July 2012


I am so deliciously peaceful. A few hours past surgery and I feel good. And excited. My breathing is deep and restful and my hands are warm. And I am basking in this moment. I now officially have two bumps. And though new and raw, I treasure them. Dr David managed to do my expansion while I was under. I was never huge. There is a quietness in how blessed I feel. And the special people around me. The love of family and friends and people I’ve only just met flowing to me and through me. My body is responding beautifully. Just a mild pressure, nothing more. I woke as I asked myself to do so. Comfortable and peaceful. I am so in awe of how special we are.  The special abilities we all have inside. How that deeper part of us responds to our gentle directions when we allow it to do so.

Miracles. Yes. They are possible. And they often come in the most beautiful and unexpected ways…

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I wonder, have you ever noticed how we are surrounded by mirrors in our lives? Some are a true and clear reflection. While others are more like the foggy ones when you get out of the shower. Or the mirrors with a crack in the glass. You only see a snippet of yourself. A distorted image and not your true reflection. And then there are others like the ones at the fun park or the museum, where your body is stretched tall and thin, or shrunk short and stumpy. And we laugh at these mirrors, don’t we, because we know they are not a true reflection of who we really are. Safe in the knowledge the real us, the true us remains unchanged.

My husband became a true mirror for me the other day. As I took my shirt off, he whistled. You know, one of those appreciative wolf whistles. I could never work out why they have been rendered politically incorrect. They never offended me. In fact, I love them. And they make me feel good about myself. It feels good to be appreciated, doesn’t it. This one took me completely by surprise and I smiled with delight. Because I felt so unconditionally loved in this moment. I find him amazing. He doesn’t see the scars. He only sees me. In the days following I realised at an even deeper level that it is ‘me’ that is attractive to him, the real me inside. The outside bits, although desirable, are not as important. And in reflecting this back to me, he is teaching me to see myself this way. He became a mirror for me of what really matters. A true mirror. And I love him all the more.

The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes”, I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it he says, it’s kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Richard Selzer – Lessons from the Art of Surgery as quoted in Love, Medicine and Miracles by Dr Bernie Siegel

Sometimes it helps me to remember that cancer is really only a cracked mirror. Just a snapshot of a moment in time. Because it’s not a true reflection of who we really are, is it. And it can be comforting to remember that no matter what happens, our real self, our true self will always remain safely tucked away inside…

I did something really dumb this morning. Like every good working mum on school holidays I was multi-tasking big time. And by the time I had the kids in the car, I was of course running a little behind schedule. As is my custom, I turned the engine on to warm up three freezing kids. An overnight temperature of minus five or thereabouts. The windscreen was frosty. So heavily frosted that the windscreen wipers weren’t making any progress. And so I began to move the car into the sun to help it along. We live on a farm and the drive is huge so I have a lot of room to turn around. Only trouble was I’d parked in the opposite direction the night before. And so as I turned the car slowly, winding down the window so I could see, with the windscreen wipers working furiously, I was effectively driving blind. No big problem when I’m facing the other way. The bump and the breaking of glass alerted me to my grave misjudgement as I hit the low brick wall. No speed, but enough to smash the fog light and break the bumper. Bugger. A small expletive. I got back in the car after examining the damage and smiled at the kids. After all, what could I do except get over it. If only I’d been a bit more patient, I’ll remember this for next time.

And then it dawned on me. Another of those wonderful aha moments. With reconstruction imminent, I suddenly felt like the car was an extension of me. Easily repaired, no harm done. On the other side of cancer, I realised I now have a different perspective. And I laughed. It seems the fear and sadness is done.

I can’t quite believe it’s July already. And in ten days my next adventure begins. I feel my body recoiling a little, perhaps remembering what happened the last time I went under the knife. And the bits I left behind. I must confess I feel a little bit of apprehension. Opening up old wounds. The need to heal again. But it’s different this time. This time they are putting me back together. And today the overriding feeling is calm anticipation mixed in with a dash of ‘little girl’ excitement. In two weeks I get to grow my breast again for the second time in my life. How many people get to do that twice!

And I know the shift in how I feel is because I am surrounded by people who love me, people who are helping me prepare for this surgery. Mentally, physically and emotionally. And there’s so much we can do to prepare, isn’t there. I wonder how many people realise that choosing a doctor with a good bedside manner has been shown to minimise the need for pain relief? Important decisions, aren’t they. Because for a time our physical and emotional self is in their hands. And I want to know what sort of people they are. Positive or melancholy? Gentle or brash. I once had an anaesthetist sing me to sleep in Persian. Precious memories. Later tonight I’ll crack the lid on the jar of supplements to reduce the bruising and inflammation. Building my buffer I call it. Some people, of course, poo poo the idea. So I love it when a doctor actually asks me to take them. Then I really know I’ve got the right guy. Because nutritional support can work miracles with healing too. And I am choosing to be as gentle and kind on myself as I can this time.

And once again I’m spending time getting my head in the right space. Isn’t it incredible that when we’re under anaesthetic, our conscious defences are down and we can actually hear what’s being said? For better or for worse. So just as I have been taught, I now teach other people simple ways that protect us while under the anaesthetic. And I’ve heard it said that mental preparation has actually saved lives…

This morning I made a better choice. I awoke full of busy thoughts competing for attention. Things I wanted to do, things I needed to do, things I’d rather do… A restless mind and I felt agitated. So much so, I almost got up to feed that driven part of me who wants to get everything done now. But something stopped me. A little voice calling out for a much needed rest. My body begging me to go gently. To respect its needs. And so I decided to just lie there and breathe. Gently in, gently out. Deep rhythmic breathing, using all of my lungs. And within 10 minutes, perhaps less, I noticed the change. My mind stopped racing, my body relaxed and I made the decision to nurture myself for the rest of the day. Sure I had things to do, but I chose to do them second to giving myself a much needed rest, rather than the other way round. Propped up on the lounge reading, despite having three kids at home on school holidays. Declining to answer the phone when it demanded attention. A day off from the computer, the mobile, the internet. By the afternoon, I actually felt rested. And the important things had all still been attended to. I just hadn’t pushed.

Isn’t it incredible how our priorities can change just through the simple act of breathing. In slowing down we can better assess what is necessary and what can wait. Because to heal we need to do this, don’t we. Prioritise. Look after ourselves. Make better choices.

Most people don’t realise that the simple act of breathing can switch our bodies from stress into healing. Rapid shallow breathing stimulates the flight or fight response while deep, rhythmic breathing returns our bodies to a state in which we can rest and repair. Just breathing, it costs nothing, and it can change our biochemistry in the blink of an eye. Why aren’t we taught how to use the breath to heal? Most people don’t even think about how they are breathing, caught in the habit of rapid shallow breathing without even realising it. ‘Practise makes permanent’ my friend Peter says and so I make the conscious choice to practise deep breathing at every opportunity. To form a better habit.  Because we are what we practise, aren’t we. Once again it’s all about the choices we make. To be able to say no to demands that compromise our healing. To love ourselves enough to make the right choices that keep us on the healing path…

 With every breath we have a choice – Dr Richard Aplin DC

I was lucky enough to spend the day with my friend Peter yesterday. And I was privileged to watch the magic unfold in his calmbirth® class as he helps pregnant couples to let go of their fear and anxiety around birth. It’s simply breathtaking. To birth without fear, and in complete confidence that our bodies know what to do. Working with our inner wisdom, not against it. And the hospitals have noticed what a difference it makes. So much so, that across the country they are now asking Peter to run their birth classes.  And I am so inspired by Peter’s work. Because the gift of entering the world in calmness and love is beyond measure, even when medical intervention is required.

And birth can be many things, can’t it. Peter talks about The Law of Possibilities. Because we all know birth can be excruciatingly painful. But I wonder how many people realise that for some women it can be orgasmic? And of course, it can be everything in between. And it’s the same with cancer, isn’t it. For some people the diagnosis of cancer is their worst nightmare, while for others it presents an opportunity. A life changing experience that opens new doors, new possibilities, and the potential for a completely new start in life. And the chemo itself? I know of people who have been violently ill, encouraged by their families to feel as sick as possible because this is what they believed was needed to ensure the chemo was working. While others have described having chemo as feeling just a bit like having a mild hangover or even being ‘pleasantly surprised’. Mindset plays such a huge role, doesn’t it. As I began to understand how my own mindset, my subconscious fears, beliefs and expectations, affected my experience, each cycle of chemo became a bit of an adventure. What would I create for myself this time? I found it just got better and better.

Yesterday when I got home, I was thrilled to see an email from J—. I hadn’t heard from her in some months . And I always wonder how people are getting on. Diagnosed young as I was, a double mastectomy, chemo and all the rest with two small children in tow. The last time we spoke she was just preparing for it all. And we talked about the things she could do to help herself. To build her buffer. And here today, she is in a different space now. It’s all done and I feel her joy. Because J— discovered there are many things she could do to help herself. And that within her she had the strength to get through. And it makes me smile to think of her strength and zest for life – she tells me she was riding her bike just 5 days after her last cycle of chemo, thinking of me in the snow as I was just one week after mine. 

The Law of Possibilities. Without fear and with an open mind the possibilities are endless, aren’t they…

My uncle was diagnosed with mesothelioma last week. Fit, youthful and full of energy. Just slightly short of breath. And after the disbelief, I find that I am angry. And I am surprised it is not with the makers of the asbestos. It is instead with his doctors. Because when he asked if he had ten years, his respiratory physician said ‘no’. And then other doctors told him he had perhaps one year, maybe two. And couldn’t even look him in the eye. I ask you, what crystal ball do they have that we do not? Get another doctor I said.

Why crush a human spirit that is struggling to live through this diagnosis? Would it not be better to be more accurate when asked about life expectancy? Give some hope. ‘I honestly don’t know how long you’ve got, we don’t know how long any of us will live’ would be a good place to start. That’s the nature of being human, isn’t it. None of us know how long we’ve got. ‘Some people with this diagnosis live only a short time, while others live much longer’. An honest answer that gives the opportunity for hope. Because we are dealing with people, individuals, not statistics. And individuals vary so much. That’s how they get the statistics in the first place isn’t it. Because we are all so different.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard of people given only a small number of months or years to live, who have outlived all expectations. Because they have something or someone to live for, because they have a different genetic make up, because they make different treatment decisions, because they add in complementary therapies, because they won’t take no for an answer.  To tell someone they have only x years to live, seems little more than the very essence of witch doctoring itself. Which is strange for doctors who pride themselves on their science, isn’t it. For if entranced by the doctors words, what choice does a person have except to give up and die? If only they realised how many people give up when the doctor conveys no hope. And sending ourselves a message of ‘no hope’ just seems to shut things down all the more quickly.

But isn’t it incredible how life gives you just what you need, when you need it most? Only 18 hours before I heard of my uncle’s diagnosis I was lunching with a friend. And out of the blue she told me a story about someone she knows who has been living with mesothelioma for ten years now. And he has a real purpose for living. So living he is, despite his diagnosis. And with the power in this knowledge, I was so relieved to be able to arrange for my uncle to chat with him. To counteract the sentence just delivered. Because knowing someone else has done it, means it’s possible, doesn’t it. And hope is one of the strongest life-supporting emotions we have…