79 A Celebration of Life

I have to admit there is a big element of “Ooh look!” in my blogs as they tend to cover whatever happens to be going on in my life at any particular moment. That is in fact the beauty, and possibly the attraction, of writing a blog in this fast moving, media-infused world. Whatever is occurring is what arises. Sometimes I laugh in it, sometimes I cry. This one is more at the tearful end of the spectrum. Last week I heard of the passing of Mario Reading, who was a huge inspiration in my cancer journey, and yesterday we went to his funeral, which was a beautiful, beautiful affair. There were black Friesian horses with long wavy manes pulling the carriage containing the coffin, and I was allowed to stroke their lovely soft noses. I rest my case.

horses

My first reaction when I heard the news was that I couldn’t/wouldn’t go to the funeral. Given that I can cry for England at the drop of a hat at both weddings and funerals, and also at ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ (strange but true), I knew that I could easily drown the congregation in the floods of my tears, which would be completely inappropriate. I only met Mario in person a handful of times and couldn’t be considered a close friend, so why am I so upset?

Mario was a hugely successful author selling literally millions of books worldwide – including the Nostradamus Prophecies – in many different languages. His life and adventures were like something out of Boy’s Own, and apparently the more extreme the activity the more he was up for it; he belonged to all kinds of crazy groups, whose sole intention seemed to be to discover how creatively the members could risk their very lives. I knew very little of this side of him, just hearing about it from his friends, and from the beautiful eulogy to his life at the service yesterday, and it was very different from what I expected. The Mario I came to know (through the Village Writers Group in Brockenhurst) was a deeply spiritual, compassionate and optimistic man who had been bravely living with and loving his cancer for over twenty-five years. His love and zest for life were such that everything else came first and the cancer came second, and his advice to me was to write, write, and then write some more, and pour it into the blog. I did, and the release it provided was a very important part of my journey. Then, as the blog became a book, Mario gave me the most beautiful endorsement, which meant all the more coming from someone who had lived with cancer for so long.

I know that he didn’t want to be known and remembered as someone who was defined by the disease; I’m sure he felt that the important parts of his life were so much bigger and so much more exciting and louder and more colourful than most of us could even begin to comprehend, and that the whole cancer experience came a very poor and trailing last in a long and illustrious line of truly unforgettable memories. But just like I felt I had gone through the wrong door, leading into the cancer ward rather than the health club (way back in Blog #1), so do I believe that most people feel the same when they get such a diagnosis, and that anyone connected with a cancer experience can be encouraged by someone as brave and open as Mario. To continue, nay, actively pursue life with such love and gusto, in spite of participating in numerous clinical trials – each one coming with the increasing hope of overwhelming the foe within in order to spend more time with loved ones – amidst fund raising, writing more books, and doing the things that make life worth living, is to become an inspiration to others.

So, dear Mario, I raise my glass to you (you did say to keep enjoying the wine) and thank you for being there for me when it counted. Your optimism will live on in my heart. But not all that crazy life-threatening stuff you did. I’m a total wuss and I like to play safe :-)

May you soar high with the eagles and enjoy your boundless, new-found and well-deserved freedom. The heavens have indeed gained a bright star.

mario

Mario Reading

1953 – 2017

Save

Save

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

78. Inspired up to the Eyeballs

Fancy that. No blogs for months then two come along at once, just like buses. The lovely – and no doubt totally self-indulgent – thing about keeping the blog going is that I can write about absolutely anything that crops up. Oh yes, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. I now have a means of shouting, “Hey, look at this! No, REALLY look at this!” in a way which encourages people to take a bit more notice than your average Facebook post, which is gone and usually almost instantly forgotten as soon as you’ve hit that magic button. And this blog is inspired by a book just as the last one was, only in a very different way. Given that both Stephen and I work in publishing, I guess it isn’t surprising that we have an endless pile of reading material and probably more book cases in our flat than is decent. Stephen has made a kind of career out of topping up my reading pile every Christmas and birthday, a habit which started when I was in isolation after the stem cell transplant. Knowing how fast I get through books he brought me in a gigantic carrier bag full of them, and I had them all lined up on the windowsill – the nurses loved it and couldn’t wait to have a bit of a rifle through what was an astonishingly good selection of reading material. Trust me, he’s good. So the habit has stuck, and the standard has only got higher as he has honed his skills, with the result that this Christmas he excelled himself. He managed to find a book which combines what appeared to be top dollar chick lit with my beloved Rumi. Yes. How unlikely is that? As it turns out this book is very far from chick lit but it is absolutely un-put-downable, and judging by the reviews, men seem to like it just as much as women.

This is it.

Absolutely required reading for anyone interested in Sufism, Rumi, good writing, Turkey, the human condition, politics, feminism, you name it, it’s in there. The Forty Rules of Love has also completely changed my perception of Rumi, in a good way. Actually, that’s not strictly true as I hadn’t exactly studied him, more like stumbled on him, only being slightly aware of the back story in a bit of an academic way through some fairly dry books that didn’t really bring him to life. Not in a beautiful, poetic, heart-breaking, real-person-surrounded-by-real-people kind of a way, which is what Elif Shafak achieves in this beautiful and cleverly written book. Combining the story of a Jewish American housewife with the unfolding of the relationship between Rumi and Shams of Tabriz, it is also a journey of increasing awareness through Sufism, which has long fascinated me. She said in an interview given to The Guardian,

The more you read about Sufism, the more you have to listen. In time I became emotionally attached. When I was younger I wasn’t interested in understanding the world. I only wanted to change it, through feminism or nihilism or environmentalism. But the more I read about Sufism the more I unlearned. Because that is what Sufism does to you, it makes you erase what you know, what you are so sure of. And then start thinking again. Not with your mind this time, but with your heart.”

I love that. Anita Moorjani talks about the importance of coming from a place of love, not fear – whatever the circumstances – and it is good to be reminded of it after a fairly challenging week when at times I have fallen off that particular wagon.

And of course once I researched Elif Shafak a bit more I discovered what an incredibly talented woman she is in so many other areas. Stephen and I watched her 20 minute Ted Talk ‘Politics in Fiction’ on Youtube almost without blinking, partly because the subject matter is perfect as I’m writing my next book, but also because she is such an engaging and stimulating speaker. And 20 minutes without notes, and without pausing or repeating herself once. Wow.

So there you have it. All you Rumi lovers out there need to get this book, and become entranced and inspired by his relationship with Shams of Tabriz, and totally blown away by the beauty of the writing. Shall we finish with a bit of Rumi? It seems appropriate and it’s ages since I’ve quoted him, so I think we should. This is one of my favourites from an early blog I wrote while deep in the darkness of chemo. It was a huge inspiration at a difficult time:

The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!

Wishing you good health in 2017

Margaret xx

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

77. Happy Anniversary to Me

So first up, apologies for not writing a blog for months, and huge thanks to all the people who have enquired after my welfare. I know from experience it’s always a bit worrying when a cancer blog seems to grind to a halt, but it is with good reason. Having unleashed my desire to write through creating the blog, and having unloaded all the cancer story through both the blog and my book, Under Cover of Darkness, I’m now incapable of stopping the writing muse, but have changed direction somewhat. I’m a huge fan of really clever chick lit – the kind that makes me laugh like crazy on one page then sob on the next, because it is so easy to relate to the characters. A couple of weeks ago I was suffering from the horrible hacking cough that’s doing the rounds, and decided to cheer myself up by reading Lindsey Kelk’s latest book, We Were on a Break. She is my absolute heroine for this kind of writing – clever, funny, almost like social commentary – so much so that I wrote to her when I was in chemo to tell her that her books were keeping me going during the long hours on the drip. She wrote me a delightful email back that I treasure, and as she matures even more as a writer, I eagerly await the arrival of each new book.

So, a hacking chesty cough and a funny book aren’t good bedfellows. And in fact I was tucked up in bed reading, due to feeling pretty grotty, and trying not to laugh because I knew it would start me coughing. After a while I realised that the more I tried to stop laughing the worse it got, and that the action of a really good laugh was probably a good idea as it would clear my chest. And oh my goodness, it did. A really good belly laugh is so good for the soul – and the chest – as it turned out, and I felt a lot better on several levels after having a good reading/laughing session. I also felt incredibly inspired and was itching to get back to writing my next book, which is the reason I haven’t written a blog for ages. There are only so many hours in a day and mine seem to be pretty over-subscribed at the moment. I’m fascinated by a style of writing that can address difficult issues without appearing too serious and deep. Humour is a great way of communicating otherwise unapproachable subjects, and I’m really enjoying playing with this in order to communicate some themes that are very close to my heart. Think Eat, Pray, Love kind of thing. And if I can get a film star to endorse it so it sells millions and gets made into a film, I really wouldn’t object.

And while I’ve been busy coughing and laughing and reading and writing, Facebook keeps popping up every day with an old post or photo of mine, usually one that goes back several years. Whilst everyone probably has a “No way, really?!” kind of reaction to random memories being shown in glorious technicolour, I find it extra strange because the last four years have been a real rollercoaster of experiences. The older the posts are (and the closer to 2013) the more bizarre it is, as at that point I was in chemo, which seems like another world away. I guess when it gets to June/July I’ll be faced with posts about the stem cell transplant, then later in the year a few pics of me with a bit of hair growing back. To top it all, last week WordPress sent a ‘Happy Anniversary’ message to me, as I started the blog on 11th January 2013. Wow. How my world has changed since then. The blog has been an incredible outlet for me, and almost immediately it became pretty much a life saver. Cancer is a terrifying and alienating disease and the blog connected me to a whole community of incredibly supportive new friends who kept me going in the darkest hours. It also gives me a means of offering support to people who are still in treatment and in need of that same support themselves.

I must say, with all this Facebook memory thing and the WordPress anniversary, it highlights times like Christmas in a totally different way. Different years bring different memories, but since my diagnosis in 2012 I think my experience and anticipation of Christmas has changed forever. I am lucky in that I always wake up and feel grateful to still be here, but Christmas is especially poignant – and not necessarily for the obvious reasons. My initial diagnosis and crazy round of scans and biopsies kicked off on 11th December 2012, so despite my best efforts that period is still a bit tricky for me every year. I don’t know whether it is heightened awareness/being a drama queen/hypochondriac, but as it gets towards my December check-up with Joe each year, I have to fight against a huge sense of déjà vu, as there has also been the odd scare around this time. In fact at the anniversary of the first year in December 2013, I was back in hospital having another biopsy to make sure that there was nothing sinister about my swollen throat and lymph glands. It was the same hospital and the same consultant, and I was terrified I would get the same result as before. Fortunately the tests came back fine, so that Christmas in particular was an important milestone. But what has niggled me in subsequent years is that my appointment schedule always seems to include a date in December. It isn’t easy to get the NHS to juggle appointments, but I thought it would be so lovely if only I could move it back or forward a month so I have December free. Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? I’ve had several people say they never think about it anymore and have just moved on with their lives, but I don’t seem able to do that in the same way; maybe because I am still very much involved with cancer through this blog and through contact with people still undergoing treatment – and I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest. But I could do without being reminded of it at Christmas.

So imagine my joy when Joe scheduled my check up for November this time. Yay! The universe answered my prayer. I’m usually convinced that everything in fine, but it is comforting to have the whole spectrum of blood tests to back it up. Happily that was the situation in November so all is well, and I was free to enjoy December without the apprehension of the appointment. And you know, it really made a difference.

I am really temped to stop Facebook from bringing up all these memories, as in a sense I want to move forward – seeing those photos and old posts from what was a very challenging time sometimes give me a strange start to the day, and I don’t necessarily want to be reminded of it the whole time. Yes, I could take a holiday from Facebook, but it is also a means of communicating with customers through the Wessex Astrologer and Flying Horse Books pages, as well as advertising, so I do need to be on it. But then I realised how much I treasure those times too, because without them I wouldn’t be the me I am now, and I most certainly wouldn’t be writing – something I really, really love doing. So I guess I’m back at that good old gratitude thing; that I’m grateful to be here, and I’m grateful to have the perspective I do now. Yes, I would maybe have preferred another route to the new me, but it probably wouldn’t have been so effective. Nothing like a massive kick up the arse from the universe to catapult us onto another track, is there? And just in case the Universe is listening, I’m quite happy with this one, okay?

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017

Margaret

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

76 Interview with Anita Moorjani

Hey lovely people,

I recently had the absolute privilege of interviewing the lovely Anita Moorjani about her new book, What if This is Heaven, for Watkins Mind, Body Spirit magazine, which is available in bookshops now. It is the follow up to Dying to be Me, in which she recounts the Near Death Experience she experienced as she was lying in hospital with end stage lymphoma. An astounding lady with a beautiful soul. Enjoy the interview and her new book. Sorry I can’t make the link look pretty but the technology isn’t behaving itself!

watkinsmindbodyspirit_issue48_anita

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

75. The Wolves Within

Sorry for the radio silence. A few lovely people have emailed to check if I’m okay, as silence from a cancer survivor is always a bit worrying. So thank you for your concern, I’m absolutely fine. Fine, but very thoughtful. I think the events of recent months and the world’s continuing apparent plunge into insanity are affecting most of us on a very deep level, and there is a sense of powerless frustration that is very difficult to deal with. I realise I’ve been unwittingly projecting an undue amount of anger onto the things I can have a say in, “will you PLEASE wipe that shower down” because I can’t have an immediate and individual effect on something I care passionately about – like, say, banning fracking, which isn’t right whichever way you look at it – and it doesn’t sit very well with me. I know that astrologically we are being walloped with one massive planetary soap opera after another, so my other reaction is to want to keep my head down, hence the silence on the blog.

But ‘keeping my head down’ isn’t especially constructive (well not for me anyway) as those feelings have to go somewhere, and one very powerful lesson I learnt from having cancer is that strong feelings need to be addressed or they become extremely toxic. I come from a very quiet family, who in their loving wisdom decided not to argue in front of me, because as a tiny child I used to get so distressed when there was any kind of upset. That was incredibly sweet of them, and I know they were doing it for the best reasons, but the result is that any powerful expression of emotion, particularly anger, sends me running for cover as I (still) have no idea how to deal with it. As a child that is understandable, but as an adult it makes life very difficult, as whilst quivering under my chosen cover, I’m berating myself for not being stronger and standing up for myself. From that position is feels like a lose-lose situation, something I clearly need to work on.

And I’m finding that my preferred method of working on something like that is going within, which in fact it is my preferred method of dealing with anything, falling just short of shopping. Although having said that, after a particularly upsetting day recently, I did actually stay in the car to meditate while Stephen did the shopping, such was my need to deal with feelings arising. Years and years and years ago I went to a meditation class run by a Zen buddhist. He was a lovely guy who taught us that meditation can be practised anywhere, and that we should be able to find our calm centre in the middle of a busy shopping area if we need to. So for the first time ever, I tried that one out – in the middle of Sainsbury’s car park. Now that was a revelation in itself. We got a new car a few months ago, and you’re probably not surprised to learn it is pink. Not Barbie pink, but a deep vibrant, beautiful Fuschia pink. Or according to the garage paperwork, ‘Fukshia Pink’ which we laugh about a lot. One of the side effects of having this beautiful little car is that a) I can’t park next to a red car (for obvious reasons) and b) I’m very protective of it. So with Stephen safely dispatched with shopping list and bags, I have just settled into a comfortable position, connecting with the seat, relaxing up my spine, and gently broadening my shoulders and starting to watch my breath, when a big white truck starts to reverse into the space in front of me. And it doesn’t have any parking sensors from what I can see or hear. And he obviously has no idea I’m in the car. Can he even see our little car? The temptation to leap out and make it obvious I’m there to witness any clunking or banging is immense. Then I realise this is it – this is exactly what I am meditating about: the temptation to try and control everything in an effort to shut out all the stuff I can’t control. So back down to Defcon 1 as the guy parks his truck extremely elegantly and safely, with no loud metallic noises, and wanders off to do his shopping, blissfully unaware of the drama that has just unfolded in the little pink car behind him.

It turned out to be a highly beneficial experience, funnily enough, and one I will definitely repeat. I found that allowing all the noises and distractions of a busy car park to come and go helped me to allow all the thoughts to just come and go at the same time; in fact it is easier than meditating to calming music or in silence. That’s where I find I am suddenly deep in thought about something, then think, “Ooh, look a thought! Better let that one go.” Then it takes me a moment to get back to where I was before that thought carried me away.

But joking aside, I’m leaning very heavily on a beautiful book called Seeds for a Boundless Life – Zen Teachings from the Heart by Zenkei Blanche Hartman. It is divided into three parts, and it is the final section, ‘Seeds of Advice’ that I’m finding so liberating and supportive. This is where Zenkei has published some of the letters from practitioners that she has responded to in the magazine Buddhadharma. A lot of Buddhism involves complicated precepts and paths and teachings which I haven’t got my head round yet, so it is good to read that people who have been practising for many years are still facing issues that I completely relate to. Her heartfelt answers are simple and to the point, and echo very much of course the teachings given by the lovely monastics from Plum Village – see Blog #64 for details of that beautiful experience. I must admit I miss them like crazy, and would go over for a retreat in an instant if I could, for a top up of their peace and love. Anyway. One of the questions which was very relevant to me was how to deal with the anger and upset I feel when faced with the evidence of bad treatment and abuse of others – be that animals (yeah, thanks people on FB for sharing all those horrible pictures), people (ditto), or the planet – when I’m trying to project love and compassion. Somehow it feels like a teeny drop in a massive ocean that doesn’t make any difference, and it can become almost overwhelming. Her (much longer) answer included this section, which helps me immensely:

The important work for us then, is to remain aware of our intrinsic connection with all beings and to continuously cultivate our capacity for the beneficial mental states of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. How we actually live this precious life we have been given is the most important point. Although we may fervently wish to end all pain in the world, as many before us have wished, the best we may be able to do is not add to it. If we add judgment and anger to the situation, it can only increase the suffering.

Ooh yes. I like that a lot. And it makes me think of ripples in a pond. If I’m angry with someone (like I was the other day, and I’m sorry for that), then that affects their state of mind too, so they might take it out on someone else, and so it goes on. Viewed from that perspective, I can see that although I’m trying my hardest (usually) to cultivate all the states she is talking about (and do a full time job, lol), and feeling bad about the times I lapse, at least, on the whole, I’m not adding to the burden of all the other stuff that is going on.

So that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Working on what is coming from within – with all its personal history and ingrained habits, and guilt for things I’ve maybe not done too well – and making that as good as it can be, rather than focusing on the difficult and unsolvable issues ‘out there’ that have the power to make me feel bad and trigger emotions I would prefer not to feed. That reminds me of a Cherokee folk tale I absolutely love but often forget to practise:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Wishing you love, peace and health – and happy times feeding the Good Wolf..

Margaret xx

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

74. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

This particular blog has been prompted by several people (including book reviewers) asking exactly what my attitude is to Big Pharma considering the rubbish press I give it – and that Oh! Look! It saved my life! Have I chosen to forget that bit, and all the millions of pounds that find their way via research grants and past local authority budget cuts into fantastically expensive treatment regimes like the one that saved my life? And, incidentally, that I didn’t have to pay for? Absolutely not, and trust me, if you ask that kind of a question you had better get that coffee/glass of wine right now, because the answer isn’t simple. It is, however, something that I am totally passionate about, and as I am apparently appearing to be biased against the system that saved my life, it seems there is a bit of clearing up to do.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is utterly terrifying. I know this because a) I had one and b) other people tell me about theirs, and they were just as terrified as me. For the fortunate few who are given a ‘wait and see’ approach to treatment rather than ‘we need you in tomorrow’, there is oodles of time to think about whether you want to risk dying of something else before the cancer gets you, or maybe do a bit of research into other ways of dealing with it. There are also the unfortunate souls who are turned away because there is nothing that can be done, and they are in a class all of their own. One where there is no teacher and no rules and they can do the wackiest things ever because there is nothing else that can save them. And nobody can take potshots at them for trying those weird and whacky things.

Right back at the beginning of this blog (Jan 2013) I said that I felt as though I had taken a wrong turning; I pushed open the door I thought was marked Health Club and ended up in a cancer ward. Whaaaat?! Alternative to my very roots as far as medicine goes, if there was something other than a prescription drug I could take to sort myself out, I would find it – so you can imagine how I felt when faced with an extremely toxic treatment regime that could kill me. They don’t bother to hide that bit by the way – it is listed as a side effect on the forms I had to sign. (That was a whole blog in itself – Blog #30 should give you a good laugh.) The lymphoma I was diagnosed with (Mantle Cell Lymphoma) had an aggressive proliferation rate of 90% so there was no time to sit around meditating and wondering what to do next, although TBH that is my preferred reaction to problems. In this instance I leapt straight into treatment because at these moments there is a split-second decision about whether to cash in one’s chips or attempt to stay around a bit longer and see the second half of the show. I decided I wanted to LIVE and that decision was made at a very deep level. In fact it wasn’t even really a decision, it was more a gut reaction, more like ‘WTF are you playing at? I’m not finished yet, in fact I haven’t even really got started.’

So that was that, and that was how I ended up with horribly toxic liquid pulsing through my veins at ungodly hours (lots of blogs on that too). In fact my lovely consultant Joe admitted, nay, apologised for the fact that the treatment is barbaric, but it is all they have just now. It might appear that I was in fact stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea as I could have died with either option, drugs (possibly) or the cancer (almost definitely), and I had to choose one of them. But once the shock of it all wore off I came to see that there was a middle way too. Just like those crazy rope bridges I would never go across, that stretch across canyons in countries I will never see because I hate bitey things, there is a strand of hope in all this. It would have been very easy to hang up my usually optimistic nature and put my whole life in someone else’s hands, and basically give up any responsibility for my own health. When I baulked (cried actually) at the proposed treatment schedule, which included 5 days in hospital every 3 weeks and at least a month in isolation, Joe said that in taking six months out for treatment and placing myself in their hands, I would hopefully get the rest of my life back. I’m not good at betting, but that seemed reasonable odds so I did actually put my life in their hands. But I kept a tiny bit of my spirit back for me. Because for me that rope bridge symbolised something that could get me back to health in better shape than would be expected from the treatment I was facing, and I had to have something to hang onto.

At this point I was writing regularly on the blog about trying to reconcile my ‘Alternative’ me with receiving toxic drugs, to which I was naturally extremely hostile, as they were delivered through the drip. And it doesn’t really drip, BTW. There is a horrible sort of thrumming vibration which feels awful. Well mine did. Anyway, in return I was getting some interesting comments. It seemed the more alternative of my readers were stunned that I was resorting to the much hated Big Pharma and that I should somehow be strong enough to fight this on my own (yes, really) while at the opposite end of the spectrum others couldn’t understand my need to explore diverse avenues to support my increasingly beleaguered system. Vitamins? Aloe Vera? Juices? What was I thinking? Where on earth did I get those weird ideas from? Actually, there were some pretty hurtful comments in recent reviews of my book, and they made me really cross. Why do people feel there is only one way, and that science is king? I believed, and still do, that there are literally loads of ways to support myself in any situation, and quite a lot of them are unsupported by science.

Oooh. There we go. The elephant is finally out from behind the curtains. I don’t actually care whether the science has decreed that arnica helps bruising, or that vitamin A will help to prevent chemo-induced mouth ulcers, or whether meditation helps people heal, or reflexology helps to clear toxins from the system. If it works I will use it, and I trust my body to tell me whether something is good for me or not, and I expect, in this first-world country, to have the luxury of that choice. I strongly resent being dictated to by a big authority (insert whatever is appropriate for your country here) that prevents the easy acquisition of herbal and homoeopathic medicine for political or financial reasons. Surely what is important in all of this is that we get back to, and maintain good health without further medical intervention, and that is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s culture of over-prescribing of drugs and adulterated food. Which is where my Facebook shares and Pinterest posts come in.

There might possibly have been a time, long ago, when I believed that governments and pharmaceutical/agricultural companies were working in our best interests, and that doctors prescribed drugs that really would help, but this is quite clearly not the case any more (if it ever was). And this is where the Internet really is a blessing, and I am determined not to get overly political here. It is pretty easy to do some research and uncover possibly more than you want to about almost anything these days, and sadly I have come to see that I was even more naïve in the past than I realise, especially on the medical front. I was sceptical before I was ill, but once I was in treatment my eyes were well and truly opened. I was astonished at the container load of drugs I was given after every cycle to help counteract the effects of the chemo, and then when I felt bad from those I was given more drugs to counteract the side-effects they caused. It just went on. I very quickly decided to take matters into my own hands and used a whole load of remedies and herbal teas (see the Vits, Tips and Resources page) whilst weaning myself off the majority of the drugs (and yes, Joe knew all about this), and started to feel a whole lot better for it. For instance, I was prescribed Omeprazole to help line the extremely sore stomach I was suffering due to the chemo. But I was doubled up in pain with stomach ache so it was suggested I double the dose. I tried that but the pain got worse so I was given pain killers, then a light pinged on in my head and I looked up the side-effects of Omeprazole. Yup. Side effects include stomach ache. So they give a drug for stomach problems which causes stomach ache, so another drug has to be used to counteract it. Clever, huh? Instant doubling of profits, from what I can see. A quick Google for ‘stomach ache with chemo’ revealed that L-Glutamine is incredibly gentle and very supportive of a trashed gut, which I had by that time. We belted to the nearest health food shop, and I kid you not, within 20 minutes of drinking that precious liquid, I was pain free and standing upright. Joe was fascinated and really interested to know that I was 2 drugs short of a prescription at that point; he is one open-minded consultant (thank heavens), but why is it seen as rocket science? At every appointment after that, his first question would be, ‘So what are you taking?’ He loved it, and was pleased I was doing something constructive to get myself well again. THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE, PEOPLE!

I am incredibly grateful to have been given another crack at life due to the drugs I appear to be rubbishing. But this is it – I’m not rubbishing the results of the hard-working and dedicated scientists whose work has saved my life. Science, without doubt, is wonderful, but it becomes something else entirely when combined with politics, money and profit margins. I am angry firstly that the cancer I had appears to have been caused by pesticide (hence the Monsanto posts) and secondly that drug companies have made millions by making the drugs to cure people of diseases they should never had got in the first place if they were eating decent food (hence the Big Pharma posts).

I am absolutely and totally passionate about combining the best of all worlds to cure diseases like cancer using what is now thankfully being studied, researched and openly referred to as Integrative medicine – which treads on an awful lot of toes as it combines conventional medicine with complementary therapies. There is a very long way to go with this and the fight will be a tough one, because Integrative medicine includes delicious stuff like mindfulness, aromatherapy, a decent diet, and many things that don’t create profit for big companies. The massive push to debunk anything that hasn’t withstood the rigours of trials isn’t to protect our poor, gullible selves at all – it is protectionist in the extreme. A little bit of research will reveal that the trials are usually funded by the companies that make the drugs, which renders the whole procedure totally pointless, but as we have discovered, these companies have deep pockets and will do whatever it takes to hound complementary medicine out of town.

That soap box was out for way too long, and it would be tempting to show you my entire collection, but I promised not to get too political, and this isn’t the place for it anyway. If you are interested in learning about the way we are being manipulated through the food we eat and the drugs we are told we need, there is an awful lot of stuff out there – you only have to look, or follow my posts. And maybe read something like The Seven Deadly Whites by Karl Elliott-Gough. Your eyes will be well and truly opened.

So – the goodie bag to take away from this particular party is that we have to fight for our freedom of choice, because it is threatened at every level, and awareness is the key in all this. We have the massive gift of the Internet, which makes communication easy, so news can travel fast – and we know more about what is going on, at just about every level, than ever before. Whether it is the TTIP agreement, Monsanto’s latest tricks, or mis-information about drugs, we need to stay alert.

Our bodies, our health, our responsibility.

Margaret xx

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

73. About Time

I have been waiting and waiting for the right moment to post a new blog; waiting for some kind of lull, or even a tiny pause in the continual wave of emotions that are my reactions to massive world events way beyond my control. But there hasn’t been a lull, or a pause, or anything even slightly resembling a moment to take a breath, so clearly that is what I need to be writing about.

Overloaded? I know I am, and I’m sure I’m not alone. These are strange times indeed, the like of which I never even imagined I would witness in my lifetime, and I am having to resort to the survival tactics I learnt during my illness in order to stay even slightly sane. And in doing so I am reminded that  this actually is it. This is the life we have at the moment. The one where we see pictures on Facebook we really wish we hadn’t, or hear news of another atrocity or act of violence, or witness crazy politics nobody understands or wants to be involved in. There is no point in hoping to wake up from the dream, or waiting for someone to kiss it all better – this very moment is the one we are living in, good or bad, and it is the only one in which we can be properly present. I remember, waaay back at the beginning of chemo, I wrote that in the face of such an awful diagnosis and the prospect of months of aggressive treatment, the only thing I could control in the whole situation was my reaction to it – and I truly believe that is the case now, just as it was then. There seems to be so much anger and resentment around at the moment that it would be very easy to jump down in the pit too – but I didn’t go through the whole cancer experience without changing a bit and realising there is another way to deal with all this, as those kind of reactions don’t solve anything. In fact they are poisonous and spread way too easily. So let’s not spread them, huh?

Easier said than done, possibly, so let’s just see what the ever-wise Rumi has to say:

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

… which I take to apply equally to a whole host of less than positive emotions that rear up inside me occasionally. In order to overcome these foes I am busily assembling my weapons of mass inspiration (and yes, I know it is an oxymoron) to help spread love and the ability to be calm in the face of extreme provocation (that’s the ‘polishing’ bit, I guess); right up the very top of the list is this beautiful flashmob meditation that I never, ever get bored of watching, promoting the socks off, or sharing in moments of panic or extreme need. Whack those headphones on and be transported to a place of exquisite peace and beauty for 7 minutes and 38 seconds with Thich Nhat Hanh and The Bell Chant

Flashmob

Nice, isn’t it? I used to play it when I was on the chemo drip as it made the time go that much faster and it distracted me from the unpleasant background vibration of the pump. Funnily enough I don’t equate the video with hospital and treatment – I just fall into the music and the atmosphere and don’t want it to end. Hope you do too.

And while we are on the subject of my favourite person of all time, Thich Nhat Hanh says (amongst a zillion other beautiful things):

    “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

 … which I especially like as it reminds me of a trick I learnt a long time ago, and I love playing it on grumpy people. It is easy when you are happy, so wait until you have a severe case of being pissed off – then SMILE. Yup, through gritted teeth if necessary, nice big smile with your lips closed (that bit seems to work a special magic), right to the edge of your mouth, even if you feel more like giving someone a big slap. I can absolutely guarantee that within about 20 seconds you will start to laugh at how ridiculous it is and the spell of the bad mood is broken. Then you might feel a bit more like doing this. Take a couple of slow breaths using this advice from the same wonderful human being:

 Breathing in, I calm body and mind.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.

 So now we are all smiling a bit more, it’s time for the next weapon in my cunning plan. Smile at a complete stranger; especially one that is looking harassed – the supermarket is a good hunting ground for this. They will probably appear spooked or shocked, and almost definitely look over their shoulder to see who you are smiling at. That’s all you need to do. Because inside they will be having a bit of a smile too and that might just make their day, and you will feel a whole lot better too for having been nice. Did you know it apparently takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? Being a basically lazy person I would always go down the path of least effort.

So smile :-)

In the same vein, the beautiful Anita Moorjani (author of Dying to Be Me, and the soon to be released What if This is Heaven? ) has responded to the pain we are expressing at the turn of current events with the following suggestion, which I am trying very hard to carry out. She suggests we try to carry out two acts of random kindness a day. “Oh yes,” I hear you say, “that one’s as old as the hills”. Well here’s the thing: the first, obviously is for someone else, and it can’t fall into your usual daily remit. (I’ll get on to the second in a minute so don’t leap ahead; it’s not clever and you’ll miss a good story.) So, for example, if your job is customer service and you are extra nice to someone, that is cheating and doesn’t count, as you should be doing it anyway. It focuses the mind wonderfully. We were in the local supermarket and I was very aware I had almost failed on the very first day: we were close to finishing our shopping and I still hadn’t managed to inflict my act of random kindness on anyone; then, at the very last minute I noticed a gentleman in a mobility scooter trying to get food from the freezer cabinet. What a horrendously difficult operation that was for him! I wandered over and offered to help and he was chuffed to bits. I sorted him out with a couple of frozen pies, then he asked if I knew where the curry was. This is absolutely my favourite food, so we had a nice chat about the joys of curry while I helped him to choose some lovely stuff, then we went our separate ways.

I’ll get on to the second act of random kindness in a moment, as the most amazing thing just happened (and I was wondering what to write about?!). We have the office door open (yay – British summer has arrived) and literally as I was typing up my freezer meeting, a lady walked by laden with bags, one of which split right outside our door. I watched stupidly for a couple of moments as torn up bits of paper fluttered all over our lovely clean road, and I must admit there was a moment of WTF? Then I realised here was an opportunity for an ARK and that I should help – I leapt into action, having absolutely no idea what that might involve, as what normal person walks up a long road with bags full of rubbish? Best not go there, but anyway it turned out it was her recycling so I collected up all the bits of paper that were blowing around and helped her get all her rubbish into our recycling bin. Phew. Big smiles all round.

OK – so the second act of random kindness is for YOU. Yep. It’s relatively easy to do something nice for someone else, but how about for ourselves? As someone quoted on Facebook recently, “I never thought I was a bully until I heard how I talk to myself. I think I owe myself an apology.” It certainly resonates with me, and the thinking behind being nice to ourselves is that if we feel nice and cherished we are more likely to pay it forward and be nice to someone else. I am definitely my own worst critic, and I am appalled when I stop sometimes and rewind my previous thought . Woah! If I wouldn’t say that to another person I shouldn’t be saying it to me. So a bit of work to be done there, especially in trying to do an act of random kindness for myself, which doesn’t come naturally. I guess one way would be to think what I would really like someone else to suggest to me as a treat, then possibly doing it for myself. Hmm. Food for thought. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Staying on the theme of Anita, and coming to my current favourite weapon of mass inspiration, is some beautiful music we heard at her workshop in February. It is called Purification, by Avishai Barnatan and you can download it on Amazon here. We were absolutely entranced by it when Anita used it for a group meditation and now we use it on a daily basis to calm down and tune in before we go to work. We are loving it.

I can understand that all this optimism and brightness could be getting a bit irritating (ooh look, that takes us back to the top!) so I want to leave you with this quote from When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times by the lovely Pema Chodron, which seems especially pertinent just now:

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality.”

So let’s do that. Let’s be brave enough to leave the past behind and have the courage to trust in a better, kinder future.

Wishing you love and good health,

Margaret

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments