When were you first diagnosed with ovarian cancer?
I was diagnosed on 18th January 2016. I was just 30 years old.
What type of cancer do you have?
I have stage four b, high grade serous, non genetic ovarian cancer. At the time of diagnosis it had already spread throughout my abdomen and into my chest cavity.
What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?
T- toilet habit changes
E – energy levels dropping
A – abdominal pains and/or swelling
L – loss of appetite and/or weight
If you have two or more of these symptoms for two or more weeks then please see you GP and request to be tested.
I am concerned I have ovarian cancer, what advice do you have?
I am not medically trained and so unable to offer advice on this, however I recommend that you see your GP and you may also find some useful resources through the following charities:
What conventional treatment have you had for your ovarian cancer?
In 2016 I had 6 rounds of paclitaxel and carboplatin (Taxol/Carbo) chemotherapy on the NHS.
I also received 16 doses of avastin on the NHS.
In May 2016 I had major debunking surgery removing my womb, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, omentum, appendix, spleen, part of my bowel (I have a colostomy bag), part of my liver, part of my pancreas and part of my diaphragm.
In 2018 I paid to receive Avastin privately.
In September 2018 I stopped paying for private treatment and started an NHS immunotherapy trial. As part of this trial I receive Durvalumab, Avastin and Olaparib. I was on this trial until January 2020. At that stage, however, my cancer had spread significantly to my right lung and liver and I stopped the trial.
In January 2020 I restarted carboplatin (singleton’s agent, ie on its own). I received four doses.
On 16th June 2020 I restarted paclitaxel (single agent) weekly.
What complementary treatment have you had for your cancer that you found to be helpful?
- Shamanism (I am a qualified shamanic practitioner)
- Yoga (I am a qualified yoga teacher)
- Medicinal mushrooms (bought from Dr Kate James)
- Body Stress Release (my favourite therapy!)
- Massage (always check with your oncologist first)
- Reiki (I am a trained Reiki practitioner)
- Supplements (please always work with a qualified naturopath. I work with Nasha Winters.)
- Herbs (please always work with a qualified herbalist. I work with Dundee Herbal Clinic.)
- Mistletoe therapy
All cancer types are different, as are all bodies, and so I do not recommend any specific treatment options for individuals. Please always work with qualified professionals and keep your oncology team updated incase of any unexpected contraindications.
Has your cancer ever been in remission?
Yes, from August 2016 until December 2017. My cancer recurred with spread to my right lung in late December 2017.
What advice would you give to someone who has just received a cancer diagnosis?
Being told you have cancer can feel really scary and it’s normal to feel alone. However, there is so much support out there and, in time, you will find people going through the same as you and you will develop deep and wonderful friendships and support. I recommend visiting your local Maggie’s centre (or similar cancer support centre) and seeing what they offer.
Meanwhile, try to take each day one at a time. It’s normal to find yourself worrying about an unknown future but it only takes away the joy of today. Instead, try to focus on what’s happening right now, in this moment.
A really helpful tip I learnt was to look at my worry thoughts and ask myself if each one is a fact, a feeling or fiction. Most of our scary thoughts aren’t facts and, my advice, is to let go of the ones that aren’t.
I know it doesn’t feel like it now but you will laugh again and cancer won’t always be the first thing you think about in the morning or the last thing you think about at night. It will get easier. I promise.
What advice would you give to someone supporting someone with cancer?
Remember that they are still the same person that they were before their diagnosis.
Know that it is normal, and important, to seek support for yourself too.
Make plans together.
My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer. What can I do to help them?
Instead of asking them ‘what can I do?’, just do something…offer to take their dog for a walk, babysit their child, make them some healthy meals for their freezer, pick up some shopping for them, buy them a good book, offer to come to hospital with them, plan something fun to do together (be mindful of their energy levels).
When I was first diagnosed I received loads of support and cards. Most people forget, however, that late stage cancer doesn’t just ‘go away’ and that, often, ongoing support is needed. The friends I value most are the ones who recognised this, who were there for me when my cancer returned, who sent cards 6 months after my initial diagnosis to say they were still thinking about me, who sat in the hospital with me making me laugh while I was getting treatment. These are the most special friends. Be that friend!
You say you are grateful for your cancer. How?
Cancer completely changed my life. Yes there have been frighteningly hard times, but without my diagnosis I wouldn’t have completely changed my life: I wouldn’t have left my high stress corporate career and become a yoga teacher, I wouldn’t have written my books and I wouldn’t have connected with so many people. I wouldn’t have opened my eyes to the joy and wonder in our every day lives and I wouldn’t have started doing my random acts of kindness.
Cancer may have taken a lot from me, but it’s given me a lot back in return.
Do you ever get angry or upset?
Of course! But on the first day I was diagnosed I realised that I had a choice, I could either succumb to my poor prognosis and be miserable, or I could use it as a catalyst to live an incredible and meaningful life. I still choose to do the later. So, when I feel sad or angry I give myself permission to feel the emotions fully, in the same way a toddler does, and then I dust myself off and get back to living a happy and joyful life.
Tell us about your book How Long Have I Got. What inspired you to write it?
I wanted to write the book I needed when I was first diagnosed. I wanted a book about someone with stage four cancer who was still able to live an amazing life, and not just be confined to their bed like the media would have you believe. This book is my real, and often very hard, story of life with cancer. It’s not pink and fluffy and it doesn’t hide any of the hard realities, but it is raw and real and it will make you stop and think and appreciate your precious life.
It guides the reader through my life before cancer, in the pursuit of the ever illusive ‘success’, taking them on a journey through my cancer diagnosis and treatment and out the other side a changed and very grateful woman who has opened her eyes to the magic of the world and the joy of living for each day with gratitude in my heart.
It offers tips and ideas for the reader to improve their emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health and concludes with a selection of chapters about the invaluable life lessons cancer has brought me.
I wrote it as a form of support and solidarity for people with cancer, but also as a ‘life guide’ for those without.
I really hope it helps people.
Following your diagnosis with cancer you trained to be a yoga teacher. Was this a life long dream of yours?
Absolutely. I always wanted to be a yoga teacher ‘someday’. I was waiting for that movement when it felt ‘right’, when the stars aligned. Since my diagnosis I’ve realised that if you wait for the perfect moment to do something, however, then you will never do it, instead you’ve got to make the moment perfect.
Following my terminal diagnosis I knew that it was ‘now or never’ if I was going to pursue my dream so, perhaps more than a little boldly, just 12 weeks following my major surgery (during which they removed several of my organs) I started my training to become an Ashtanga yoga teacher.
Since then I have qualified in Ashtanga yoga, pregnancy yoga, pre and post natal yoga, baby yoga and children’s yoga. I now teach clients one to one in Perthshire, Scotland and run retreats in the UK.
It is one of the most valuable and rewarding things I’ve ever done and I am so grateful for cancer bringing it into my life.
How has yoga affected your life and what have you learned from it?
Yoga has completely changed my life. I always say that while yoga may never cure my cancer, it has certainly cured my fear of it and that is such a magical gift.
Through yoga, meditation and pranayama (breath work) I am able to keep myself grounded in the present moment without letting my mind create fear driven stories about what the future may or may not hold. It has really taught me to enjoy each second and each breath and to value them completely. This is something I hope my students take away with them from their own yoga journeys with me.
What’s the best piece of advice you received when you first started your blog and writing your books?
To be authentic and to write for my future self, never for anyone else. Even now this is exactly what I do every time I sit down to write.
As someone living with terminal ovarian cancer, what do you want your supporters to know about journey?
The most important lesson cancer ever gave me, and that I wish to now share with the world, is to live like you are dying.
Each of us are living these magical and precious lives and not realising that we are all terminal, regardless of our current health status. My diagnosis doesn’t make me special. All of us are mortal. The only difference is that I see it and I know it and so now I do all the things I always wanted to do, today! I don’t wait until the perfect moment. I create the perfect moment now! It’s been amazing.
I believe that the majority of all of the perceived problems and worries going on in our heads day in and day out could be changed by embracing this simple motto: live like you are dying.
After all, would you stay in the job you hate or the relationship that makes you miserable if you thought your life would end in the next year? Hell no! You’d be out doing things that make you happy and you certainly wouldn’t be worrying about what dress size you were either!
What would you tell other women living with ovarian cancer?
I see you, I hear you and I am holding you in my heart. Please know that you are never, ever alone. There are so many of us teal sisters in this together.
What does success mean to you?
I was asked in an interview recently if I thought I was successful and I answered with a clear and confident yes.
‘How can you be so sure?’ they asked.
‘Easy,’ I replied, ‘because I am happy.’
You see everything else, the ‘perfect’ car, house, life, body, clothes (insert blank) is all just useless nonsense if you aren’t living a life that makes you happy every single day.
For me, true success is being able to say you are happy.
What are some ways you apply health and wellness to your life?
Self care is my number one priority now. I start each day with yoga, meditation, journaling and breath work and I also make sure that I have time to take Ozzy, our dog, out for a walk in the woods each day. By doing this I am taking care of my emotional, physical and spiritual health right at the start of the day.
I always say to my clients, if you can do nothing else then do yoga, meditation and journaling for 5 minutes each, every morning for 6 weeks and notice the difference. Everyone has 15 minutes for their self care and if they don’t then they need to take a serious look at their priorities.
What is your biggest goal this year?
To finish and publish my Random Act of Kindness Book.
In moments of adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
With self care, time in the woods connecting with the trees and the land and, above all, in the arms of my incredibly brave, strong and loving husband, Ewan.
Name three interesting facts about yourself.
1. I don’t have any finger prints because my hands were trapped in an electric sander when I was 22 during a workshop accident and I had to have skin grafts on all of my finger tips.
2. I grew up on Guernsey.
3. I was born with jet black hair down to my shoulders that the nurses tied in a pink bow.
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