In the blog below, Freddie will tell her amazing story of how she overcame immense grief after her father died of cancer, through tapping into her creative passion for design, namely out of climbing rope!
Samspaces is so excited to announce a collaboration with Freddie and we now have our own bracelet (picture above!) It was important to me to create something visible to represent Samspaces and emphasise an awareness for After Cancer support and highlight this profile and the importance of patient to patient solidarity within our community. To me, the threads represent all the many threads of recovery and healing all wrapped around a strong piece of climbing rope representing the strength, courage and resilience of the person wearing it, all in the healing blue colour of the Samspaces logo. The charms speak for themselves but are a reminder that if we believe in ourselves we will always succeed and we are always being looked after.
If you would like to purchase one of these gorgeous bracelets, they are priced at £11.99 plus P&P. Just send me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org with your wrist size and address and I will get back to you with more details. Over to Fred……….
When asked where the inspiration for my business came from, it put a smile on my face and brought a tear to my eye. My story is a simple one, inspiration came from tragedy.
On February 26th 2015 I lost my wonderful dad to Cancer. Like so many of you out there this disease invaded my life and changed it forever, this is the story of how I used my grief to change my life in a positive way and create what I hope to be a lasting legacy.
Maybe I should start at the beginning, and introduce myself? Hello, I am Freddie, and I am the owner of a small fledgling business called Hanging by a Fred, yes I am ‘the’ Fred and here is the biggest surprise for many…I am actually a woman!
Before February 2015, I was simply a loving daughter caring for her wonderful dad whilst that disease took hold and ravaged his body in 6 short months. It may have changed his appearance but it never dulled his spirit, and I am grateful to have been there every minute to share each precious moment til the last.
My dad was a climber, a lifelong, committed, dedicated and rather talented climber and mountaineer. I grew up watching him and his passion for this sport, but never quite brave enough to join him until sadly it was too late. It was his life blood, his true love and his source of happiness. Climbing embodied everything about him, he even requested his favourite mug (which said ‘I’d rather be climbing’) and book (of routes in Northumberland, where we live) be on his coffin, and be cremated with him.
After he died, I suffered a deep period of grief. I had already suffered a great loss and was trying to deal with that, then I lost my dad, my friend, my confident. I had been so strong for so long, trying to look after my mum and sort out all of the legalities…the aftermath, I lost myself. I felt so alone and utterly bereft. The grief took hold, and I became a shell of my former self. Friends said I had ‘lost my sparkle’ and even looked ‘dead in the eyes’.
Writing these words, remembering this time, the tears aren’t far away, but there is also catharsis. I want to share my story, as I want you to know you are not alone in how you feel, what you are going through, and that, although it does not feel like it right now, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you WILL be ok.
The idea for HBAF came to me in June 2015, as moments of inspiration often do, through a random conversation with a friend about wool. We were trying to organise a relaxing day of craft to get me out of the house and back into society, in a calming and relaxing environment. Unfortunately, after a few years of unemployment, I could not afford the course fee. Not a problem! She had wool, and I had…well I had rope, climbing rope, and lots of it! We never did have that craft day, but by the end of the week I had put together a PowerPoint presentation with ideas, competition assessment, sources of equipment, materials needed, outlets for sales and much more. I took this to my unemployment advisor, who referred me to the Pinetree Trust, who support new business start-ups and those who have experienced particular difficulties. Paul Redpath came into my life, saw my ideas and the few products I had made and the information I had gathered, straight away he loved the unique idea and my journey really began.
My idea was to upcycle retired climbing rope into the beautiful and useful ‘for him, for her and for the home’ to quote my business strap line. I make real statement jewellery, woven rope mats, coiled rope bowls, mug cosies, pet accessories and so much more.
I knew Christmas was looming, with that the crucial period of the all-important Christmas market season, so working on my business plan and start-up loan began in earnest. The details of this work aren’t important, but the fact that this idea gave me renewed focus and purpose in life, that I found my drive and ambition again, that my sparkle began to return, that is what is important here. I was, I am sure, making my dad proud. I was honouring his memory, creating a new life and building a future, and every day he was at the heart of it. What better way to deal with loss and grief?
Today I am five months in to my new adventure, I am steadily booked at a variety of arts and crafts markets through to 2017, I have just had a photoshoot on Hadrian’s Wall for my forthcoming website, and I am supplying an ever growing range of galleries and shops with my unique products…not a bad start!
I have met and worked with amazing people, and made wonderful connections. I can’t lie, it is incredibly hard work and not everything works as well as I would like, but I love it. I am happy again. I have direction, and more importantly I have dreams for the future. Losing my dad has, in actual fact, given me life again.
I don’t know what the future holds for me, or my business, but I know that there is one, and as long as I don’t give up it will be a bright and sparkly one. That is essentially my message to you all, never give up! Never surrender! Thank you for taking the time to read my little story, and good luck to you all. Xx
Check out Hanging by a Fred at:
www.hangingbyafred.co.uk (coming soon)
‘Most people walk through the world in a trance of disempowerment. Our work is to transform that into a trance of empowerment’
– Dr Milton H Erikson
Over the next few weeks I want to post some blogs about four areas of wellbeing that have been a huge influence on me during my cancer journey over the last eight or so years; hypnotherapy, mindfulness, meditation and NLP.
All three of these therapies have so many benefits but I wanted to break them down so we can get a better understanding of what they all do in their own space. When someone asked me what the differences were the other day, I started stuttering and feeling like a total fraud, realising I actually didn’t have a defined answer, so I decided to do a little homework!
If the word hypnotherapy conjures up images of a line of chairs on a stage with seven or so innocent members of a studio audience desperately wanting to grab their moment of fame while being hypnotised to do weird and embarrassing things that they wont remember when they ‘are back in the room’ at the click of a finger, then think again!
Having met Nicky Anstey a few years ago, for a reason totally unrelated to my wellbeing, our paths recently crossed again when I found out she was doing a new Stress Reduction course in my area. Any course name that mentions the word ‘stress’ usually lures me in like a magnet and since I seem to be able to sniff out a relaxation course from a mile away post cancer, I thought this would be the perfect thing to compliment the mindfulness course I have done (blog coming soon) as well as my sporadic meditation practice and growing knowledge of mind based therapies.
Nicky is very knowledgeable about this area and her expertise and background are commendable. I have been fascinated in hypnotherapy and how it can help our wellbeing; through weightloss, smoking, improved confidence, assertiveness, relaxing and generally being able to switch off and give ourselves permission for Me Time. To be able to work in a smaller group environment and have a class every other week was way more convenient than other courses I had considered, so I signed up with a friend.
Nicky trained as a registered nutritionist in 1997 but felt she wanted to expand her practice by studying hypnotherapy and NLP as there was little point giving clients advice on what diet to follow if there were not in the right mindset to follow it.
‘Once the root cause of the problem is worked on and removed we will stop self sabotaging ourselves and can achieve any goal we set of ourselves, in a relaxed, happy and balanced way.’
– Nicky Anstey
Hypnotherapy is a process where we can remove the emotional rubbish and limiting beliefs that manifest over our lifetimes that tend to throw us off course. If guided properly we can set new positive beliefs and values that are in line with our goals to be and feel the best we can. As soon as I read the course description I realised quickly that this would be a course that would include homework. As with many cognitive behavioural courses, we are encouraged to practice daily as according to some sources it takes sixty six days to form a new habit. Society today is a stress pressure cooker and it is manifesting itself through disease, bad mental health, physical breakdowns and poor wellbeing.
‘I believe any ways to help the mind stay resilient and strong is key in life as they pressures and stresses of life are ever increasing.’
– Nicky Anstey
The first word scribbled in my notebook on the first day of the course is ‘Tools!’ This was exactly why I was there, to find new tools for dealing with stress. My tool box is ever growing and they don’t always work at the right time but I don’t think you can ever too many! I am not going to make out that I am some high flying career hungry working mum who is juggling everything and the kitchen sink, but I am naturally a very anxious person and the irony is that I struggle more with the everyday stresses than the big scary ones. Weird right?! Like some new twenty-first century robot, I needed new programming!
The first session introduced the cause and effect equation and I started to feel empowered straight away. Just recognising that I could take control of these situations and ‘buttons’ that were sending me into overdrive, was a gem in itself and I have gradually become more aware of introducing my own filters and strategies to overcome those knee jerk reactions of panic, fear and negativity that so often circle overhead like vultures, ready to dive for the kill!
Throughout the course I loved learning about how our minds actually worked. I am no biologist but learning ways of tapping into my unconscious mind and starting to build an interactive link between the conscious and the unconscious, is gradually opening up pathways and a totally different type of healing process for me.
I have to admit though that my favourite part of the course was the last fifteen minutes of each class! We would all lie down or sit, and Nicky would perform an exercise of hypnotherapy, talking us through a visualisation to deeply relax and generally emphasise how important Me Time was. I found these minutes precious. I could lie there and listen to Nicky’s soft, slow voice and drift off, letting her words sink deep into my subconscious while sniffing a gorgeous aromatherapy scent on a tissue placed nearby.
I enjoyed the course so much that when it was over I met with Nicky to ask her about putting together a specific meditation for Samspaces and I am so excited to be able to share a link to it below. Many of you are familiar with my focus on recovery and healing after cancer treatment and this was a wonderful way of collaborating to bring together my fears, anxieties and worries that I had felt (and still do feel) during this period post treatment, with Nicky’s skill and professional tools to create a therapy to help at this vulnerable and sometimes lonely time.
(Click on the Moving On box, then go to Membership details, log in with Username; Movingon and password; Movingon)
Hypnotherapy is a very powerful tool in stress reduction and has been a huge stepping stone in my developing a more mindful lifestyle. It sounds mad but sometimes I am even grateful to cancer, for simply making me more aware of all these mind based therapies, as they have definitely changed my life! I might not have started a life long habit of tuning my mind out every day and being Mrs So Relaxed I Might Fall Over, but even if just for five minutes three times a week, I have started a life long habit of trying! If I can follow a visualisation where i am guided and I can focus on a voice that is calm and talks me through deep breathing, I am away with the hypno-fairies!!!
Being in a group environment and sharing stories, while learning so much about how our memories and experiences have trained and shaped our minds, forming habits that may not be so helpful to us now, is so empowering. Nothing is right or wrong. It is hugely personal and can be massively beneficial for some and maybe only moderately for others. It does take time and it does need to be worked at, but to have started exploring these areas of the mind, has been like opening a window for me and letting in a beautiful breeze that lifts and calms the soul.
Thank you to Nicky and if you are interested in hearing more about her services and courses, please look up her details on the Space to Learn page as well as www.elstead-hypnosis.co.uk.
I am no runner! The image of me running in any shape or form is not worth thinking about but I know what a good exercise and headspace it is for so many people. I wanted to put the spot light on this form of exercise and in my third guest blog for Samspaces, Jo Taylor of ABC Diagnosis, tells me in a Q&A style why running has been such a focus for her wellbeing during cancer treatment and what she loves about it.
1. What do you love about running and why?
I love the freedom running gives you, to walk out of your home and run. No monthly payments and no ties to times of classes. You can do it whenever you want to suit your life. Getting out in the fresh air, summer, winter, even in the rain can be exhilarating.
2. How long have you been running and how did you discover it?
I started running 6 months after my son was born 11 years ago with my sister in law to help loose the baby weight and was regularly running 8 miles. I stopped when I was pregnant with my daughter and was planning to go back to running after 4 months, but was then diagnosed with primary breast cancer when she was 5 months old so all plans went on hold for a good year.
3 Do you think that having goals for this particular exercise is important and if so why? What goals have you had?
The only goals I have is to try to run 2 or 3 runs a week, usually 5/6 miles a time (I also cycle once a week too) I’m not competitive. I’d love to run a 1/2 or full marathon but it’s not a big goal. Knowing I can run every week at the level I run with secondary breast cancer is a huge achievement. Many cant even do exercise let alone run at the level I run so I know I’m lucky. I’m on new drugs which give a good remission (I’m currently in remission) but I know things can change with my diagnosis. I exercise to keep my fitness up in case of these changes so I’m in the best possible physical state to deal with this.
4. Why do you think running is good for people having cancer treatment or for those patients moving forward with life after a diagnosis?
It helps physically and mentally through the treatment. It helps you to loose weight if you have put some on due to chemo and tablets. I blamed the tamoxifen for excess weight. I just needed to up my running, which I did, and it worked. I think diet and exercise is very important for anyone whether they have cancer or not. It is the only thing that you can control and help yourself with with a diagnosis. It does give people a focus and as I said it doesn’t have to cost much. You have to find what’s right for you.
5. What do you think are the disadvantages to running?
It can be hard on the knees and joints especially if you are on drugs for cancer and it is easy not to be motivated if you run alone. It’s good to join a group or get out with friends. Like any exercise you have to commit yourself and results don’t happen overnight but you will run a mile, then two, then three and before you know it able to do a 5K and maybe a 10K!
6. How important do you think exercise is during cancer treatment generally and why?
I think exercise is massively important like I said for the reasons of mental and physical wellbeing. Also there are reports that it can help to increase the benefits of chemotherapy and I do think that it helps to get the toxins out of your body quicker. Exercise is very important – lots of studies show this in cancer patients. Macmillan call it a ‘wonder drug’ and promote it in their ‘move it’ campaign.
ABC Diagnosis supports primary and secondary breast cancer patients make informed choices with information and up to date news on treatments, breast surgeries, consultants, hospital and useful links.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall, who is the fairest of them all?
In our pursuit of ‘fairness’, skin care is another theme dominating social media feeds. New brands are constantly emerging, ranging in price, general success at achieving youth full, as well as healthy skin, minus evil toxins and promising plump, line free, spot and blemish free complexions. To be ‘fair’ we now not only need to be eating clean but exercising to stay lean and polish it naturally on the outside too!
Having had cancer I have gradually become more and more conscious of changing my own skin care. This has been a very slow process for practicality and cost reasons. I am a sucker for packaging, Ill be honest, but I want to know for sure that these pretty labels are doing me good as well as looking good!
‘The term natural doesn’t mean much because in the food, skin care, and cosmetics industries, the term is not adequately regulated or quantifiable.‘ – www.mindbodygreen.com
I want to know that I can buy ‘safe’ products without having to scour the aisles at the local health food shop or get a latin dictionary to decipher the ingredient list. So is being the ‘fairest’ of them all simply a way of making the art of scooping out and using the entire coconut sustainable or are we fools to believe that any of these ‘toxin free’ products are actually safe and making a difference?
With recent articles about much loved products such as ‘Johnson’s & Johnson’s’ containing harmful ingredients, we are becoming more savvy and pro active; reading labels, shopping around and demanding transparency. Words such as Parabems, aluminium and sodium laurel sulphate are being thrown around like daggers and the ingredient lists on our bathroom products are a total minefield. Due to stress, higher rates of disease and illness and research indicating that some ingredients can contribute to certain cancers through oestrogen disruption, we are not just aware of what we are putting in our bodies, but what we are putting on them too.
I am no beauty journalist (so please bear with me if this sounds like an article from Marie Claire!) nor do I have a science friendly brain but after being pro active for my own wellbeing and not happy with foraging for wild nettles and mashing another avocado, I have embraced experimenting with different skincare products and wanted to share some of the brands that I have come to know.
Jennifer Young was approached a few years ago to develop a skin care range for the cancer patients at her local hospital. Jennifer took on the challenge and developed this incredible range of products that are suitable for everyone! While on one of Jennifer’s workshops last year, she told me something that has shaped my choice of skin care ever since.
‘Creams are a mix of oil and water and as oil and water don’t mix, lots of ingredients have to be added in order to turn oil and water into a cream…..Oils and balms can be very simple formulations and, as they don’t contain water, they are a more intensive experience. A little goes a long way.’
– Jennifer Young, Defiant Beauty
I now, personally prefer to stick to oils and balms rather than creams as I feel they are more pure. Jennifer has worked hard to make a range of products that are truly natural and do what they say on the bottle, but you don’t need to have been unwell to appreciate the care and quality.
The toner smells amazing, locking in lots of hydration and the hand balm is magic and a top present for anyone having treatment as the skin becomes so dry. This balm is easily absorbed and the skin oil is another favourite. It was primarily made to rub on scalps after hair loss. The scalp becomes so sensitive when having chemo and this is soothing, helping nourish the follicles making it less sore and irritated. I bought it way after my hair grew back and have been using it as a body oil too!
Defiant Beauty is now training beauticians in specialist treatments with these products.
‘Therapists are taught that cancer is contraindicated for their treatments (except reflexology and reiki). Using my biologists brain I couldn’t work out why and did the research – there was no evidence to support this, it was based on fear. I knew that those going through treatment for cancer wanted therapies and that therapies would benefit them. I knew therapists wanted to work with those going through treamtent and it was time to change things.’
– Jennifer Young
Jennifer worked with insurers and a lot of experts to create routines and now offers a Post Graduate Diploma in Oncology therapies. These are the first accredited one day qualifications. I had a treatment a few months ago at the Hale Clinic in London and my skin looked amazing afterwards. It was one of the most relaxing treatments I have had, probably because I knew the products well, trusted Jennifer and her training and was intrigued how they were used professionally. I had an hours facial and my skin felt soft and looked radiant, even without make up!!! My hat is off to Jennifer and how she has created not only an incredible range of products but has demystified the area of oncology massage/facials with a short and concise course helping therapists help others in this situation.
Back in January 2015, I was honoured to be involved in Jennifer’s new book ‘Recognise Yourself’. This is a bible for anyone going through or affected by cancer treatment. The information on how to look after your nails, skin, hair and body is the perfect balance of research and patients experiences and is full of feel good information for the days you are feeling less than fair!
Defiant Beauty toner £20.00
Defiant Beauty hand balm £17.50
Skin Oil £17.50
‘Recognise Yourself’ Book; http://www.amazon.co.uk/Recognise-Yourself-maintaining-chemotherapy-radiotherapy/dp/1905367597/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459712971&sr=8-1&keywords=recognise+yourself
More information on training with the Defiant Beauty range can be found on;
The granny of natural skin care, Neals Yard have dominated the organic skin care market for over thirty years after opening in 1981 in Covent Garden. In the 80’s, Neals Yard were one of the first to encourage us to buy products without synthetic chemicals.
‘We believe in nature, honesty and transparency, and your right to know what goes into the products you buy’.
– Neals yard.com
They are so much more than a skin care range and now offer courses in aromatherapy, nutrition and wellbeing and are involved in several environmental campaigns.
The rose balm has now become a staple. Particularly good for the colder months it gives a rich and deeper cleanse and smells amazing. My skin feels nourished and hydrated and in addition, it can be used as a face mask and works as a gentle exfoliator too if you use a flannel to wipe it off. It is more expensive than other cleansers but in my view, money well spent!
Evening Cleansing; Rose balm (winter) £38
I have never been a soap fan but was intrigued to know more about Ruth’s homemade products after seeing them on social media. Ruth and I have been in touch ever since and I am thrilled to see her business flourishing. After going through breast cancer herself, she wanted to take control of what she could use on her skin.
‘Many regular skincare products include synthetic chemicals that are known to interfere with our hormone systems and lead to increased levels of oestrogen….The majority of soap sold on the high street is not soap at all but chemical detergents, or a mixture of detergents and soap. Most contain sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) which is a cheap foaming agent and also a known skin irritant.’
– Ruth Romano
Ruth makes her soaps from scratch with natural oils and butters. Ruth finds the creative process so relaxing she thinks of it as a meditation. She now runs courses encouraging others to have a go and wants to share the satisfaction of creating a bar of soap with the enjoyment of being able to use it, knowing exactly what it had been made with. She also makes gorgeous lip balms. I absolutely love these products and they are the perfect size to travel with too. Once opened the soap can just be popped in a little container or wrapped back up in their wrapper and put in a little bag. I especially love the Cedarwood and Pine soap.
Soaps £5.00 per soap
Maggie’s bespoke range of oils for cleansing, moisturising and exfoliating are unique but as an acupuncturist she has a passion for working with women to make a totally unique skincare range and treatment designed to help with all sorts of skin conditions. She has taught me not just how to nourish my face but how to massage it too, so invigorating and energising the facial muscles and pressure points, helping me relieve pressure on my sinus’s and ease congestion and puffiness around my eyes;
‘I work with a talent aromatherapist and we find synergy between my chinese medicine diagnosis and her encyclopaedic knowledge of aromatherapy and decades of experience.’
– Maggie Brown
My appointment with Maggie was wonderful and my whole evening skin care routine has changed! What stands out about this range is that it is totally bespoke. Maggie gave me a heavenly treatment after chatting about my current skin care routine and what products I currently use. She then put together a stunning package for me, with a diagram on how to massage my face with the products she suggested as well as explaining why they were better for me. I now use the Yin oil every evening after cleansing and the smell helps me drift off into a lovely snooze!
Yin1 treatment oil £33.00
This balm is absolutely beautiful. Anything that has rose in it, is a winner for me (can you tell?!) It smells blissful and doubles as a brilliant hand cream. When Natalie became pregnant she wanted to use products without any synthetic chemicals;
‘Our bodies will absorb what we apply to them and, on average, women apply 168 chemicals to their skin every day with little knowledge of the damaging impact such substances can have‘ – Natalie Bond
Natalie started making her own beauty products with natural oils and butters that were gentle and sourced sustainably so being kind to us and the planet. I have found her products in pop up shops and online. Her brand is doing so well and her instagram feed is buzzing! I adore this balm and use it as a night cream in the really cold months or when I need a boost and my skin wakes up feeling super soft.
Rose and Geranium balm £15.50
Arbonne is a Swiss brand that is becoming very popular. The products are based on botanical research and inspired by nature. Arbonne were one of the first to go green in 1980 with no animal testing, paragons, mineral oil and nasties and their ingredient policy is totally transparent. I have a wonderful Arbonne rep who had skin cancer herself a few years ago;
‘I believe in Arbonne products because they reduce toxic load on our bodies and preserve the environment by using sustainable ingredients.’
– Sally Ann North
I am a bit precious about my hair (don’t ask!) and I cant go anywhere without my straighteners (Im working on it!) but I was keen to try a new shampoo with less chemicals and Sally Ann suggested one of the Arbonne range. The Daily Shampoo feels rich and though my hair is a little flyaway, it feels clean, healthy and shiny and there is no residue like some others I have tried. I have recently tried the pure vibrance conditioner too and it smells gorgeous.
I have also used Arbonne’s children’s suncream. Their ABC Baby Care range is fantastic and I used the SPF 30 on my five year old and it didn’t bother her sensitive skin at all and absorbed brilliantly. If I ever have another bubs, I will be using this range! You are encouraged to use quite a large amount of the suncream and though I like to use an SPF 50 as my daughter is very fair and she is prone to exzma, she didn’t bat an eyelid when this went on! It is less chalky than some other natural suncreams I have used and is non perfumed too.
Nourishing Daily Shampoo £17.00
Kids suncream £28.00
Pai is a popular brand on the market at the moment and with a focus on sensitive and allergy prone skin, they were the first company to list all their ingredients in plain english giving a huge thumbs up for transparancy.
‘Unlike many brands on the market, which commission factories to both formulate and manufacture their products, we have our own in-house R&D lab and manufacturing facility’.
I stumbled across the rose hip oil when my skin was playing up post surgery and has been an amazing skin care product for me ever since. I have been really interested in the healing qualities of rose hip and I used this as a night treatment on my face for a while (a bottle lasts a while) I have to say it felt softer and looked much brighter. I have also used it on scaring and it definitely helps the healing and elasticity. One snag is that I have also noticed that a slight orange residue has been left on my pillows but I have also seen a difference in applying this oil after a good scrub as it absorbs more effectively.
Rosehip Bioregenerate oil £22
It is clear from the sheer amount of choice that skin care is becoming as important to our wellbeing as nutrition and exercise. The products above only scrape the surface. I haven’t touched on deodorants, make up or toothpaste, let alone scrubs and masks but I will be posting more blogs about skincare, as it is clear what an important area this is. Through our pursuit of ‘fairness’ we now want clean living inside and outside. Supermarkets, for one, are now making these products more accessible. Being able to click on a product and have it in our basket immediately is more convenient and appealing to a younger market. With the help of bright photography, packaging and smells to rival a perfume factory, these brands have tapped into what the consumer today needs as well as wants. Transparency equals trust and as a society we want to understand what it says on the bottle.
The biggest downside is price. A lot of these brands are more draining on the wallet but aside from using totally natural products like beeswax and coconut oil, which has always been a favourite (I do use it as a hair treatment, body moisturiser, skin balm and bath oil too occasionally) we want products that are going to make us feel glamorous and feminine. For those going through treatment we also want to hold onto as much normality as we can and rather than having to go to ‘special’ shops, we can now access these products with minimal fuss and delay.
Skin care is a hugely personal thing. Whether it be mashing an avocado onto our faces and resting with cucumber on our eyes or maxing out the credit card on aromatherapy products our pursuit of ‘fairness’ is something we are taking very seriously. My experience has dictated my awareness of staying healthy inside and outside, and if that is the highest price to pay, wouldn’t you agree that choosing products with the highest quality ingredients, as one of the many pro active steps we can take to help our wellbeing, is totally ‘fair’ enough?
Last week my daughter came down with chicken pox. Half term, lots planned and now housebound for seven days. Wonderful! Yet, as that familiar inner matron kicked in and I began the inevitable fussing and organising, I realised this was not an excuse to play top mum. It was an opportunity to stop and re asses.
Compassion has been bouncing on and off my radar a lot recently. A few months ago the amazing Shalini, who I met briefly at a conference, invited me to be part of a team setting up a free 28 day programme called Compassionate Me. I was honoured. After nine of us met to brainstorm ideas of the different things we could offer to help build, promote and support a practical and exciting scheme, I have been giving a lot of thought as to how I could make twenty eight days of March more memorable and powerful.
So, in a moment of rare peace and quiet, while my spotty little one sat glued to the high pitched squeal that is the Disney channel, I decided to ask myself a few key questions to help me focus on my thoughts towards compassion and how I would like to be involved with this project.
What do I think compassion means?
To me, compassion is being aware of how you treat others and how kind and caring you are to them and yourself. A while back, a film called Pay It Forward came out, about a boy whose school set a project where each child had to do a good dead. The recipient then had to do a good deed for three other people, rather than paying it back. It was an assignment to put into action a plan to change the world for the better. How rewarding would it be to know that because of one random act of kindness, you were infecting the world with more happiness! Compassion means noticing ourselves and listening to others. It means living life in a society where there is less fear and negativity and a little more selflessness.
Do I think I already show some compassionate? If so, how?
I consider myself a good person. I can’t do enough for friends and family. I am still a fan of snail mail and love sending cards to friends for birthdays as well as anyone going through challenging times. I mentor others who have been through cancer treatment and are struggling to adapt to life afterwards and watching them find the confidence and self esteem to fly again is incredible.
Why do I feel I want to be more compassionate?
I have been reading a lot about compassion and it has dawned on me that if I wanted to practice true compassion towards others it had to start with myself or where was the sustainability? It may sound selfish but from what I have read, I reckon this might actually be a bit of a wake up call on lots of levels, including knowing my limits and learning a bit more about myself. Truth be told, I am very good at caring about others but not always me! I often criticise and judge my actions and the things I say. I excel at putting myself under pressure and compare myself to everyone and everything from Barbie to Mother Teresa! Its time to lighten up!
How have others shown me compassion in the past?
I feel lucky to say I have some amazing experiences of others showing compassion towards me. My most memorable was ten years ago. A stranger came up to me in a restaurant one evening. I was wearing a head scarf while going through cancer treatment. He approached our table and apologised for interrupting but asked how I was doing. He then told me I would be ok, I would fight this and get through it and I looked amazing. He said he had been through it and it was important to show some solidarity. I was blown away and have carried this random act of kindness with me to this day. The girls I was with however, decided the headscarf look was clearly a great one for attracting members of the opposite sex!
Throughout my experiences fighting the big C, I found that the kindness and compassion demonstrated by doctors, nurses, volunteers, patients, friends, family as well as strangers, was incredible but I feel strongly that this sort of care and consideration shouldn’t just be valued when we are unwell or going through a challenging time or dealing with professionals whose job it is to care for others, but in every day life to every day people, for no particular reason at all, except because it could make all the difference to someones day.
What do I think I will find challenging?
Being kind to ourselves need only involve sitting for five minutes with a cup of tea (and drinking the whole thing while its still hot and maybe sneaking in a chocolate cookie too!) or having a long soak in the bath at night (again, while it is still hot and not luke warm! Are you noticing a theme?!) because it is really hard to appreciate any time for ourselves. We are so good at being busy, but never truly nurturing us.
The idea of walking up to a perfect stranger offering to buy him a coffee or helping an OAP pack her shopping will definitely be a push out of my comfort zone. I will have to perfect the skill of anonymously leaving pay it forward cards around Surrey without looking like Im stalking someone but surely that is one of the main reasons I want to do this? To make a small dent in the often insular attitude society seems to display so often.
What do I think will help me stick to this programme?
I have noticed how much more motivated I am if I am in a group environment. Take swimming; I have been recommended to swim once a week but can I get to a pool? I find swimming a very solitary sport and unless it is a class and I know people going, I find it hard to motivate myself. A programme like Compassionate Me could be perfect as it is an active forum of people with similar goals. I love the idea of weekly support tips, daily videos and blogs to help inspire and make me feel part of a network.
Mindfulness and compassion go hand in hand. With the fast paced lives we all live, it is easy to miss things and overlook special moments, the small things about ourselves as well as others. To sit in peace and stillness (is once a day asking too much?) focusing on the intentions for the day will be a really good habit to commit to more affectively.
How can I make my experience a bit different and stay motivated?
For my role in the team, I have offered to vlog daily about all the things I am doing to be more compassionate while following the weekly themes. This will be interesting! Writing is my safety blanket but I have never vlogged before, so in an effort to be compassionate to myself, I want to give myself this opportunity. I like to think that by doing this, I will be demonstrating compassion to others too by sharing and showing what we, as the team, are doing so others can draw support and encouragement from us.
At the end of the day, we are all individuals. We are all unique. Surely compassion encompasses all the elements of uniting our differences and celebrating what amazing people we are through love, kindness, respect and consideration ultimately creating more happiness, but this does take a lot of practice. It isn’t easy. From what I can tell, the first step is awareness. Some days will be harder than others, but if we begin a process like this and we are willing to take the next steps, compassion will naturally grow. If we only do one good deed for someone else this month, imagine the shift in positivity and the wave of smiles on peoples faces from one end of the globe to another. Now how heartwarming is that? x
Pros and Cons of Being BC's Next Top Model!
Confidence building and liberating
You can take a friend for support
It is often free for breast cancer patients. (You only pay for the photos and make up with Gemma but not sure about others)
Can do at any point during recovery
You get your make up done professionally
You can let your inner model free!
It is a fantastic day out
Distance to travel
Can feel intimidating and scary
Having a picture taken of myself, at any time, is not ideal! Having a picture taken of myself, four months after major surgery, in a perfect strangers home, half naked, seemed insane! However, whilst lying in bed recovering from my mastectomy and reconstruction, I decided that it might be fun to nip any self conscious or inadequate feelings of self image, in the bud, as soon as possible and book a boudoir photography session with a friend of a friend. Clearly, the drugs had affected me more than I realised!
I had heard of Gemma’s boudoir photography for breast cancer patients on Facebook and through a friend. She kindly forwarded me her details and while taking a break from back to back episodes of The Good Wife on Netflix while convalescing, I sent her a message explaining my situation. Gemma’s reply was sensitive, positive and full of encouragement so I thought, what better way of treating myself, than a day trip to her Salisbury home and studio, a make over and a few glamorous pics of me to stash away and giggle over with friends! What the hell?
Gemma is herself a breast cancer survivor. She fell into photography once she had sold her and her husbands web development company following the birth of her second child and she realised she needed something more flexible.
‘Building relationships with the ladies and families I photograph is at the core of what makes my job so fulfilling, and knowing that I’m providing them with memories that will last a lifetime gives me a great sense of satisfaction’.
– Gemma Brunton
Excitement soon turned to full on fear and a few days beforehand I was having serious second thoughts! I emailed Gemma in a flap asking if we could perhaps lean more on the side of cosy knitwear than lingerie since that was slightly more ‘me’! Plus, I had way more chunky cardigans and knitted jumpers than I did neglige’s and high heels! Once again, her reply was so reassuring and she put me at ease straight away, telling me it would not be rushed and we wouldn’t do anything I didn’t feel comfortable with. I am not sure she knew how comfortable I would be with just a cup of tea and a chat!
It was pouring with rain that day but I drove down to Salisbury and after a few three point turns in various neighbouring driveways, I found my way to Gemma’s beautiful farmhouse. It was a stunning set up and as I threw a coat over my head and ran for the door of the barn outside, where she has set up her studio, I rather fancied myself as some model turning up for a Vogue shoot!!!
Gemma offers this service to breast cancer patients for free. I had to pay for the make up artist who was already there, but she quickly set to work (we needed a lot of time!) and magically transformed me into a natural, glowing woman I frankly didn’t recognise! Gemma and I then went through the wardrobe selection, mine and hers! Again, I twittered on about my preference for cosy and safe rather than seducing and sexy but Gemma managed to pull a couple of bits out (between the feather bowers and silk all in ones, I was having a hard time calming the nerves!) but again, she reassured me she would guide me through it step by step. We were going to do the shoot with some of the rooms in her house as a backdrop so, after she had decided on a few garments, we crossed over to her back door and went into the sitting room.
Gemma’s house is beautiful and very homely so looking around their cosy family room, I immediately had a sense of calm. In here, we did a set up on the sofa with me, well, pretty much naked, expect for a pair of pants, and my favourite electric blue poncho! As I sat on the arm of the sofa, staring out of the window, trying my hardest to look demure and sexy, (rather than scared stiff and frowning because I kept slipping down the fur throw that was draped so beautifully on the arm of the sofa!) I listened to Gemma’s instructions and did my best to follow. It was not easy, that kind of ‘look’ is certainly not natural for me, but she was great at making me laugh so I just kept to the ‘natural’ script as best I could, whilst trying not to crack up!
As the goose bumps began to take control, we moved upstairs to one of the bedrooms which looked like something out of a Laura Ashley catalogue. It was all very neutral and classically done. With a sigh of relief I was allowed to put my favourite grey cardigan on, as well as my very comfy knitted socks. These items had real meaning for me since I had lived in them during my convalescing and I loved the idea of being able to use them in a more glamorous way now. Gemma asked me to sit on the large windowsill and look out the window. This was more like it! I started feeling a lot more natural and Gemma and I chatted as the camera snapped away, without my even noticing!
Knowing Gemma had been through breast cancer too and knew the anxieties and insecurities that an illness and the side effects of that, can bring, made me feel so much more at ease. As we nattered away from that rainy windowsill, I asked Gemma why she thought this boudoir style photography might help people after breast cancer.
‘I realised that I could put my photography skills to good use by offering boudoir-style portrait sessions to ladies going through a similar tough time with how their treatment has robbed them of feeling feminine and desirable, with the hope that it would help them see themselves in a different light. The emotional healing is something that I feel often gets overlooked, and hopefully what I do helps in some small way.’
– Gemma Brunton
To stop me getting too comfortable, we moved into a room next door and this time Gemma pushed me way out of my ‘comfort zone’, by putting me in my see through black evening top! Eek! I was only used to wearing this with a pair of jeans and a black vest underneath! She was going for a silhouette shape and asked me to stand in front of the window to get the best light. Once we had manipulated my arm into what felt like a rather unnatural position, Gemma squealed with delight! Clearly I was doing something right and a bit of professional lighting does wonders!
Just as I thought we were done, Gemma went in for the kill and asked me if I would like to go topless. This was a big deal! Jordan I most certainly was not, but since we had got this far and I had begun to trust her implicitly, I thought it was now or never. Thinking of everything I had been through previously, this was a moment to go for all guns blazing. I asked myself honestly, when would I be brave enough to do this again?
Gemma lay me on the bed and positioned me so the photos would be modest and tasteful. As weird and vulnerable as I did feel on the one hand, I also felt strangely brave and proud. I would never have done this had it not been for being unwell. The scars tell a story and when photographed like this, I knew I would treasure their meaning so much more than when staring at them in the mirror in my own bathroom, automatically seeing them as imperfections! I didn’t want to glorify it or make it sound like an excuse, but I was finally seeing some sort of positive to it all. I realised that something like this gave me something to see, something to hold in my hand and concrete proof that I was OK and I could look pretty OK too (with a little help!)
Gemma is one amazing lady. Aside from portrait photography she works for a couple of charities too and was recently asked by her local district hospital to help raise funds for a dedicated breast cancer unit.
‘I had the opportunity to photograph a Firefighter’s calendar last year, which was masses of fun and also raised lots of money towards the project – and I just heard to today that they’ve reached their target and building will commence soon – I’m so happy to have been a part of that (and lets be honest, there are worse subjects I could have been asked to photograph!)’
– Gemma Brunton
Knowing her wealth of experience working with other women, as well as being another survivor, helped me relax so much and more importantly, enjoy myself. This was my time, something for me, by me.
As I sat, stood, lay and was literally draped around Gemma’s furniture and gorgeous home, I smiled. Who would have thought that breast cancer would have made me do something as mad as this? Who would have thought how much I would have got out of it too?! Not just photos to give me a confidence boost when I needed one and have to show my daughter how proud we should be of our femininity, no matter what, but a new friend and a space to shine. Now thats something special and a pretty positive picture of recovery x