health, holistic health, ovarian cancer

Carol Bareham 22.12.1972 – 01.04.2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does loving harder look like?

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

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

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

ovarian cancer

Good Grief – Rediscovering the Value of Holistic Health

I realise I’ve not really blogged about my ‘cancer’ journey since the last time I had chemo (almost three weeks ago!), instead focusing on my random acts of kindness, so this post may be a little longer than usual…

Five days following chemo number five I was admitted to hospital…again. It was Monday evening and I started to get the same abdominal pains I’d had prior to my previous hospital admission. We had the usual back and forth conversation with the national cancer helpline before they contacted the ward and I was asked to make my way into hospital. By this time it was after 8pm. I was in a lot of pain and my limbs felt weak and achy. It was as if the bones throughout my body were being drilled. It was horrible!

I was put in a consultation room while they paged the doctor on call that evening. I was tossing and turning in pain and, at one point, lay on the floor in an effort to get comfortable. During this time a couple of nurses came in and attempted to get blood. Eventually one successed but not before several attempts, more pain and more bruises.

After being seen by the doctor I was moved to an empty bay. My husband was sent away and I tried to get some sleep while I waited to be taken for chest and abdominal x-rays. I really wish I’d stop having these – it’s been once a week lately and surely that can’t be doing any good for my body!

A porter arrived at 2.30am to take me to the x-ray department. I was helped into a wheelchair and we began the journey through the maze of corridors. The lights were out in most of them and the windows were open – hospitals can be frightening enough places during the day but when in darkness and empty and cold they become very creepy!

Prior to my x-ray I was asked the same question I’ve been asked before every x-ray, MRI and CT Scan but which, since surgery, has been heartbreaking.

Is there any chance you could be pregnant?

My medical records clearly state I’ve had a hysterectomy – or at least they should. They wouldn’t ask a man…and it’s just as ridiculous to ask me! More importantly, it hurts my soul every time they ask.

Following my x-rays I was returned to the ward. During my time away my things had been moved to a bay with five other people. It was now after 3am, I was tired and fell asleep quickly, not waking until morning.

I felt miserable when I woke. Sad about being back in hospital. Sad about the reality of my treatment and diagnosis. Sad about, well, everything. It was so unlike me! (Not helped by the fact that one of our beautiful fur babies had died suddenly over the previous weekend).


After breakfast I was visited by my oncologist. She hadn’t been told I was in hospital but had seen my name on the board. I was so relieved to see her. I trust her and value her opinion. Also, I know she won’t keep me in hospital unless absolutely necessary!

We both agreed that the reason for my admission was two fold. Firstly, the aches in my legs was due to my magnesium levels being too low. This was a symptom I’ve become all too familiar with recently as they seemed to be permanently low. In response, we agreed to double the dose of my oral magnesium medication. Secondly, she explained that my extreme fatigue and aching bones was due to one of my chemotherapy drugs – Paclitaxel. To combat this she suggested reducing the dose for my final chemo by 50%. This terrified me! So we had a discussion and agreed to reduce it but only by 20%. I once again felt my opinion mattered and that I too played a valued role in my treatment plan. I’m so grateful for this as I fear not all oncology patients are as fortunate.

Having made these changes she agreed that I could go home. However, as it happened, it wasn’t going to be that straightforward…

When my husband arrived to take me home I burst into tears. What was wrong with me? I hate being in hospital and I was getting to go home. I should be elated! We waited a while, had a chat and I calmed myself down. I packed my bag and we made our way to the door. However, en route, I got short of breath, my legs gave way and my heart was racing. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My husband ran and got a nurse and when they took my pulse it was 157! I was put in a wheelchair and placed in a side room where a doctor immediately did a heart trace – it was of course fine. Although my blood pressure was very low.

My issue, it appeared, wasn’t physical.

My issue was panic. Anxiety, that I hadn’t even acknowledged, was rearing its ugly head. 

For weeks I’d been focusing so much on my physical health that I’d left my emotional health unchecked. I had stopped meditating. I had stopped spending time in nature. I had stopped treating my health holistically!

After resting I was allowed home. This time I felt calmer. I recognised what was happening and that I needed to make changes. When we got home my husband and I both fell asleep, joined by Robbie our rescue dog. When we woke, a few hours later, my sister had visited and left a surprise gift. She’d secretly been collecting messages from friends in a book for me, waiting for when I needed it most to give it to me. This was certainly that moment. My face streamed with tears as I read my loved ones’ words. It was the most beautiful gift I’d ever been given – the gift of love.

I knew then that I needed to make changes. I needed to pick myself up. And that’s exactly what I did. Over the next week I made several steps to start focusing on recovering my emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing:-

1. I wrote down my favourite activities; beauty treatments, time in nature, going to the cinema, comedy shows, eating out, spending time with loved ones. I then made plans to include these in my life as much as possible. For example, I booked a beauty treatment for every week over the next 2 months…starting with getting my nails done.

2. I went to see my GP and spoke honestly about how I was feeling. I told her that I felt ‘flat’ and disengaged. I explained that I had lost my normal routine since surgery and the frustration I felt being too weak to walk our dog or drive. She listened, not rushing me so she could see her next patient, but instead supporting me to make a plan.

3. I started driving again. Oh the freedom!

4. I started walking my dog again. Just little 5 minute walks with my husband at first but slowly we built this up and now, just two weeks later, we are enjoying 2.5 mile walks most days!


5. I started doing my random acts of kindness. They gave me focus. They gave me purpose. Most of all, they gave me joy! The ripple affects of the first one lifted me in ways nothing else could have.


6. I started cooking beautiful, healthy home made meals, focusing on using fresh organic ingredients proven for their anti-cancer or health promoting qualities as I had prior to surgery. I, of course, started with a meal from Sabrina Ghayour’s cook book!


7. I started meditating again. Remaining mindful and focusing on the present moment, rather than letting your past or potential future influence your emotions, is key to remaining positive and enjoying life. I’d lost touch with this in the weeks following surgery and, as a result, my positivity had faded at times. 

8. I started reading again. Although I am off work for treatment just now, my working career was as a researcher and I have a PhD so reading and learning are fundamental to my way of life. Prior to my surgery I’d immersed myself in learning all I could about cancer and cancer treatment – both conventional and alternative. However, since my surgery I had lost this focus and with it, I’d lost one if my greatest passions in life: new knowledge. 

9. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I started seeing a psychologist at my local Maggie’s Centre. We’ve had only one session but it helped me tremendously! At the time of my diagnosis I was training (in my ‘spare time’) to qualify as a hypnotherapist and psychotherapist and so I have a lot of respect for talking therapies, although I’d never before seen a therapist for myself. It was a really powerful session for me. I was able to talk very openly about my prognosis and treatment and also about people’s responses. She validated my emotions, explaining how I feel and my response (mainly positive) is ‘normal’ and something she called ‘good grief’. Sometimes, when you are feeling anxious and maybe a little scared, that is all you need to hear! 

As a side note, I think it’s important to mention that Maggie’s provide this service completely free of charge!

As a result of these changes I feel transformed. I once again feel in touch with who I am, my values and my holistic approach to remaining healthy.

I am glad I had a ‘panic attack’ because it demonstrated to me the importance of focusing on all three aspects of health – physical, emotional and spiritual – in order to maintain my holistic health and wellbeing.

Love and light, Fi xxx

ovarian cancer

Thai Chi: Chemo 4 – Day 18

Today I made another visit to my local Maggie’s centre.

In a bid to help me relax I had signed up for a Thai Chi class – again offered for free thanks to an exceptional volunteer providing their skills to support cancer patients on their journey.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – my usual, pre-cancer exercise routine had involved kettlercise, running and a personal trainer with the occasional yoga class thrown in as an attempt to relax my busy mind so the idea of Thai Chi was completely alien to me.

I arrived early because I was told the class filled up quickly and wasn’t surprised to see that everyone else was at least 60…had I chosen the right course?

Then a younger woman arrived. About my age and with the same unsure look on her face. We got talking and I felt instantly more at ease – It turned out I wasn’t the only one trying someone new in an attempt to calm a mind filled with thoughts of cancer and worst case scenarios…

The class started with some breathing exercises and gentle movements. When we paused for a break I was so lost in the experience that I couldn’t have told you how long we had been doing it for…I thought our hour was up but, as it turns out, only 30 minutes had passed.

Following the break we moved on to individual routines including the turtle, dragon and snake…I think!  

So what’s my verdict?…amazing! I utterly loved the session and have signed myself up as a regular. I felt completely lost in the breathing and movement. I was so focused on what the instructor was doing that I didn’t have time to think about anything else. I was, for once, living in the moment and, as a result, felt calm and relaxed.

Just as with my experience with the therapeutic touch session that Maggie’s offer – which had given me physical peace for the first time since my diagnosis – I felt this was my first opportunity to embrace emotional peace. Whilst I meditate daily, my mind inevitably wonders (not always to cancer, sometimes to the dishes in the sink!) but with Thai Chi I felt completely focused on the task in hand.

I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone struggling to still their mind and in need of giving themselves permission for some valuable me time.

Another huge thank you to Maggie’s for their support and the generosity of their wonderful, selfless volunteers.

Love and light, Fi xx 

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Therapeutic Touch: Chemo 4 – Day 16

Today I took up the opportunity to have some relaxation therapy at my local Maggie’s centre. I’m finding that the more I hear about my operation and what it involves, the more anxious I am getting!…probably not helped by the fact that I looked up a video of the operation on YouTube – I don’t recommend this!…I only got about 30 seconds in!

Anyway…I use meditation to relax ordinarily but lately my mind is just wondering too much thinking about the next few weeks so what I really wanted was a message. Unfortunely because of where my cancer is in my body I am not allowed a massage- rubbish I know! Instead I am advised to only have reflexology or Indian head massage. However, for a therapist to work on a cancer patient they require special insurance and as a result most therapists won’t go near someone with cancer…so frustrating!
Maggie’s, however, have a wonderful volunteer(!) therapist who specialises in physiotherapy, massage and reflexology. She provides 6 free sessions to anyone with cancer who would like to take up the offer. Isn’t that amazing! Understandably her waiting list is a few weeks but I managed to get an appointment and today I went for my first session. 

During the session I lay down and was guided through some yoga breathing before she started playing some meditation music. Whilst I focused on my breathing she began working on my feet and ankles. She then moved on to my shoulders and arms, taking time to rotate and loosen every joint whilst also massaging the muscles. This was followed by a head massage before she returned to my feet.

It was utter bliss! I had no idea how tense I was until she started working on all of my joints and muscles…whilst being careful to avoid any of the areas that my cancer is located.

Afterwards I felt as light as a feather and much more relaxed, both mentally and physically, than I have been in ages.

I also felt a little bit emotional. It wasn’t until she stated the treatment that I started to appreciate that for the past three months I have been touched by so many strangers. I have been examined, scanned (MRI, CT and ultrasound), had blood tests, fluid drained for my abdomen (twice), fluid biopsies taken from my lung, tissue biopsies taken from my abdomen, I’ve had an IV for fluid and for chemo on several occasions, I’ve had two blood transfusions and I’ve acquired several new abdominal scars….all whilst awake, all in the space of three months and all by strangers touching me. It’s all quite overwhelming to think about. Today, however, was the first time I was being touched in a way that was about my emotional health and under my guidance. It was both powerful and moving to feel I had ownership over my body again.

I am so grateful to Maggie’s for providing this and giving me back a little bit of control and conform in a difficult physical and emotional journey. I wish more therapists were able to offer such a wonderful service to people going through cancer treatment – it is so valuable to both our journey and recovery.

Love and light, Fi xx

ovarian cancer

Look Good Feel Better: Chemo 4 – Day 15

Today, amongst a number of hospital appointments, I managed to slip to my local Maggie’s Centre for their monthly session ‘Look Good Feel Better’.

This session, as the name suggests, is all about making women going through cancer treatment feel better about themselves and boosting their confidence as they adjust to the many changes their body is going through – e.g. Hair loss, loosing eyelashes and eye brows, weight loss or gain, surgery and so on.

The session is run by makeup counter staff who all volunteer their time for free to help us special ladies out 💖☺️

Each of us was given a goodie bag of makeup and skin care products to the value of £350 for free! I know! Amazing right!?!

 This is only made possible by all of the wonderful makeup companies donating the products for free for these sessions!

The volunteers spent about 90 minutes going through all of the products and showing us how to apply the makeup. I left feeling ready for a night on the town!…rather than the hospital appointment I was actually going to!

The best part of the session wasn’t actually all the free makeup – although let’s be honest that’s pretty bloody awesome! – but chatting away to some other ladies going through cancer treatment. It was really refreshing to have a chat about the different side affects from tiredness to nail damage. It was also really nice to chat about different ‘head wear’ such as scarfs and wigs, and also to talk about the whole process of loosing our hair. Most of all it was truly empowering to be in a room full of brave and strong women all going through the same journey in their own ways.

  I’m really grateful to Maggie’s for running the session and for the lovely ladies who volunteered their own time to be there supporting us all. I’m also very grateful for the makeup companies acknowledging women going through cancer treatment and donating their products so that we can feel sexy and feminine and beautiful despite everything we are facing.

It’s also kind of wonderful that non of these companies advertise that they do this and instead donate these products out of goodness rather than self-promotion.

Love and light, Fi xxx

With special thanks to:-

  • Urban Decay
  • L’Oreal
  • Rimmel London
  • No 7
  • Liz Earle
  • Clinique
  • Max factor
  • Olay
  • Anais Anais
  • Estée Lauder
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Drug Trial…

So today was officially one week since my cancer diagnosis…although it feels like months because so much has happened and my brain is about to explode with all the new information it now contains!

Anyway, today was a busy one. First I had to meet with my GP and we talked about the support they can offer which includes them being available for calls and appointments if I have any questions, supporting my husband and putting together an anticipatory care plan for when I start chemotherapy incase I ever go into hospital out of hours. They were lovely and helpful and it was encouraging to see the NHS working as it should. She also signed me off work for 6 months as a starting point. Whilst this is great on one hand as it means I can focus on my health and recovery, it was also really challenging as work is a really important part of my life and I’m one of those crazy people who actually enjoy what they do for a living! Madness I know! She also noted my husband as my carer. This is a weird one to get my head round – I’m a (very!) strong willed, independent 30 year old woman so the notion of having a ‘carer’ is totally alien to me but luckily I married a superhero so if anyone can do it I know he can xxx

Following this my husband and I went to our local Maggie’s Centre to meet with the volunteers and talk about the resources and classes that they have on offer. This is an amazing service and entirely free!! I was soon signed up to ovarian cancer support groups and hair loss groups and given lots of clear information on my diagnosis and treatment. My husband was also given loads of support and information and this is so important – since my diagnosis I can honestly say that I think it’s harder on my husband, family and friends as they try to find their role in my journey and as I try to figure out where I will need the most support…this is something I guess I will get to know more clearly once I start my treatment and figure out what I can and can’t do for myself anymore. In the meantime it’s just chats and messages and knowing that they are there – which they are in abundance! Cue teary sentimental moment!

It was then time to go to my oncology appointment to meet the oncologist who would now be looking after me. She is lovely! We chatted about my diagnosis and she had a feel of my tummy and then she talked about the chemotherapy drugs I’ll be taking (more on that when I actually start). She explained that chemo will work by destroying the cancer cells in my body and stopping it growing new blood vessels. I will be given three different types of chemo through a drip every three weeks for a period of nine weeks. After this I will have another CT scan and then she will decide if I have surgery or another nine weeks of chemo and then surgery.

She also explained that there is a clinical drug trial taking place in which patients with my type of ovarian cancer (a genetic BRCA gene mutation that has lead to stage 3 or 4 cancer) are given an additional drug during their chemo and for two years after, that aims to stop cancer cells coming back. Obviously it isn’t yet licensed and so definitely a lot to think about before making my decision!

She gave me a lot of information and sent me away home to chat it over with family and sleep on it. I was then told that I would be admitted to the oncology ward tomorrow for a couple of days for some tests before starting my chemo next Wednesday.

I felt completely overwhelmed with information when I left her office and so headed home with my husband for a serious chat about our decision about the trial with my parents. I have to admit I was knackered though and so decided to leave it till tomorrow – it never ceases to amaze me how exhausting I find everything just now!

love and light, Fi xx