Carrying On With Life, The Tour And Making Big Changes

So, I’ll pick up where I left off after the week I was diagnosed. I got back to London from Leeds and we had a week off from the tour. I was booked in for an MRI scan to have a closer look at the tumor. I arrived early at the X-ray department and ended up chatting to Simone who was also waiting for her scan. We made a lovely connection and discovered that we had a similar outlook on life, so it was a great way to pass the time. Simone was called for her scan and I was prepped for mine. I’ve never had an MRI so honestly didn’t know what to expect.

Simone came out, sat down quietly and I awaited my turn. The nurse called me in. I climbed onto the table and was instructed to lie face down with each breast resting in a cup in the table. Once I was settled into place the platform moved into the long tube-like tunnel. It was explained that I needed to keep absolutely still all the way through so they could get clear images. I was given a headset so I would be able to hear the instructions, but this meant I could also listen to the radio which would drown out the loud thumping noises produced by the machine.

The nurse communicated that at some point into the scan she would count me down before the liquid dye is injected.  This is so they can get a clearer image. I meditated, listened to the radio and kept as still as possible. She gave me a clear countdown and I felt the cold flow of liquid go up my left arm. I carried on listening to the radio and the song to take me through the final few minutes of the scan was ‘Firework.’ I thought Katy Perry was a pretty good choice for company while I lay there motionless with my breasts cupped. Girl Power!!

Besides the MRI that was booked for that week, I also had an audition to prepare for and nursery rhymes to learn for an upcoming recording, before I packed for our week in Cardiff in Wales.

Monday consisted of my usual appointment at the hospital in the morning and my audition in the afternoon. I didn’t want to run late for my audition, so I prepped everything so I could go straight from the hospital to the audition. I dressed for comfort that day. After a long wait and a discussion with my doctor I was sent down for another ultrasound, 4 biopsies and more mammograms. The biopsies were messy that day and quite painful, but the nurse helped clean me up, I put on my white t shirt and she wished me well for my audition. I hopped on the bus, found somewhere to have lunch while I ran over my audition sides and song and then made my way to the audition venue.

I don’t dwell on things, but I did have a moment on the bus thinking how odd it felt to go from a messy biopsy at the hospital to an audition on the same day. It seemed surreal, but I had made the decision to carry on with life, so that’s what was happening.

Nick Winston, who had directed me in Annie in South Africa was on the audition panel, so I offered my left side for a gentle hug hello and was genuinely happy to see him and to be in the room. The team were great and I had fun and once I was done, my next focus was to get home and pack to leave for Cardiff in the morning.

I woke up early and I made my way to the station. I packed light again so as to avoid too much discomfort after the biopsies. From the station in Cardiff, I caught a cab to my digs and was greeted by my host who showed me to a delightful little bedroom that was to be the most comforting space for me that week. I adored it on sight! Next, I had to find the theatre, so I packed my bag and began my walk.

The Wales Millennium Centre is a rather impressive complex. This was one of the larger, more modern theatres on our tour and I have to say, as I stood on the stage looking out into the auditorium, I wondered how I would manage to fill that huge space with my energy. I was beginning to feel tired that week, for a number of reasons.  I had undergone a complete change in my diet and had committed to a 24 hour water fast once a week which I’d started on the Friday in my week off so perhaps that’s why I was feeling drained. I was on a massive detox!

We finished our tech rehearsal and I went in search for food. I found the Wagamama which was a short walk from the theatre. I was on a mission with my diet and under no circumstances was willing to compromise on anything. I explained my situation to Christian, the manager of Wagamama and he immediately took charge.  He compiled a menu that included 3 options, took me to meet the head chef so he knew the protocol and I left with a dry, alkaline based salad and freshly squeezed juices to see me through the first show. In the beginning, my diet basically consisted of only alkaline fruits and vegetables with no added extras of any kind. No caffeine, sugar, diary, wheat or soy, which may seem drastic, but it was the choice I made. The staff at Wagamama in Cardiff were incredible that week in supporting me and adjusting their menu.

Wagamama wasn’t the only thing supporting the changes I’d made. A few days before I left for Cardiff, I received two emails from friends introducing me to Chris Wark. He’s written a book called ‘Chris Beat Cancer.’

The email was about his ‘Square One Programme’ of 10 modules that he was releasing for free for 10 days. His first module went live the Tuesday evening that I arrived in Cardiff and his philosophy seemed aligned to mine so each night after the show, I watched the next module and took detailed notes. This meant late nights for me, but I was inspired so I continued with his modules and managed to get through the week without too much hassle.

When I look back on Cardiff, I realise how exhausted I was. My mood and energy levels were extremely low and having to find the motivation to play Stella with all of her loud and over the top craziness was a really big ask for me. On the up side, I was beginning to get on track with a slightly less radical diet, supported by the incredible research Chris had done through his journey with cancer and I felt that I was beginning to settle on the best way forward and was feeling really inspired about the change.

Here’s some food for thought and one of the lessons I’ve learned. Don’t wait for something to happen to you before you start living your best life. Chris says that a cancer diagnosis is sometimes a divine tap on the shoulder to say that you aren’t living your best life. It happens for various reasons, no doubt, but the one thing I had realized was that I certainly wasn’t looking after myself properly when it came to making the best choices with food. My commitment to healthy eating is a life-long commitment and as I’ve said over and over again, I’m probably the healthiest I have ever been.

Final word…

“If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?”  Unknown

Chemosabe Two – Slightly More Dramatic This Time!

Warning! This is a long read, but the ending may be just what you’re after 🙂

I remember a few occasions when I felt this ill. My mother nursed me through months of glandular fever when I was young. I couldn’t lift up my own head and needed assistance with pretty much everything. She was incredible!

Another time, was after we were rescued from the Achille Lauro (an Italian ship) after it caught fire. I ended up in Mombasa, Kenya for a couple of hours and must have picked up a small dose of malaria. When I got back to Johannesburg my boyfriend Paul had to manage a fever that was out of control and he was wonderful!

This time it feels quite different, more isolated, but still as intense. It feels like I’m doing a karmic burn of some kind. I go through moments of relentless shivering and my temperature is spiking all over the place and in between, when it finds normality, I’m able to go downstairs and make something to eat and take care of myself. I have incredible support in the house where I live. I wouldn’t have gotten through any of this without Jen and Jono (the man of the house), but I will dedicate a blog, or maybe more than one to them. They are absolute angels.

In your pre-treatment assessment meeting for chemotherapy, they give you a little booklet that is yours to bring in every time you have treatment. Attached to the front of the booklet is a small red card. On the card it says, CHEMOTHERAPY ALERT CARD!  THE COMPLICATIONS OF CHEMOTHERAPY ARE POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING, THEY INCLUDE NEUTROPENIC SEPSIS WHICH IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY AND MUST BE TREATED URGENTLY! Inside the card are emergency numbers to call should you be experiencing any side effects.

I wasn’t feeling great on Saturday after my second chemo that Thursday, but I monitored myself every hour or so in the night and as a result had no sleep. I kept a close eye the following day, but distracted myself until I felt it wouldn’t be wise to wait any longer. I called the number in the card, described my symptoms to an Oncology nurse and was told to go straight to A&E. I packed an overnight bag in case and Jen kindly dropped me at the hospital. The emergency room was pretty full, but I had my little chemo book so I went to the window for quick admission. I did get the evil eye from a gentleman, but I averted my eyes away from his judgement. It wasn’t long before a nurse called for me. My temperature had increased, so I was told it was a good decision.

I was taken to my own little room with a door. I felt a little more protected from all the germs flying around the ward with the door closed. A lovely nurse explained the procedure to me after we ran through my symptoms. Procedures always involve needles. I never really took to needlework as a young girl, but clearly my nurse had and she was doing a fine job on my left arm. In no time, I had a cannula needle in my left hand, she was taking bloods from a stubborn vein in the middle and was taking blood from the picc line to check for infection in my upper arm. It was all happening.

All the appropriate meds were fed through the cannula, while we waited for the all important blood test results to check for Sepsis. It was a long wait so I closed the door and attempted a nap.  My bloods came back perfect. Yay!!!! I was told I could go home once the fluids were complete and I was stable. After 5 hours, I wrapped up warm, ordered an uber and made for the kettle when I got in. Tea fixes everything…not just coffee!

That night was the same incessant struggle, except I had developed a nasty cough. I stayed up with the moon, taking my temperature, shivering, barking and drinking water, but I decided to persevere and not rush back to emergency. I figured my body needed time to fight this virus and if it’s not sepsis, then I’m ok. By 10:30 the following morning I still had no grip on things, so I contacted the emergency number again, explained my circumstances and was told to go back to A&E. I picked up my overnight bag and ordered an uber. Just to explain, even though it wasn’t sepsis yesterday it could be sepsis today and any other time throughout your entire treatment. Lovely thought and one I certainly won’t be dwelling on.

This time, at reception there was an almighty queue. I didn’t hesitate. I took out my little booklet and explained to the patient who was next in line that it was protocol for chemo patients to go straight to the window for assistance. I apologized. She was calm, but unimpressed and spoke over me, telling me how much pain she was in. I persistently apologized, repeated that it was a rule that I wasn’t prepared to break as it could be serious if I’m not seen immediately. I showed her the words on the card. She relented. I’m sure I’ll be more relaxed in the weeks to come, but I was tired and shivering so when the window became available I said thank you to her and jumped in.

This took a lot for me to do. I’m one of those people pleasers, or at least I used to be. No time for that when you’re in my position. I was logged into the system straight away. This time it was a longer wait and I was very fortunate to keep company with a gentleman with a horrendous cough. I immediately wrapped my giant scarf, (my friend Julius calls it a bed spread) around my face and apologized to John for my rudeness. The wait was longer than last time and John made sure there was little space for me to think or speak so I was distracted. I know a bit of John’s life now 🙂

I was back in the same room as the day before, with more drips and blood tests and this time it was a 6 hour time slot I’d been given, but I got a cup of tea, an egg sandwich, had a little nap with the door closed and was told my bloods were good, except for the virus of course. I could go. They gave me advice on how to control my temperature so I didn’t have to rush back, but said if I did, it was normal. Normal? There’s the perspective! Huge respect to anyone who’s gone through chemo. My body now belongs to medicine. Not gonna argue with medicine NOW!

I won’t bore you with all the details, but needless to say my Monday evening at home was no different. I was getting really restless with this. I was lying in bed and had a thought. If I can jump the queue at A&E, I think I can put out a request to be first in line to get this virus out of the way so I can get back to my 100 squats a day. I had my chat with God. I said I’ve done a good job of surrendering to all of this from the start, but right now, in THIS moment, I’m asking to jump the queue. I’m now exhausted. I meant business. I had a nap to celebrate my request.

My mom called later in the day for a check in. She mentioned some meds that I’d forgotten I had, so as soon as we’d had our chat, I made up a little cocktail and went straight to sleep so it could take effect. I woke up soaked. A bikini bottom mark and a back mark were left on the sheets and my duvet felt like it had been dunked in a shallow river. Wooohooo! I was beyond happy about the sweat fest and was reminded that mother’s know best, which of course she loves to hear. Thanks my Marmie.

I persevered through more coughing and night sweats and I have to say, it may be lifting. I remain ever hopeful, ever positive. At 5:30 this morning (Thursday), I woke up with the same little happy patches of healing on the sheets and another high temperature. I put on a dry set of clothes and felt slightly strange and unfocused. Delirious would be the perfect description. I reached for my phone so I could document what had just happened. Here’s what I wrote..

“I am writing this in my notes, on my iPhone, with my head in an awkward position, as I’m balancing a cold facecloth on my forehead to get my temperature down. Before that, President Trump called me to see how I was doing and to offer his advice on my condition. He said my name clearly and then explained that his life was very busy and threw the word “nuke” somewhere into the sentence. I pretended that I knew what he was up to and that his call was in no way surprising. In his call he was trying to direct me to this village in Africa to get some rare herbs to cure my infection. I wrote the name of the village down TWICE, on brown paper, in pencil. I said how much I appreciated his time, realized I had no idea what to call him, so went with “boss.” Then he nuked the call! I’m trying to find the piece of paper with the name of the village, but I’ve settled on 2 paracetamol and a cold facecloth. I doubt he’ll call again!”

True story! Thanks for staying with me!! No chemo today!!!

PS..maybe the boss was telling me that my virus had been nuked? Fingers crossed 🙂

A Call From The Hospital! “We’d Like To See You Urgently On Wednesday Please!”

So, now that my treatments are set up for the next couple of months and I have a fair idea of what to expect, I’ll be able to go back to the beginning of this journey. I wasn’t present enough, nor did I have the time to start writing a journal, but hopefully I’ll remember most of it.

I had felt a small lump in my right breast during rehearsals for Summer Holiday, but there was no time to check it out. At the beginning of July we had two weeks off from the tour, so I made the appointment to have it looked at on the 6th of July. I was told I’d need another appointment, but because we were due to be in Brighton on the 17th, I requested they see me after that. On the 23rd of July which was our Monday off, I found myself at the hospital in a consultation with a doctor who told me they had to have a closer look. I had an ultra sound, mammogram, two biopsy’s with two markers inserted, then another mammogram and blood tests after that. Nice day off I thought 🙂

The following day I was packed for our week in Blackpool. After being told to not lift anything heavy, there I was carting my suitcase on and off platforms and trains, but I packed as light as I could. I struggled a bit with the pain after the biopsy’s, but I bought some natural remedies from Holland and Barrett to help with healing. I got through the week, but I don’t recall feeling terribly strong or even upbeat. I remember drinking an awful amount of coffee in that week. Coffee often feels like such a life saver doesn’t it?

I got back to London on the Sunday and did the usual unpacking, washing and repacking and on the Monday I received a call from the hospital to say they needed to see me urgently on Wednesday. I replied that I was busy on the tour and had two shows in Leeds on Wednesday. I asked if she could inquire how urgent it was, hoping it could wait till the following Monday. She called back with the news that it was a matter of urgency. I called Abbie, our company manager in tears to explain and apologize that I would have to miss out on some performances. I had told her of my situation in Brighton, so she was aware and very understanding. She said I should take care of myself first and not worry about the show. I sat quietly with this sudden change, focused on my breath and didn’t move for quite a while. Clearly, something was about to happen and I began to feel it in my gut.

After chatting to my family, I began researching immediately. I went online and found as many sites as I could that had information about cancer. I got into gear and took charge and didn’t sit dwelling for a moment. I ordered a book recommended by my friend Julius about how Vitamin B17, found in apricot kernels was making breakthroughs in cancer. It’s called World Without Cancer by G. Edward Griffin. There is some controversy, but I overlooked that and contacted a health store called Planet Organic to see if they had the kernels I needed. I settled on a plan for myself which involved cutting out caffeine, sugar (most important), dairy and wheat. I was never a meat eater so that was also a given. It made sense. I was committed!! I hadn’t been given the diagnosis yet, but I knew.

My appointment the following day was an early one. I sat with the doctor and nurse as he told me I had breast cancer. They had found a 17mm tumor. He went through the exact diagnosis in detail. I listened, smiled and listened some more. He went through my options which were chemo, radiation, surgery, then hormone therapy OR surgery, chemo, radiation, then hormone therapy. I told him that I was about to change my entire diet, that I meditated and was strong physically and that I would carry on with the tour. I was extremely calm which may be a surprise to hear, but I was. I spoke with the nurse afterwards so we could be clear on what they still needed from me in terms of procedures going forward. I said if I agreed to have surgery, which was the only thing that made sense to me then, that it would have to be at the end of the tour which was early November. I was sent for a chest x ray, had blood taken and then went straight to Planet Organic for supplies. I came home armed with apricot kernels and threw out anything that didn’t fit with my new regime. I felt like I was renewed and empowered.

Of course my priority was to get on the next train to Leeds so I booked one that wasn’t too early and informed the company manager that I’d be joining the cast the next day.

On Thursday morning, I set off and while I was en route decided to quickly check the schedule for the week. I practically jumped out of my seat when I saw that we had two shows that day. It was out of the ordinary so I had overlooked it. I phoned Abbie in a panic. We worked out that I would get to the theatre just in time to get ready, but I’d miss the warm ups. She told me that my understudy had to be with her family last minute, so wasn’t with us. Needless to say I arrived at stage door, clambered out the taxi, bumping into our lovely drummer Dave and managed to find my dressing room. I could hear the company getting notes on stage so wandered slowly onto the stage. They all applauded. Haha, what a welcome back. I took a look at all of their gorgeous faces and then turned to look at the auditorium and literally lost my breath. The Leeds Grand Theatre easily has to be my favourite venue so far and of course it carries something extra special for me considering what was going on personally.

There was no time to unpack what was happening with the cast, but I did share with 3 close members and we decided that I’d tell the cast the following day, which I did. We stood in a circle and I shared my news with them. I remember each face so vividly. I remember the tears and the looks of concern and love. This was my family. Of course, I’d shared my entire journey with my real family, but when you work in theatre, on tours, you bond to one another. They were just beautiful. I told them that I was feeling positive and strong and that this diagnosis changed nothing so let’s just carry on together and have fun.

Sophie and I got straight into our usual chats getting ready for the show and I was thrown right back into the routine. I must say it felt strange to perform in the venue that day as normally you have time in the tech to get a feel of the space.  There was little feeling of security, but we just carry on don’t we. The show must go on!

The next day I rallied around getting all my healthy food and supplements and was on track with my eating plan. Sophie was listening to her music and was asking me what kind of music I liked. I responded with a few of my favourites and we casually got ready for the show. I thought nothing of it.

Sophie is often up to no good…in a good way. She’s a clever little thing and so is another member of our company Caroline. Such beautiful big hearts they have. Our entire company is extraordinary when it comes to talent, but as people, I adore them all. Caroline and Sophie had a plan up their sleeves.

So there we were on Saturday morning, gathering together for our physical warm up, which Caroline was taking and… bam, the first song of the warm up is Red Hot Chili Peppers – This life is more than just a read through. I ran up to Sophie while she was warming up and said “Soph, it’s the Peppers, it’s my boys!!”  She laughed at me. I carried on warming up and the next song that played was Tracy Chapman – Fast Car. I thought, that’s wierd, two of my favourite artists? Next song was Bob Dylan – Rolling Stone. I shouted out to Sophie, realizing what was happening. I think I said, “Sophie, you little s…!” There will be no swearing in my blog!!!! 🙂 I started to get quite emotional. The last song was John Mayer – Waiting on the world to change. Wow! What a moment. I felt their love.

That week was most definitely not the worst week of my life and the news that I had breast cancer hadn’t hit me like a ton of bricks and made me crumble into a state of helplessness. I vehemently made the decision to carry on regardless and this was just the beginning of what was to come in terms of me receiving so much love and support. More than I could have imagined possible.

To the Summer Holiday cast, musicians and crew. I love you all so much for making that week an absolute highlight. You are always in my heart! And to Sophie and Cazza and to my partner on stage Wayne, who blew me away with his love and support – Thank you!!

Reeedddddd Bus….Yess!!

Chemosabe One

I recently watched a documentary called HEAL on Netflix that was recommended by my dear friend Jen. There is nothing pretentious about our friendship, but we do call one another “Darling Darling” as well as many other “terms of endearment” that shouldn’t be repeated here. I was drawn to one woman’s story in particular. She had similar ideas on how to approach her healing. Her diagnosis was a lot more severe than mine, so a very different journey.  She made a deep impression on me. She referred to chemotherapy as “Chemosabe” which I found hysterical. Thanks Jen for the recommendation.

Kimosabe has a few meanings according to Wikipedia. Of course a certain generation would remember Kimosabe from the TV series The Lone Ranger, but the one I liked is “trusty scout” or even better, “faithful friend.”

On Thursday after I’d been hooked up to the cold cap machine which had already been running for half an hour, the bag of chemo was placed in my lap. Obviously this happens in order for you to verify that the information on the label is in fact yours and not the mixture meant for the lovely gentleman in the corner who is sitting with his wife awaiting the same fate. I held the bag in my hands and spontaneously said “hello beautiful friend.” How interesting I thought. THAT’S what came to mind? This journey is an ongoing awakening and although I am very much in tune with myself, my reactions sometimes surprise me. I watched the nurse hook the bag up and connect it to the Picc line which is permanently in my left arm till my final treatment in May.

Sitting with me on Thursday and taking it all in, was my beautiful friend Sivan. Sivi, as I like to call her, drops her life and responsibilities as a wife, mother and writer (only one of her many, many talents) to be with me. She was my partner in crime for the first surgery in October which I’ll write about separately at some point, then met me at the hospital after my second surgery in December, to help get me home. She was with me on the day that I finally agreed to have chemo and still begs for more of my attention, as she has offered her support in the coming months when needed. She is often times more of a patient than I am, but is the best distraction and support and we generally laugh our way through it all.

People ask how the cold cap feels. My reply….cold!!! Sivs felt the little helmet I was wearing on my head and said, “Shew Taz, that feels cold.” IT IS COLD, but I know how to channel my inner Eskimo.

Chemosabe lasts for 1 hour and the cold cap is on for a total of 2 and a half hours, so let’s hope my weekly brain freeze is worth it.  The time goes surprisingly fast and of course there is quite a bit happening around you so there’s no time to dwell on anything. Each nurse is dealing with a different patient and set of circumstances and they truly are the angels in the Infusion Suite. That’s where treatments take place, the Infusion Suite. Sounds like something at a Health Spa. Well, it doesn’t remotely feel like what you’d expect it to feel. It’s quiet, calm and peaceful and everyone there has a distant respect for what is taking place.

Sivs and I chatted and passed the time together and then I was told I could go. She asked how I was feeling. I replied, slightly cloudy and a little tired, but nothing to be concerned about. I took the helmet off, she laughed at how I looked and then after I pounced on her, we packed up to go home. Most of you who know me would believe that I actually did pounce on her..I digress.

The rest of our afternoon and evening was pretty relaxed, besides the fact that Sivan’s back went into spasm and I had to massage it back to health. Massaging oil into someones back with a mastectomy on the right and a picc line on the left, wasn’t demanding at all. What are friends for in these situations, but to use and abuse..cancer or no cancer 🙂

The next day, we had to report back for my first Herceptin injection which lasted about 15 minutes and then we had to endure a 6 hour wait, so I could be monitored in case I had a reaction. Herceptin injections take place every 3 weeks for a year and are quite vital for my healing.

“In case you have a reaction” is a phrase that you get used to after a while. It’s in all the information pamphlets they give you and is common dialogue with doctors and nurses. It’s important to take it seriously, but is not where I choose to place my attention. I won’t go in to all the possible side effects of treatment, but there are side effects for chemotherapy and for Herceptin and whatever comes, I’ll take it a day at a time.

My attitude towards the possible side effects was confirmed by two wonderful women who are both healers in the world of cancer. They said, “If you look for things, you find them.” How true this is in life. “I ain’t lookin for no side effects, but I’m well aware of what they may be.”

We passed the 6 hours at the hospital by attempting to find inspiration to write, but it didn’t come. Sivan cleaned her computer beautifully while hunched over the keys. We took turns to go for a walk. I popped back to the nurses for check-ups every half an hour or so. Eventually we both fell asleep on the Costa couches with nothing more to say. If anyone was expecting a Friday afternoon drama, it didn’t come. I asked the nurses if it was possible that I may have no reaction at all. Well, anything is possible they said, but they have to make sure in case.

We packed up and managed a slow walk back to the bus stop, both utterly exhausted. Thank you my Sivs!! Hope the massage did the trick 🙂

First treatment is done. It hardly felt like anything major really. It helps to have someone close to pass the time with. Sivs and I always unpack life and discuss the deep and the trivial, but mostly we laugh and talk nonsense. Sometimes I’m the patient and sometimes she is, but she is always my “faithful friend.”

“So, Chemosabe, we’ve been introduced and we’ll meet every Thursday and we’ll find our way through this together.” It’s a strange thing, the unknown, particularly when you don’t know what may take hold of you with each passing hour in a day, but that’s what I’ve signed up for and essentially what we all sign up for.

That’s life!

Countdown To Chemo – I Missed My Blog Deadline Due To Too Many Distractions Before Chemo Starts, Coz Chemo Is A Big Deal And Took Me Ages To Make A Decision About, Much To The Annoyance Of Those Close To Me Who Were Holding Their Opinions In, So As To Avoid Conflict…

Thanks for reading my rather long title. Glad you’re still with me 🙂

It’s been a really interesting couple of weeks since I finally made the decision to have chemo. I agreed on the 28th of January, after many months of deliberation, research and certainty that I wouldn’t have it, to indecision, conflict and second opinions and then finally sleepless nights wondering what would happen if I didn’t accept the treatment.

For some, it’s a no brainer and they readily submit themselves to whatever the doctors say is right for them.  Some have no time to decide or choice in the matter which I am sure must be extremely emotionally challenging. Either way you look at it, it’s not easy and I’d say has probably been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and probably the most frustrating thing those closest to me have had to endure. Love you guys!!

I am fortunate that even though there are elements to my type of cancer that require serious consideration and careful thought when it comes to treatment, that it was caught early. I think a part of me thought that it would be a simple case of removing the tumor with one surgery and then I’d jump back into normal life. Not my experience at all and so I’ve had to adapt and do an incredible amount of processing with each discovery and change.

A friend recently asked me if I’ve been happy and cheerful all the way through this. My reply was yes, I have been my normal happy self throughout, but there have of course been a few very difficult and emotional days where I’ve literally been on my knees asking for help and guidance, especially with a decision like chemotherapy. In those dark moments I have gained new insights and the answers I have needed to get me to the next phase have come.

Why the fuss you may ask? Well, I’ve always been the kind of person who won’t take a pill even if I’m in extreme pain. Those who have travelled on tour with me know the drill. I’m stubborn and immovable. It’s just not my belief system. I’m a hippy who likes to hug trees..enough said.

I believe in mind over matter and that you can just breathe through the pain and eventually you won’t even feel it. I center my mind in positive thoughts and I’m motivated by faith. I don’t allow myself to slip into any kind of victim mentality or idea that I’m at the mercy of something. Basically, I’m a fruitcake, but it works for me 🙂

Our minds are powerful! We have such incredible will power to overcome things, but sadly we don’t often realize this is the case.

I cannot say enough that meditation has been life changing for me and has been the most important part of my daily, moment to moment healing. It’s my biggest comfort and joy and I would not be coping the way I am without it.

I, of course have had to explain this to the doctors each time they showed concern with my rejection of further treatment after the surgeries. How can you rely on meditation, prayer and faith when there is treatment available to you that will make all the difference to your recovery? Oh, the things I’ve told them…Ha!

I had an appointment with a clinical psychologist before the second surgery that was very insightful and helped me understand my decision making process. Her assessment of me was rather accurate and affirming, but it also helped me look at some things that I perhaps needed to be honest with myself about.

She came to the conclusion that my decisions are mostly driven by my emotions and intuition, rather than rational decision making processes. She said that my spirituality and trust resulted in me not being particularly worried about my diagnosis and that I am following through with what is right for me and there is no anxiety attached to any decisions. She assessed that I am focused on the here-and-now. Pretty true!

Each time I’ve had a consultation with the doctors, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy have been mentioned and the reason for this is that according to the type of breast cancer that I have, these treatments are all necessary. They are following protocol which is correct.

I think it is evident how I’ve chosen to approach each step of my journey. It has frustrated many people along the way. I read and re read the letter from the clinical psychologist so I could understand myself better through her eyes and I have to say it impacted on me. Not enough to change my method entirely, but enough to choose to be more rational in my thoughts. Added to that, I had listened to each conversation carefully on the subject of chemotherapy and what good it could do. Change was in motion.

I have been known to be quite puritanical in my ways and so I realised that this was an opportunity to find the balance. I have spoken all along about wanting to create a healthy balance between my own healing choices and those of the medical teams I’ve been working with.

I was at a crossroad with this decision and I needed to respect the time and the expertise of those who had been guiding me from the beginning.

After each meditation, I pray that I will be shown the way forward through everything that I interact with in the day, be it an article I read or a conversation I have with someone or just a clear thought. I have always felt that I am led to the right outcome for me in this way.

I have begun to feel a growing certainty about having chemo and the best thing about it is that it has taken place slowly, in the time that is right for me, to feel happy and confident in what it means to take it into my body.

I have nurtured my body with good food, thoughts, meditation, affirmations, self-love and now I am happy to balance my healing with the treatment that is being offered. Quite a massive turnaround from where I’ve been for many months. At least my mother can start growing her hair back 🙂

Paramahansa Yogananda has lovely advice on this. He says..

“We should not be extremists in any way but should adopt whatever methods of healing are suitable, according to individual conviction. Medicines and food have definite chemical action upon blood and tissues. So long as one eats food, why should one deny that medicines and other material aids also have an effect on the body? They are useful so long as the material consciousness in man is uppermost. They have their limitations however, because they are applied from outside. The best methods are those that help the life energy to resume its internal healing activities. Mental cure is superior to all methods of physical cure because will, imagination, faith and reason are states of consciousness that actually and directly act from within”.

My desire from the beginning has been to balance the spiritual with the physical. I recall a comment I made to the plastic surgeon in our first meeting to discuss reconstruction after a mastectomy. I said, “How am I going to hug trees with C cups?” One step at a time!

The Day I Asked My Mother To Tone Down Her Comments On My Blog

Yes…this is true. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but it seems like I have to, as I think it’s an important lesson and I have quite a way to go still with all this sharing, so it’s best to get it out of the way and get my poor Marmie back on track…or back online at least.

This may turn out to be my most awkward blog 🙂

I have thought this through a great deal. I’ve discussed my feelings with a few close friends, including my sister who always has lovely advice to offer. I am very awkward with praise. I’ve said many times over that I am more comfortable to give than to receive. It’s a longstanding, ongoing issue of mine and if there was ever a moment to test out these limitations and get over it, this seems to be the time.

What did I think the outcome would be when I decided to casually hop onto facebook one day and begin sharing my story?  A large majority of my friends on facebook are actually friends, mixed in with family and quite a few more distant friendships or connections from long ago. What would I do if someone I cared about shared something of this nature on a public forum? Well, I’d do exactly what everyone has done from the start. I would encourage and praise and show my support. Truth be told, I don’t spend much time on facebook and my relationship with it could be viewed as somewhat one sided or even selfish. I don’t really “use” facebook. It’s rare that I go browsing, but I have been known to, on occasion and comment and like what I’m seeing. It’s a complicated relationship and one that I’m still working on.

So, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, back to the issue at hand.

I remember being in my final year at high school. I had a meeting with the school counsellor to discuss how I was going to manage leaving school earlier than expected. I would complete my final exams, while on the road with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, playing the role of Alice on an exciting 6 month tour of the show. The rehearsals began in Johannesburg while I was supposed to still be in school in Port Elizabeth. The reason I’m mentioning this is because the conversation that took place in that meeting focused more on my concern with how people may react toward me with this attention that I was getting. The school was always extremely supportive of my extramural activities which often involved me skipping school to take part in dance exams, eisteddfods and shows. I was concerned that people would think that I thought I was a “big deal” and wanted the attention and the limelight.

I am now a 46 year old woman. Surely these things shouldn’t be of any concern to me, especially if my precious Marmie wants to comment on her daughter’s post. What a moment of realization for me.

I have always believed that an illness is often manifested as a result of where we are emotionally or mentally. Of course there are so many things at play and you should be looking at it from many different angles to work out how you got to where you did. I’ve had plenty of time to think about this and I never pass up the opportunity to look deeply at an issue so I can do all I can to work at it and ultimately overcome it. The work is mine to do, not anyone else’s and I’m aware of what I need to focus on.

What cancer has given me will take many conversations to unpack. If I was ever awkward to receive and have attention focused on myself, I think that will be a minor issue after this is all over.

Since I was diagnosed I have done nothing but receive. I have often felt very overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the level of praise coming from comments on facebook, particularly when the word “inspiration” is mentioned. My mother uses it a lot. When we discussed my concern, my exact words to her were, ”Why don’t you let other people decide whether I’m inspiring or not?”

The issue lies not with my kind-hearted, devoted and proud mother. I adore her. The issue lies with me. And if it wasn’t clear, facebook was going to make it clear. Just then, I received a notification that a dear friend of my mother’s, who is going through her own battle with cancer, had commented on my post. She had left such a heartfelt message which included the word “inspiration”. Wham!!!

I immediatiely sent my mom a cheeky voice note telling her to say whatever she felt from now on. I asked her to please write a short, loving, sweet, unemotional, unattached, bland comment, with no trace of the word inspiration. I won’t repeat what she said in her voice note to me, but we were in fits of laughter. We understand one another very well and always see the funny side to situations.

The lesson…How others choose to react is not within my control. I don’t need to feel uncomfortable and attempt to downplay myself  or ask my mother to tone down her feelings to alleviate awkwardness. Better to accept that if people want to show love and support, that I am worthy of receiving such love.

I don’t do anything for recognition. In fact I’d rather not have it. Looks like I’m going to have to work harder at this one, but in the meantime…I’ll just carry on blogging 😉

 

 

 

 

The Sudden Need To “Own It”

My head is bursting with stories and I’m sitting quietly trying to decide what to say. Because I’ve decided to start sharing my journey somewhere in the middle of it, I’ll have to hop from one moment to another which may be confusing, mostly for me. For today, I’ve decided to share my October week on facebook. The week of my birthday and the moment I decided to “own it”.

I was sitting on the grass in the sunshine, thinking back to a conversation I had with a stranger in my final week on the Summer Holiday tour. I was told to “own my life” and be open and willing to share it because you never know who may need to hear it. Quite a bit has changed since then, but it’s special to look back…

Here are the posts from that week.

22 October

Hey lovely peeps. This post is not an announcement! To anyone who may have noticed my slight withdrawal from social media and even a slight distancing in communication in general, here’s why. I make no apologies for it, but feel it’s a good time to explain and as someone recently said …”I should own this”

I’ve been on a bit of a journey with my health since being diagnosed with breast cancer on the 1st of August while on tour with Summer Holiday. I won’t go into any details as this is not the space for that. This is also a very private and sensitive subject so I’m sure you all respect that too.

Those who have known since the beginning have seen that I have just carried on as normal and have been the same cheerful person throughout the past few months, but I just want to reassure anyone who is alarmed by this news that I am better than I ever have been. I do feel the urge to begin writing about my entire journey so perhaps at some point there will be a channel for me to share as I honestly have so much to say about this incredible time in my life that has filled me with such love and gratitude and confirmed my faith and belief systems.

I am recovering from surgery as we speak and have left the Summer Holiday tour, but fortunately I will only miss the final two weeks which is a blessing. So, as I am resting and have more time on my hands, I will gradually share some insights and magical aha moments to hopefully inspire you. I have been inspired by so many people and experiences already and I know there is still more to come. There is magic everywhere

So as this is breast cancer month and also the month of my birth, I feel it’s fitting to own and share a little bit of my “rebirth” with those who are happy to listen. Sending love and smiles from afar

24 October

So, here we go. Firstly I want to say that your kindness towards me is not lost. The way in which each of you has responded reflects back on you and although it seems that it’s all directed at me, it all actually flows into an energy flow that we can all tap into and share. So let’s whirl those beautiful messages around and each take strength and upliftment from them. The qualities you have chosen to acknowledge in me exist in each one of you.

My only desire in being open is to encourage and hopefully inspire a slightly different way of seeing a cancer journey. I don’t seek a platform or attention from this. Those who know me well know this to be deeply true of my nature.

I have often looked upon social media as something I don’t enjoy and something which takes too much time and energy. In this particular moment of my life, I choose to see it as community. My posts may not reach everyone and may even annoy some, but that is not my concern. Perhaps that may be the best way to start…with truth.

Since the start of all of this, I have chosen to speak my truth in every situation. Truth is golden to me. It’s on the top of my list and is a vital part of my daily food. Speaking my truth to the doctors has brought me freedom and time to work out exactly what “my” plan is for this. Speaking my truth to my loved ones has allowed us all to communicate in the most respectful and loving ways that support what I have needed every day. Speaking my truth to strangers has shown me how magnificent human beings can be and has resulted in little miracles which I will unpack later. Truth!!!! I can go on….and I will carry on writing, but for this platform I will keep it short.

All I want to encourage in this message is always seek the truth, always tell the truth and always know what your own truth is and stand in that and don’t apologize for any of it. There’s that saying….. “The truth will set you free” ..It’s the truth!! Have a brilliant day all. So much love

24 October “ Was a chatty day for me it seems”

The easiest way I can start to communicate where you find me in all of this change is to begin with Faith. This is often a conversation where some people shut themselves off and with respect I fully understand why. I can only share what is true for my life and the rest is all up to the individual. We all need to be authentic in how we approach such a personal subject. There is no right or wrong path…only the path you choose.

I have breezed in and out of the hospital most Monday’s which is our day off on the tour and although I have had a multitude of procedures to help the doctors get a clearer picture of things, I have remained calm, cheerful and relaxed and oftentimes, quite a joker. I asked my mom if this was normal and if I’d been this way from childhood. Her reply was pretty much…yes. The doctors have said “We don’t see people like you in London, let alone in the hospital”.

Here comes the Faith part. I have loved God from very early on in my life and learning and reading about the stories in the bible was the kind of quiet time I craved. I have complete faith in my “Father”. I wasn’t afforded much time with my physical Father, but my Father figure was firmly in place right from birth and I knew who to call out to when I was uncertain and needed guidance. My calls lately have gotten stronger and stronger and there is no doubt that I am being heard,

I walk every day holding Gods hand and openly talk to him throughout the day, not all day… but I find my moments to express gratitude or to just “check in”. I am also strongly rooted in my path of meditation and am deeply grateful for the teachings of my Guru, Paramahansa Yogananda. This is MY truth and THIS is a big part of why nothing has changed with this diagnosis. I remain grateful and ready to see what unfolds as each day comes. Where I am, is where you find me

25 October

Something that we wouldn’t be able to be without is family. Mine isn’t a large family and we are spread out all over the place, which makes things harder, but it’s the best darn family I could ever have wished for. They have been amazing.

Families aren’t always “rosebuds and daffodils”, as sometimes the dynamics of those individuals aren’t always in sync and the expectations can be hard to reach, but even those encounters can be beautiful as they allow you the opportunity to really test who you are within the circle of love that is your family. Sometimes the hardest encounters teach you the best lessons.

I think I have been quite a challenge for my family, with my choice in career and the fact that I am fiercely independent and quite self assured, but I think the fact that I have continued to stand in my power and not back away from my truth has slowly by surely made a difference. I appreciate their patience.

I had some conditions in sharing my news with my family. They were realistic I thought. No negativity and fear, as this is not how I do life. Keeping the circle as small as possible in order for me to not be so exhausted in having to share information on test results etc with a football team. And most importantly. This is a diagnosis, not a death sentence and I need support in my choices to manage this, not opinions and fearful projections that are not mine to carry. Not too much to ask for? These incredible people that I am lucky enough to call family have completely listened to what I needed and have shown absolute and unconditional love and support throughout.

So perhaps the lesson is that although families know one another intimately, they can’t be asked to guess what we need from them, unless we tell them and put a few boundaries down in a gentle way so we can exist happily and support each other. I speak from both sides in this message.

28 October

Fear, woohooo!!! A big subject and one of my favourites. Yogananda said, “Wherever your mind is, that is where you will spend your time”. So powerful! He also said, “When the consciousness is kept on God, you will have no fears; every obstacle will then be overcome by courage and faith”.

I have spent many years learning how to surrender. This little gypsy has been travelling from place to place and letting go of her old life and accepting and growing into a new space and I have to say. I love my life and wouldn’t change a thing.

I think there is an expectation when you’re told that you have cancer that there will be some kind of break down or traumatic reaction or feeling of hopelessness. The doctor and the nurse watched me very carefully and waited, but it didn’t come. I joked about this with a friend of mine and casually told her that I was fascinated with myself, not in an egotistical way, but more in a funny “haha” kind of way. Since that first consultation at the hospital, my appointments with the doctors are light and happy and there is an openness and support that I couldn’t have imagined possible. Of course it is all very professional and they say what is necessary, but they really get me.

I chose to go to each appointment and procedure alone as I really felt that I wanted to protect my space and not have to deal with someone else’s fearful reactions or heavy responses, although I know it would only be out of love and concern. I put my boundaries down with those who knew what I was dealing with and once they were firmly in place it allowed me to focus on carrying on with my life and the Summer Holiday tour. It was very important to me to just carry on as if nothing had changed and I really was given all that I needed by everyone, especially the cast, to be able to do that.

I remember when I was on the Sound of Music tour, I think we may have been in Johannesburg. One of the boys playing Kurt was feeling anxious just before we had to make our entrance onto the stage. I told him to look at me and repeat, “fear is afraid of me”. He did and we spoke it out together over and over again, “fear is afraid of me” and then we smiled at one another and walked on stage.

We need to make ourselves bigger than our fears and know that we have the power to overcome anything. “Fear is afraid of me” – P Yogananda