Last weekend, I was literally on top of the world! By climbing to the top of one mountain, I achieved so much more than just reaching the summit. Being fortunate to have a birds eye view over that little corner of the world, gave me perspective. It was a realisation of how far each of us can go, physically and mentally, despite all the dips in the road, boulders and U turns we have to face, not just in every day life but in business and in ourselves.
After speaking at a wellbeing day with The Lewis Foundation last year, I had been talking to the amazing Lucie Joels, who climbed Snowdon with one of our Samspace bracelets and agreed that to actually take on the real deal myself, would be a fantastic experience and something worth doing.
Climbing an actual real mountain, four months post hysterectomy, seemed a little punchy but six weeks after my operation in February, I met up with Sarah, one of my Safespace women, who said she was going to climb Snowdon with two mutual friends from our yoga group, for the Pituitary Foundation.
Sarah is an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, after being diagnosed with this more rarer cancer a few years ago, in the form of a tumour. She lives with the physical and physiological effects every day; on her hormone system and body temperature, which, in turn, affect hair loss, bone health degeneration and an increased sensitivity to stress, among other things. In Sarah’s case it cannot be operated on. After radiotherapy and chemo and a consistent ongoing maintenance treatment, alongside holistic approaches, she has continued as active a lifestyle as she can. As well as working for herself, she comes to yoga three times a week and her positivity shines. She says Samspaces has totally changed her outlook as a person and given her confidence and the unique type of support post treatment, that she was looking for.
So as the sun rose last Saturday, 23rd June, a large army of orange ants wound its way up this ‘little’ Welsh mountain, like something out of the Noahs Ark, all marching in two’s, side by side, carrying their climbing essentials in their backpacks, like little tortoise with their shells, waving the flag for Pituitary Cancer. The charity is only twenty-five years old with no official funding except all the efforts of local and national fundraising. Jay does an incredible job organising it all and trying to keep momentum going. No easy task! Yet, for this event, the sky had never looked so blue, the grass so green. Nature in all of her splendour. The path snaked away in front of us and all I wanted to do was follow it to the top.
It was beautiful. I won’t waffle on about every view and photo opportunity. Suffice to say, there were a lot of them, but as we began the ascent and followed the uneven and often rocky pathway to each meeting point, I was amazed at the magnificence of nature. I revelled in feeling so small and insignificant. A mere ant. The vastness of the sky and the expanse of the land around me, was space optimised. There was a sense of surrender and the rawness of the surroundings gave me a greater connection with what was happening right at that moment.
Reaching the top, conquering that last steep incline, was a phenomenal feeling. Heidi had nothing on me, marching up those practically vertical paths! Thankfully I saved the public my rendition of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ but only because i was out of breath!! I felt so energised and happy. Maybe there is something in that mountain air after all? I remember thinking, everyone up here is smiling. Not one person looked sad or unhappy. It was pretty crowded but there was such a sense of achievement. The sense of space was empowering and exhilarating and never before has my Sutra quote on my home page been so apt!!
What made it even better was that Sarah’s train arrived at the same time we had. Due to a knee injury, she was sadly unable to walk and her metaphorical mountain had definitely been a huge climb emotionally in the lead up. It is never easy being told we cant do something when we had our hearts so set on it and were so determined. However, the body is a fragile and precious thing, and it was clear that the far reaching side effects of her pituitary condition were still prevalent and this needed to be respected.
It was important for Sarah to be there though, not just for the foundation, but for us and for herself. It was still a journey for every individual there; a challenge for mind and body, strength and resilience. Meeting her at the top was wonderful. It didn’t matter if you had walked, run, cycled (yup, no, I’m not kidding!) flew (see glider picture below!) or taken the train to the top. You were there, breathing in the clean air, staring at the incredible scenery, standing on a flipping mountain top, 3,560ft above sea level! Trying to stand on the summit for a photo was a separate challenge in itself! Everyone jostling for position, both for feet and selfie sticks! Oh to have had that summit to ourselves.
After a hasty cup of hot steaming tea, the best egg mayo sarnie I think I have ever tasted and a change of socks (fantastic advice from a dear friend!) the descent beckoned. It had been much cooler at the top. The sun had disappeared while we fought for photo space on the edge of precarious vistas, but as we started downward and became more sheltered again, it became warmer and the on/off fleece, stayed off!
I spoke to some amazing people that day. It was one of the most inspiring experiences I have had. I can stay true to my talks and presentations with the knowledge that walking down a mountain IS harder than walking up! Yet, walking together, listening to such courage and learning about other peoples conditions, illustrated to me that those faced with adversity can always find a way to rise again, bigger, better, stronger and even more determined and having a hand to hold helps ease that journey. Having a focus, a goal, can make a fundamental difference and generate a much greater sense of positivity. There was only equality and integrity on that mountain, every orange ant helping the other; caring, sharing and coming together to celebrate life. Not so insignificant after all.
Arriving back on tarmac was a slight shock to the lower back! I was getting strangely used to the rocks and cobbles! Thanks to Lou and a fabulous chap from our group, I didn’t have to carry my backpack for the last ten minutes as my tum was sore but boy, did it feel amazing turning to look back up to where we had just climbed. Our group raised a fabulous £4,000 for The Pituitary Foundation that day and I am so grateful to everyone who sponsored us. This money will help quicker diagnosis, more support and better treatment as well as raising much needed awareness. After a quick drink and thank you with the guides and some of the other climbers, we drifted back to our little cabin to rest, eat and nurse our aching legs.
One large bowl of macaroni cheese, chilli and Bridesmaids on Netflix viewing later, as I was wondering how to navigate the ‘child friendly’ ladder of the bunk beds I was sleeping on the top of, I moved my phone and saw I had a message.
The gorgeous Gemma, who I met last year but feel I have known forever, had gone to the MPower award ceremony in London as she had been nominated for her incredible Ways Gone By products. Due to my commitment to climb, I had been unable to go. I had been so incredibly honoured to have been a finalist and the love and support for us all had been so amazing, but as the phone beckoned with its ‘LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME NOW light’ I saw the message, ‘I won and so did you!!!’
I double and triple looked and let out some weird scream. The girls thought perhaps some kind of man eating spider had gate crashed my top bunk manoeuvring routine but I flew into the sitting area and suddenly the aching thighs, sore feet and throbbing groin miraculously disappeared and I was jumping up and down, punching the air, laughing, crying (or was that the pain and sheer fatigue?!) like a mad woman. The pride was overwhelming and thrilling.
Needless to say the eyes were wide, the mind was buzzing and the heart was thumping (not just from finally managing to heave myself into my top bunk!) and since those are such perfect conditions for deep sleep, not, there was a longer wait than I had anticipated for some rest and recuperation to wash over me that night, but as I lay there, on my cosy top bunk, I felt so grateful.
Samspaces started as my handwritten journal and scrap book, marking every metaphorical climb, descent and pot hole. Then it morphed into a blog to offer some solidarity to younger patients. Then a website to provide inspiration and practical tips for empowering our recovery. It grew from there into a support group, then came the idea of meeting for practical wellbeing workshops. A network developed and now an active community with a growing doula extension. We have come so far.
I wrote in my last blog about power and passion, why the nomination had meant so much in the first place, but to win is not just recognition, it is an acknowledgment of the awareness society need for those adjusting to life after cancer and the complexities of this, with an appreciation of the bigger picture. Sarah’s knee, my hysterectomy, these are just prime examples of the far reaching effects. Cancer doesn’t always end when the treatment does.
As I listened to those awe inspiring people, climbing that mountain after facing a life threatening diagnosis, some as recently as a couple of months ago, and fully appreciating every fear and hope they may have had, I felt so proud. Proud of them, proud of the friends I have made through Safespace and proud of who we all are after facing any adversity. Breathing that air, looking at such beauty in a view that cost nothing, I felt unbelievably respectful of human strength, nature and all its wonders.
Human nature is awesome. The kindness, support, solidarity and care that I saw that weekend warmed my heart so much and gave me faith. Winning the award gave me faith too. Faith in women, empowerment, recovery and healing and belief in a new genre of business and in myself. Cancer gave me a reason, writing gave me a purpose, climbing gave me a goal and winning gave me a dream come true.
There just aint no mountain high enough to climb up, and maybe more importantly, down, now!
If you haven’t had a chance to donate yet but would still like to, click here for our Just Giving page.
Thank you to everyone for your generosity and support.xx
Just before I heard that I had been nominated as a finalist for an MPower award, I had made a decision. No more seeing the Big C as the enemy. As I have entered another decade, I have felt a huge shift in myself. I still get stressed, I still yell at my daughter to hurry up, I still worry about my hubby when he is travelling and battle with that negative chorus in my head that always wants me to doubt myself and think the worst, but I genuinely feel that I have a greater sense of who I am. Maybe it’s just an age thing and this is ‘being forty’ (so there are a few good things aside from wrinkles!!) but given the last twelve years, I wanted to express why this nomination means so much.
I literally can’t believe I have been nominated for this award. As I found myself reading the email on Thursday night, by myself, it felt like a giant thumb poking out of the sky with a neon light saying ‘Its You!’ However, what truly astounds me are all the other women out there who are doing truly amazing things. I am honoured to know two other finalists in other categories whose help, support and friendship is invaluable. MPower is shining the spotlight (big thumb!) on Women In Business all over the UK and they just turned on a very bright light!!!
Adversity just makes us stronger and more determined. We have a heightened sense of what needs to be done, because of what we experienced first hand. We are living through the gaps, we are challenged by the lack and putting something back. It is so incredible to watch and I feel humble to be a part of that. We are focused, we are fuelled by passion and we are driven by our precious feminine emotions. If it were not for them, half of the things we are doing, would not be being done! It is our sensitivity, our awareness and our core caring nature that I think builds the foundations of a women in business.
If it were not for cancer, I would not be doing what I am doing. It sounds mad, but the Big C gave me a P – Purpose! Recognising a lack of support for survivors and those adjusting to life after the hospital environment and routine of treatment and appointments, as well as experiencing the anxiety and confusion that came as part of life after cancer, gave me the focus of finding a way to help myself. Common threads of vulnerability, frustration and loss of direction encouraged me reach out and build the Safespace support group. The hardest challenge, of secondary infertility, helped me recognise the lack of support for mums affected directly or indirectly by cancer and chronic illness during pregnancy and post labour and I am currently in the process of launching my Post Natal Doula business specialising in these amazing mums who need that deeper level of support and nurturing.
Being welcomed into a community who always have each others backs, who cheer and yell from the side lines for every little milestone, is precious. Networking groups like How Does She Do It remind us how women, in any culture, have always supported each other and how vital all our friendships are. I have to thank Jo Ferrone for putting myself and three others forward, without our knowing! She believed in us. That is power in itself. We all met through each other and this particular networking community is so much more than an outlet to push a business. In this day and age, with careers, financial pressures, children and the fast-paced-highly-dependent-on-technology-life we lead, we are giving each other the opportunity and solidarity to think outside the box and embracing it! The sky is literally the limit. No idea is too small.
I really needed support post cancer so I had to make it. I started an adventure which has been a journey of healing and recovery. That loud voice I mentioned earlier has its fair share of rants and self doubt plagues me every day, but, after falling down the rabbit hole (that was each diagnosis) it is as if I stayed in wonderland and made it my home. In doing so, I gained an incredible group of friends, a network of warriors and I am always learning so much about self care and wellbeing. I have pushed myself out of the confines of my comfort zone (and from someone who loves a throw and a cosy pair of pjs, thats saying something!) with talks, workshops, radio interviews, podcasts, new hobbies, like writing, and I have been empowered to make huge decisions, that a few years ago, I would never have done.
One of the challenges of doing our own thing, in my view, is getting our voices heard. Social media can be a great vehicle but it can also get noisy and sometimes we can feel drowned out. I have often written about my love hate relationship with Facebook but when I got the email, I felt as if someone was giving me a loud speaker and saying, join the celebration and shout it out loud. I feel very honoured to be among these incredible businesses and strong and inspiring women. Having this space to raise more awareness of life after cancer, as well as shine a light on mums who have faced adversity and challenges that can make motherhood even more precious, is a huge privilege and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I love what I do and I can’t wait for more adventures to come.
Sadly, I can not attend the awards ceremony. I made a commitment to climb Snowdon with a special member of the Safespace group, to raise money for The Pituitary Foundation. She had pituitary cancer and came to the Safespace community a totally different lady. She is now full of hope, confidence and positivity and getting to know her over the last year or so has been such a pleasure. There are a group of four of us climbing and we have been training with every steep incline in the Surrey and Hampshire area I think!
The irony of this clash is the other reason I am climbing. I have given a few talks about the complexities of life for a survivor and I often liken it to the climb down a mountain. Getting up the mountain is hard but once we get to the top, the support can fall away and while navigating our way down, we have to manage boulders and pot holes such as mental health, fatigue and physical side effects, that perhaps are not as obvious as those on the way up. Being able to physically walk up and down this mountain is a literal challenge that I feel passionately about. I may have experienced cancer and the fall out three times but if I say its like a mountain, I think I should live the metaphor too! I am disappointed I can not do both but I guess there is a reason for everything.
Getting this far is a huge milestone for Samspaces. Being able to celebrate everything that has happened and all it has taught me is a huge positive that has been a foundation to build on. I have been led from one amazing person to another, survivor and therapist. In all our collective spaces, we give ourselves a safe space to connect and support each other, just like women in business.
People have asked me over the years, ‘Don’t you ever wonder why me?’ I always answer, ‘Why Not me?’
Look at this way, if it hadn’t been me, I may be a totally different person to the one I am now but I rather like me, thank you; not just as an MPower award finalist, but a survivor, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend and a woman in business!
Breast cancer changed my life in the most positive way!
I was diagnosed aged 35 with no family history of cancer of any kind. It was an instant steep learning curve but one I embraced from the start. I had always been very sporty, ate well and lived very healthy or so I thought at the time. I had always been into health and healing through non conventional ways so it was a hard decision deciding to do Chemo, getting my eggs frozen and doing Radiotherapy. I decision I would no longer personally have taken.
The doctors told me I had no time to decide and I must start treatment instantly. I now regret putting my body through the overdose of toxic chemicals as I believe like a growing number of other people that I could have healed through non conventional western ways. But in going through chemotherapy etc I can now relate to others that go through the same and help educate them in my mission that is dedicated to NonToxic Practice(TM) and prevention of Cancer.
Five years on I run Hello Love. The Home, Studio and Dojo at 62-64 Southampton Row in Holborn London. I set up with Kevin, my Cancer Wingman and partner in crime. It is also the spiritual home of my breast cancer charity the Hello Beautiful Foundation.
Prevention is key! Prevention of a re-occurrence is also so important. At Hello Love the basis of this practice takes place on 3 levels:
Mindfulness and positive emotional awareness as a means to living freely without stress and anxiety.
Organic plant-based diets that are free from animal proteins, processed sugars and genetic modifications. This extends into natural cosmetics
and finding products that have not been laced with parabens, pesticides and other chemical compounds.
Qi Gong, Sound Massage, Meditation and other holistic forms to realign the spiritual center and unify our purpose.
Over the last 5 years I followed this practice and dramatically changed my lifestyle. Its not a quick win it takes time, dedication and commitment but the rewards are immense. The way my body feels and the energy I now have is greater than I have ever experienced.
I started by throwing away all of my cosmetics. I had hundreds of pounds worth of everyday brands like Clinique and Mac make up. So many cosmetics from shampoo, toothpaste, hair dyes and nail vanish contain harmful chemicals including Parabens, Sodium Laureth Sulphate and many harmful detergents. Sadly my hospital prescribed a lot of these to me during Radiotherapy. Instead of helping to release the radiation they suggested rubbing my breasts in Petrolatum laced cream that would not allow my skin to breathe. Luckily my constant research helped me to be knowledgeable not to use what they were prescribing. I’m now starting to make my own cosmetics as nothing is as pure and healthy than knowing 100% what is going into what you use. We even use NonToxic paint at Hello Love so we are not breathing in so many chemicals on a day to day basic.
My food regime has changed gradually over the last 5 years. 3 years ago I would say I was eating super healthy and I am sure in another 3 I will think what I am eating right now isn’t that great. It’s about constant learning and growing and not stressing over anything! If one day you are dying for a cake then have it.
I only buy organic food. I make my own organic muesli on a morning and add some berries. I cut out diary due to the estrogen levels in animal products and I make my own nut milks. Bought nut milks often contain cancer causing emulsifiers and everything you make yourself is better than buying as you know 100% what is going into it. I eat a plant based diet. My plate is always full of colour. There is so much choice, variety and my taste buds are so intense after getting rid of processed foods, preservatives, sugar and meat from my diet. I also love juicing. We have an organic juice bar, tea house and vegan cafe at Hello Love and follow Gerson therapy of cold pressed juices which are full of nutrients and healing qualities.
Finally I focus on my soul. These days I work more than ever but I make sure im never stressed about it. If the train is jammed full I will wait and get on the next one or wait for the next 6 to come before I stress to squeeze on. In other words I go around as stress free as possible.
Being in the moment is key. Not worrying about the past or the future but only concentrating on the exact moment you are in. At Hello Love we offer a range of holistic practices that I practice myself. Meditation, Qi Gong, Sound massage, Gong Baths, Reflexology, Aromatherapy, yoga etc. The more I practice the more I lead a healthy lifestyle to help not only prevent a re-occurrence but help prevent so many illnesses.
I can now say I love every minute of life, the good and the bad and I love all I am learning from my cancer experience.
To contact Jane at Hello Beautiful go to: http://www.hellolovestudio.com/The-Hello-Beautiful-Foundation
The SafeSpace gang will be visiting the Hello Love Studio in Holborn later this year so stay tuned and if you are interested in joining the fun click here: http://samspaces.co.uk/a-safe-space/
“I’m sorry to say Mr Blair, but you have a brain tumour. It’s the size of a large egg, and we are going to aim to operate, perhaps some radiotherapy, chemotherapy, but if theres nothing else we can do, we will just keep you comfortable.”
As my husband was given those words I felt myself sinking into the floor. The world seemed to go slowly as I looked up at his Mum, perhaps expecting to catch her, but she just looked white. I looked to Ross, he seemed shocked, but calm.
That’s Ross though and there really wasn’t anything more to say.
That was the beginning.
He had been having headaches for a few weeks, had been going through depression and mood swings, but we had a new baby and we put it down to that.
Ross’ Mum, Dionne and I drove home without him and the car was eerily silent. No words could express what we were feeling.
Pure shock and fear. Deep, deep fear.
Getting back to my house we were met with Matty, Ross’s younger brother (who had been babysitting my two girls, while we had gone into hospital) he asked if everything was OK and his Mum told him the news. We just hugged and cried. Terrified.
Matty and Dionne left to go and see his sister and for a short time I was alone.
I phoned my parents and sister and delivering the news to others made me sob. What was happening? He had gone in with headaches!
The truth is, I new it was going to be bad, I never for one second thought it would be this, but I knew something was going on, something bigger.
I phoned my agent and left her a voice message. As a TV actress I had just finished filming BBC Casualty and had booked a film. I wanted to let her know that couldn’t happen, I just wanted to tie up loose ends, be present in what was happening.
I looked around at my house and I wondered what it all meant.
What would happen with us? The girls? How would I cope with this?
Nothing seemed to make sense and there was no answers.
I am an extremely positive person and I just knew I had to focus on one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Clear everything, seek help from those around us and be there for Ross emotionally.
We have an extremely good bunch of people around us and over the coming weeks (with Ross’ instruction) a schedule was put together and everyone took turns having the girls. We wanted to make sure they didn’t get embroiled in any of it.
Brooke was about 3 years and Texas 1, so they couldn’t really understand, but I knew they would sense something if they were around us.
Everyone chipped in, they took so much pressure off us and those that did that will always have a place in my heart. The girls nursery, lead by the owner Steph, took the girls for months, free of charge. That is the good in the world, that is humanity.
Someone from America contacted me in the early days and we spoke online. This lady had grade 3 brain cancer and she was very pragmatic about it all. She gave me the advice “This can still be your life, it will be brain cancer life now, but it doesn’t have to define you”
This stuck with me and as an advanced practitioner of The Law of Attraction and someone who knows that what you focus your mind on, you bring into your reality, I practiced what I preached.
When people tried to tell me how horrendous chemo was going to be for Ross, I said “He will be fine, we will focus on that when it’s here”
People mean well, but they often impart their own fears onto you and that just wasn’t how this was going to run. Some may see that as naive, but you’re wrong. Ross hasn’t read a single thing online, or otherwise into brain cancer, chemo, radiotherapy, brain surgery and because of this he doesn’t know what he is supposed to feel, he just feels it if it’s there.
He has been remarkable. Two brains surgeries, chemo, radio, seizures, doctors poking and prodding, having his driving licence taken off him. He has defied what people said.
He has left intense chemotherapy to go and play football, or ride his bike. He would go into chemo and say, “shall I breeze this one?” and I would, of course, tell him “yeah, do it! Why not?”
You will never hear Ross say “This is a nightmare” or “why me?”
Quite the opposite, you will hear him say “Why not me? None of us are immune, it’s just science” or “I’m bored if it now, it’s gone anyway” “They keep telling me I’ve got cancer, but I can’t feel it!”
He is never a victim, WE are not victims.
As the partner of someone going through stuff it can sometimes feel like you are watching a movie you cannot do anything about. You feel frustrated for them, want to take away any pain, but yet you are left to watch. I had to learn to let go of trying to control Ross. I wanted to tell him what to eat, what he could and couldn’t do.
I was scared, there is so much information out there (often conflicting) and I just wanted him to be OK. You have to let your loved one make decisions or you will find your relationship will shift.
It does shift naturally anyway, as the partner, or carer you take on roles you didn’t have before. Believe me, I was not chief driver in our house and I don’t relish in it now. At the beginning everything was down to me and although we have tremendous support, it felt alien.
Nearly 3 years into his diagnosis and he is currently having chemo again, you wouldn’t know there was anything going on in his body. It’s hard to imagine what we have been told is reality, so we live like it’s not.
It’s not our reality right now and we live with hope. We are very realistic people, we know its not an easy one, but we try to live in an authentic way and mix practical (doing a will and power of attorney etc) with living our normal life and hoping for the best.
It’s the letting go and the fear that stops most, but the reality is that MANY people LIVE with cancer. It isn’t free of cancer, or death. It’s upkeep, its appointments, but in-between you live.
The advice I could give to others going through this is to block out negativity, focus on your loved ones and being as normal as possible, don’t try and force new ideas onto them and find time for you.
You are useless if you go down. You have to have time out and it’s a good idea to let people know you don’t want to talk about cancer all of the time (or people REALLY will)
Remember cancer isn’t personal, it doesn’t ‘only happen to the good ones’, you don’t have to be defined by this, in fact there can be positives to come out of it.
Strengthening your bond with your loved one
Seeing the wonderful side of humanity in the nurses, doctors and others around you that offer help.
The strength that you can find within you will stay with you forever. You learn compassion and empathy for others and a deeper understanding of whats important.
I had no experience of cancer before Ross and no real understanding of the impact it has, now I know that people’s lives get shook up and rung out and I want to help.
My approach isn’t for everyone though, I’m pretty straight talking, no bullshit and will not have negative chitter chatter. Say to yourself everyday “I will work this out” and get on with you day.
I have been thoroughly changed by Ross’s cancer diagnosis and I am not the person I was 3 years ago. I have seen and learnt things that will stay with me now forever and I am very strong.
As a carer, or someone close to someone with cancer, I am on your side, I am holding your hand, I alright there with you, I know, I KNOW and you are not alone.
Sending strength and love to all.
Please come and say hello via Twitter; @hollymatthews, Instagram; @hollymatthews84, My Facebook page; I am Holly Matthews, or my YouTube; HollyMatthewsonline
Anxiety is something that touches the lives of all of us who go through a cancer journey. It begins with getting your head round a diagnosis and the anxious feelings that accompany coming to terms with impending treatment you don’t want to be having. It continues with the stress of waiting for the results of scans that show how successful your treatment has been. To me this was nothing compared to the anxiety produced by feelings emerging after I had gone into remission. Feelings that I had bottled up in order to face the situation I found myself in and to be strong for my husband, child and family. Feelings that would rise up unexpectedly when life didn’t quite go to plan.
Yet, throughout this challenging time there was one thing that was guaranteed to lift me out of this, even if only for a short time: art. Ever since I can remember there is nothing I have enjoyed more than sitting down with a pencil and a piece of paper and capturing whatever is in my head. As a child I would sit and draw what I had seen in nature. I drew so much that I became quite skilled at it. As a teenager, my love of doodling got me through some tricky years when I needed to escape from the world. I carried on as an adult, not always being able to find the time to put paintbrush or pencil to paper but enjoying every moment when I did.
And of course most recently, I used art to get me through some very tricky moments after being diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma last year. I sat in my hospital bed wondering how on earth I would get my head round having to have chemotherapy in a few days’ time. A friend had thoughtfully brought me in a sketch pad and pencils and I spent many hours drawing pictures of my baby son, who I only saw at evening visiting time. It didn’t take away the difficulty of the situation, but it took me away to another place, and my anxiety lifted.
Once at home, undergoing treatment and then moving into remission, I didn’t find it so easy to make time to create artworks. Apart from looking after my own health, my son was my priority and the only real time I had for myself was when he napped. The only way round this I could find was giving myself fifteen minutes each day to draw. This was enough and slowly, as each day passed, ideas in my head for paintings came to life. At this time of day, apart from needing to sleep myself, I felt a real need to switch my mind off and art helped me to do this. To me, it has always felt like a kind of meditation. By focussing on representing what I am drawing on a page, it is almost as if I am switching off a part of my brain. Objects become shapes and curves and worries become distant memories.The act of being creative not only reduces anxiety but also makes me feel that I am moving on to a new place in my life, something so necessary after what I have been through.
Art therapy can be valuable in dealing with difficult thoughts and feelings that need to emerge. I recently attended an art therapy taster session organised by the charity Victoria’s Promise for our women’s cancer network. We were encouraged to create a picture showing what the group meant to us. Mine depicted rays of sunshine surrounded by flowers. I felt this was representative of the way the group was supporting me and the other ladies in moving forward in life positively. After looking more closely at a swirl I had drawn in the centre of the picture, I realised that it represented a cancer cell, present as a reminder of the anxiety that I was still going through as I moved forward in life. I had not expected this exercise to be so revealing in such a simple way.
I do not believe that there are people who are incapable of being creative. We all have our own ways of expressing ourselves. It is possible to learn how to draw through various techniques which involve seeing what you are drawing as a collection of lines or shapes rather than familiar objects. Many people are told when they are young that they cannot draw or produce a good piece of artwork, which leads to a feeling of inadequacy. Adult colouring books have made art accessible to everyone, however, and are especially popular, perhaps because focusing on details in a picture and choosing colours to fill in the shapes can be so relaxing and therapeutic.
In the spirit of art and creativity helping to overcome anxiety, I am planning a charity art exhibition together with SamSpaces. This will not only raise money but also awareness of the journey that cancer can take us on, whether that be during or post treatment. We are planning to exhibit work by artists whose lives have been touched by cancer, whether as a patient or as a supporter, friend or relative. A section of the exhibition will be devoted to work by those who do not consider themselves to be artists, but have expressed through art what they are going through. If you are interested in participating, please email Sam or comment here……. Watch this space for more information!
By Sarah Govind.
‘Mindfulness is an integrative, mind body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings.’
Mental Health Foundation
In an effort to stay ‘mindful’ of the influx of information out there about this very topic, I have decided to get straight to the point and perhaps be a little more pro active with this particular blog!
On looking online at the mountains of research there is on mindfulness as a recovery tool, I felt totally overwhelmed, I literally didn’t know where to start, so in an effort to save you guys the same (ever so mild!) panic attack, which of course would completely defeat the point, I thought I would blog a list of the mindful apps/books and courses that one can dip in and out of but that can also genuinely aid healing and recovery, especially after cancer treatment, without requiring a trip to a monastery in deepest darkest Tibet!
I’m going to dive in with the mobile option! I have to admit that when it comes to mindfulness apps, there are a lot out there! I could write a list an arms length but the one that has totally rocked it for me and actually has me practicing for three minutes at least, every night, is Calm: Meditation techniques for stress reduction.
I love the choice of scenes that fill your screen and their matching soothing sound affects. I have been known to simply have that playing in the background while working – this lot have ‘calm’ down!
The choice of meditations are inspiring and very practical, such as nine seven day programmes on topics such as managing stress or seven days of gratitude as well as a selection of times for various individual meditations on themes including loving kindness or deep sleep. There is also a kids option too (which my nearly six year old loves, though I cant promise that she keeps still through them!) Some are guided while others are not, but I have found this app to be the most affective in keeping me in a mindful routine.
COURSES: The Haven MBSR Course
Mindfulness is a way of learning to relate directly to whatever is happening in your life, a way of taking charge of your life, of doing something for yourself
I did this eight week course four years ago and loved it. I had to commute from Surrey to Fulham but it was worth the journey, even while undergoing seven weeks of radiotherapy! It is a very thorough course, exploring all the different forms of mindful practice and the theory and study behind it all. I loved finishing every two hour class with a mindful exercise, mostly lying down under blankets and listening to Caroline Hoffman, the leader of the course, guide us through body scans.
The homework is the key to the effectiveness of the course. They say it takes thirty two days to form a new habit so you are encouraged to practice every day and are given the appropriate CD’s and reading to help you. I found the homework a real distraction while waiting for my daily radiotherapy and it helped me feel less anxious and give the exercises a really realistic framework to practice them in.
We explored mindful eating, mindful walking, sitting and even speaking. From a post cancer point of view, it was the perfect course for me at that time, as everyone there had been affected by cancer so making for a very bonding and sharing environment.
My only negative feedback of a mindful course like this was that it merely felt I had scratched the surface of mindfulness and I felt like I needed to do another course to explore some of the themes more fully.
For more details check out: https://www.thehaven.org.uk/mbsr-8-week-course-london
020 7384 0099
Mindful Elephant Course
‘I love my clients and the process of teaching mindfulness – although, in reality, there is no ‘teacher’ and we discover the ‘learning’ together.’
– Gill Johnson, Mindful Elephant
For those based more around the Surrey area, there is a fantastic mindfulness course based in Godalming called Mindful Elephant (chosen because the name was quirky and memorable!)
Gill Johnson is a mindfulness teacher and facilitator for MBSR/MBCT group courses for the general public, schools, hospitals and workplaces. After a chronic pain condition Gill found herself attracted to the work of the famous Jon Kabat-Zinn and discovered links that helped her deal with her own physical pain. She started to share them with hospital patients as a volunteer and she found the improvements so dramatic that she enrolled on a training course.
Making mindfulness accessible to everybody is something Gill feels very passionately about and she is involved in a number of other initiatives though as she admits, it is difficult to keep up with the ever evolving research that is coming out of the rapidly growing area.
NEWS FLASH! Gill is offering a •• discount •• to any Samspace readers who might like to enrol on her course starting OCTOBER 12th so if you are interested please feel free to contact Gill;
Tel: 07785 921 950
‘It is a real honour to hold a safe space and offer guidance for people to explore mindfulness’
I came across Shelila and her amazing Lollipop Wellbeing a few years ago, through social media. Sheila has a huge presence on twitter and runs courses in the Manchester area and occasionally Brighton. Her tips and posts on social media are a brilliant way of continuing a mindful approach to life while not on a course or afterwards.
Sheila set up Lollipop to provide accessible support for people who want to reduce stress and improve their wellbeing when it saved her life after approaching burnout from work related stress. For those who are not local she provides as many free resources as possible via her website including audio meditations and a monthly practice plan combining ideas for mindful living.
Shelia’s main focus within her mindful teaching is around self kindness, which of course, is something we are all in a little need of! Her recent blog ‘Everyday Mindfulness’ will resonate with a lot of us; http://www.everyday-mindfulness.org/growing-fearless-mindfulness-public-speaking-and-performance-anxiety/
Sheila discovered the self kindness area of mindfulness by accident. The more she deepened her practice the more it helped her with things like anxiety, grief and self criticism. When she attended a Breathworks Mindfulness for Stress course after experiencing a lot of stress at work and in her personal life, she realised she wanted to teach because it felt like paying it forward. She is now a Breathwork associate as well as a Mindfulness teacher and as well as being a qualified personal coach working one to one with clients too, she is incredible active.
For more details; www.lollipopwellbeing.com
BOOK – Wherever You Go, There You Are
Believe it not, I was given this book my (very mindful) mum in law! I love the title!
Written by the man himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn, this explores all the ways we can include mindfulness in our lives, whether we be a beginner or professional! It maps out the ways of cultivating a more personal mindful frame of mind where we can appreciate each moment at a time and help make moments for rich and full.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is also the founding director of the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic and Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He teaches mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in various venues around the world and has written a zillion books on it all (but this one, in my opinion, is one of the easiest reads!)
BOOK – Mindfulness; A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in A Frantic World
‘This is precisely focused to help ordinary people boost their happiness and confidence levels whilst also reducing anxiety, stress and irritability.’
Another good read, this book gives a fantastic background to all things Mindful with a focus on more mindful based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) This means that the practice is more about doing a little every day for there to be any sort of effect and they help you out with a little CD in the back of the book to guide you through setting out a new mindful routine. It is a great one to have to hand if doing any mindfulness courses.
It is specifically for people who just want to include mindful practice in their daily life for their own wellbeing rather than for depression or a specific problem and it is recommended by the UK’s very own National Institute of Clinical Excellence – in other words, it works!!
A mindfulness course may not be your thing but if getting creative is, have a go at this. Easy to find, easy to do and perfect at helping you tune into that tiny, undiscovered space that might be waiting for liberation (and a little clarity!)
There are umpteen colouring books on the market at the moment. I have seen a huge selection at supermarkets as well as bookshops such as Waterstones but whether you sit down and do it for five minutes or an hour, alone or with your child, it is a very easy and effective way of getting some space and mindful time into your day.
There is so much out there on this topic but I hope these ideas may be useful. I have to admit that I do not always find it easy to come back to my breathe and focus on the now but I have also learnt that the practice of mindfulness is exactly that, practice. It doesn’t need to be hours and hours every day but whether you prefer to find encouragement alone with an app or with a group in a class, it is definitely having a positive impact on many of us on many levels and if we can connect with that breathe on a regular basis and oxygenate our bodies and minds, healing has no limits.
“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn