Blue-sky thinking

Now that my treatment has finished the doctors need to make sure that I really really have beaten the stupid cancer so I had to go back to hospital for a scan. I’ll get the results next week.

While I was there something happened which was a bit strange. I started to meditate.

I was sat in a changing room the size of a big cupboard at the imaging unit dressed and ready for my appointment. I’ve had so many scans over the years that I know how to properly tie those pesky medical gowns so that everything is covered.

With its familiar sights, sounds and smells, just being in the hospital was horrible.

I needed to relax. As I waited, I began meditating. I counted my breath in and out, trying to ignore the noise around me.

That was until I heard something which sent my heart racing. An alarm was going off in the next room. The loud bleeping sound meant a patient had stopped breathing, just like I had following surgery. It was a false alarm but it took me straight back to that time when I was so close to death.

I opened my eyes, giving up on the mediation and feeling more stressed than ever. Not long afterwards a man with tattooed arms came and got me. It was time to be scanned.

So why the sudden interest in meditation?  

All my medical treatment is over. Yes, I’ll have check-ups and routine tests but aside from that I’m on my own. I want to do more than just hope it doesn’t come back.

During the chemo I had some less conventional treatments like acupuncture and hypnotherapy. They seemed to help ease the nasty side effects. I thought I’d try some more complimentary methods and last week I went on a course at a holistic centre for people dealing with cancer.

I have to admit that part of me was sceptical however I’m willing to try anything.

Even so, I did smuggle in some sachets of coffee. We’d been told that the menu would be ultra-healthy and there’d be no caffeinated drinks on offer. I thought I might need my own supply and I was right. One of the coffee substitutes was something called Slippery Elm!

Contraband coffee

The course at the Penny Brohn Cancer Care centre took place over three days. Inside the Georgian building it felt like a cross between a hotel and a posh hospital, outside there were acres of landscaped grounds which overlooked a river. With bright blue skies and dazzling sunny weather everyday, it was uplifting just being there.

It was almost like a health spa for cancer fighters.

Based on the edge of Bristol, the place helps people live as well while coping with the impact of the deadly disease. The charity was set up in the 1970’s when eating brown rice was considered by some to be subversive. Since then what they do has become known as the Bristol approach. Now it’s part of an NHS pilot project.

The focus was on mind, body and spirit. It might sound new age and some of it certainly was. The course was led by a couple of healers who spent most of the time barefoot. Right in the centre of the carpeted room there was a collection of lit candles and flowers which were arranged in a bowl of sand.

There was a group of ten of us, all affected by cancer in some way. You’d think that it would’ve been a sad few days but it was inspiring to be with people who’d been through similar experiences.

We sat wrapped in soft baby blue blankets in a circle of comfy chairs. We were given talks and taught relaxation techniques including mediation.

I’m glad that I went. It made me determined to improve my lifestyle. Despite my concerns that it was all going to be far too alternative, it turned out that most of the stuff was common sense.

Essentially it comes down to this. To live well after a cancer diagnosis it’s best to eat healthily, exercise more – a whole lot more, worry less but don’t ignore how you feel, take time out to relax and do things which make you happy.

I’m off now to meet a friend to celebrate the end of my chemo. Coffee and cake may well put in an appearance too.

I’m going to count all that as something that makes me happy.

10 thoughts on “Blue-sky thinking

    • Catherine, the biggest thing I learnt is that exercise is so important, much more important than I realised. So too is relaxing. One of those is obviously much easier to do than the other!

  1. Lovely to see you as always!! lets have “cake time” again soon, hopefully with the cream and chocolate sauce (by request only mind you)!!!! Mwah xx

  2. Such an inspiring post, thank you Helen. I agree, all these new age alternative whatsits can be dreary at best and a scam at their worst but the techniques are as old as the hills, tried and tested for centuries. And you don’t have to be a bearded hippy or a yoga bunny to benefit. Meditation is hard but helpful when you can do it, I think I did it naturally as a child before I even knew what it was but then again, maybe I was just bored :)
    I wouldn’t have gone for slippery elm either – there’s no substitute for coffee so I really don’t know why they bother. As you say, if it doesn’t make you happy there’s no point to it. A world devoid of coffee, chocolate, champagne etc would be a sad sad place.

  3. Just remembered that a dear old friend really proved the Bristol approach. She developed cancer in her late sixties, visited the Penny Brohn centre and followed its theories (more or less! I remember her having the occasional coffee and cake ). She finally died of the cancer the day before her 80th birthday. Just a couple of months before her death she dragged me at breakneck pace for a three mile walk round the coast path. I can just about do the same walk now that I have cancer, but I have to sit down a few times!
    I believe the Bristol approach extended her life, and with real, meaningful, good quality years. There’s so much bunkum out there about cures for cancer, but I believe in this one, and feel that my friend gave me real proof that it works. Gosh – I wish she was here with me now.

    • I’m so sorry that you’ve lost such a lovely vibrant friend. But it sounds as if she really did make the most of life and benefit from the Bristol Approach.

      The thing I’ll take away from the course is just how key exercise is. Plus I’m finding that like you meditation is good.

      It’s lovely that now when you do that walk, you have a special place to remember your friend where you’re able to remember her doing something she really enjoyed.

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