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.
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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
health

Cancer Update – Blood Results

I got some cancer news last week…
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I got my cancer marker (CA125) results back via email today.
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They only decreased by 6.4%.
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This is the worst response to chemo I’ve had between cycles…ever!
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Interesting that it’s during exactly the same time I’ve been in lock down and disconnected from everyone and in a state of inevitably higher stress/anxiety. The later being a known factor to exacerbate cancer growth.
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I am upset about results. Chemo makes me feel like shit and I only do it for it to have an effect on my cancer….which these results show it isn’t really.
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While it is showing ‘some’ effect it is very little and I am concerned it is indicating my cancer is becoming none responsive to chemo. This would be shit as there are no other options…and I only have two more doses left available to me. Shit all round 😔
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We will only have to wait and see what the next results are in three weeks time.
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But I am sad and disheartened.
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I’ll focus on how I feel though…which is relatively well, considering how many tumours I have and where they are…right lung, liver, around heart and next to right kidney…
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For that I’m grateful (not for the tumours 🙈 I mean for how well I feel considering the tumours… 🙌🏻).
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I’ve shared a graph of my cancer markers results from 6 weeks pre diagnosis until now…for the visually minded. Below 30 is ‘healthy range’. I’m sitting 100 above that just now.
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A common misconception in ovarian cancer is that the higher the number the worst the amount of cancer…this is not true…the actual indicator is how quickly the number rises (cancer growth) and falls (cancer shrinkage). You can be stage one and have a number over 1000 and stage four and have a number below 300 for instance.
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I continue to explore other options, however, given the current global situation many of these are ‘alternative’ or ‘complementary’…if this is something you are able and willing to support please donate. Thank you.xx
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https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-fi-to-heal-from-stage-four-ovarian-cancer

health

The Little Things

My brother in law is one of the amazing people working front line. Today he is also delivering us essential supplies as we are social shielding (I’m on chemo for late stage cancer, high dose steroids and no spleen).

I had chemo a few days ago and I’m feeling slightly worse for wear (understatement!) so it was the loveliest surprise that today he brought my niece with him and we had a quick hello through the widow!

I could cry from joy! 💜💙💜

It’s the little things in life that matter!…love, connection, joy, family, friends….all those things I certainly thought would always be there without question…now I’m 3 weeks into lock down and a minimum of 12 weeks to go…these stollen moments are what keep me going.

I’m so grateful for today and so hopeful for the day I can open my arms and have my niece (and her three crazy brothers!) run into them again.

If this situation teaches me nothing else, I hope I never take those moments for granted again.

This is what I live for.

Stays safe my lovelies 🥰😍🥰

health

The Coronavirus, Cancer and a Compromised Immune System

People keep asking me if I am anxious about getting the coronavirus.

It seems a logical question… after all I don’t have a spleen so I am immunocompromised every single day for life… I’m also currently on chemotherapy which suppresses my immune system even further making it almost non existent. I also have multiple lung tumours from my stage four ovarian cancer and yet my answer to this question may surprise you.

Because my answer is no.

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Here’s why.

  • Every day for the past four years I’ve lived with a terminal condition. I face death every single day. Coronavirus does not change that for me. It doesn’t make my fear, or likeliness, of death more prominent… it’s prominent enough!
  • Since having my spleen removed 3.5 years ago I’ve been immunocompromised meaning that seasonal flu, mumps, measles, chicken pox and many other ‘every day’ conditions could kill me. Spending my life in fear of this isn’t going to do me any favours… or save my life for that matter …instead I chose to be proactive with common sense and good hygiene. It’s literally all I can do!
  • I’ve worked in infection control and have a good understanding of how to wash my hands correctly and practice effective measures to limit the spread of pathogens. I do this anyway. Not just when there is a virus risk.

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Do you know what worries me more?

  • THE PANIC BUYING I’m witnessing of food, toilet roll, antibacterial gel and medical supplies.

Many immunocompromised people (myself included) can’t buy antibacterial gel they need every day of their lives because people have stock piled. Don’t even get me started on the disgusting humans who are selling it for ridiculous prices on eBay. Isn’t it sad that this outbreak is showing us some of the worst traits of human society.

Can someone please explain what this stock piling of toilet paper all about?!

  • THE FEAR in society.

Driving change based on fear never works. Change should be driven by information and education. Empowering people with information on how to practice effective hand cleanliness and take appropriate hygiene measures is much more effective. So is educating people on how viruses spread by using easy to understand resources – again, not by using fear.

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So what do I do to avoid the fear and the threat of viruses today, in the future and for the past four years?

  • I wash my hands using the recommend guidelines.
  • I don’t touch door handles or taps. I use tissue or my elbow.
  • I use a neti pot to clean my sinuses every day – sometimes twice a day.
  • I use an ear thermometer to check my temperature every day.
  • I avoid unwell people (where possible) by asking loved ones not to spend time with me if they, or their children, are unwell… I’m very strict on this and my loved ones are very accommodating!
  • I use antibacterial gel (only when hand washing isn’t an option).
  • I don’t share drinks, food, cutlery, bottles etc ever.
  • I keep my immune system as strong as possible with a good diet, exercise, meditation and supplements – all proven to help!…yes the meditation too!
  • I don’t stress or worry about getting unwell because stress is proven to lower the immune system so, in fact, the more you worry about getting a virus the more at risk you make yourself!
  • Beyond that… I just get on with my life knowing that I am doing everything I can to keep myself safe.

That’s all any of us can do: take responsibility for our own hygiene (and the hygiene of those in our care) and avoid seeing people if we are unwell.

Stress, fear, anxiety and worry aren’t going to protect us.

But education and good hygiene are.

Stay safe.

Wash your hands.

Self isolate if you aren’t well.

And don’t add to the drama by panic buying! Please!

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, holistic health, ovarian cancer, shamanism

Why I ‘Divorced’ My Cancer

On Friday night I held a shamanic ‘Cancer Divorce Ceremony’ on St Andrew’s West Sands Beach as I said farewell to my cancer. Not because my cancer has ‘gone’, far from it, but because I no longer want to be ‘married’ to the labels of my disease.
 
You see, I think many of us, unknowingly, become married to our cancer following a diagnosis. Very quickly we find ourselves in a co-dependent relationship with our disease, avoiding looking at aspects of our lives because we are using our cancer as an excuse to hold us back. I’ve been there too. I’ve done this and I speak from experience.
 
I believe, it is only once we ‘divorce’ and detach that we are able to say ‘who am I without this’ and ‘how has this relationship with cancer changed me, my values and my beliefs.’
 
I no longer want to ever use cancer as an excuse not to do my inner work, not to look at who I am and what needs to heal, not to show up in the world as my authentic self. So, I chose to divorce from it.
 
The ceremony itself was an energetic releasing of the ties to cancer. It was an acknowledging of all that it has brought me (good and bad) and all that it took away (also good and bad).
 
But it wasn’t just about me releasing the ties. It was about my loved ones doing the same too.
 
Each of us wrote a private letter to my cancer in which we expressed our farewell wishes. Some people expressed anger, some expressed gratitude, but ultimately, we were all saying goodbye.
 
None of the letters were read by anyone else, which meant that everyone was able to expre4ss their feelings in unfiltered, raw and open honesty. How often are we able to do that in life?
 
On the night I used shamanic rituals to open a space, calling in the four directions as well as inviting in guardians of the space in the form of the energy of loved ones other members of the circle had previously lost to cancer. I asked many of my shamanic friends to attend the ceremony and together we held a circle of energy for the ritual. I felt truly blessed to be joined by such incredible people.
 
There was music, drumming and chanting as the energy of the ritual built before we each took our turn to burn our letters on the fire and say our final goodbyes to cancer. Many of the group members had experienced cancer in their family lives too and their goodbyes went beyond my own cancer.
 
We also burnt the letters of my loved ones who were not at the ceremony too. In fact, over 30 letters were burnt on Friday night.
 
Everyone who wrote a letter mentioned how healing it was to acknowledge how my cancer has made them feel, to say the things they’ve longed to say, not to me, but to my disease.
 
This ceremony was an acknowledgment that it hasn’t just affected me, it has affected all of us.
 
I wanted to share with you all the letter that I wrote to my cancer. It’s not the whole letter. The whole one was nearly 4000 words. I’ve pasted it below. May it bring you peace and insight into the magic that can unfold when we open a conversation with our disease and with our limitations.
 
With love, Fi xx
 
—————-
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“Dear Cancer
 
I want to say that I’m just really angry with you but that would be a lie. In truth, anger is not all that I feel towards you. I am also unbelievably grateful to you too.
 
You see, you enabled me to leave the life that wasn’t serving me. Yes, I could have done it on my own but you and I both know that I wouldn’t have. I needed to get sick. I needed an excuse.
 
You gave me that and, in doing so, you enabled me to not feel guilty when I left that life behind and started to forge a new path in the world. You also enabled me to say no to doing things that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t have to say ‘no’ as such, instead I was able to say ‘no, because of cancer’. It meant that people weren’t angry with me when I said no to things. Instead they were angry with you. I hid behind you in so many ways. You gave me an excuse. I told people that you made me more authentic but, I realise now, that, in so many ways the opposite was true. You actually enabled me to be less authentic. You gave me a mask to hide behind.
 
So, saying goodbye to you is actually really hard because now I will have to do all these things for myself. I won’t have you to hide behind anymore and that’s really scary because, in reality, I’m often really fearful of what other people think and I am often terrible at setting boundaries. With you there I was able to act like I wasn’t but that’s only because people don’t care what you say or do when you have cancer. Well, it’s not that they don’t care but I certainly got away with a lot more while I was able to blame you. I realise now that I’ve been using you as my scape goat. That is so hard to admit but it’s the truth. I’m sorry about that.
 
But, because of you I have grown so much. I have looked at so many aspects of myself that I never would have looked at previously. I have learnt to deal with a lot of things, and I am also healing a lot of aspects of myself that I hadn’t previously known needed healing. Thank you. I am so grateful.
 
Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to go through life being ignorant. But actually, it wouldn’t be easier at all. It would be simpler yes but not easier. So, although it’s hard I am ready for the healing that it will bring me to say goodbye to you and to the excuses you gave me. I am ready to go even deeper with my healing work. I am ready to discover who I really am behind the mask of you that I wore for so long.
 
I am also so grateful for the relationships you brought me. There are so many people in my life now, some of them my best friends, who I only met because of you. Thank you. I genuinely can’t imagine what life would be like without all these people that came into my life because of you and the path you placed me on.
 
If I’m honest, I think that you likely saved my marriage. It’s not that it was failing or in trouble before you arrived by any means, but I was certainly on the trajectory of working harder and harder and pushing myself more and more in a bid to not look at the past traumas and buried emotions I was feeling. I was pushing Ewan (and many other people) away because it was easier but, because of you, I have slowed down and I now value him so much. He is such an incredible and precious man. I took that for granted before. Thank you.
 
I am thankful for all of the amazing experiences I have had because of you too. There have been so many things, too many to mention, all because you came into my life. Thank you.
 
But I am also angry. I am angry at how you sadden my Ewan and my loved ones. I am angry that by being in my life you make them sad and scared. But as I write this, I realise that it is not sadness that they show; it is love. I can’t help then but also be thankful for this too. You have shown me how very loved I am. I didn’t see that before. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel worthy of love and now I do. Now I know that I am worthy and that I have a purpose. You put me on the path to discovering who I am and what my life’s work is, and I am so grateful.
 
It feels really hard to say goodbye to you. I realise that I have interwoven my life with you. We are entangled. The life I have forged over the past four years is so engrained in you. I am scared of what it will be like for me to be authentic without you. I am scared about how I will show up in the world and how I will be received without you as my safety net.
 
I know that I want to change the world, or at least a small part of it, but not because of you. I don’t want that to be my legacy. I want to inspire people because of me. I don’t want people to think of me and then think of cancer. I want my cancer to be a distant memory, but I want my words to inspire, motivate and stay with people, long after my passing.
 
More than anything I want to live a long and healthy life. I don’t want to feel the pain anymore. I don’t want to feel the fear. I remember, before you, thinking that I would live forever. I want that feeling again. I don’t want to be worried constantly that I don’t have time to do all the things that I want to do. But then I guess this is what I tell people all the time, that we may die at any point and so we have to keep doing what we can with joy and passion in our hearts for as long as we are able. So, I guess I am making a commitment now to keep pushing towards my dreams and accept that I could live for many, many years but that I could also die tomorrow. The same could be said for any of us.
 
I really want that you know. I really want to live for many years. I want to be healthy. I want to become an old lady. I want to be free from you. I want you to leave my body. I want you to let me live my life now. It is my greatest wish. My long sought after dream.
 
But, regardless, I promise to commit my life to self-healing and growth and to the healing and growth of others. I promise I will keep striving forward to make the world a better place in the words I teach and the lessons that I share. This is what I want for me. This is what I want for the world. Whether I live until I’m 90 or die in my 30s, my dreams and focus will remain the same.
 
But I know that in order to do this, that I need to energetically say goodbye to you. It’s really hard. You’ve been a part of my life for so long. I am more scared of life without you than of life with you. In fact, it terrifies me. I am terrified of who I will be without you. I am terrified of what my life will be like. I am terrified of how people will treat me. I am terrified of what I will have to face inside of myself. I am terrified of the emotional and spiritual healing work I will have to do on myself and the authenticity I will have to express when I no longer have you to use as an excuse to express it. I am so scared of receiving rejection when I don’t have you to validate my words.
 
I am scared.
 
But I am more scared now of who I will be and how I will be remembered if I don’t release you. I am more scared now that if I don’t do this that I will become overwhelmed by you, and so will the memory of me. I am more scared now of losing sight of all I have the potential to become if I keep hiding behind you.
 
So, as hard as it is, I know that I need to say goodbye to you. I need to find out who I am without you. I need to find out how I can show up in the world without you as my safety net. I believe, only then will I be able to become the best version of myself and the person I was destined to be.
 
So, while I will be forever thankful for so much that you have given me and so grateful for the path you have put me on, it is time for me to say goodbye to you.
 
With gratitude and love for you always. Goodbye.
 
Fi Munro, PhD”
health

The ‘Ugly Yoga’ Challenge

I’m launching an ‘Ugly Yoga’ Challenge on 1st September 2019 and I really hope you’ll join me!

In just 5 minutes a day you can change your life and it won’t cost you a penny!

Read on to find out how!

WHAT IS UGLY YOGA

‘Ugly Yoga’ stems from my passionate belief that yoga isn’t about having the ‘perfect’ mat, clothes, body, posture (insert any other ‘perfection’ that’s ever put you off going to a yoga class).

It also doesn’t require you to have ‘perfect’ health either!

Instead, I believe yoga is about connecting with your heart and soul and moving your body in a way that nourishes YOU and your individual needs!

It really doesn’t matter how your poses ‘look’. What matters most is how they make you ‘feel’!

When I say ‘ugly yoga ’ I want you to think about the story of the ‘ugly duckling’ who transformed into a swan…your ‘ugly yoga’ too will transform you in ways you can’t even begin to imagine!

MY STORY

I’ve been practicing ‘ugly yoga’ for nearly 4 years. Before that, I used to go to yoga classes trying to do ‘perfect yoga’, I was training for London Marathon, I was also weight training and seeing a personal trainer. Admittedly, I was one of those yogis that was trying to appear ‘perfect’.

What unachievable bullshit!

In January 2016, aged just 30, I was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer.

Since then I’ve trained as a yoga teacher specialising in adult ashtanga yoga, children’s yoga, pregnancy yoga, pre and post natal yoga and baby yoga.

I have a colostomy bag, a pneumothorax (hole in my right lung) and lung tumours. I’ve have multiple organs removed during major surgery including a complete hysterectomy and splenectomy. Most importantly, I’m still alive!

To say I understand the human anatomy, holistic health and yoga would be a massive understatement! I can guarantee whatever you’re feeling…I’ve been there too!

BUT through it all I’ve done yoga every single day (yes, even when I was in hospital). I’ve taught classes and one to one and I’m now running yoga retreats in Scotland with Integrative Retreats.

I believe that yoga is for EVERYONE! And I get super frustrating with the western view that yoga has to look a certain way.

When I trained as a yoga teacher one of the fundamental aspects I was taught was about the philosophies of yoga and it’s role in nourishing us as a whole – our mind, body and spirit. We were never taught that yoga was about having washboard abs or ‘nailing’ a particular pose. That’s all ego led nonsense!

Understanding this important differentiation is something I reference as significant to my physical and emotional healing in my book ‘How Long Have I Got?’

When I stopped trying to do ‘perfect’ yoga and stopped comparing myself to others and what I couldn’t do, I discovered that my body was capable of so much more than I ever imagined!

I also discovered that 5 minutes each day doing yoga that nourished my body is far better than zero minutes!

Of course, some days I do more. Some days I do 90 minutes when I’m feeling good and in flow with my body! But I never set this as the goal. I always set the goal at a manageable and non threatening 5 minutes. Because we can do anything for 5 minutes…even when we feel rubbish and unmotivated!

THE ‘CHALLENGE’

So, I am starting a different kind of yoga challenge. One that doesn’t promise to get you doing a headstand in two weeks – although you might and that’s great if it feels nourishing for you.

Instead this challenge promises to help you connect with, love and learn from your unique and special body.

And, best of all, it’s suitable for everyone, regardless of your health situation or any other circumstances.

All you have to do is commit to 5 minutes of yoga every morning for 30 days.

Just 5 minutes.

You don’t need a yoga mat or fancy yoga clothes.

You don’t even need a yoga studio.

All you need is 5 minutes.

You can do ‘ugly yoga’ in your pjs or your gym clothes…hell you can even do it naked if you like (you badass you!)

You can do it in a chair, on your bed or even in your bathroom – I know that’s the secret place you busy parents hide from your kiddies when you need 5 minutes…yes you!

All you have to do is carve out 5 minutes each day where you put on some relaxing music (I have a free yoga playlist on Spotify under ‘Fi Munro Yoga’) and just stretch and move your body how it wants to move.

Some days you’ll do big stretches and lots of downward facing dogs, other days you might sit and gently twist your body from side to side. There might even be some days where you just lie on your back in shavasana for 5 minutes.

And do you know what? That’s all perfect!! As long as you are listening to what your body needs for at least 5 minutes then, I assure you, you are nailing ‘ugly yoga’ my lovely!

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Starting 1st September 2019 commit to just 5 minutes each day for one month where you stretch your body in ways that feel nourishing to you. That’s it!

Take pictures or videos or write about how ‘ugly yoga’ is making you feel and share it all with me using @fkmunro and #uglyyoga or #uglyyogachallenge

You’re going to be amazed at how different you feel! Seriously!

AND I’m going to join you too by posting live videos of my ‘ugly yoga’ each day across my social media channels.

Are you in?

Love, Fi xxx

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Read more in my books

Book into one of my workshops.

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

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Book a place at one of my retreats.

—–

Fi is Currently:

Listening to my yoga playlist on Spotify.

Feeling grateful for a day in the sea.

Loving life and the gift of being alive.

Admiring the sunflowers on my kitchen table.