perhaps I am you. My life would have followed another path with another story,  a different set of characters, setting and plot.  A different beginning, middle and end. Not better nor worse, who’s to say. Just different.

Perhaps in the thread of time, one decision made differently, a glance in an alternate direction, a no instead of yes. A hello and not good bye. And  perhaps I wouldn’t now be perching on the side of the bed, and not for the first time this month, head resting on a pile of pillows, with a needle and catheter inserted into my back between my 3rd and  4th ribs draining what will be a litre of fluid from the pleural lining of my lung. Another litre of fluid. That’s three litres  in the last six weeks so far. There’s more yet to come, but that is in the future, a life not yet lived and breathed.

canute_beach

I am awash with fluid. Water water everywhere so the saying goes. I am like Canute raging  against an incessant and unremitting tide. Impotent and futile against the power of nature and the elements. The lungs, according to Chinese medicine represent grief, and as the sea of sickness seeps from my body drop by drop I feel the release of decades of grief held vice-close, of sadness, of fear, of shame, of guilt, of secrets, of abuse, of self blame, wrong choices, missed opportunities, isolation and silence.                                                                                             Oh the silence is deafening now,  drowning out the white noise that butts and rasps and rattles in my head like a hornet trapped and angered. A pestilent and painful reminder that I too am trapped, that I too am pestilent. Looking out upon the life I want to have that lies beyond my reach. Out of my grasp. On the other side of the glass. Slipping through my fingers. Nothing to do but surrender, be here now, allow the grief to subside like a receding tide, when all is revealed and I can breathe again.

Forty minutes and three coughs later and I am done. The cause of this, my latest incapacitation, the breathlessness, the palpitations, the discomfort, pain and physical restriction when life is reduced to a corner of the sofa and dependency on others, lies malignantly in a plastic bag upon a metal trolley, not yet for discarding, but for analysis, searching for more clues in the crime of my disease.

Beside me, Dr H. wraps things up with a manner at once professional, friendly and endlessly reassuring. We have  met several times over the last year,  despite  my best intentions not to, and  he maintains  an easy dialogue throughout the  procedures that both distracts and normalises this most un-normal of circumstances. As bedside manners go, he rates a 10/10. As I think it, I hear the words fly clean out of my mouth and into his ears.

Drain removed, plaster applied, all swabbed clean and tidy a thank you to the team and I am wheeled from day theatre down the corridor to recovery before the next victim, sorry, patient is wheeled in. Recovery consists of spaces for four patients and Eric* the nurse in charge.

“Hello again” I say

“Hello again you” he replies. “Back again? How are we today? Can I get to a drink of water?”

His accent places him in the region of the Philippines. Like so many of his NHS colleagues I have had the good fortune to meet, who come from South East Asia, Thailand,  Africa, the West Indies,  eastern Europe,  Spain, Greece, India,  China, Hong Kong,  I am grateful he made the journey to work here, healing the sick of Great Britain. Clearly we cannot sustain this great and wonderful institution alone. Our global friends are a intrinsic to its health. And for all our sakes the NHS, needs saving, before the disease of neglect and lack of funding and secretive selling off kills it off once and for all. Where would we be, where would I be without it? Not here and now, that’s for sure.

Eric turns the monitor so I can monitor myself. My oxygen sats read 92, I know they won’t want to let me go until they each around 98. Eric remembers I like a challenge! Tentatively I begin to deepen my breath, lung slowly re-inflating for the first time in weeks, like a butterfly unfurling from cocoon, spreading my wings, come on, come on, I will myself,  that’s it, 93, 94, you can do it. Heart rate is starting to come down from over 100 bpm, it has felt like a runaway train the last few weeks, even when stationary. Is this what it’s like to feel human again? I’m  almost scared to remember.

Eric bustles back with a poly cup of water, de- licious.  He sings quietly under his breath to the retro tunes whispering forth from the radio, to my amusement,  he really does seem to know every song.

“You missed your true calling” I joke, humour returning in equal measure to breath.

“I think  you’re right” he laughs

Dr H. Pops by to check up on me just as my sats reach 98. Job done we both agree.

“No offense,”  I say, “but I hope we don’t meet again for  very long time,”

He smiles, as I have said this very sentence on several occasions over the last year. What I really mean, is thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for making me feel so much better. Thank you for the gift of modern technology, science  and medicine that found its way from you to me and means I am not drowning in my own water, but alive and kicking. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. He departs taking my gratitude with him, radiating 10 out of 10

“OK young lady, you’re looking good, home I think.” Says Eric

“Yes please,” I say to no one but myself.

A new song starts up on the radio, Eric sings along,

“At first I was afraid I was petrified,

La la la Laa  la la la Laa la la la lala laaa….”

HEY! Wait for me Gloria, I’m just putting my skates on,

You sing it girl, you sing it loud. And she does ,

“I will survive! Hey Heeeeey!”

And with that I pirouette into the corridor and back into my life.

butterfly

(c) Leah Bracknell

*name changed

Butterfly photographs: Seb Janiak

When No One’s Looking

moon

You came to me

last night

as you promised

you would

Under cloak of night

a million blinking night sky eyes

like fire flies

bearing witness to

our secret

rendezvous

Where I poured out my heart and hopes

beneath your watchful gaze

so silent still,

and in the silence

in the space

between the breath

where life begins and ends

and ends and begins

I feel your love.

Love that never falters

Love that never lies

Nor judges

Nor expects

Nor apologises

Nor shames

Nor blames

A love that is a beacon

on the horizon at the edge of the world

Ever guiding me on

Ever guiding me home

and into your arms

just like Nick said.

Beneath my fingers

earth cool warm

Roots dig deep

I lie with you

Raw

Naked

Open

As you gaze upon me still

You shine

My heart quickens

I shine

a leap

a flame

Behold a life

Behold connection

and there,

you point,

An opening in the coal cloaked sky

like a bullet

shot clean through

and on the other side

I can see clear, clean to heaven.

But wait

Where are you going my friend

my  midnight love

in such a rush

you move so fast,

Freeze-frame this moment

Don’t go

Don’t leave

Dance Dance with me still

still and wild

to the rhythm of life

and earth heart beat

“I will be back”

You say

You say . . . . . you say . . . . as

you go . . . you go . . . you go . .

And now in grace and gratitude I lie

on feather bed

as feathered friends

Sing up the dawn

and welcome the birth

of a precious new day

one that I have never seen before

A warm caress

wanders across my skin

like fingers of gold

and in the blink of my eye-spy-I

beauty lies

and

time flies

and

The world turns around once more

inside out

and back to front

and upside down

Turn around again I say

for I am hungry to dance with you

under a midnight sun

with a wolf heart roar

a swoop owl hoot on a dark tree night

When faeries frolic and mischief make

that we can only see in dreams

‘neath the full moon sky

where Brigid lullabyes

as  belly swells

With fire and love and life

and stars sing to the universe the mystery and magic of who we are

and who we are meant to be.

So come to me again, my love

Impatient I am

Find me in the north under the old oak tree,

There I’ll be waiting

Drum in hand

Song on my lips

And Love beating loud in my heart .

 

Painting: Frank Frazetta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To prognosticate or not to prognosticate

prog“So what’s your prognosis?”

If I had a pound for every time someone asked that question, well, I could probably fund a feet-up, rub-down weekend at Champneys.

But I’m just going to say it – it royally p***** me off!

I made the choice not to ask for my oncologist’s prognosis as to my impending mortality. Why? Well, firstly I wasn’t hopeful that I would hear anything I really wanted to hear. Just a cursory google about lung cancer survival had shocked me enough to know that. On top of which there were other serious issues I was dealing with, so I wasn’t in a hurry to hear the news.

I was also conscious of how our own minds can lock, stock and barrel influence the well being of our physical selves. How our beliefs can impact our health both for the good and negatively. I was mindful of the possible consequences of self fulfilling prophecy. If I am told I only have until Christmas, I could potentially limit my opportunity to survive beyond that, because I have so completely surrendered my authority not just to the disease, but to the medical establishment? I read  a famous account about a man who was diagnosed with liver cancer, he hoped to make it to spend one last Christmas with his loved ones which, happily he achieved, but sadly passed away soon after. An autopsy later showed that tests had shown a false positive reading for the progression of his disease. In fact, very little cancer was present in his body at all. The question is, was it his expectation of his own death that in fact killed him?

Sky Mood Chess Board Tree Hourglass Princess

Making a prognosis is not easy. To my lay person’s mind it is at best an educated guess based on a cohort of statistics. In my case, the statistics for lung cancer are taken most recently from 2010, so they are out of date. They reflect an older population, as at that time this is where lung cancer was most commonly found. In lung cancer terms, I am considered quite young.( Yay, knew I’d find a positive if I persisted) So the median, may not be as applicable to my situation, as I am not someone who is 70 with a lifelong history of smoking. And statistics don’t factor in what else one is incorporating into one’s healing journey such as lifestyle changes addressing nutrition and exercise, addressing stress levels and depression, or taking supplements, alternative therapies and treatments, counselling  etc and nurturng not just the physical and mental, but one’s spiritual life. Which research tells us, feeds into a person’s well being enormously, and therefore could potentially influence healing outcomes.

But back to prognoses – and just as everyone’s experience of cancer is unique to them , so is the decision to ask the doctor to prognosticate. I know that people want to understand what lies ahead for many reasons: practical matters have to be put in place, affairs put in order, maybe take that dream trip you’ve always put off, or what about those who want a prognosis in order to defy it, to exceed expectations, and to continue running right through the tape and beyond the finish line and into numerous triumphant laps of honour – gold medal hanging proud. For the doctors, having an idea of prognosis should enable them to establish the right options, and best care that is needed at every stage. Yes, they can get it wrong – they are human trying to do their best against a disease that has the skill to transform, hide, return, and persist and has outwitted the best brains for too many years.

So back to why I am royally p***** orf.

I think the question lacks sensitivity, compassion and understanding.

“What is your prognosis?” is akin to asking someone the question “how long do you have left to live? How long before you might die?”

It isn’t a casual question. It is profoundly personal, intimate and private.

Yeah, right. Not pleasant is it. At least, that’s what it feels like over here. I am quite convinced that you don’t mean offense. But it is deeply painful to hear. Please, please could you maybe be a bit more mindful if ever that question forms in your brain, and not let it escape your mouth. It might just be a passing question, or even a genuinely concerned question, but please think, engage your brain, and remember that there is someone who, despite looking absolutely bloody gorgeous on the outside is actually doing their damndest to keep on keepin on.

OK rant over. Keep well.

Oh, and I sincerely apologise if the cartoon offends. I find that sometimes black humour keeps the gremlins at bay.

Love always xx

Below is an article from the Guardian 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jun/02/doctors-predict-patient-die-prognosis-wrong

And for a less ranty evening do join me in London on Thursday January 18th.

https://www.cecilsharphouse.org/component/content/article/21-shared/shared-events/5090-cancer-and-the-art-of-living-an-evening-with-leah-bracknell

 

The Benefits of facing a Challenge

DSCN3352.JPG

As if life were not currently challenging enough, someone in their wisdom, namely myself, decided that more challenge was required.

“Why not organise a talk?” I said to no one but myself.

Seemed a brilliant idea in the moment. Never mind that perhaps my attention should be on more pressing matters, such as my health. Is it distraction? Possibly. Or is it actually something that is a vital part of my healing journey?

When illness and dis-ease blasts the wind from our sails life becomes a series of mental, emotional and physical challenges: daily mountainous obstacles to overcome, to face, or to endure. The  stress and fearful anticipation  of facing operations, hospital visits, scans, scan results, injections, blood tests, biopsies, x-rays seems endless in the face of uncertainty, and no, it doesn’t really get easier. It just becomes a part of one’s routine, an aspect of one’s new life.

But having a goal on which to focus, can be hugely motivational and inspiring. Why? because it puts you back in the driving seat. It reminds you how important it is to have things to look forward to in the future. More than that, it dares you to consider a future when a future of any certainty is the one thing that does not come with a guarantee. It reminds you that you are alive and that you still (and why not) have something to contribute.

Something strange happens when you receive a stage 4 diagnosis: contemplating the future, something I formally would have taken for granted, suddenly becomes the elephant in the room. How do you contemplate any future when what you are actually perching on the cliff edge, and the fragility of your mortality is the loudest voice in your head?

Just after I was diagnosed, in September 2016, my partner gave me – an eternity ring? box of chocolates? roses? nope. A calender for 2017. I didn’t even know if I was going to get to 2017 if I am honest. A calender for pity’s sake?

Fill it in, he said. You’re not going anywhere.

And so I did. And , you what, it turns out he was right!! But it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all. The feelings and fear and uncertainty it prompts. Yet, we mustn’t be afraid to invest emotionally in our future. It sends out a message to the universe if you like, and more importantly to yourself that you want and deserve a future. Life does not stop at a diagnosis. It used to scare me- Planning something for months ahead, but now? Hell no, we have just booked something crazy and fun for the summer and I have every intention of going.

Unconsciously, we can fall in to limiting ourselves because we buy into the expectations of others. For example, we fancied a little jaunt in our van last spring. We set the compass towards Hadrian’s Wall, but we never got there as we got distracted by the awakening beauty of the Lake District and the blooming Wordsworthian daffodils. We had a blast. However, prior to leaving my oncology team were concerned about the distance.

“Stay near a hospital” they urged. We know people at most of the major hospitals, except around Northumbria and the Lakes, where are you going again??”

Oh dear, my bad.

Not long after diagnosis, unsurprisingly, I felt a little cheering up was in order. And, clothes shopping was my chosen pick-me-up. But, somewhere inside of me a little voice niggled:

“New clothes? Hmmm, you sure you’re going to get much use out of them, after all, stage 4? Tick tock tick tock.

Yes, I actually almost entertained not purchasing a new pair of jeans, for fear of not getting use out of them? Dammit. No, I was not going to give into that fear, not pander to expectation. So I bought 2.

Do not start packing up your life before it is over. When you have stage 4, sometimes it is other people, health professionals, friends, family, who unconsciously and not with unkindness, begin to pack it up for you.

So returning to the subject of meeting a challenge which is to the forefront of my mind with only 3 more sleeps before lift off, why challenge yourself when life is already aiming plenty of arrows in your direction. First of all, I feel really called to do this, passionate about doing it. And I suppose I feel that by making the effort, a considerable effort to attempt to pull off something waaaay out of my comfort zone, that intimidates me almost as much  as it inspires me, that forces me to face my fear and do it anyway, will have a fair pay off in the sense of achievement. Even cementing the date in the diary was fairly daunting. What if I was unable to attend, what if I am unwell, what if… well, just that, what if …… ?

But if I can pull meet this challenge, it will bestow a confidence that will stand me in good stead for the other more medically related challenges that may loom upon the horizon. Every time we conquer a challenge it fortifies us for what lies ahead, each time we face a fear and meet it, stand up to it, we pay into our bank of resilience. It may even grace us with the knowledge that we are more courageous than we remember, and that we can achieve more than we realise. Goals are vital for the enrichment of everyone, it gives us purpose, and having purpose is a vital component for leading a fulfilling life. And, the goal need not be the end, just something to aim for, to aspire to, to motivate, to inspire, and  just having a go is equally priceless. That’s all. So, you may not complete every challenge, but that you take up the gauntlet shows that your spirit is willing and desires expression. There is NO failure in having a go.

“If you are going to fail, fail magnificently ” Martin Prechtel

Goals-1The scale of the challenge matters to no one but you. I know there are days when even getting dressed can seem like an insurmountable challenge, so not everyone need rush to the nearest bungy jump.

So, as I sit here feeling the fear. Feelin’ it in my bones. I know it’s a good fear that’s all to do with creating a successful evening, being of service, sharing, coming together in a spirit of hope and possibility, standing united, seeking inspiration and sowing seeds of hope and love and healing. Yes, it’s a good fear alright. It’s a sensation that says : Here I am Life. Embrace me.

That I have the opportunity to celebrate life in this amazing way is such a delightful gift for the soul. And what’s good for the soul is good for the body and good for the mind. So, I am nervous yet hugely excited. I am look forward so much to hanging out with everyone on Thursday – travel safe, be well, I hope to see you there.

Om shanti shanti shanti. Peace always.

xx

Information and booking for : Cancer and The Art of Living – an evening with Leah Bracknell at Cecil Sharp House, Camden.

https://uk.patronbase.com/_CecilSharpHouse/Productions/8F/Performances

 

 

 

 

Breathe In -Lung Cancer Awareness Month

lungs

So, last month was Lung Cancer Awareness month, was it? Oh dear, sorry I wasn’t aware of it. My invite must have got lost in the post!

But, better late than never. So, here I go:

Lung Cancer is THE biggest cancer killer of  men and women in the UK.

Every 15 minutes someone dies of lung cancer.

Over 45,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer (that’s around 130 per day) and over 35,000 patients die from it each year – more than breast, bowel, bladder and uterine cancer combined.

Yet it receives only 7% of research funding. 

This is down to the stigma that surrounds the disease due to associations with smoking. Those with lung cancer experience more judgement than people with other cancers, the first question rather than being “I am sorry . .  is there anything I can do . . can I help?  is “did you smoke?”

FACT:

Lung cancer does not confine itself to smokers. The average age for someone to be diagnosed with Lung cancer is around 70. But every year more people are receiving diagnoses younger and younger, and often they have never smoked in their lives. 1 in 7 cases are not linked to smoking. Yet 1 in 4 people surveyed have less sympathy for lung cancer patients than any other cancer.

This is the late AA Gill’s view:

“There is little sympathy for lung cancer. It’s mostly men, mostly old men, mostly working-class old men and mostly smokers. There is a lot more money and public sympathy for the cancers that affect women and the young. Why wouldn’t there be?”

The Roy Castle Foundation write:

 “The stigma of smoking is one that continues to haunt lung cancer patients. It is the cancer you caused yourself, you got what you deserve.”

“Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer. We know that, we aren’t trying to disguise that fact. The problem is people with lung cancer are therefore vilified, made to feel like they deserved this awful disease because they choose to smoke – even those who have never smoked a single cigarette in their lives.

Let’s be honest, the villains of this piece are the tobacco manufacturers and the Government’s inaction on smoking is allowing them to escape unharmed. The same cannot be said for its consumers and we are now worried, at a time where there is so much fear surrounding our over-stretched health and social care system, that lung cancer patients will be ostracised further.”                                                                                                           Paula Chadwick CEO Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation

I myself have smoked in the past. And no one can make me feel more guilty about that than I did, let me tell you. Even when I was told that the type of lung cancer with which I was diagnosed was not caused by smoking, it was a bitter sweet revelation, and let’s be honest, it can’t have helped. But to fail to fairly fund research into detection, screening, treatments etc due to prejudice seems to be almost inhuman. The nature of life is such that we mortals do do things that are not good for us, we drink, we smoke, we take drugs, we over eat, we don’t excercise etc etc, and that all has health consequences, do we stand by and judge everyone and smear them with prejudice? If a person has skin cancer, are they  blamed or shamed because they didn’t use sunscreen?

Every year thousands of people are dying from lung cancer, and maybe we don’t all need to! So, do check yourself out if you have concerns. We need to raise awareness of the disease and inequality surrounding funding for lung cancer, to motivate the government to address the shortcomings, welcome early screening initiatives, and extinguish prejudice.

“An awful lot of people don’t survive lung cancer; an awful lot of people survive other forms of cancer that have been given funding. If more funding was given to lung cancer, more people would survive. It’s up to the MPs – they’re the ones with their hands on the purse-strings that can sort this out and save our lives”                                                                      Tom, 48, living with lung cancer.

lungs 3“Nobody deserves to get lung cancer.

They should not be made to feel ashamed. They should not feel like they need to justify their illness or their life choices. They are so much more than their diagnosis. They are people. They matter.
They can hold their #HeadHigh.” ( RCLCF)

The shocking truth is only 38% of people diagnosed with Lung cancer survive a year or more. Largely this is due to the fact that many cases are diagnosed too late. If you suspect that you are showing symptoms don’t bury your head in the sand, get checked out and maybe you will be giving yourself a fighting chance.

The most common symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • a cough for three weeks or more
  • a change in a cough you’ve had for a long time
  • a chest infection that doesn’t get better, or repeated chest infections
  • feeling breathless and wheezy for no reason
  • coughing up blood
  • chest or shoulder pain that doesn’t get better
  • a hoarse voice for three weeks or more.

Other possible symptoms are:

  • losing weight for no obvious reason
  • feeling extremely tired (fatigue)
  • the ends of fingers change shape – they may become larger or rounded (clubbing).

If you have any of these symptoms, it‘s important to have them checked by your GP.

Breathe in – we have lung cancer. It’s hard enough without the stigma. Don’t ignore us!

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Lung Cancer Foundation

MacMillan Cancer Support

Cancer Research UK

Leah’s Talk – Cancer and the Art of Living January 18th 2018