Update: March 2016
Spoiler alert! I’m still alive and well, living cancer-free. I tear up every time I re-read this article, it’s still so true, though I’ve learned much more in the last couple of years. There is no ‘miracle cure’ for cancer but there are skills to living well through conventional treatment and beyond. If you’re struggling with a recent diagnosis or in the anxious shadow of cancer after treatment – it would be a pleasure to work with you through this time. My approach is down-to-earth based on 25 years of clinical practice, with empathy, sensible eating and lifestyle support.
There’s nothing like staring a life challenging diagnosis in the eye to get clear on what matters, is there? I’ll let you into a secret; there have been no revelations. Everything I’ve learned so far has confirmed what I’ve always suspected.
The joy of journaling on a regular basis pre-diagnosis means that what mattered most to me is there in black and white. What I’ve discovered is that all of these things remain important and provide a handy framework for traversing this experience.
What I know for sure
Love and connection is what matters the most
Family and friends matter. And they’ve been there in spades for me at such a humbling time. I’ve shed more tears of love than sadness.
Travel feeds my soul
Those who’ve been following my newsletter in recent years may have noticed that I love to holiday as much as I enjoy the challenges of working. Other than finding the balance in self-employment that creates time to turn off from everyday work demands, I love having adventures and experiencing other cultures. Over the last few years I’ve been to Bali, Europe, Russia, UK, USA and Thailand, and walked New Zealand’s Grand Traverse. Recalling my recent break in Chiang Mai kept me calm while waiting to be wheeled into surgery. Planning my next overseas trip is cheering me up on the tough days through treatment.
I’ve been banging on about the philosophy that I’ve tried to live by for the last 15 years. For me it’s largely about finding the balance between work and living, exploring conscious consumption, being an active part of the community I live in and trying to decrease my carbon footprint.
Connections and experience ultimately mean more to me than me than ‘stuff’
Last month I gave away a big suitcase full of once-precious possessions. Things I’d since outgrown or no longer used. It’s a delight watching friends find joy in their new haul (especially witnessing a 20 year-old friend rocking out in some of my hand-me-down designer clothes). But the best part was sitting in my dusty shed chatting and reminiscing, while filling the case.
I baulk a little at the overuse of the term, however I see resilience as the “work” I’ve continued to do on myself through my adult life, that’s now vital in helping me traverse this uncertain episode. The Buddhist study I explored in my 20’s gives me insight into sitting with impermanence and uncertainty. The good food and healthy lifestyle helps my body deal with the physical assaults of conventional treatment. Meditation creates stillness and pockets of calm. The wise words of Brene Brown provide a mantra (“there’s no shame in having cancer”). Exploring these themes with a skillful psychologist has helped me understand the importance of each of these realisations and practices. Seeking professional help has been invaluable in this process.
I’ve often danced with the darkness in the past and am no stranger to grief. I accept that the shadows have as much right as the light, in my life. That’s not to say I don’t feel fear, just I’m not afraid to sit with it, invite it in and become friends with it. If I’d spent my life running from difficult emotions, this confronting time would probably be even more challenging.
There is always a bright side
I stunned a friend by saying, though I’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer I still felt extremely lucky it was caught early. I could see her struggle with my definition of ‘luck’. But that is exactly how I feel – fortunate, optimistic and indeed lucky, even though the situation is a challenging one.
A career is not static, it evolves
Over the last decade I’ve watched so many valued colleagues and mentors burn out. Partly it’s due to the nature of one-to-one work but it’s also the increasing strains of running a small business. I’ve also noticed that paradoxically being both an advocate of work/life balance and an early adopter of social media can be at odds with each other.
A couple of years ago I realised I needed a new burnout prevention plan. I couldn’t continue working in the same way for the next 20 years and so began paring back my hours a little. Although that helped, it was only an interim step. I realised the least enjoyable aspect of my work was actually running a clinic, which increasingly took more time, money and energy to sustain. This digital age means we don’t need to be constrained by a physical location. With more clients than ever on the move, I’ve continued consulting with those living around the world and found that it works just as well as being face-to-face – sometimes even better.
I really enjoy working with people who are ready to change their lives and have the courage to act on what matters for them. I welcome you to try this new approach with me, away from the bricks and mortar of a clinic.
“Work in progress”
Experiencing a serious illness reminds me that while you can know what’s important in life, just being aware doesn’t offer total immunity. It’s still a work in progress – keeping the right balance between work and play, laughing more, keeping it simple and loving out loud. You never master these; it’s a daily practice. Some challenges I’m continuing to wrestle with include:
There’s nothing like being self-employed and unable to work to press the financial panic button. I’m fortunate to have savings but need to remind myself that this is the rainy day I’ve been saving for. Clients sometimes ask what they can do to help me. As I get back in the saddle with naturopathy and health coaching the best thing is to continue our work together.
Living each day to the full
Not everyone faced with a life-challenging condition can “seize the day”. There’s also a good case for staying in your cave and rolling with the punches some days. I do appreciate the small wonders – welcoming the morning sun, eating a juicy mango, breathing in the scent of a fragrant flower, playing with a curious feline, but I’m unlikely to become a modern day Pollyanna.
Being part of a club I never signed up for
I’ve learned a secret, it’s not just naturopaths with cancer that believe they don’t belong in the “cancer club”. It’s universal. But I’m in some illustrious company of some recently diagnosed Australians who I admire, including Anna Bligh. Julie McCrossin and Phillip Adams.
“The woman told Bligh how early into her first chemo round she phoned a friend and told her how she felt she didn’t belong there among her fellow chemo patients. “Honey,” her friend had said flatly. “They don’t belong there either.”
“It was the best thing she could have said to me,” Bligh says now. “It’s true, none of us belonged there.”
Source: The Australian
You don’t need to get ill, have an accident or loose your job to get in touch with what is important in your life, but it sure is a dynamic motivator.