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
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 🥰😍🥰

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

A Letter to Fear

Dear Fear

It’s a funny old relationship we have, you and me.

Sometimes I think while you stop others from doing things, you propel me forward.

What am I afraid of? I don’t really know. I’ve faced so much pain I’m not sure there is anything left to fear.

Over the years, in the past, I’ve felt the fear of not being safe in my own home, my own body and my own life.

But, as a result, I don’t fear death, pain or grief. I’ve befriended so many of life’s enemies that invoke fear in my peers.

Yet I do still feel you. I feel you when I open up to being vulnerability, to authenticity, to truth. But I power on. I keep facing you and opening my heart because in doing so I am uncovering myself, I am growing and learning and truly feeling all that life has to offer.

I am so grateful for you, my dear friend named fear because when I feel you I know I am pushing myself to the edges of my boundaries and, in doing so, I know I am growing into the best version of myself.

Thank you for being my marker, my flag, my guide.

This is the kind of fear I crave – but none of that shitty life threatening fear please…I’ve had my fair share of that already!

Love, Fi xx

—–

Read more in my books

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:

Looking forward to a weekend of kayaking.

Resting after treatment yesterday.

Enjoying the imminent arrival of autumn.

Excited for Ewan’s birthday later this month!

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

—–

Read more in my books

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:

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’.

health

A Life Of Peace – Scan Results

This cancer ‘journey’ can be full of twists and turns and highs and lows.

Most of all, it can be full of surprises.

Recently I had the surprising news that my abdominal tumours had resolved and it ‘appeared’ that the only remaining tumours were two in my right lung. This opened up the potential for unexpected treatment options including lung surgery or SABR radiotherapy. It was exciting and terrifying and, to be honest, I wasn’t overly keen on either….I mean, my previous experience of cancer surgery was hardly ‘simple’.

However, before these treatment options could be confirmed as viable I had to have a PET scan.

Previously I had only ever had CT scans. During these you are injected with a contrast dye that is great at showing abnormalities in the body (such as tumours), but they don’t always show up everything and they also don’t show how ‘active’ the abnormalities are.

PET scans, however, work in a different way. For a PET scan you are injected with a radioactive glucose mixture. Beforehand you fast for 6 hours so that your ‘normal’ cells are forced to use other energy sources such as your fat. Cancer cells aren’t able to use other energy sources (they need glucose) and so when the mixture is injected it goes straight to any active cancer cells in the body. The radioactive part of the mixture then makes these cells ‘glow’ on the scan. It’s amazing eh?! This was helpfully explained to me by the radiographer doing the scan.

So I had my first PET scan a couple of weeks ago and then I waited, not so patiently.

Today I got the results.

I must admit, as soon as I was told I was getting the results I knew they were not going to be good news. I had this deep sinking feeling in my stomach that I’ve never had before.

‘You just want to get straight to the results don’t you?’ My oncologist asked, knowing me so well after 3.5 years of caring for me. I should highlight, again, that she is incredible. I mean I have never met another consultant so focused on person-centred care. She really is a joy and I feel so lucky. I know this isn’t the case for every cancer patient in the world.

Sorry…’just get to the point’…I’m sure you are muttering.

So the scan confirmed that yes the two lesions in my right lung are very active and growing…nothing surprising about that.

It also showed that the lesion above my heart that had been visible on the previous two CT scans is in fact active and not ‘dead’ as we had hoped. This means no lung surgery for me as it would be far too risky.

Also, it showed some activity in my lymph nodes including one under my right armpit and one in my upper abdomen. This is not good. Everyone with cancer knows that it being in your lymphatic system is more than a little shite.

And yet, still, I find myself oddly calm and at peace and here’s why…

Stay with me, things might get a little ‘woohoo’ for some…

When I bought my 1996 VW T4 Campervan recently (if you missed that news flash I have no idea how as I have posted a billion photos!…well at leats 4 or 5 haha) I wanted to give it a name.

While Ewan and I were on our test drive the name Alfonzo came to me. It sounded kinda cool and I thought to myself ‘OK, this is what the van wants to be called‘. Then, when I got home I looked up the meaning of Alfonzo and was surprised to discover that it means ‘ready for battle’.

Even better,’ I thought, ‘The perfect name for a warrior’s van.’

But then something weird happened when I was driving the van yesterday.

As you may already know I am training to be a shaman. This means that I work with the spirit of things, energy and intuition (amongst other ‘stuff’ I’ll save for a future post).

So, it wasn’t unusual for me that when I drove the van to hospital for my treatment yesterday that I got a sense that the van wanted to be called Winifred, not Alfonzo. Yes, you read that right, the van wanted it.

‘Winifred doesn’t sound anywhere near as cool as Alfonzo‘ I thought, ‘So that’s not happening.’

Well, when I left hospital the van wouldn’t start for me. I sat in that car park for over an hour trying to start it, only to have Ewan rescue me and it start first time.

OK, maybe you can be called Winifred‘ I thought.

So, here’s where it gets freaky – yes that wasn’t the freaky stuff.

When I looked up the meaning of ‘Winifred’ I was amazed to discover that it means ‘joy, peace and reconciliation’ – the exact opposite of what Alfonzo means! Crazy eh?!

Now, here’s the thing. I now think this was some kind of crazy, insight, instinct, message from the universe (call it what you will) that I just need to let go, slow down, be at peace and reconcile any pain, trauma or grief that I’ve been carrying around with me.

And that, my dear lovelies, is exactly what I’m going to do, because firstly, what is the alternative? I wallow and mope and waste the fact that, right now, I still feel surprisingly well (compared to most other stage four cancer patients, not compared to healthy people I hasten to add) and secondly, my precious instinct has served me well up until this point so who am I to ignore her wisdom now.

As I move forward through the uncertainty of living (yes LIVING) with stage four cancer, I will not fight it, I will not desperately look for ‘the magic cure’, I will not read book after book in search for the answer that may have been missed elsewhere and I will not be angry that this is happening to me (most of the time – sometimes I will shout ‘f*ck this‘ at whoever happens to be listening or in earshot).

No, instead I will use it as a catalyst to live my life, and what a beautiful life it is, filled with love and joy and adventure!…and now I will work at bringing peace and reconciliation into my life too…because it’s needed, boy o boy, is it needed!

Above all I will strive to live like I am dying, to practice what I preach and to find the good and the gratitude in each and every day because isn’t that all any of us can do in our pursuit of happiness and fulfilment; to live a life to it’s fullest and to focus on what we have rather on what we have lost?

My cancer may never my cured, but it is certainly the tool through which I am healing my life. And that feels pretty good to be honest. It’s certainly better than living the life I lived before, filled with drama, anger, stress and unfulfilment. No thank you! Life is too short for that nonsense!

Now, on a much more serious note, what on Earth am I going to name my campervan?

With love in my heart for you all for reading my words and sharing my story.

Thank you, Fi xx

Read more in my books

Visit me at 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.

Stay on one of my retreats.

—–

Fi is Currently:

Loving my precious life.

Feeling grateful to still be alive.

Sitting on our sofa wrapped in a blanket after a lovely afternoon on the beach with Ozzy.

 Waiting for Ewan to come home with a takeaway because who would cook on scan result day?

ovarian cancer

I refuse to ‘fight like a girl’

I don’t ‘fight‘ my cancer.
I’m not ‘suffering‘.

It’s not ‘devistating‘.

I’m not in a constant ‘battle‘.

I’m not at ‘war‘.

Instead…

I’m healing my mind, body and spirit through cancer.

Why?

To explain I need to start with a very basic biology lesson (I have simplified this as best as I can for the purpose of this post).

One thing that countless medical professionals, as well as many authors and researchers, all agree on is that every single person has cancer cells in their body at any given point.

Yes. Everyone. Even you!

A cancer cell is just a ‘normal’ cell that didn’t do what it was supposed to. It may have divided more than it should have for instance.

This error is happening every single day in each and every one of us.

In a healthy person their body detects this error and removes the cell or rectifies the error. This is done because they have a strong immune system that is doing its job at keeping their body healthy and their cells working effectively. Problem solved. 

The difference between me and someone who doesn’t have a ‘cancer diagnosis’ however is that my immune system didn’t notice the first error, or the second, or third and so on…

Instead, my little misbehaving cells were treated the same as my healthy cells. Instead of being removed they were fed and encouraged to grow. Not only that, they were then encouraged and helped to move around my body along wth my healthy cells.

As the number of these cells increased, my immune system further decreased as it became increasingly compromised by these misbehaving cells. As a result, my body became less and less able to detect these cells and, before I knew it, they had taken over my abdomen and chest cavity.

All because my body didn’t detect that first cell that got things wrong.

Facinating!

What does this all mean?

Firstly, it means that cancer is not an external source. It is created by our bodies. It is spread by our bodies. It is fed by our bodies.

It is part of our bodies!

To fight my cancer would be (in my eyes) the same as fighting myself.

What a horrible way to live my life!

So if I don’t fight what do I do?

Now, whilst cancer is not an external source I believe that the factor(s) that contributed to my lowered immune system that didn’t detect that first rouge cell is.

For some these may include, for example, smoking, alcohol, pesticides, toxins, stress, illness and so on.

In my case, as a non smoker, minimal drinker and healthy eater, I think my factors ran a lot deeper and included emotional stress and anxiety, environmental toxins, illness and pesticides.

So, since my diagnosis, instead of fighting – which would only create anger, stress and anxiety and further toxify my immune system – I have focused on rebuilding my health, boosting my immune system, looking after and nurturing my body, mind and spirit. 

What’s the result?

I feel amazing! Yes I’m tired and achy but that’s a result of my chemotherapy (which, incidentally, lowers your immune system!).

Aside from that though, considering my diagnosis and the major surgery I had four months ago I feel pretty darn good!

I love life!

How did I do this?

  • Daily yoga
  • Daily meditation
  • No alcohol
  • Building emotional health
  • 6 portions of veg a day (min)
  • 2 portions of fruit a day (max)
  • Daily ginger, garlic and turmeric
  • Homemade almond milk
  • No dairy
  • Minimal meat
  • Daily 3 mile walk
  • 2 hours outside every day
  • Reading*
  • 8 hours sleep
  • No preservatives
  • Organic food wherever possible
  • No sugar 
  • No processed food
  • Only natural cleaning products in our home
  • Soap nuts for clothes washing
  • Castile soup for hands, hair and body
  • Coconut oil for body moisturiser and make up remover
  • Natural makeup
  • And much more!

*this is to keep my brain active following chemotherapy to help rebuild my mental stamina for my return to work.

Conclusion

I don’t think ‘fighting’ is the right approach to healing from cancer. I want to stop the war on cancer and start the healing of cancer warrior’s minds, bodies and spirits.

Cancer is a result of so many little factors toxifying our bodies over time without notice until our immune system is too compromised to do its job. Trying to fight this with anger, resentment and hate only causes us to miss the point and value cancer can bring, if we’d only just stop, take a breath and listen.

Cancer can teach us how to heal our lives and live happier and healthier than ever before.

I’m not saying I think this approach will’cure’ cancer but it will certainly cure our bodies, minds and spirits of dis-ease.

I for one would rather live out my days (however many I may have) with this approach to life than by fighting with myself and my body.

In the words of Albert Einstein:-

We cannot solve problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Something to think about…

Love and light, Fi xxx

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