The Cancer Whisperer – a big thank you

Less than a week ago and following Patrick Holford’s seminar, I purchased ‘The Cancer Whisperer’, by Sophie Sabbage. It’s been a long time since I last read a book that was so brilliantly written, filled with facts, advice, a personal story, touching and inspiring – all at the same time. In my thirst for knowledge, I have started to read many books and check out information here and there but this was different. Needless to say it took me less than a week to read and I will be  going back to it multiple times for things I’ve highlighted. As much as physical books are more pleasurable to read, there’s something to be said about having e-books on the kindle app that you can read on the go, on the iphone, between work emails on the Mac while being able to highlight sections quite easily and switch between book and google so seamlessly.

About a year ago, Sophie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, multiple tumours in lungs, lymph nodes, bones and her brain. Her book follows her journey through conventional medicine, alternatives, spiritual and physical healing. Most valuable also, is a list she compiled of recommended further reading, practitioners she works with, clinics etc. In the confusing maze that surrounds cancer and I’m sure many other conditions, this kind of guidance is gold dust. There are a number of points made throughout the book, which I want to note down here as they resonated most and for me to remember:

In the introduction
“Perhaps it is time to ask not only how we can heal the cancer in our bodies, but also what our cancer is telling us about how to heal our lives.”

On coming to terms with the diagnosis
“A cancer diagnosis confronts you with your vulnerability and there is no getting around that. It doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human. In fact, if you’ve been mistaking vulnerability for weakness most of your life, you can now thank cancer for slaying that ludicrous lie.”

On understanding your disease
“Understanding your disease is not just a matter of understanding its biology and its treatments. It’s a matter of understanding what it has to show you about yourself. In my experience, cancer is a great awakener; a siren continually calling me home. I cannot afford to be at war with my own body anymore. I am finally learning to nourish, uphold, prioritise, dignify and appreciate it. I want to get rid of my cancer, but I don’t want to ‘battle’ it. This doesn’t mean being passive, by any means. It means adopting a different attitude to warfare and becoming a peacemaker in the battle between my own cells.”

“Once you start identifying the contributory factors that may have led to your cancer, or may simply be exacerbating it, then you can begin to form a response. Some contributory factors are physical, some are environmental, emotional or psychological. It is very unlikely that you can definitively prove any of these factors caused your cancer, but you can follow your intuition about those that seem most pertinent. For example, you know your own history of eating, smoking and drinking. You know what environments you have lived in. You can find out if there is mould in your walls or strong electro-magnetic radiation in your house. You can ask your doctor to test your blood for bacteria and parasites. It doesn’t matter if you can prove these things led to your cancer. What matters is that you begin to identify as many potential causes as you can so you can form an integrated plan that addresses all possible factors. What matters is that you are weeding your garden, regardless of whether each change you make directly impacts you.”

“Purposes are different from goals. Goals are particular results or outcomes you are after, often very specific and time-based. Purposes are the underlying guiding intentions behind your goals, the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. For example, you may have a goal to lose ten pounds in weight and a purpose to feel healthier, happier and more at ease in your own skin. It is the purpose, not the goal, that will get you there– or not. If you believe you have to lose weight because you’re too damn ugly and your partner will leave you if you don’t, the chances are you will be devouring chocolate biscuits by the second day of your diet. We need conscious, loving, heartfelt purposes to motivate us, not judgments and fearful consequences. Your goals are where you’re heading. Your purpose is the rudder on your boat.”

On Statistics
“There are exceptions to every rule, like this one when you are researching your disease: Don’t look up, look at or listen to statistics. Just don’t. So, here’s why.

You are not a statistic, but the moment you buy into the statistics you are more likely to become one. They are frightening– in some cases (like mine) horrifying– and you do not need fear and horror in your precious cells and bones! Those little numbers infect your mind as surely as cancer has infected your body. I am the greatest exponent you will ever meet when it comes to embracing reality, but statistics, while representing some past realities, are not reality. Your unique outcome cannot be determined or predicted by what has gone before.”

On directing your own treatment
“Fortunately, there are some doctors and health practitioners who really get it. For example, my marvellous acupuncturist and dispenser of truly disgusting, but surprisingly effective Chinese herbs put it beautifully when he said, “You have terrorists in your house, Sophie. The chemo and radiation are the SAS, there to take ‘em out. The rest of us are taking care of the citizens, the land and the building structure, which are so often destroyed by chemo. It’s the best kind of teamwork.”

“Recently, I heard Dr. Contreras speaking about cancer at his hospital in Mexico. He’s an oncologist by profession who has dedicated his life to ending cancer, one patient at a time. I was expecting him to focus on the disease, its causes and the treatments he has developed (which he did on other occasions when he spoke). Instead, he spoke of cancer as a gift. ‘Justice’, he suggests, is getting what you deserve – appropriate punishment. ‘Mercy’ is not getting what you deserve – unqualified clemency. But ‘Grace’ is getting what you don’t deserve and letting it transform your life. I know what he means. I am battered by blessings. And if feeling strangely, unexpectedly grateful for this mortifying disease is what he was talking about, then little by little, inch by inch, I find myself living in a state of grace. Cancer, like any life threatening experience, is more than a disease to survive or succumb to. It is an opportunity to change, to become more of yourself, not less, and to transform your perceptions, even if you can’t change the course of your disease.”

On breaking the shell
“If cancer whispering is an ability you want to develop as you steer your ship through these unchartered waters, then instead of “Why me?” and “What did I do wrong?” these are the kinds of questions you can ask:
What behaviours is my cancer calling on me to change?
What beliefs and judgments does it invite me to challenge?
What emotions does it invite me to release or express?
What have I shut down or ignored that I can no longer ignore?
What ways of being is it exposing that I didn’t want to look at before it came along?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more authentic?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more vulnerable and human?
Where in my life is it calling me to be more forgiving and loving?
What is it reminding me to value what I have forgotten or neglected? What unexpected gifts have come my way since I was diagnosed?
What is my cancer teaching me about my relationship with myself?
What is it teaching me about my relationship with others?
What is it teaching me about my relationship with life itself?

This
“I was choosing to steer my own ship through the storm instead of handing my treatment over to medical professionals. I was taking a big risk by putting my own wisdom at the wheel and using my own ingenuity as the rudder. It was time to trust myself as I never had before. I didn’t need to convince other people I was doing the right thing, I only needed to convince myself. From that point on, I took full responsibility for my treatment plan and my choices, and I haven’t looked back. That experience gifted me with the long-sought trust in myself that now infuses my cells and colours almost all my days.”

One thing that struck a chord quite deeply is this last paragraph on long-sought trust. This experience is teaching me to listen to myself and to ultimately  trust myself. As someone who has notoriously been bad at making decisions, a procrastinator, someone who goes back and forth on even the smallest of decisions, I am slowly learning to develop this trust in the decisions I make. Thank you Sophie for sharing your journey and for inspiring me profoundly to transform my mindset on a few things.

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Mixed emotions

It’s Friday evening, just gone past 7pm and I got home after a day spent at an industry awards event. We enter these awards every year and I still feel a buzz and excitement as the names of the winners are announced. Having entered various awards throughout this year and not won any, I really hoped we would win one of two nominations and we did!

Normality kicked back in this morning…. a bit of work, changing into a black dress, make-up and Mayfair-bound by mid-day. As I got on the train I remembered the last two years at these specific awards and how much fun I had. I felt apprehensive getting to the awards with part of me whispering: no read meat, no alcohol, no fun. I got to the venue at the Montcalm London and met with the rest of the team at Trend. Three glasses of water later, I was ready for a glass of champagne pre-lunch. Really good to network and catch up with people.

Lunch was poached salmon for starters and vegetables in some kind of pastry for mains (vegetarian option), followed by berries (yes!) and some sugary dessert. I had a couple of glasses of red wine. I miss the taste and the slight warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with that. With that, I had two gremlins, one on each shoulder going: have more! while the other went: surely not, come on! Anyway, I enjoyed the afternoon and we did win one of the two awards we were shortlisted for. Great! Thank you! Following all the award entries written and submitted and not won over the past few months, this is a very good end to the year in a product category that is very important to us.

After the ceremony, the drinking continued of course. I’m never the first person to go home but noticed that a few people were heading and I took the opportunity to leave as well. This in itself triggered a bunch of emotions. I suddenly starting feeling really upset that I wasn’t able to just enjoy and carry on. Why not? A part of me so desperately needs to let loose, get drunk, talk crap, dance, and just let go. And another part keeps telling me off: a bit like parents would, teachers do.. don’t! You can’t, shouldn’t, can’t, don’t, you’re not allowed to. And a third part – the ‘knowing part’ says: keep a clear head, Funda. If you don’t, you’ll sink. Thank you third option, maybe I need to let myself sink for a short while. I confided in a couple of more colleagues this evening – just because it felt right. It feels strange too, because a part of me feels like I shouldn’t ‘burden people ‘with it. But I’m really bad a pretending and live for connections. So when asked what’s really going on, I can’t and don’t want to lie.

So for the first time in a long time I got home, slightly red wine fuelled and emotional. Finally crying, finally tears that have been bottling up all this time I suppose. Tears of why, why me, why now, why not everyone else, what have I done, tears of desperation, of frustration of dismissing of denial of ‘don’t want’ of I need to get on top of this.

I remember being at high school and teachers telling me to stop laughing with Dr. von Rundstedt and  others, triggering nothing but more laughter of course and spending endless minutes stuck outside the classroom, banned from lessons. I carried on laughing so loudly outside the classroom that I was sent further afield. A part of me is re-living this at the moment. While it’s been easy enough to follow certain nutritional advice and cut out certain things, a part of me – maybe the rebel- just wants to break all these rules. I want to indulge in sweets (thought I’ve never been a fan), crisps, alcohol, cigarettes, cheese (!) and everything else that is now on the ‘no-list’. Only now it’s more serious than laughing loudly outside the classroom.

So while I had a great time this afternoon, there’s a part of me that is present in the room, enjoying and carrying on as per previous years and another part is stuck somewhere else concerned with a new reality. So is this a new reality or am I following a reality that has been prescribed by a bunch of diagnoses and test results? Hard to differentiate right now. I know what I would prefer.

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Reflecting, learning, appreciating

It’s been a good week. A week of learning, discovering, awareness and quiet time. On Tuesday evening, I went to a seminar called ‘Say No to Cancer’ run by Patrick Holford. My reiki healer mentioned his name to me the week before and having checked out his website (mostly nutrition), I came across the event and spontaneously signed up. While I try not to google new sources of information, I do follow ‘leads’ from people around me, whether that’s my mum, friends, the healer, doctors, books that reference other sources etc. I feel I need to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible to make my own decisions and to feel that I’m not a ‘patient’ on a conveyor belt, following protocols and processes set up according to past statistics. I would like to take part in the decisions being made.

So Patrick Holford’s session was informative. Packed with interesting information on nutrition, the kind that is supported by chemistry, biology rather than the other side which I had come across, the as I call it ‘No diet’ (no this, no that, no anything). It was pretty extensive and intense. There were many instances I literally couldn’t follow what he was saying as it made references to terms in biology I hadn’t come across. So some mind-blowing stats from his event:

– Lifetime risk for cancer has risen by 49% in 30 years and is currently 1 in 3,
expected to be 1 in 2 by 2020.
– Breast cancer is up 80% and prostate cancer is up by 100%.
– The top 5 – lung, breast, stomach, colorectal and prostate – were almost unheard of before the 20th century, the growth paralleling ‘development’ and industrialisation. The more per capita income the more cancer a country has.
– You can cut your risk by 40% by changing your diet, says World Cancer Research Fund.
– Breast cancer survival rates have increased by more than 10% between 1994 and 2006. Reasons cited include an increase in the percentage of women presenting at the early stages of the disease, ensuring a better outcome.

and this spike is incredible:
Hormonal breast cancer incidents increased by 52% between 1985 and 2015 (Source: Cancer Surveillance Unit, Cambridge University)

Interestingly both breast cancer and prostrate cancer are lowest in South East Asia while climbing high in Western population. What’s the link? Dairy? Lifestyle? Sunshine?

We then heard different theories about cancer – the oncogenes one (why do some people with the BRCA, HER2 gene develop it and some don’t?), metabolic theory (cells starving of oxygen), environmental approach (Professor Mina Bissell with her contextual theory – very good!) etc.

And then onto nutrition.. and terms I had never heard of: polyphenols, salvestrols, Methylation, Homocysteine…. what? Need to re-visit all this.

I was already aware of some of the foods we discussed (turmeric, Cruciferous like broccoli, kale, leafy greens, brussels etc.) and all the sources that indicate a reduction or completely removal of sugars (including certain fruit sugars, added sugars for sure) and dairy. Good-bye much-loved cheese.. at least for the time being. I’ll be investigating which cheeses may still be okay – surely the more fermented the better? I guess dairy is dairy. Must add more vitamin C to the mix, Zinc as well as Vitamin D (hello sunshine).

So altogether it was an informative evening. I’ve never been one to be radical about anything but I have definitely taken some things on board and have started to make changes. After all, if the contextual theory holds any ground, then surely creating a body that is fit, strong, hydrated, oxygenated, alkaline, equipped with an immune system that is alert and well functioning, can only be a good thing.

The seminar ended with tips on where to get additional info and advice, from Integrative Oncology to books to groups. I have since then bought ‘The cancer Whisperer‘ and I’m really enjoying reading it. I get the feeling the main emphasis is not ‘how do I combat this’ (war-style) but how do I listen to it, to this experience and how can I heal from this. Over the last few days, I have experienced many moments, some more subtle than others, that have made me appreciate my life and my surroundings (people, places) deeply. From a taxi journey watching the glimmering lights of southbank and the city – really seeing it all and taking it in- to the generosity and kindness of people around me including clients who have been so kind and supportive. Goethe once said:

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

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Follow up with oncologist

I had a second meeting with oncologist Dr. Cleator at the LOC this evening. I knew I had to arrange a follow up from our pre-surgery chat to talk about next steps and I have been pensive and afraid of this meeting. I spent a lot of time researching chemotherapy, the merits, the pros and cons and had made list of questions to go through. I was afraid that the meeting would only focus on which drugs I would be getting and when we’d start. Fear is a funny thing and the more I procrastinated about this meeting, the bigger the fear grew of course.

I feel I had a very good session with Dr. Cleator. She printed off a copy of the pathology report for me and we went through it. Finally a conclusion on the HER2, it’s negative. So is this a good thing? HER2 positive means that the cells would show an excess of a certain surface protein called HER2. This makes cancers generally more aggressive but can be well treated with Herceptin, which is given for one year. However, the risk of heart damage is greater when Herceptin is given along with other chemotherapy drugs. Being Her2 positive also means a more extended period of treatment. Anyway, the results are HER2 negative!

She reminded me of our discussion 4 weeks ago when we talked about whether I should have chemo first to shrink the tumour down first and then have surgery or surgery first. She said that I had completely the right operation.  She doesn’t think we could have avoided the mastectomy with this kind of cancer (scattered, hormone sensitive & HER2 negative) as it was infiltrating the areola right up into the nipple. Well, no wonder I had pain!

The pathology report showed that there were two areas with DCIS. The area of 36mm and one at 11mm. The report further shows that there were some benign areas in the breast. In between there were spots of pre-invasive areas. In the rest of the breast, the report shows some spots that were benign but may have been forerunners or markers of increased risk of breast cancer. Altogether she said that it was ‘quite an unstable breast’ – that’s one way of describing it!

The mastectomy itself was ‘well excised’ meaning safe margins with enough normal tissue removed between where the cancerous cells were and where the knife cut. Surgery was the most important treatment and it was the right thing to do. Okay good. I was beginning to wonder whether I could have preserved that breast but felt reassured this evening about the process so far.

We then talked about radiotherapy and she doesn’t think I need it. Phew – one less treatment! She explained that if there were more than 3 nodes involved, they’d consider radiotherapy but since the cells are hormone sensitive and the cancer not particularly big, I will almost certainly be fine without it and it would only be over-treating me. Good!

Now onto the subject of chemo. I explained why I struggle to comprehend it, make sense of it, my fears of it. I asked about percentage prognosis and we filled in details onto some tool called ‘predict’, which showed that in 10 years, having had chemo would improve survival rate by about 14%. These are of course all stats. Hormone therapy plays a big role and she thinks that having it over 5 years (e.g. even for 10 years) can help reduce risks quite significantly too. The debate on chemo vs. no chemo has led to a lot of research and trials. Apparently there are also a few genetic tests that are done on the affected cells and I had read about one of these: Oncotype DX test. According to Dr. Cleator, the Endopredict (which is a German one) actually performs better than the former. I asked for the test to be done so that I can factor this into my decision about chemotherapy. The test essentially determines the risk of distant metastases in patients with estrogen receptor positive, HER2-negative primary breast cancer. It will certainly be worth seeing the results of this in a week’s time.

She highlighted three different chemo treatment paths. One lasting 18 weeks, one 16 weeks and one 24 weeks.  The 24 weeks cycle is much less aggressive. She added that there is something to be said to get it done with. I don’t think I’ve decided on this yet. Some of the cycles are known for more hair loss, others for potentially no hair loss. I have some time to decide.. and to see what the Endopredict says.

Talking of weeks of time. Treatment is likely to start around 5 weeks after surgery so that’s in about 2 weeks time. This is good, I somehow feared that everything had to happen urgently and it doesn’t seem so. Time seems to have taken a whole new meaning for me these days. I have lots of time for things I want to have time for. I’m also observing how time plays into patience -something I thought I had little of. But waiting (time) for appointments, for healing, for results, for answers, making decisions – the quick ones and future ones on treatments – whole new era for me.

I feel much less scared after this evening and grateful for how the session went. I had some conversations lately around why and why now. While I wait for some of the answers to manifest, somewhere over the rainbow I know that every cloud has a silver lining! This was saturday’s beautiful rainbow that stretched from the surface of the ocean into the sky in Suffolk.

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Chakra Balancing, Reiki, Spiritual Healing

This morning, I had a two hour session with Danira Caleta at the Hale Clinic near Regent’s Park. Whilst I know what chakra balancing is and have friends who do Reiki, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Her name came up in a book which my mum had recommended called ‘Radical Remission’. Most of the references made in books like these lead back to centres and practitioners in the US but on googling her, I was delighted to find that she practises in London. Having called her yesterday for an initial chat, we met today at 10a.m.

I felt very comfortable talking to her from the start. We spent maybe around 40 minutes talking. We talked about my life, she asked about any significant changes/ circumstances of the past few years and suggested some further reading to me. We touched on diet and she also advised not to make any drastic changes. We agreed to cut out sugar and dairy but otherwise balance things out. She said she had met Mrs Gerson and said that these therapies (while working for some) are very extreme. She is a firm believer in intuition and listening to the body and to what it wants (to eat). I explained how I had already changed my diet and improved it significantly by cutting out toxins and adding more greens, alkalining etc. We touched on some of the other aspects the book (Radical Remission) mentions and while I’m ware of the points, I’m only half way through reading it. What a refreshing approach for a book to analyse the lifestyles, treatments and mindsets of those that achieved radical remission against all odds and try and find common denominators. The author (Kelly Turner) discovered that there were 9 points the people in the study had followed in no particular order and with weight on some over others depending on the person. These are:

1. Changing your diet.
2. Taking control of your health.
3. Following your intuition.
4. Using herbs and supplements.
5. Releasing suppressed emotions.
6. Increasing positive emotions.
7. Embracing social support.
8. Deepening your spiritual connection.
9. Having strong reasons for living.

I already started tackling some of these and I’m working on some more.

Danira asked this morning whether I trusted my intuition and I do. We discussed intuition vs. thinking in decisions and in day-to-day scenarios. We talked about family, about support, etc. She had asked me whether I had ever connected to my higher self. I wasn’t sure if I had or how to answer this. Maybe I haven’t yet, at least not completely.

Towards the end of the conversation she told me that I’m an old soul. I later asked her about this again and she said that it feels like I have learned from past incarnations and that she has a feeling that I may have well been a parent to one of my own parents in a past life. Interesting.

After our conversation, I lay down flat, closed my eyes and followed her guidance on Qigong breathing meditation. This then lead into a guided meditation which put me on a beach, somewhere in South America, with yellow sands, endless ocean, lush tropical rainforest and a sea of colourful flowers. At the edge of the beach was a small waterfall. I sat in the waterfall for a while, feeling the water run down me while savouring tropical fruits and coconuts with the sound of the ocean and the waterfall in my ears. Being such a beach fan, it wasn’t hard for me to visualise this and actually be there with sounds and sensations feeling quite real. In this scenario, I also had a bright light that I moved across my body, a healing light.

She then asked me to stay in that place and focus on that place, to try and not fall asleep, as she began the Reiki. Her hands, though not touching, gave off so much heat, very comforting. She moved from my head to my toes as I kept my eyes closed and sat by the waterfall. Interestingly at one point, I noticed my left breast area starting to literally pulsate, to breathe. At first I thought I could feel my heartbeat but then realised it was way too slow to be that. It was something else. Slightly painful or uncomfortable and felt more like breathing. She later said that this was a sign of healing. Something else I noticed that I have never experienced before, is a blue light appearing and disappearing while I had my eyes closed. It was a purple blue, then blue, then would disappear. Again healing.

After about an hour she gently brought me back from my visualisation and explained that she was doing a lot of energy work on my solar plexus and stomach area, a lot of work with emotions stuck there. She said that she also worked with my ankles (an area for immune system boosts). On that note, I have had a sore left ankle for a year or so on and off… no idea if related but I thought about this immediately.

We talked briefly after the session and I shared my experiences with her and vice versa. She told me to go easy today and tomorrow, lots of rest and downtime and not to interact with too many people on my way home as I’d be ‘wide open to receive their energy’. I feel nicely spaced out. Totally relaxed and quite vacant. I sat on the tube back staring into space with no thoughts, no fears, no worries, just calmness.

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Deepak

I have a new companion, a bed companion. These days I seem to wake up 2-3 times a night and on most occasions, it’s actually due to needing to go to the loo (too much tea) or being slightly uncomfortable in the position I’m lying in. In any case, my new companion manages to put me to sleep within a few minutes. His voice is soothing, calm, with a beautiful accent and the content of his messages helpful and positive. Here’s one of my favourite episodes.

Deepak Chopra, ‘Perfect Health’
Your body is an intelligent vehicle for the mind and spirit, always naturally and effortlessly working towards healing. Operating optimally and restoring balance.

In Ayurveda , the science of life, the goal is always to return the body to the level of perfect balance that lies within each person. No matter how ill. Conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to find this balance and be healthy, we must take care of ourselves. However, the real secret to lifelong good health, is actually the opposite.

We must allow our bodies to take care of us.

The human body consists of 50 trillion cells that function perfectly under the same guiding principle and the organ that governs and regulates that intelligence, is the brain. The entire physical system has been designed to maintain life indefinitely. Our cells have perfected specialised functions for each organ and tissue. They’ve learnt to cooperate with one another, staying in constant communication. Modern medicine for all its advances, knows less than 10% of what your body knows instinctively. In reality, doctors don’t heal their patients, they facilitate the body’s healing system – adding whatever is lacking when self-healing falters.

By the same logic, everything we do to take care of our bodies, is just an adjunct to letting our bodies take care of us. The brain and central nervous system send a constant stream of messages, creating a feedback loop of information. One side of the feedback loop runs automatically, the other side is affected by free will and choice. This is important to remember. Our perception of experiences and day-to-day choices enter our body’s feedback loop, sending a chemical signal from the brain to our cells. The entire feedback loop runs on that mechanisms and as far as the cell is concerned, there is no difference between a message that began as an emotion or one that began as estrogen or adrenaline.

While exercising, getting proper nutrition, avoiding toxins and other physical measures play roles in overall good health, more important are the messages our cells receive. The body is an intelligent mechanism, governed by a brain that will take care of us for life if we minimise negative messages and maximise those that are positive.

Today’s centering thought: I trust the wisdom of my body

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