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What cancer taught me about uncertainty…

We are living through some uncertain times…we are living through what we never thought we would have to experience….

In a world where we feel we are in control at a touch of our fingers…we are loosing control each day…we are waiting for the government to tell us what to do next, we are not sure how our financial situation will be affected, we are not sure if our local supermarket will have enough food for us to buy…we are lost and all we want is to feel safe again…like before the coronavirus.

But the coronavirus is not going to go away overnight…

This situation brings me back to when the rug got pulled from under my feet.

At 38 years, I was told, I had between 70-90% chance of survival.

As I write this, it pains my heart just thinking about these numbers…all of a sudden I had not only lost my sense of security…

But I was scared, fearful and powerless…

Then I had to face the world…and tell people I had Stage 3 Bowel cancer and that I was going to have 12 sessions of chemotherapy.

Most people’s faces gave me even less hope than the actual prognosis given to me.

My GP then told me that I needed to avoid crowds… I needed to stay at home and away from people as much as possible as my immune system was going to be down.

I had a slim hope my immune system was going to be stronger than most as I was young, righht?

Little I knew that as soon as I started chemotherapy, that became my new reality…my immune system became very weak.

I had many delays during treatment because my immune system wasn’t recovering…

Until one day I ended up in emergency with 0.01 neutrophils (these are the white cells that fight any infection/bacteria/virus you may have)…

Well I had none…

Two bags of blood and one bag of iron later, my body slowly started to recover and one week later I was able to go home.

I was then left by myself at home to pick up the pieces of what was left of me…

I knew I needed to focus on building up myself again…my physical and mental health if I wanted to survive.

I needed to accept my new reality, adapt and change to survive.

Slowly I switched my focus to changing my diet, doing exercise, meditation and listening to anything I could to feed my mind with positive things, with knowledge that was going to help me.

I stopped thinking about tomorrow because I had learned that I couldn’t predict my tomorrow…things could change quite quickly and all I could do was to focus on the NOW.

I feel the world is now at a similar place…we have all lost our sense of security and we are finding difficult to navigate through this new reality.

We are listening to some informative news but we are getting bombarded with a lot of negativity too.

It is challenging to move away from it…

I would like to invite you to think about the things you can control right now…focus on what you can control…tap into your inner strength (we all have one, trust me)…

You could focus on something as simple as reducing the time you spend watching the news…or increasing the time you meditate…or take up on reading again.

Little things can make a big difference in how we live, in who we are, in who we become through this…

I have also learned that nothing is permanent…I had some pretty shitty days but they too passed and the coronavirus shall pass too…

Stay safe and healthy,

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Emotional healing – Part 1

I can’t believe it is already March – I thought I would celebrate this month by talking about my emotional healing journey…🔥

Ya know….when I speak to cancer patients at my volunteer job at the hospital, and in all the books I have read about cancer patient stories…I see a lot of suffering…not only physical but mental and spiritual too.

I have met quite a few people at the hospital that when I introduce myself and start talking to them, they tell me..

I am fine actually…I don’t need a chat…😕

I respect their wishes obviously but I leave their rooms thinking

“What the heck??You have cancer, don’t tell me you are alright? This is hard core stuff….” and this comes from someone who have been there.

We live in a world where we have to be strong all the time….being vulnerable is challenging…and I am talking about being vulnerable for real…right when you are in the middle of the mess.

When I was told I had Stage 3 Bowel cancer, I was in a bed after my 5 hours emergency surgery…

I had woken up from the surgery and was still groggy.

My husband was next to me…thanks God…I remember it was already dark outside…

The doctor who performed my surgery came in and said:

“Hey, the surgery went well. I took the tumour out. I had a good look around your internal organs and they all look good.”

So I asked him: “Any chance the tumour could be benign?”

He then said: “I am sorry…it is not…it is cancer and it is probably Stage 3 and you will need 12 sessions of chemotherapy”

I then remembering saying: “But I have 2 kids”….

The rest is a blur…

After that….I remember thinking “God, is this your way to shake me? I understand now you want my attention, you want me to listen..but are you serious?…Cancer?”

I came home for 4 weeks to recover before I was supposed to start chemotherapy.

I spent 2 weeks in a really dark place…

I planned my funeral every night…I held my tears every night before saying good night to my kids. I wailed and howled before bed in my husband arms saying: “I really want to see my kids grow up”😭

I begged God to let me live one more year, 2 more years, 3 more years…and I played videos in my mind about what it would happen with my kids at different ages if I died.😢

I know right? Horrendous….

I just couldn’t see past that…cancer meant death to me…I didn’t know anyone close enough that had been through it…

My husband’s aunty was here from the UK which was a blessing.

In the previous year, she had met her partner who was diagnosed with throat cancer shortly after they met, so she knew the beast…she kept saying to me…

”It will be ok. You will be ok”

One day my husband took the kids to the beach with his aunty and I stayed at home by myself.

I remembered feeling deeply sad not only because I had cancer…

but because I had been holding on to so much anger in my life…

I had run my body to the ground…

I didn’t look after myself….

I jeopardised my own health for my constant seeking to being a high achiever…

I had let stress take over my life…

I took my health for granted…

.I didn’t let my guard down…

I had always expected of myself to be strong…

I didn’t spend enough time appreciating life…

I hadn’t laugh enough…

I hadn’t lived enough and now I was scared…and I was hanging to my life by a thread….🤦🏼‍♀️

So I put some sad music on…and I cried….

I felt I was letting all the sadness go….

I felt I was opening up my heart…letting the guard down…

I felt it was the start of my healing….

After this episode, it was if I was ready to face whatever was in front of me….

my deep desire to survive kicked in big time…I wanted more out of this life….

I wanted to be a mum to my kids…and the most beautiful thing happened…all of sudden I wanted to survive for me…for Angelica… for myself..

.I acknowledge my inner self again….and that was just the beginning….

I write this from the bottom of my heart as I feel we keep so much hurt inside us…

We all have our own stories but ya know what I have learned is true healing starts on our hearts, on our souls.

We need to acknowledge and accept the call to heal ourselves….

Wherever you are in your life, take the time today to think…

What pain do you hold on to inside my heart?

Who are you angry with?

Why?

Can you face a past issue?

Who has hurt you?

Can you forgive them? 

The list goes on…and all I am doing is invite you to acknowledge what you have been holding on to…

you don’t have to forgive and forget and make friends with everyone that hurt in the past.

Today is about acknowledging…nothing else.

If you want to know more, follow my blog…sign up to my newsletter… because I would love to share with you what happened next…

[To be contd.]

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What is clean eating for you?

Since I have been on my eating healthy journey, I have read many books, listened to many podcast, watched youtube videos, movies…you name it. There is a ton of information out there and a lot of controversial information too.

What I came to believe is each person needs to find their own truth within the midst of the confusion. There are some commonalities in all of the books I read and everything I watched indeed but what it is challenging for most people are the labels that come with it. Is this a vegetarian diet? Vegan? Paleo? Keto?

I remember when I was told I had bowel cancer, one of my lovely friends asked me what the doctors had advised me to eat.

Truth is, after my bowel resection, I was told to go home and take it easy.

No dietary information was given and before my chemotherapy started, I attended an information session about bowel cancer treatment.

I was told I needed to stay clear from deli foods and if I needed to choose a fast food chain, it would be better to stick to MC Donald’s as supposed to Subway???

With all due respect, I don’t think fast food was a common denominator in all the books I read about nutrition and cancer.

Anyway my lovely friend then told me, she had checked with one of her nutritionist friends and my best approach was to go vegan., sugar free and gluten free. Yes that is right…You have Stage 3 Bowel Cancer and by the way, you need to start eating a vegan diet to help your body to heal and to stay cancer free.

This is the message I got from her message. I then asked myself: “Are you serious? Now I have Bowel cancer and I need to go vegan???

I devoured books on nutrition and started eating as clean as could. I would read one book and make one change at a time. Slowly I cut out sugar, processed meat, red meat… I reduce my dairy intake, white meat intake and the only gluten I ate (and eat) was our home made bread from organic stone ground wholemeal flour.

For me it was about getting my body back into balance, clear all the shit out, detoxifying from anything that didn’t come from nature, supporting my body through cancer treatment.

I made changes slowly and mostly was about becoming aware, understanding the information and applying the change into my life once I understood the reasons behind it and felt comfortable with it.

I made sure my husband and the kids were on board. Whatever I ate, they ate. I needed to look after their health too. My kids are now on the genetic bowel cancer spectrum and would need to get checked 10 years before I was diagnosed which means for them getting checked at 28 years old.

Now you are asking yourself? I have heard this many times…don’t tell me you cut sugar…don’t tell me you don’t eat dairy anymore…don’t tell me you don’t eat meat…and please don’t tell me you are vegan????

I actually did all of the above and mostly I eat a 90-95% vegan diet.

Unfortunately in the process of becoming 100% vegan for 3 months, my B12 vitamin dived down to “not normal” levels so I started introducing some animal protein again because my choices were either take a supplement (which is not natural either) or eat the food.

I still don’t eat red meat or chicken but I introduced a very limited amount of dairy, fish and eggs (once per week of one of them) as well as taking B12 supplements. My last checked showed my B12 is within normal ranges so I will keep my formula as it is. This is still a trial process for me.

For the ones who don’t know, vitamin B12 is a pretty important one. It is needed to ensure proper functioning and health of nerve tissue, brain function and red blood cells. So no we can’t do without it.

I am not a doctor, a dietitian, a health professional or anyone that pretends to know everything. I am someone who is focussing on improving my health. I monitor how I feel as supposed to just making dietary changes. At the end of the day, I think we all know that our bodies are pretty unique and complex in its own right and sometimes what it works for one person, might not work for another.

But back to clean eating, for me this was a game changer. For someone who ate “reasonably healthy” – meaning we always cooked from scratch at home – before bowel cancer (if you were looking from the outside), I changed my eating habits drastically.

I feel eating clean is eating foods that are alive, things that grew on the ground, things that were not made in a factory, things that don’t have a list of ingredients that are longer than a book, things that I understand where it comes from. Yes that is vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Now you are asking yourself: this is too confusing…too hard…I am not even going to go there.

And my argument is why are we not treating our bodies as a temple? Why are we not focussing in buying the best fuel to our bodies? Why is everything related to eating healthy so hard to all of us? What can we do to make it simpler? Is it a matter of giving value to it? I mean to our health….

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Self care during cancer treatment? Are you serious?

I have spent an amazing week listening to a “Global Cancer Symposium” this week organised by Nathan Crane. You can still get access to it if you look it up, I think…

There were 4-5 speakers daily talking about all things related to cancer, cancer treatment, conventional and integrative medicine, diet, mental healing and the list goes on.

It made me reflect on my own cancer journey of how I learned how to look after myself, how I started from not knowing anything and most importantly not doing anything to help my body, mind and soul to heal.

I made so many changes during bowel cancer treatment and it all started with the diet as it was a physical change and probably one that we would think to change first given I had a physical disease.

I then changed how I look at exercise and I introduced exercise as a must into my daily routine. All of a sudden exercise became a priority in my life and that is when the mind set started shifting.

Lastly I started looking into what was happening inside my mind, inside my soul.

I noticed that in one of my chemotherapy sessions after having a massive argument with my family, I felt my body was full of toxins, not from the chemotherapy but from the stress I had put my body through it. I then started asking myself ” what can I do to deal with stress differently?”, “How can I stop the stress affect my physical body?”, “Was my cancer caused by stress?”

I embarked on a deep healing journey where I had to face my biggest fears while opening up wounds that had been buried for a long time inside me.

Little by little I started feeling more connected to what it was happening inside me, I started feeling lighter, less angry, more free. I felt there was more space inside me for more happiness, for more laughter, for more positive thinking, for goodness.

I focused very hard on making little changes daily (and still do) so I can free myself from everything that didn’t serve me anymore, things that were making me feel sick.

This lead me to being here. I feel it is now my mission to share what I learned with people who are going through cancer treatment. I feel cancer could empower people to make changes in their life and in their family lives to build a better future, one with less disease physically with stronger connections with ourselves, our loved ones and the humanity.

I embraced cancer as an opportunity to grow as a human being. I took cancer as an opportunity to change everything in my life, to show up to myself, to honour my own journey and I came out of it feeling healthier and happier than I have ever been.

I believe strongly anyone can build a healthier and happier life despite their circumstances. When we tap into our will to live and to become a higher version of ourselves, we can do and become amazing human beings.

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Have you thought about emotional healing?

I spent this week listening to a “Global Cancer Symposium” online organised by Nathan Crane.

Still not sure how I came across him and or the Symposium but it has been amazing. There were 4 or 5 speakers daily for about 7 days and I think now you can buy the access if you like – www.globalcancersymposium.com

There were some amazing speakers talking about all the good things that are happening in the cancer world.

I was amazed by how much they spent talking about emotional healing as well as spirituality and spiritual healing.

Most of speakers have been in contact with cancer patients and cancer survivors stories from all around the world and mental healing kept coming up over and over again.

I then started thinking about my own cancer journey, specifically the emotional healing piece.

When I heard the words “You have cancer”, I knew it was about that. I felt deep down in my gut actually where exactly my cancer was that I needed to heal my inner world.

I hadn’t spoken to my family in years. I held so much anger and resentment inside me, that made me sick.

This is not a “poor me” statement or “why did I get cancer” statement at all.

Cancer has shown me that everybody goes through shit times in life and I wasn’t the only one.

Cancer showed me that I needed to change the way I look at things.

I needed to change me, not others, not what it had happened, not what it is happening neither what it will happen.

It is challenging though especially when it comes to family… but again I was committed because I knew this was the only path for healing. I was still desperately looking for ways to heal my body, mind and soul.

I am not going to say go and forget everybody in the world that upset you as I have healed all my wounds and forgave everyone. I am not going to say I live a perfect life now because that would be a lie.

What I would say though is be open to work on yourself, on your inner self.

I have certainly move forward, I opened my wounds up, I faced them even though it was painful and I was scared… I did it (my psychologist held my hand through it and still does it) and I am determined to keep working on it.

What about you? Have you thought about emotional healing or even what it is happening with your emotions, your inner world?

In a world that is moving far too fast, we are forgetting that our emotional state needs self care too.

I invite you to ask yourself if you are giving your emotional being enough attention or the attention it needs?

And if not why?

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Are you cured?

I went to my GP last week to get my little girl checked. After everything we went through last year, I am not sure she has got over mummy loosing her hair (she still askes me when my hair is going to grow long) and mummy not being well.

Valentina was 4 when I got diagnosed with Stage 3 Bowel Cancer, she is now 5. We read her books and explained that mummy was going to get strong medicine to make mummy better.

We were open about my treatment and kept everything at her level of maturity so she could understand everything that was going on. We would always ask her if she had any questions.

She is a very inquisitive girl and recently she has been asking my husband lots of questions about death (when are you and mummy going to die? Where are you going to go when you die? I don’t like that I don’t know when you and mummy are going to die) so I thought maybe we should take her to see a psychologist.

When I spoke to my GP – who is amazing by the way – about it, she asked me “Have you told Valentina you are cured?”

That statement took me by surprise. My GP told me “Right now your prognostic is really good and as far as I am concerned, you are cured unless somebody else told you otherwise”.

And no, nobody had told me that I wasn’t cured.

I then realised that we hadn’t told the kids these words :”Mummy is cured”, “The treatment worked and mummy is fine now.”

I left my GP office and realised that even I didn’t believe I was cured. Cancer is such a frightening word that it is hard to let go of that little voice inside you “what if?”, “What if the cancer comes back?”, “When could the cancer come back?”, “Will I have a cancer recurrence?”…

Living life after cancer is a daily challenge and I am constantly reminding myself that it is not all about cancer anymore…you can live a life after cancer…you are looking after yourself not because you had cancer but because you love yourself… you eat healthily not because you are scared the cancer can come back but because you want to eat a healing diet and the list goes on….

If you have gone through cancer treatment and you are ok now, have you told yourself you are cured? Have you told your love ones, you are cancer free now?

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The power of meditation

I started meditating just after I started my chemo treatment. I thought meditating was another trend, another hype that the rich and famous talked about and the rest followed through but I was desperately trying to find ways to help my body and mind to heal. I needed something to help my mind to calm down, to sleep at times.

I started listening to guided meditations to help me sleep during the day but the more books I read about how to achieve physical and mental health, the body and mind connection, the more I read about the benefits of meditation.

I slowly started doing meditations that focussed on the breathe and for me I started learning how to give my mind a break, how to breath and focus on the moment.

I then signed up to the Headspace app and every day I would sit for 10 minutes doing a guided meditation that focussed on stress, calming, gratitude etc. I would sit religiously every day to meditate and most of the time I would feel silly, feel like I wasn’t achieving anything and getting anywhere.

Little I knew that small shifts were being made on my innerself…I started noticing the present moment a lot more by focussing on the feeling of the wind on my skin, listening to the birds chirping.

This was around a year ago…I have been meditating during this whole time…I can say that I did it more often than not most days in the last year.

Today I write you from my holidays…we have been away for a week today and I haven’t been meditating for over a week now. I have noticed that my mind can’t get into the present moment as quickly as when I was meditating daily.

All of a sudden I realised that all the work I have been doing was so worthy. When I can focus on the exact moment, I feel so much joy. I have realized that it is almost as if the ability to do that easily had to be taken away from me so I could value how important it is to meditate, to work on your mind, to exercise your brain muscles so you can fully live the present moment.