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)

gratitude, health, kindness, motivation, positivity

December Kindness – Day 3

Be There for Someone You Love

It’s day 3 of our December kindness calendar and, today I want to talk about reaching out to those you love who are struggling.

Often someone (or multiple someones) in our life can be in need of help, support and a bit of extra tlc.

But life is busy and our own day to day dramas get in the way of us being there for anyone else.

We find ourselves making excuses like ‘I don’t have time’; ‘I don’t know what to do to help’; or ’I don’t know what to say’ …and so we do nothing, we say nothing, we continue with our lives.

Meanwhile the person who is struggling doesn’t know what our absence means and it only adds to their current situation.

I’ve been on both sides of this…the person avoiding the person in need (before I knew how to be there) and the person being avoided.

Both are shit.

So today is about taking a moment to reach out to that person in your life in a way that is filled with love and kindness.

Here are some ideas that I use when I don’t know what to say or do…

➳ send a message that says ’I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. But I am here. What can I do?’ Trust me…it’s always better to say this than to say nothing.

➳ ask ‘how is your heart?’ This is different from asking ‘how are you?’ …to which the honest answer is usually ‘rubbish’ (or a swearier equivalent) …instead you are letting them know you really care about what’s going on for them.

➳ write them a card or note that says ‘I’m here when you are ready to talk’. There is no pressure for them to be ready now. You are just letting them know you are there when they need you. And trust me, they will take you up on it.

➳ Finally, it can be so easy to say ‘let me know if I can do anything’ but it can feel like an empty offer. Instead suggest something… would you like me to pick up some shopping for you? Walk your dog? Take the kids out? Sit with you? Often people in trauma don’t know what they need. Be the person who is actually there, doing something.

What else has helped you to know you are loved, seen and supported?

With love, gratitude and kindness today and always Fi xx

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

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Read more in my books

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

Follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Book a place at one of my retreats.

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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

Dear Cancer (a postscript)

Dear Cancer (a postscript)

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

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

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

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

Yes fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feel the fear and do it anyway, they say.

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

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

It’s time.

Love, Fi xx

—–

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:

Working on a new book idea.

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

Excited for some self care this afternoon.

Waiting for the arrival of autumn, my favourite season!

health

A Letter to Grief

Dear Grief

I used to be so angry at you.

I used to want to fight you.

I hated you.

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

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

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

But I realise now that I was wrong.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

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

You are what my love for them became.

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

It wasn’t you.

It was your shadow.

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

That felt warm and soft and comforting.

You can feel cold and lonely.

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

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

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

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

I remember the love.

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

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

Love, Fi xxx

—–

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’.

ovarian cancer

Is Social Media Making Us Less Social?

Recently I took the plunge of deactivating my person facebook page. I didn’t think much about it…I just knew I was using it too much and decided a break could be of benefit to my health.

Wow, was I surprised my the reactions I got.

  • “Are you ok?”
  • “How are you feeling emotionally?”
  • “What’s the matter with you?”
  • “Why don’t you want to talk to people any more?”

These are just some of the comments I received to my very personal decision and it got me thinking: when did social media start to define how social we are?; and when did our use of social media become an indication of our mental health?

In fact, if anything, it could be said that social media not only makes us less social but also negatively affects our mental health as we get sucked into the ‘comparison mentality’. There are increasing studies that show it negatively affects our stress levels, sleep patterns and anxiety (to name a few aspects).

After a week of no facebook I realised that I – the person who previously had used it like a drug – actually didn’t miss it at all. So I deleted my account completely (as much as facebook will allow anyway…those terms and conditions are ‘interesting’). Then, a week later I went on holiday with my hubby and didn’t take my phone, instead leaving it in our house.

I made the decision to be completely offline. For three weeks!

It.was.incredible!

While I appreciate the prospect of not having a phone for three weeks will have made many of you gasp in horror, I want to share with you some of the wonderful lessons I learned and some tips for you to take this learning Ito your own lives – don’t worry, at no point do I suggest you bin your phone.

What I Gained When I Went Offline For Three Week’s

  1. I Fell Back in Love With My Husband – Now of course I have always loved my husband – he is an angel! However, I had forgotten what it was like to truly connect with him like when we first started dating. Primarily I had forgotten how f*cking hilarious he is and how much I enjoy his company. It is so easy when you have been in a relationship for a number of years for your life together to become habit, for each day to be the same as the one before and to not really connect. Add in a life-threatening illness like mine and it is easy for what made you fall in love in the first place to move to the bottom of the pile. Talk of work, hospital tests and mindless chat about social media can very quickly and easily take over. When I stepped back from this I realised that perhaps we were not as connected as I might have thought. For instance, I spend most evenings with Ewan, however many are spent watching a film or both of us on our phones. Now, in many ways we have always recognised this and we consciously make time every week for adventures, walks and days out together yet still, in the day-to-day, screen time can take over from face-to-face communication. What I realised when we were away together was that we were interacting with one another; we were laughing; connecting and stimulating each other’s conversation constantly. It was like setting the reset button on our relationship. After all, can you imagine a first date with someone who just sat looking at their phone?…
  2. Mental Clarity and Improved Memory – My mind become much clearer and more focused. Each day I would journal ideas for my second book and rather than my thoughts being stunted or blocked, they flowed freely. A surprising addition to this was old memories started coming back to me. A traumatic relationship in my twenties has meant that I struggle with memories in my school and university years. This was worsened by six doses of chemotherapy in 2016. However, I found that as my mental clarity improved, so did my memory and, as a result, many happy memories that had stayed just out of my mental reach for years, started to return. It’s as if my mind began to completely let go and relax and my inner knowing/guide/intuition/soul (whatever you want to call it) was no longer being silenced by the constant stream of information on social media.
  3. Time and Productivity – It was so insightful to me how much time I would normally spend on my phone looking at various apps. As soon as my phone was no longer part of my life I suddenly gained a ridiculous amount of time to do things that really matter to me (ideas for you to try are listed later in this post).
  4. A Sense of Calm – I am an inherently anxious, a-type personality who always has to be ‘doing’. However, the longer I was without my phone the more calm I began to feel. I no longer felt like I had to ‘do’ all of the time and instead found myself day dreaming, wondering and reflecting in ways I don’t remember doing since I was a child. The result was a deep sense of peace and calm. I hadn’t realised how much the constraint stream of information had influenced my anxiety levels.
  5. Better Connections – it’s ironic really that not using your phone would make you feel more connected, but it’s true. When you don’t have a phone, you spend more quality time with the people you are actually with because you aren’t constantly being distracted by conversations with other people through your phones.

How My Relationship With Technology Changed

Of course, I did miss some aspects of having a phone. For instance, I greatly missed being able to speak to the people in my life that I love dearly. However, I have noticed that as a result of this personal experience, my relationship with technology has changed – in particular my tolerance and patience.

  1. Group Chats – I am in many group chats. Some are where my family connects and shares as a group. Some are with friends who are stimulating, funny and supportive. Other are, well, not. The constant buzz of conversation that is mindless and not adding anything to my life suddenly felt suffocating and toxic. Having gained insight into how draining social media can be, and having a life-threatening illness has made me realise how important it is that all of the social interactions we have, whether face-to-face or online, need add value. Fortunately some apps allow you to mute groups.
  2. Multiple Conversations – social media allows you to be engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously, across various platforms. How can you truly connect with what a person is saying if you are having a conversation with 10 other people at the same time? The answer is, you can’t. As a result, it is very hard to have a deep and meaningful conversation with people through text on a screen. I should know, after all, I am the person who sent the message “it’s f*cking cancer” to several people simultaneous the day after I was diagnosed. What ever happened to picking up the phone? (I ask myself as much as I ask you).
  3. Society pressure – It is really hard to step away from social media because nearly everyone is on it. This creates a ‘sheep mentality’ meaning that if you decide to be the one who doesn’t follow the flock you can feel like you are missing out. Fortunately I have some amazing friends who send me the photos of their children that they would ordinarily just post on social media – this makes me feel extra special as I know they want me to specifically see them, and not just their whole friends list (I don’t doubt they think I’m a pain in the arse).

Things to Do Instead of Mindlessly Checking Social Media

Now you may be wondering, if I’m not on social media how am I meant to relax/connect/veg-out/and so on? Well, don’t worry, I’ve got your back…

1. Dance – dancing to a song that makes you happy not only stretches out your body but it also helps to lower your stress hormones and allows you to move from a state of ‘fight or flight’ to a healthier state of ‘rest and digest’. The same can be said for yoga.

2. Go For a Walk – even if it is just for a short walk around your neighbourhood, going outside and breathing in fresh air reduces feelings of depression; burns calories and improves your cardiovascular health.

3. Create – when was the last time you did something creative? Creativity is a form of meditation and mindful living and allows your mind to wonder and your brain to rest. Take some time to draw, doodle, colour or write.

4. Take Some Me Time – busy has become a badge people are proud to wear. Instead of constantly stimulating your mind, allow it to rest and relax with a bath (with you phone left in the hall!), massage, reiki, sauna, meditation or anything else that takes your fancy…

5. Phone Someone – how many of us send mindless messages to people without picking up the phone and having an actual conversation? I just had a two hour phone call with a friend in London and it was so stimulating for my soul (and hopefully hers). Take some time to have an actual conversation with someone you care about, rather than sending the ‘how you doing?’ message.

6. Speak to the Person/People You Live With – you’ve had a busy day at work and the last thing you want to do is speak to another person. It is so much ‘easier’ to mindlessly look at your phone and start scrolling. How about instead, you pause, take yourself to a quiet place (I have a friend with three children who’s ‘quiet place’ is meditating on her bathroom floor – so no excuses!) and when you feel ready, start actually speaking to the people in your home, rather than reading the text on your phone.

7. Journal – I had heard of journaling and I didn’t really ‘get it’, thinking it was for ‘other people’. However, I spent a lot of my trip journaling and it was mind opening. Simply sitting down with a notebook and a pen and taking a few moments to yourself (or longer if you have the time – which you do if you aren’t on social media) to write down your thoughts is very illuminating. You can even search online for some ‘journal questions’ to give you some things to contemplate if you are struggling. I’ve learned more about myself, my values and my thoughts since I started journaling than I ever have in the past. Now I know why the people I know who have journaled for a while are so interesting, self-aware and enlightening to be around.

8. Read a Book – In those first two weeks I didn’t have facebook (before I went completely without my phone) I read two books without making any extra time for reading. I simply always carried a book with me and whenever I had a moment where I would have previously reached for my phone, I instead reached for my book. I even bought a new handbag that fits a book in it (any excuse for a shopping trip). Stop making the excuse ‘I never have time to read’.

9. Have a Nap – who doesn’t like a 10 minute nap…enough said.

But We Live In A ‘Digital Age’…I hear you cry

Of course, since I came home there has been a need for me to use social media and technology. For instance, I run a business that relies, in part, on social media and me being contactable by phone. The difference now, however, is that I engage with social media in a mindful manner:

  • My business facebook is run by a facebook account which I don’t have any friends on and I still don’t have a personal facebook (it’s been over 2 months now).
  • I check twitter once a week – my blogs are set to automatically post there.
  • I check instagram once a month.
  • I only check my business facebook during working hours.
  • I only check emails during working hours.
  • I don’t have any social media apps on my phone…no business facebook, no twitter, no instagram, no emails. This means that I have to go on a computer to check these. This takes away the mindless habit…it is a lot more effort to go into my office just to scroll through social media.

By taking some simple steps to mindfully reduce your use of technology you will begin to notice dramatic changes in your life. Maybe you will even take a compete break as I did – if you do, I’d love to hear your reflections (once you are back online of course).

I believe it’s time for us to unplug from mindless online activity and instead plug into our souls, our hearts and our intuition.

Love and light, Fi xxx