health, holistic health, ovarian cancer

Carol Bareham 22.12.1972 – 01.04.2020

As many of you are already aware, my dear friend, my ‘cancer bestie’ as I liked to call her, passed away on 1st April this year.

Like me, Carol lived with late stage ovarian cancer, being diagnosed just 4 months before me.

In the year leading up to her death we talked almost every day about life, death and love. In many of those chats Carol would remind me that when she died (always convinced that she would die before me and no wonder with the treatment options in Northern Ireland being far inferior to those available to me in Scotland) that I was to write ‘an epic blog post’. No pressure Carol!

However, despite writing being one of my most utilised healing tools I have found it impossible to write this post for her until now, 6 weeks after her death. The reason? Writing it means that she is actually gone. Writing it is the final goodbye, the ‘closure’ I have been avoiding. Writing it means that I really don’t get to see my friend again and that reality has just been too hard to face.
Almost every day, I find myself having conversations with her in my head,  desperately seeking the advice and guidance she offered me over the past four years of friendship, unable to believe that she is actually gone.
However, despite my avoidance, I could imagine, only too well, Carol telling me to get a grip of myself and write the bloody thing already so, here goes. Carol, this is for you. I’ll love you for always.
—-
Carol and I didn’t meet in ‘normal’ circumstances. In fact we first ‘met’ over the internet on 8th May 2016 . This was an auspicious date. It is World Ovarian Cancer Day and it was also the day before I had major surgery to remove multiple organs from my cancer ridden body.
Carol wrote a comment on my blog that day which read Good luck tomorrow…I had the op in January after 4 chemos too and I am pleased to report all went well and I recovered from it well. Having 2 further chemos after the op, well that is another story! I hope it is a big success and will be keeping everything crossed for you. Have just discovered your blog and have been hooked on it all day…have experienced very similar thoughts and feelings, you have a lovely way of saying what many of us cancer patients are feeling. Will be awaiting your next post now post op! Carol xxx”
People comment on my blog and send me messages and emails all the time. I mean I literally get hundreds of private messages every week and yet this one, from Carol, stood out for me and, to this day, I have no idea why but I am so glad that it did. This simple message became the start of one of my most valued friendships and just goes to show we really never know what a simple act of kindness will lead to.
Over the months that followed Carol and I would often exchange weekly messages. Over time we exchanged phone numbers and began texting each other on a more regular basis. While I had no one in Scotland who I could talk to about living with late stage ovarian cancer, I had found in Carol someone who I could share everything with. She just ‘got it’. Every thought, worry, hope, fear, anxiety, pain, horrible embarrassing experience cancer had brought me, Carol had seen and experienced too. There is nothing quite like a friendship build on the common ground of literally shitting yourself through chemotherapy!
However, despite regular messaging, it wasn’t until two years later that we first finally met in April 2018 when Carol and her family were visiting Scotland from their home in Northern Ireland. Despite having planned a lovely ‘normal’ get together my cancer had other plans and I ended up in hospital for the entire time Carol was over. Despite this she still visited me and it was pure joy to finally put a face to the name I had been messaging and sharing ‘everything’ with over the previous two years.
Then, a whole year later, in April 2019 I visited Carol in her hometown in Northern Ireland as part of my book tour for my second book‘How Long Have I Got?’
During this trip I was finally able to meet Carol’s incredible family and friends, including the group of ‘Northern Ireland Ovarian Cancer Ladies’ that she had established. I have never been made to feel so welcome and supported.
Another year of messaging passed during which Carol’s health started to decline more rapidly than my own. She had stopped chemotherapy; her body, mind and spirit having now had enough and she was now doing her best to enjoy her life as best she could despite cancer. However, it wasn’t until winter 2019/20 that I finally started to accept (as best as one can accept) that I was going to lose my dear friend.
At the time my own health was declining rapidly and so began a daily discussion, peppered with the darkest of humour and jokes that only two terminal cancer patients could share and get away with, of who was fairing worse off. This shared dark sense of humour and a willingness not to shy away from the hard times is one of the reasons I will always love Carol so much.
One of the most powerful things about going through this cancer experience together was that we were able to have completely honest and frank discussions. Neither of us ever avoided discussing the reality of either of our situations. And neither of us ever pretended things were any easier than they actually were. I didn’t pretend that Carol wasn’t getting sicker and likewise she offered me the same courtesy. This is a rare and beautiful gift, as hard as it may seem, because it meant that we were able to have conversations that may have otherwise been avoided.
For instance, once Carol had transitioned from her home to a local hospice and I had finally accepted that Carol was going to die, instead of pretending otherwise, I messaged her one day and said “I am either coming to your funeral or coming to see you now. Which would you prefer?” this was in response to her telling me repeatedly not to come and see her. I knew, however that this wasn’t because she didn’t want to see me but because, like many of us, she didn’t want to accept the love that I would be offering in the act of traveling from Scotland to Northern Ireland just for her. She replied almost instantly, “come now”. And so, I found myself sitting at my kitchen table, at 5.30am the following day making plans to go to Northern Ireland to visit her.

The earliest I could go was two weeks later due to a number of hospital appointments that I already had scheduled. During these two weeks our connection and friendship grew stronger. She knew that I was dropping everything that I could to come and see her and she accepted that love and connection. Similarly, I knew how important this time was for her and her loved ones, and I accepted the love and deep honour it was to be a part of this precious time. And I mean honour. So many of us shy away from facing the hardest moments in life like tragedy, grief and death but, I’ve found through my own personal experiences, that it’s in these moments that the greatest opportunity for connection truly lies and that is an honour, and a gift.

During this time some of my other friends would message me to ask how Carol was doing. Many would reflect on how sad it must be for her to be dying. I knew a different truth, however. Carol wasn’t sad. She was ready. Over the previous few months she and I had discussed frequently how she was done with the suffering her illness was causing her. She had taken time to connect with and love her family and friends and she was now ready to release the pain. It was because of this that I didn’t feel sadness about her dying. I felt loss yes and I felt pain, deep pain, but they were my pain, my loss, my imminent suffering, they weren’t Carol’s.

Her messages during this time and, indeed, her conversations when I visited her were all about how happy she felt about the life she had lived and how calm she felt about the death she now faced. I remember having a similar experience with my friend Ali before she died from the same disease. Our final conversations weren’t filled with fear, they were filled with love and acceptance. This, I’ve realised is a gift that the dying can offer the living; to show peace in the face of death. In exchange and recognition of this, the living can offer the dying a gift too. We can choose to show up at this time. To be there, in whatever way they need us. To express love and gratitude for the time we shared together. And, above all, to not avoid their death and our grief because it is too hard for us but, instead, to recognise that grief is often an unavoidable expression of love.

I’ll never forget the journey across to Northern Ireland to see Carol. The weather was wild to say the least. The boat rolled from side to side and up and down as many of the passengers took to lying down in a desperate attempt to avoid sea sickness. I have never been so grateful for a childhood brought up on boats in the Channel Islands!

When we arrived, after a stop for some much-needed food, Ewan drove me straight to the hospice. I wanted to see Carol straight away. I’d waited two weeks and I wasn’t waiting a minute longer. He dropped me off at the door, driving away to check into our hotel. This is what I’d asked for. I wanted to see her on my own first. I wanted time for the two of us to connect. Part of this was about my needs, but part of this was also about protecting Ewan. Carol’s diagnosis is the same as mine and, as a result, our stories have often mirrored one another’s. Ewan knows this and I could see the fear in his eyes about what her now being in a hospice meant for me and, ultimately, what it meant for him. Despite the open honesty in our household about my death and, indeed, about everyone’s certain death, I still wanted to protect him from it being so tangible. It turns out, however, there was no need. When death is faced with love, in the way Carol taught us both to do, it can actually be a really beautiful thing.

I walked into Carol’s room with no idea what to expect. We hadn’t seen each other face to face for a year and for at least half of that time she hadn’t allowed any photos. But I needn’t have worried. I was greeted by the same smiling and vivacious woman I loved and remembered. Without a second’s hesitation she had wrapped her arms around me in a hug, despite her pain and multiple medical attachments, and was asking me to get into bed beside her for a proper chat. I, of course, obliged.

As I lay there with her laughing and sharing stories with one of her other friends who was also there, sitting in a chair beside her bed, I began to reflect on the beauty of this connection. Here we were, three women, all of us living with a terminal diagnosis of ovarian cancer, two of us currently receiving chemotherapy and one of us dying from the disease and yet there was not one ounce of sadness in that room. There was only joy. How often could I say the same of other encounters in my life?

While in Northern Ireland I’d spent my mornings with Ewan walking our dog Ozzy, before spending the afternoons and early evenings with Carol at the hospice. We spent most of our time together sharing stories and laughing. Carol had even managed to plan a short 80s themed party in her honour at which all of the people in her life were able to come along to; many of them to say their final farewells. It wasn’t a sad affair, however. Instead it was one filled with music, food, celebration and fancy dress. Above all, it was filled with love. This wasn’t a woman mourning her premature death, it was a woman celebrating her incredible life. As I stood back and observed all of these people coming to see her, dressed in full 80s fashion no less, I couldn’t help but think of my own death and how what I was witnessing would be exactly what I wanted for myself – love, laughter, music and, of course, fancy dress.

The following day I knew I would have to say my own goodbye to Carol. We didn’t have the 80s costumes, or the party to hide behind. We were having to face this head on, in full recognition of the fact that we would never see each other again. I spent the afternoon with her, as I had done over the previous days. We were joined by one of her best friends, whom had welcomed my presence with such warmth despite it, undoubtably, encroaching on their precious time together. During this time we recorded a podcast together. This was something that Carol wanted to do to not only dispel some of the fears around being in a hospice, but also to share some of the lessons she had learnt about life and death. Unsurprisingly, most of what she talked about was love.

We both put off the moment when I would have to leave. “Just ten more minutes” became a frequent and then desperate phrase until, eventually, there was no choice but to say goodbye knowing that we would never see each other again.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

As I drove away, my heart broken, tears streaming down my face, I reflected on how often I take for granted that I will see someone again. You see, while I knew I wouldn’t see Carol again, I never know I ‘will’ see anyone else in my life again. I reflected on myself saying goodbye in a rush to those I love; dashing away, not always lingering to hear my loved one’s words, to hold them a little longer, to entwine our fingers, to kiss their cheek, to hold them close for just one more second. All these things I did with Carol instinctively as I fought back the inevitable, love filled, tears from cascading down my cheeks until I left the room, not wanting her last image of me to be one of sadness but, instead, one of love and joy.

In one of the last messages I sent to Carol after I had returned back to Scotland, I asked her “but how will I do any of this without you?” “Simple,” she replied, “You will love harder like I have taught you just as you make every day good like Ali (my other friend who died from ovarian cancer) taught you and you will keep living your life every single day as best you can for as long as you can.”

As I reflected on this and the legacies that her and Ali had gifted me through our friendships, I wanted to know what my own legacy would be. What message would I leave for the people I left behind and those that came after me? I realised then that there was no better phrase than “never at the expense of joy”. If I were to leave any kind of impression on the hearts of those I love and who love me then please let it be that.

This brings me to the final and lasting lesson and legacy that Carol left me and all those who love her: LOVE HARDER.

Perhaps it’s that simple. Perhaps it’s not about always thinking that you may never see a loved one again. After all, that does feel more than a little depressing. Perhaps, instead, it’s just about loving them harder.

What does loving harder look like?

For me it’s about looking someone in the eye when they speak to me, rather than looking at my phone. It’s about always valuing my time together with loved ones as sacred, fleeting and precious. It’s about listening when they talk. It’s about asking about the things that matter to them and caring about the response. It’s about making memories, laughing and experiencing joy but also about being there in times of need and support. It’s about not being afraid to show your vulnerability when times are tough and also not being afraid to show your awesomeness when times are great.

I don’t always get it right. Far from it. I’ll sometimes sit scrolling through my phone replying to messages rather than cuddling into Ewan on the sofa. Or I’ll get distracted when someone I love is talking and miss the important part of their story. But I catch myself now and I call myself out for it. I’ll pause and ask myself “Is this how I want to live my life? Is this how I want to be remembered? Is that what Carol would have done” And then I’ll make different choices the next time. Ultimately that’s all any of us can do; take little steps, day by day to love harder, to connect more deeply and to choose to spend our time with those that matter most to us. Anything else, over time, ultimately costs us our joy.

This is what Carol taught me above all else and it’s the lesson I will carry in my heart until the day I take my own last breath. May this lesson be a gift to you too, even if you never had the honour of meeting Carol for yourself.
With love for Carol and all those who love her always, Fi xx
I’m sorry Carol. This post isn’t as ‘epic’ as you might have hoped because how can I put into words what you truly mean to me, the lessons you taught me or the fact that I will always carry you in my heart every single day that I am alive and able to do so.
I may not have known you through your school years, never had the opportunity to work with you, to go to the pub with you, to have adventures or holidays or build wild and fun memories together but what we had was something entirely different from these types of friendships. What we had was a deep understanding of each other’s pains and fears, of our daily struggles and what it feels like to live with late stage cancer every single day year in and year out knowing that one day it will cause so much inevitable pain to those that we love.
What you gave me, dear Carol, is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. You gave me true, unconditional love and friendship that enabled me to be seen in all of my darkness as well as my light, without fear of judgment.
I am so grateful that cancer brought us together and so sad that it tore us apart. While this blog post may not have been what you hoped for (it’s a lot of pressure writing for a dead person you know!) I want you to know that when I publish my next book it will be dedicated to you my lovely so that everyone will know what an incredible woman you were and continue to be in the hearts of those who love you.
May your name and all that you stood for continue to shine bright for many years to come and, in your memory, may we all remember to tell the women in our lives to be hyper aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I know that you, like me, had only one wish following your diagnosis – if we can’t be saved then at least let our diagnosis save the lives of other women.
So please, dear readers, share the following symptoms with the women in your lives. There is no screening test for ovarian cancer (no, smear tests do not test for it!) The only way to find out if you have it is to know the symptoms and see your GP if you have two or more of them for two or more weeks.
Please do not ignore any of these symptoms. Early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is curable…only late stage diagnosis is not.
THINK TEAL
T – toilet habit changes
E – energy levels dropping
A – abdominal pain and/or swelling
L – loss of appetite and/or weight
Carol and I also both experienced shoulder pain prior to diagnosis and I always start to get migraines when my cancer is spreading.
Know your body.
Don’t be embarrassed.
See your GP.
If you don’t do it for you or for me then, please, do it in loving memory of Carol Barenham.
With love and gratitude always, Fi Munro xxx
gratitude, health, holistic health, kindness, positivity, shamanism

The Source of Creativity

What are these wild and whimsical ideas that come forth to me in the dark?

Where do they emerge from when they burst through the boundaries of my consciousness.

Creativity finds its source in the most unusual places

We do not ‘have’ ideas. They come to us. They ‘have’ us.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas seeking their host. Nothing has resonated with me more. I have new book ideas every week. A new passage tries to birth through my fingers onto the keyboard each day. But I have learnt to only accept the ones that speak to my heart. I have learnt to only embrace the ones that call to my soul.

Where is my passion found? What is my motivation? What is the one true message I want to birth into the world? I ask myself these questions every time a new idea comes to me.

The answer is simple. The answer is always the same.

I want to teach people how to live, how to truly, unashamedly live their one beautiful and precious life with joy and love and kindness.

I want to inspire people to embrace the magic of the everyday, to break free from the mundane, the drama and the suffering.

I want to spread a message into the web of the world about hope, love and kindness. I want my words to demonstrate that magic and joy are not found in a perfect life, one without suffering or trauma or anxiety or fear. No, magic and joy are found in accepting our life just as it is, right now, without change, without question. They are found in the deep surrender of our heart and soul.

So I say yes, without fear or question, to the ideas and words that speak this truth – the only truth I know – and I send love and gratitude to every other message that calls out to my soul, sending them on their way to find the storyteller who ‘will’ birth them into existence.

I know why I’m here. I know what my message is, what my purpose is, and I will spend every moment I can expressing that through my words, both written and spoken.

I often see my creativity, my writing muse, as a crow that sits with me while I write. But sometimes she flies beside me, desperately trying to get my attention. Sometimes she pecks at my eyes and face while I try to sleep. Sometimes her persistent attention grabbing nature is unavoidable and I climb out of bed in a sleep induced daze and let her write through me.

That is when my best writing is done.

Other times, I find myself too tired, too busy, too distracted, and she simply flies off, delivering her words to someone more willing.

In those moments I lose my best work. But it was never mine. It was hers. She is the messenger from spirit, from source, not me.

I am written through, the words breath through me, through my heart and my soul and onto the page. They are not mine, they are yours, they are gifted to you through me.

May they inspire you to live the life of your dreams.

It’s all temporary, this precious life that we each hold. But, it’s up to us to make it memorably and meaningful rather than mundane.

And, in my experience, a memorable and meaningful life is found in connection, in acceptance, in love and friendship and hope and closeness and curiosity and passion and surrender to something bigger than ourselves, whatever that may be. But it is never, never, found in seeking perfection.

With live and gratitude always, Fi xx

gratitude, health, holistic health, kindness, motivation, positivity, shamanism

The Path of a Shamanic Storyteller

On Sunday night I returned home after the penultimate five day weekend of my shamanic practitioner training.

I graduate in March.

I’m not sure how to even begin to describe what this training has involved, or what it means to me.

I’ve met, and connected with, 5 incredible women who have become like sisters to me. Soul sisters with whom I’m sharing a spiritual path and, whom I hope to continue to share and grow with for many, many years to come.

They know me at such an intimate level. They have seen and witnessed the depths of my soul in a way that is indescribable. At each training weekend we sit in a sacred circle and share with intimate detail the essence of who we are, without fear of judgement and always in receipt of pure and unconditional love and acceptance.

But the training isn’t just about the sharing. It’s also about learning to work in a shamanic manner. ‘Re-learning’ I should say, as we already know…we have just forgotten.

It’s about connecting with something bigger than ourselves, stepping away from the dramas of every day life, being guided by spirit, allowing ourselves permission to learn, to grow and to step onto the true path of our soul.

And, still it’s more.

It’s a coming home. A reconnection. A remembering. Like parts of my soul are reawakening.

Put simply, it’s indescribable. Because there are no words to describe what this path, or this training, is like. Words don’t do it justice. No, this path has to be felt, to be lived.

During this particular weekend I had the honour, and privilege, of my 5 peers, my mentor and another qualified practitioner working on me as a group for 2.5 hours.

Together they held space while I talked through my healing journey and then I embodied my cancer and, for nearly an hour, I spoke it’s story, it’s voice, it’s essence.

In October when I held a ‘cancer divorce ceremony’ I wrote a letter to my cancer. I guess, you can say, this was cancer’s chance to respond.

It was powerful stuff. Pure magic unfolded as words that didn’t belong to me flowed from my mouth.

The words were soft, protective, nourishing even. It seemed the essence of cancer was not there to punish me but to guide and protect me.

I felt overcome with a deep sense of peace, acceptance and surrender.

All fear left me. I felt held. I felt connected. I felt safe. I felt honoured in my wholeness and vulnerability.

Something had shifted in me. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually too.

Many people ask how I ended up on this course. It was pure guidance and coincidence. A friend of mine had bought me a one to one shamanic session with, my now dear friend and retreat colleague, Rhonda McCrimmon. That first session blew my mind. I’d never heard of shamanism, the spirit world or any of the other magic Rhonda talked about.

But that’s not why I started training. A few months later (during which I was reading everything I could about shamanism) I found myself at Trew Fields Festival in Surrey (a holistic healing festival for people with cancer). There I kept meeting shamans. Suddenly, I’d gone from never having heard of shamanism to it being everywhere.

I sat in circle with one of them whom some of you will know as Anne (the founder of Cancerucan) and had a profound experience with a spirit snake. Talking to her she suggested that I was already on the path to shamanism and should seek a tutor or mentor.

So, I found myself googling shamanic training during my train journey back to Scotland, the friend I was travelling with (Claire – The Independent Single Mum) encouraging me to ‘send the email’ when I found a practitioner that resonated.

So I did. Then, during my next session with Rhonda it transpired that the person I had emailed was who she had trained with – it appeared I was being guided, once again.

Not only that but my soon to be mentor, Carol Day, and I had actually crossed paths previously while I was studying my PhD…it seemed I’d missed the path’s previous calls to my soul.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the course, or even why I was being guided to do it, but, I just ‘knew’ that it was what I had to do. This knowing was deep and unavoidable.

Has the path been easy? No. Without doubt it is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But, one thing is for sure, it’s the best decision I’ve ever made for my personal and spiritual growth and development.

To date, I’ve held back in what I’ve shared about the training and the growth I’ve experienced through it, but my guidance now is to open up completely.

Increasingly I am realising that my background as a researcher for the NHS and Scottish Government enables me to be a translator of spirituality into the realms of the every day and even into the scientific areas of life.

So this is where I will position myself, a shamanic storyteller, bridging the guidance of the spirit world into the everyday world and into the lives of those who read my words.

After all, it’s what my writing and talks have been doing for years already, only now, I’ll be more transparent about it.

With love and gratitude always, Fi xx

gratitude, health, holistic health, kindness, ovarian cancer, positivity

Today I Rise Again

Today is a new day.

I rose today having felt what I was meant to feel, having seen what I was meant to see, having said what I was meant to say.

So many people ‘advised’ that I stop writing and that I focus on me. I know they meant this with the deepest kindness but writing ’is’ me focusing on me. It is my therapy, my release, my way of processing and feeling everything that is there to be felt.

I do not write for anyone else but myself – although, admittedly, it brings me so much joy to realise how my words have helped so many others.

I can’t help but wonder how different our world would be if someone had told Anne Frank to stop writing. I’m not suggesting I am anything like Anne Frank, a courageous young girl whom I have admired since first discovering her words when I myself too was only young, but I am suggesting that our stories are important, healing and essential. We must share our stories. We simply must.

I feel in a good place today, like I am emerging from something, like I am shedding an old version of myself and stepping forward into something new.

I sense change ahead, yes, but change isn’t necessarily bad and I find myself feeling a sense of excitement at this new adventure I find myself on.

I’ve been in worst places in the past four years since my diagnosis than I find myself in just now. There is, of course, one significant difference now. Now I don’t see chemotherapy as an option for me when the trial completely stops working (which it hasn’t, yet).

As I’ve written many times before, chemotherapy (and any treatment) is a very personal choice and I do not advocate for or against any options. But I do know that chemotherapy is not the right option for me. Not again. Not after 4 years ago. This is my inner guidance and I trust it profusely. Nothing and no one will ever change my mind.

So what are my options?

Just now, medically, it is to stay on the trial. It is to keep breathing in the gratitude that this wonderful cocktail of significantly less toxic drugs is doing something to slow down this disease (even if they can’t stop it completely).

But that is just the medical picture and, if I’ve learnt nothing else on this journey it is that the picture is bigger than what can and can’t be done in a hospital. There is so much more that can be done for my mind, body, spirit and soul.

So, yes, it is accurate when I say I am excited because I find myself wondering ‘what if there is another way?’

And that’s exactly what I intend to spend the next 16 weeks finding out.

Why 16 weeks? Because that is the length of time someone with ovarian cancer is on chemotherapy for…AND, more importantly, because 16 weeks today I plan to get my adventurous soul onto a plane to Bali where I plan to spend 4 weeks healing with my gorgeous husband…something that will only be possible if my lungs stay stable…so I’m excited…I have a focus, I have an aim and I have a shit load of passion.

It ain’t over and, as ever, I ain’t dead yet (motherf*ckers)

health, holistic health, ovarian cancer

The Necessary Grief of the Life Unlived

My cancer markers rose again.

Four months in a row.

Slowly rising, creeping upwards, no longer stable and far from dropping.

It’s not good news.

My treatment is no longer as effective. The trial I fought for is no longer holding things at bay. There is a crack in the dam. The dam is still there, yes, but it’s no longer as effective at holding the tide back from crushing me as it once was.

Was I naive to think that it would keep things at bay longer? Was I overly hopeful?

I thought I was realistic. I thought I had accepted and understood the odds, that I realised how lucky I was that it had worked for as long as it had. Yet my tears tonight tell a different story.

They show the hope that’s been lost, the fear, the anger, the sense of defeat in a battle I never even willingly engaged in.

And while it’s far from over (I am still on the trial treatment and it is still doing ‘something’ even if that isn’t as much as it once was) this rise marks a turn in events.

No longer do I feel like I have the upper hand. No longer do I feel in control. No longer do I feel like I have a grasp on what is coming next.

It’s the fear that hurts the most. The fear of more bad news, of more pain, of less options, of death.

It’s the fear of breaking other people’s hearts, of no longer being able to keep a brave face, of losing my sense of self to this insidious disease.

But most of all it’s the worry that I took the time I had for granted; so busy telling others to live like they are dying that I forgot to do it myself.

I’ve had many great adventures yes but did I love enough, did I laugh enough, did I open my heart to the deep vulnerability necessary for true connection?

I don’t know. But I plan to spend the rest of my days finding out and making sure.

Today marks a change, a shift. Tonight it feels painful. I feel deep sorrow and grief for the life I thought I was ‘supposed’ to have. Tomorrow I will welcome a new day, a new phase, a new beginning.

But, for now, I grieve.

health

Dear Cancer (a postscript)

Dear Cancer (a postscript)

I know I’ve said farewell already but I realised I still had a few more things left to say.

I’ve planned a ‘divorce ceremony’ to say farewell to you properly: to honour what you gave me as well as what you took. A proper goodbye.

Until then I’ll keep writing letters to you. I want to be sure there is nothing left unsaid when I say my final goodbyes to you.

Today I find myself reflecting on the fear that comes with saying farewell to you.

Yes fear.

I mean I don’t know who I am without you.

Yes that’s exciting, but it’s also terrifying.

I held on to you for so long because of this fear; because I was too scared to step into the unknown.

Not only do I not know who I am without you, but so many people in my life don’t know either. I mean, many of them met me after you came on the scene.

What if I don’t like the me that’s left? What if they don’t like me either?

What if, perhaps worse still, I discover I love myself more without you now and that I wasted time caught in the fear of letting you go?

But, while I’m scared I am also ready.

Feel the fear and do it anyway, they say.

I feel the fear of saying farewell to you, yes. But the fear of staying attached to you is far greater.

So I prepare to step into the unknown. I am taking a step of faith, trusting that the path I can’t yet see will appear before me before my foot hits the ground.

It’s time.

Love, Fi xx

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Read more in my books

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Fi is Currently:

Working on a new book idea.

Watching a wood pigeon make a nest in one of our trees.

Excited for some self care this afternoon.

Waiting for the arrival of autumn, my favourite season!

health

A Letter to Grief

Dear Grief

I used to be so angry at you.

I used to want to fight you.

I hated you.

The pain and suffering I felt when I felt you was suffocating.

I thought it was you that had taken those I love.

I thought it was you that had brought the pain and suffering.

But I realise now that I was wrong.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

I know now that you didn’t take them. You are them. You are the love I feel for them now they’ve gone transformed into another form, another name.

You are what my love for them became.

As my love transformed into grief it was that space in between that caused the pain and suffering.

It wasn’t you.

It was your shadow.

You are still, of course, often harder to carry than the love I used to know and feel for them.

That felt warm and soft and comforting.

You can feel cold and lonely.

But you are a reminder of how much love I felt for them.

I’ve found that carrying you gets easier with time. The weight of you doesn’t get less but perhaps I grow stronger. Perhaps I am able to carry you with greater ease as more time passes. Perhaps my muscles grow stronger.

Or perhaps you have become a part of me, a crack in my heart that shows I’ve felt love transform into grief, that I’ve loved someone through to the other side of my own pain and suffering.

I’m still figuring you out but I don’t hate you anymore. Instead, when I feel your presence I try to transform you back to love. I remove the pain and suffering and focus on the feeling of love. I focus on my heart.

I remember the love.

Perhaps this is what makes me able to carry you with greater ease over time; not the growing of muscles but instead the lightness that comes as you transform back to love.

Yes, I’m still figuring you out but I’m happy to sit with you now, as friends, not enemies as we figure it out together.

Love, Fi xxx

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Read more in my books

Listen to my groundbreaking podcast on all podcast apps – search for ‘Live Like You Are Dying’

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Book a place at one of my retreats.

—–

Fi is Currently:

Writing extracts for my ‘random act of kindness’ book.

Appreciating the imminent arrival of autumn.

Sitting in my summer house – my perfect writing sanctuary.

Listening to ‘The Highwomen’.

ovarian cancer

Is this the best it gets?

As I lay there on the floor, wrapped in a towel, unable to move from the pain and sickness I wondered does it ever go away? The fear? The illness? The anger? Is this the best it gets?

Every ache, every pain, every twinge, every new sensation bringing with it the lingering thought ‘is this cancer?’


No longer do you just get a head ache. No it must be a brain tumour.

The pain in your side can’t be from overdoing it. No it must mean the cancer in your lungs is back.

Upset tummy? That’s definitely the cancer spreading.

No matter how positive you are in the day to day, the here and now, the fear is just a moment away, waiting. Death walks beside you every step of the way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wallowing in a constant fear, depressed and unable to live. No, that would mean that the beautiful lessons cancer brought me had been ignored.

Instead I am aware of its whispers. I hear it call my name in the quiet moments of pain, in the dead of night, punctuating my daily joy with subtle reminders of its permanent presence.

Internally I scream,

“I heard you. I learned the lessons. Now hear me. I want to LIVE!”

Of course it will not hear. You cannot bargain with stage four cancer.

It is such a cruel reality; the gift of knowing how precious life is and wanting to live and enjoy every moment coinciding with the fact that your life will be shortened by this gift. Oh the painful irony.

Perhaps, however, that is part of the beauty of stage four cancer. Perhaps if remission meant ‘never to return’ instead of ‘short break‘ then the lessons wouldn’t be learned. Time would march on and slowly we’d slip into old habits, forgetting the value of each moment, each breath.

Yet this fear does not bring joy.

People want to comfort you, telling you it’ll be ok. You are different after all don’t you know…

You know the truth though. You smile and nod, excepting their reassurance but inside your pain feels belittled. Why won’t someone just listen to your fears without comforting? Why won’t someone just hear your words?

In the incredible book ‘When Breath Becomes Air’ the author perfectly states “there is cancer and then there is CANCER“, highlighting the difference between those who have curable cancer and go on to live happy, healthy lives and those who, like me, have incurable cancer which will linger in the shadows ready to pounce.

Recently a friend said “we’ll look after Ewan when you’re gone.” The acceptance, the acknowledgment of the reality of my disease was the most comforting words I’d ever heard. They didn’t depressingly insinuate that my death was imminent, neither did they ignorantly suggest I was ‘heathy’. No, what they did was reassure me. With those words they also silently said, ‘I hear your fears’, ‘I love you’, ‘I support you’, ‘I’m here’. 

I was not as alone as I’d once thought. They knew. They accepted.

And suddenly I realised. Perhaps everyone ‘knows’.

Had I really thought talking about it would make any difference? Is that what I want?

No.

Would constantly grieving the future change the reality?

No.

Perhaps all each of us in this journey together – the cancer warriors and their loved ones – can do is savour each moment, each smile, each breath without anticipatory grief of an, as yet, unknown future.

Yes, perhaps that’s all any of us can do. Each and every one of us on this wild and wonderful journey called ‘life’. We can live for today, irrespective of tomorrow, and pause and smile at all of the wonderful, incredible and beautiful moments there are to be grateful for.

You see, living in fear doesn’t change anything. However, living in gratitude…now that can change your whole world!

Love and light, Fi xxx

Ps. Dear Reader, please don’t take this post to mean that I am ‘depressed’ nor that I want to talk about my prognosis all the time. Instead please understand that I wrote this post merely to highlight some of the painful moments felt on the rollercoaster that is LIVING with late stage cancer.xxx

You can read more about Fi Munro on her website and public Facebook page.

She is also on twitter, instagram and youtube.

© FKMunro.com 2017 

ovarian cancer

What would you do if you had a week to live…

This year I faced Death. Not in a fleeting moment. We didn’t bump shoulders. No. Death and I stared each other straight in the eye.

It wasn’t the first time. In August 2015 my heart stopped during emergency surgery I’d required due to internal bleeding.

Interestingly that also wasn’t the first time…

No, it appears Death has hovered around me my whole life…from a near miss during my mum’s pregnancy (that’s her story to tell, not mine), to toxic shock from an allergic reaction to medication to being knocked down by a car (to name a few encounters).

You’d think my life long dance with Death would have made me wake up and realise that there was some message I was meant to receive. That Life was trying to tell me something…

On reflection now I realise that each encounter was more profound and extreme than the previous. Almost as if Life was shouting that little bit louder to get me to pay attention.

But no…in fact, it had the opposite effect. Instead of making me live for the moment it made be subconsciously believe that I was invincible, that I could survive all of this and so could put off my hopes and dreams until tomorrow…

That is until my cancer diagnosis.

For some reason, whilst brief encounters with Death had had no impact, the knowledge that it would now walk beside me for ever more was an entirely different story. Suddenly I was all to aware of my mortality.

True it didn’t taken just any cancer diagnosis. No, I was gifted a non-genetic, stage IV, possibly inoperable, ovarian cancer that ‘shouldn’t have happened’ to a thirty year old.

Life’s message had finally been received and I was listening.

So what do you do with this message? With the realisation that tomorrow isn’t to be taken for granted….that Life offers no gaurentees.

I remember the week before my big surgery. My husband took some holiday from work and I made a list of things I wanted to do. I never said it to him at the time but Death was with us at every moment. I was overwhelmed by the thought of not waking up from my surgery. It was to be a massive operation – the largest they’d done in one sitting – and that was frightening enough without the added concern that the last time I’d been on an operating table my heart had stopped. The surgeon had been brutally honest that there was more than the usual operation risk I wouldn’t wake up.

So, I had one week and I wanted to make it count. And, as a result, for the first time, I mindfully chose how to spend my time. I wasn’t wasting a second. Nothing was taken for granted.

  • I told people how much they meant to me. I loved them without reservation;
  • I had a picnic in a local park and invited everyone I knew (it was awesome);
  • I went out for amazing meals – I’m a foodie afterall;
  • I went to an aquarium – I LOVE water;
  • I spent time with my family;
  • I walked my dog and ran about in nature;
  • I went to the theatre.

The result? I realised what makes me happy and what truely matters in life.

Where you work, where you live, what you wear, what you drive; how big your house is; how much money you have…it’s all nothing. Nothing. Nothing! NOTHING!

Who you truly are; who you love; what makes you smile; what makes your heart sing…now that’s something! That’s what life is really all about!

In those few days I learnt more about Life and where my joy lies than I could have in a lifetime.

This is why I’m so grateful for my cancer. This is why I’m so positive and filled with love and joy and a childlike passion for life. And, if I’m totally honest, this is why I’m not ashamed to say I love mermaids and unicorns and glitter and sparkles. 

You see, I am me! And I’m so proud of being me! Every day is a blessing and I’m so grateful to be healthy enough today to enjoy this very moment.

If I had one wish it would be that everyone reading this would just embrace the reality that we are not promised tomorrow so we must live today unashamed of who we are; we should love with all of our heart and we should laugh as loud as we can and as often as we can (even if only at ourselves)!

The day before my surgery I planned to write letters to those who mattered most to me, just in case. In the end, I never did because I’m a strong believer of ‘tempting fate’ and fortunately those letters weren’t needed as I’m still here. But, this gave me a hidden gift because now I know who I would write a letter too if I had to say goodbye. I know every single soul in this world who means so much to me that I’d want to tell them. But that’s not the gift…the real gift is I get to appreciate this knowledge every single day and make sure I show them so that, if the time comes, they won’t need a letter.

One day you’ll just be a memory for some people. Make sure you’re a good one.

So, my message to you… don’t wait until tomorrow to love, to laugh, to follow your dreams. Do it today.

Merry Christmas.

Fi xxx

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Fellow Warriors

When on a life changing journey you meet people who, well quite simply, change your life. They change the way you see the world and the way you see yourself.

On my journey I have been blessed to meet many new people. Some are health care professionals, some are volunteers and some are fellow warriors. We walk this journey together – each playing a role in shaping each other’s lives.

Cancer can be lonely. Your friends and family and loved ones are all there supporting you and cheering you on but, fortunately/hopefully, none know what you are going through. None feel your pain. None see your worry as your worst fears crowd your mind. Instead they can just hold your hand, tell you they love you and watch (and cheer) from the sidelines.

Fellow cancer warriors are different. They have felt your pain. They have breathed your fears. They know the pain of telling loved ones their diagnosis. Of hearing a medical professional put a timeframe on their lives. Of having their lives change forever in a single breath. They are on the same journey.

I am blessed to have met many fellow warriors at different stages in my journey, with each playing a different and equally precious role.

This week one of my warrior friends slipped away. She, like me, did not fight her cancer but instead graceful lived her life with love and courage right until the end. She was truely a special person and, although I have only known her a short time, she played a massive role in my life and in my story. I feel honoured to say I have known her.

Thank you for the memories.

Sleep tight, Fi xxx