What makes us human?

Each week on BBC Radio 2’s lunch time show, Jeremy Vine hosts a series called “What makes us human?”. He has various guests on from philosophers, religious and political leaders and scientists, to comedians, writers and actors who read a short essay giving their perspective on the meaning of our existence.

I find the whole subject absolutely fascinating and have always listened intently if I’ve had the opportunity to catch the show to hear other people’s perspectives on this deep and philosophical question.

We were driving back from a hospital appointment a couple of weeks ago, when Radio 2 DJ, Johnnie Walker, appeared as a guest on this slot in BBC Radio 2’s carer’s week. I’m a child of the 70s and absolutely love 70s/disco music (amongst many other genres) and like to listen to Johnnie’s show on a Sunday afternoon.

I know now that Johnnie sadly lost his father and sister to cancer and battled with the disease himself having colon cancer back in 2003, with his wife, Tiggy, caring for him not long after they were married. Sadly, she too was recently diagnosed with breast cancer herself and now Johnnie is her carer.

These are the words of Johnnie’s essay:

“In 1965 The Who sang about my generation. No longer would people try and put us down. That repressive older generation and their establishment can just f-f-f-fade away.

Riding a wave of powerful creative energy, young people at last had their own voice, clothes, art, music and thanks to the pirate ships in the North Sea, their own radio stations. The Beetles blasted out revolution. The Theatres Act of 1968 put pay to theatre censorship. I went to see the musical Hair and in 1970 Oh! Calcutta! at the Roundhouse, both  featuring nudity for the first time on a British stage.

The old rule book had been torn up, thrown aside and there was now a new freedom. And so began my quest for the meaning of life, of why we’re here. What is our purpose? And what would be the new rules and morals to guide our life?

Like so many others I experimented with mind-altering drugs, explored Eastern and Native American philosophies and devoured books like Be Here Now, The Prophet and other books on Western and Chinese astrology and many others.

All I learnt, together with a number of experiences over the years, has led me not just to believe, but to have a deep and profound  conviction of the existence of a soul and life after death. I found it impossible to accept that we only live once. What would be the point of gaining all that experience and knowledge, for it just all come to nothing at the end?

One of my toughest experiences is dealing with the death of a loved one. Perhaps that dreadful sense of loss and loneliness could be made a little easier to bear with the knowledge that loved ones do still exist and that we will re-unite with them one day.

Many of us are familiar with people’s accounts of near death experiences, of them being totally aware of their consciousness existing separately from their body, and of meaningful events of their lives passing before their eyes. As the French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

So, if our natural state is spirit, what if, before entering this human life, we had some sort of preview, or knowingness of the lessons and experiences that this new life could offer us? Maybe that’s too much of a leap for our belief system to adopt, but supposing it were to be true? Gone would be our lamenting about how unfair our lives are, how dreadful our parents were and why is it always me that gets all the problems? If we could accept that we actually chose this life, then we could get on with discovering its purpose.

Knowledge may present the sign post, but it doesn’t make the road any easier to travel. Frequently we fail. Frequently I fail, and still do. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t be here. Forgiving sets us free from anger and hate and learning to give love is what I believe advances us the most.

Today we’re in the middle of the annual carer’s week, a time to give thought and support to the 6.5 million people in the UK caring for a loved one. It’s a very hard role to play. We all show concern for the patient, but who thinks of the carer? Often lonely, struggling with work, children, financial hardship and in many cases carers are having to deal with their own health issues caused by this extra burden in their lives.

As we think this week of their selfless acts of kindness, love and support, maybe we might reflect that loving and caring for others is one of the finest aspects of what makes us human.”

I really resonated with the sentiment of Johnnie’s words, not only from a personal belief perspective, but also having listened to it at a very poignant point in my life. A time when you question your mortality. A time when you begin to question everything in your life and its deeper meaning.

It also reminds me to look up out of the cancer fog and know how tough this must be for my carer, my darling husband. I sometimes forget that I’m not the only one battling this nasty disease.

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Happy birthday!

We should have been waking up in a lovely hotel room overlooking the twinkling waters of Pissouri Bay in Cyprus, looking forward to spending the day chilling out in the sunshine, sipping on cocktails and enjoying some tantalising food.  But unfortunately that wasn’t meant to be!

I was actually meant to go back to the hospital on my birthday to have my dressings changed, but having realised what date the nurse had organised I said I didn’t really want to be in hospital on my birthday, so she said I’d be okay to go to my doctor’s surgery to have the dressing changed there. Each day that went by I’d keep wondering what was lying underneath those dressings. How horrific was it going to look? Would it be a big scar? I’d gone to my local surgery the day before and luckily it didn’t look as hideous as I thought it would! Phew.

Despite the fact that our holiday had to be cancelled, and we didn’t have any plans to do anything crazy, my fab hubby did an amazing job of making my birthday very special. He brought me up a cup of tea in bed and whilst I got myself ready I could hear some noises going on downstairs with Pats calling out ‘Don’t come in the kitchen yet’. What’s he up to I thought?!

I came downstairs to find our dining table adorned with two huge silver balloons and lots of cards and presents were laid out on the table. It bought a tear to my eye it was so sweet of him. He knocked us up an amazing breakfast of eggs benedict washed down with some bubbles. Mmmm luscious!

IMG_9753I sat and opened all the lovely cards and presents I’d received – heartfelt messages bringing more tears to my eye. I had certainly been very spoilt.

A bit later on in the day the sun came out and we went for a little walk stopping in our local pub on the way. It was nice to be out of the house, although it felt very tender when walking, so we had to walk slowly!

We had a few drinks and some dinner and had a really fab afternoon together filled with lots of laughs and giggles.

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I was really gutted we didn’t get to go on our holiday – but I still got to spend the day with my bestest friend ♡ which is all I’d really wanted – I was one happy bunny!

Recovering from breast cancer surgery

I came round in the recovery room with a chap sat to the right of me telling me I’d been talking gibberish to him whilst I coming round. God knows what I was talking about – hope I  hadn’t been rude! I was still woozy but I do remember him saying that they’d tested my lymph nodes and they were all clear. Wow, great news!!

After I had come around more a nurse helped me get dressed – I distinctly remember it feeling really uncomfortable to lift my arms up. I then sat in a seated area where I was brought a nice of cup of tea and some Marmite on toast (this put a smile on my face as I absolutely love Marmite!).

After a little while longer Pats came to collect me – I was so pleased to see him! The nurse went through the discharge instructions and said I wasn’t allowed to drive for two weeks, to avoid stretching or heavy lifting in that period too and to just take it easy. I’d need to get my dressings changed in a week’s time and she handed us some spare dressings along with some paracetamol and ibruprofen to take for the pain.

Pats walked me gently out of the hospital down to the car. When we got home that afternoon he had to help me get changed into my pyjamas as it felt sore to move my arm. The doctor was right about having blue bodily fluids! I was surprised to take a trip to the lavatory and discover blue pee in the pan – it looked like bleach!

I didn’t feel in too much pain that afternoon and just felt a bit sleepy. My sister and Simon came over after work to see how I was doing. They’d brought a beautiful bunch of flowers and some sweets and were making jokes making me laugh which cheered me up.

Pats made us a really nice dinner that night, one of my favourite Friday night munchies – an amazing spread of antipasto. Mmmmm yummy!

By the next day whatever they’d given me at the hospital had definitely worn off as I felt decidedly tender and bruised. I felt okay, but had a little cry at the fact that I was struggling to even get myself dressed. Putting on my bra by myself was completely impossible. It was so frustrating not being able to do such a simple task, but I guess to be expected given that they’d probably cut through nerves and muscle under my arm. My complexion had also taken on a sallow/pale colour – not quite the smurf look the doctor described – but I did look rather ghastly and washed out!

Things like lifting the tap on produced a feeling of pain, opening the fridge door with the wrong arm or trying to slice a loaf of bread would hurt and I’d taken to walking about with my wrist held across my chest – partly as a defence mechanism to protect my wound, but also because it felt most comfortable there. It was hard to lift myself up when laying in bed or sat on the sofa and swivelling around to either side hurt too. Laying on my side in bed became completely out of the question as it was just too painful. That was tough as all I wanted to do was snuggle up to Pats and be held and comforted by him.

I managed to get showered by myself, that was one thing. I put off washing my hair for a couple of days and then finally took the plunge. It’s actually quite surprising the amount of things you can manage to do one-handed. The whole of the top of my left arm and arm pit felt numb – a really strange feeling.

Pats made me a make shift sling to help keep my arm in that position without having to hold it there myself. Not being prepared for this eventuality, we didn’t have any sling material hanging about in the house, so he made a make shift one with some old material and a cable tie – it was a good look!

Over the course of that weekend we kept getting photos pinged from our friends who were on the camping trip that we were supposed to be going to. They’d had masks made up of Pats and my faces and they were all wearing them! It was absolutely hilarious and they had us both in stitches (pardon the pun!). We knew we were missing out on fun times with our mates, but it was really sweet to know that they were thinking of us and cheered us up no end – god knows the other campers on the campsite thought!

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My Mum, Dad and sister came over on the Sunday and Pats cooked us up an amazing chicken pie with all the trimmings! My Mum and Dad had bought some flowers with them and my Mum had also made me a little cushion in a heart shape. Through her WI group she’d learned that women who had recently had breast cancer surgery found great discomfort from where their wound came into contact with their arm and that this “comfort cushion” provided a buffer. The moment I tucked it under my arm I can’t tell how nice it felt! I carried it around with me wherever I went from that point forward.

This is exactly the sort of thing that my dear Mum does all the time. She is such a kind and caring lady who always likes to help others. She belongs to a local WI group and between them the ladies have helped lots of charities over the years. She’s knitted hats and scarves for various causes (including Innocent’s big knit campaign), she’s made up food boxes for the armed forces and the needy, she’s gathered food and beauty products for women in refuges who have been subjected to domestic violence and have nothing to their name. She also collects hundreds of milk bottle lids from various people that enables a local MS charity to gain funds from them.

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I’d ordered some leaflets from the breast cancer care charity, one of which was on exercises to do post surgery. Even the basic ones where you had to shrug your shoulders up to your ears felt so hard to do. I felt really helpless and annoyed that I couldn’t move my arm in the way I had been able to only 24 hours previously. I obviously misread the leaflet too as despite it saying to start the exercises as soon as possible, it clearly said to only begin with the warm up exercises. Somehow I’d got onto doing the “intermediate” ones – no wonder I was struggling so much! How long would I feel this helpless for? I thought back to when I used to be able to easily lift heavy weights and felt so feeble in comparison.

Another tip that may be of use to anyone having surgery is to have a “post-surgery bra” at the ready. You definitely won’t want underwired bits sticking into you whilst you’re recovering. Some aren’t great looking, but some are much prettier than others. Marks & Spencer, John Lewis, Asda, The Bra Clinic and Figleaves, amongst others, all do a specialist range.  I found the Marks & Spencer’s ones good quality, comfortable and reasonably priced.

Day of surgery – lumpectomy (wide local excision)

I had been feeling pretty nervous on the run up to the day of my surgery. This was mostly about having the general anaesthetic. Or more to the point, I was worried that they wouldn’t give me enough of it and that somehow I’d wake up half way through the operation or that I’d be able to feel what they were doing but my body wouldn’t be able to respond or show in any way that I was awake and feeling it. I was also concerned that they may find something other than what the scans had showed as I’d heard that could sometimes be the case.

Pats had taken a day off work to take me to hospital and we needed to be at theatre admissions for 7am. We waited for a good hour before a nurse called my name and took me through to a room to take my blood pressure and complete all the patient check-in paperwork. Looking at the thickness of the papers this was going to take a while!  She asked every imaginable question about my health and medical history, and it felt somewhat ironic that besides having the big ‘c’, I was actually fit and well. I’d never had any serious illnesses before and she marvelled at the fact that I don’t take any regular medication.

I told her I was a little nervous that I wouldn’t be given enough anaesthetic and she said she’d had 14 operations throughout her life, I didn’t like to ask why, but she joked that she actually quite liked having the anaesthetic and the feeling of going off to sleep! She then measured my legs and went off to get me a pair of anti-embolism stockings.

I went on to meet the anaesthetist who went through further medical checks and questions. He asked me if I had any concerns at all and I told him about my fear of waking up in the middle surgery. He said I was young and otherwise in good health and he had no concerns about me at all and that I shouldn’t worry – everything would be absolutely fine. Feeling reassured by him I then went back to sit outside again with Pats.

After another wait, my name was called out and Pats gave me a hug and kissed me goodbye. A nurse showed me into a changing area where I got dressed into the hospital gown and put on the oh-so attractive stockings! I had my own dressing gown and slippers so didn’t look quite as hideous as I felt. I sat in a different waiting area reading my David Hamilton book, trying to keep myself calm and continually chanting positive sayings in my head. At around 10:15 a nurse called my name and we walked down to the theatre together. She joked about my surname, asking if I was related to Alfie Moon!

She left me in another waiting area with a nurse and an older lady then joined us to wait too. The nurse’s job seemed to be to keep the patients that were waiting calm and she began chatting to us about holidays and telling us jokes which was very welcome. A short while afterwards the previous nurse came back and collected me and walked me through to the operating theatre.

The room was larger than I imagined and as I stood in front of the bed on which I would be operated upon, I marvelled at all the equipment and monitors surrounding it. Here goes then. In a few minutes they would be cutting these deadly poisonous cells from my breast, rescuing the remaining healthy cells and the rest of my body that was in danger from their existence. I’d made it this far, I hadn’t bottled it at any of the waiting stages, now I just had to put my faith and trust in the doctors and nurses.

The anaesthetist chap greeted me and as I lay on the bed he and the nurses were chatting away asking me what I would have normally been doing that day. We were supposed to be going away camping with a group of friends that weekend and we discussed the pros of going to a campsite that lets you have a campfire! After fitting the cannula in my arm the anaesthetist put a mask over my face to breath into and I then felt him put an injection into my hand. A strange taste entered my mouth and I slowly drifted off to sleep.

Pre birthday celebrations

As I expected to not be feeling particularly great on my actual birthday I’d planned to get together with my family and friends a bit earlier on that month.

We spent a lovely weekend with my family at the beautiful West Witterings. We had a lovely barbeque with my Mum and Dad on the Friday night and it was great to spend some quality time together.

After what had been a rather brisk start to the weekend, the sun eventually came out to play on the Saturday and we went for a refreshing walk along the beach and strolled around the town. My sister and her boyfriend joined us later on and we all enjoyed another barbeque feast together in the sun. Pats had also bought some yummy birthday cakes with him as a surprise for me – no prizes for guessing what I wished for this year!

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Pats and I finished off the long weekend with a trip into Petersfield to have a mooch around the shops and go for some dinner and drinks. It was a fab day out!

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To top off all the fabulous birthday treats, my lovely friend Katherine (otherwise known as “Jaff”) kindly agreed to host a soiree for me at her house with the girls for more pre-birthday celebrations. Anyone would think I was the Queen with all these celebrations! We don’t get together as often as we used to and it was so nice to see everyone and catch up. They were all really kind and gave me cards and gifts and Jaff’s gorgeous boys Ruben and Alfie had both chosen me a delicious birthday cake with the numbers 27 in candles – they’d managed to knock 12 years off my age in one night – I was one happy lady!

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Nuclear medicine scan

When the letter for this appointment came through the door I must admit I did wonder what the hell it was. I hadn’t remembered the doctor saying I’d need this scan and initially started to worry myself that they’d found something else on the MRI and that’s why I needed this additional scan.

The leaflet enclosed with the appointment said that having a nuclear medicine scan is similar to having an x-ray and that a small amount of radioactive dye is injected into the body which can then be scanned by the camera. The amount of radiation received is similar to having an x-ray and there weren’t any ill effects afterwards but that it recommended not having close or prolonged contact with children or pregnant women.

We arrived at the scan and after a short wait I was called in by a nurse.  She asked me to undress to the waist and lay on the scanner bed with a blanket over me. She then said she needed to inject my breast with a very small needle that contained the radioactive substance. This wasn’t too painful actually and luckily was over very quickly. She positioned the bed so I was close to the scanner (a gamma  camera) and moved it up to close to my body. She then explained that she’d then be checking the monitor that was above me to see which sentinel node the radioactive fluid was travelling to.

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What I could see on the screen was something similar to the above, showing the site where the dye had been injected. The nurse needed to see which lymph node it then travelled to which would determine the nodes to be removed and tested in surgery.

The sentinel lymph node is defined as the first draining lymph node on the direct lymphatic pathway from the primary tumor site in the affected breast. It’s identified by injecting a small amount of radioactive material into the breast, prior to the surgical procedure. The material is carried into the underarm area by the lymphatic vessels and trapped in the sentinel node. The lymph node with the dye only shows where the sentinel lymph node is located, but not if it may or not contain cancer cells or not.

She monitored this for a few minutes and then asked me hold my chest – no change in the fluid.  She then gently put my arm into a different position to see if that would help the movement of the fluid. For some scans the pictures can be taken immediately, but for others it’s possible to have to wait up to three hours before the pictures can be taken. The nurse was about to ask me to sit myself up and get dressed when she said she’d try one more time and luckily the liquid started to travel.

During surgery the sentinel lymph node or nodes are identified, removed and then looked at under a microscope. If there are signs of cancer, the surgeon will then proceed with an axillary node dissection and remove several additional lymph nodes from the underarm area. If the sentinel lymph node is free of cancer cells there would be no need to remove additional lymph nodes.

The nurse said that because I’d had this scan I was likely to be first or second on the operating list in the morning. She kindly gave me directions on how best to get to the theatre admissions ward in the morning as it’s apparently easy to get lost if you go in the wrong entrance of the hospital!

A strange farewell

I’d been tidying up the last few things at work in the days leading up to my surgery. Luckily I didn’t have any large bids or projects that I was involved in and there was no stress or pressure in finishing up my outstanding pieces of work.

To say it felt strange was a complete understatement. Usually when you’re getting everything into order before you go off on leave, it’s because you’re going on holiday – be that spending time at home or jetting off to somewhere warm and sunny. But I wasn’t going anywhere nice and I certainly wasn’t looking forward to what lay ahead of me. It just all seemed really odd.

A colleague, who had also previously had cancer, had kindly given up his time to purposely sit with me before I went off to share some tips on how to emotionally deal with what was coming up. I was touched that he’d taken the time to give me this support – it was greatly appreciated.

We’d had our monthly department meeting that day and I was surprised to have won the award for ‘Support person of the month’. They read out some complimentary comments that my colleagues had said about me (which always makes me blush!) and I received a trophy and a voucher  for £100. It felt nice to be recognised and valued for my contributions.

It was my birthday the following week and my team had kindly given me a gift bag to open on the day. A few days earlier the team I used to work directly for had also given me a card that they’d all signed with their best wishes. They’d also bought me a lovely bag that had VW campervans on it (so sweet as they obviously knew I am a bit of a campervan fanatic!). I’d had to take it home to open as I knew I’d end up crying in the office!

I felt guilty leaving my team mate who I work most closely with. He’s a dear friend and such a good egg and since my diagnosis had been great at keeping me positive in his uniquely humorous way. I knew he’d be picking up work from me and just hoped it wasn’t going to get too stressful for him. After a quick hug I packed my things away and trotted out of the office as quickly as possible.

I was so touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness and left work that day feeling lucky to be surrounded by such supportive and caring people.

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NHS Funding!

Pats and I went to the Nuffield for a two-hour appointment where they would go into detail regarding our treatment. Caroline had been one of the first people I spoke to when contacting the Nuffield and prior to this appointment we had been emailing each other back and forth with various questions I’d had – all of which she answered almost immediately to my amazement.

Caroline called both our names and we followed her up the corridor into one of the offices. She was a lovely warm and friendly lady, was very sympathetic to our circumstances and had a motherly, maternal nature about her. We felt instant relief and very secure that we were in the right place. She mentioned again what good results their clinic had achieved from the recent HFEA audit and told us how her own daughter had received IVF treatment there and had successfully gone on to have twins.  What more could you ask for? A recommendation from a mother who had entrusted the care of her daughter to the same doctors and nurses.

She then surprisingly told us that we’d been accepted for NHS funding!! Oh my god – someone was looking down on us – a little ray of sunshine amongst all of this. I cried tears of joy and Pats and I held hands smiling at each other. This was the first time I’d been to hospital and someone had given us good news. Brilliant.

Caroline then went on to say that the results of my pelvic scan showed that I have multi-follicular ovaries meaning I have more follicles than the average woman. She said this was good news in that I’d be likely to produce a good amount of eggs from the treatment, however they’d have to be careful not to stimulate me too much as this can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).

We then completed a whole host of paperwork in relation to our treatment and the storage of our embryos. She also asked if I’d like to be shown how to do the injection. I certainly don’t have a phobia against needles and injections – I do regularly give blood – but I never look at the needle going into the skin, I always have to look in the opposite direction to distract myself. She said I could do the injection in my tummy in the area below the belly button or in the top of my thigh. I felt more comfortable doing it in my tummy, so she handed me a needle (with no drugs in!) and showed me how to do it. I was surprised at the fact that I couldn’t really feel it go into my skin. Phew that was a relief, I felt confident I could now handle doing those!

We left there that day feeling slightly tired from all the information we’d taken in, but pleased as punch that we’d been offered the NHS funding to cover our treatment – that certainly took a big pressure off of us financially and we were so appreciative that they’d pursued my case for us.

Dr David Hamilton and visualisation

I’d had a bad day at work on the Tuesday, and although everyone had been absolutely lovely and really supportive I felt a little exposed sitting in our open plan office. I’d agreed with HR that it would be okay to communicate to the people I work with what was going on with me as they’d obviously wonder why I wouldn’t be at work. Plus I thought if it raised awareness with those I work with and their friends and families it would at least do some good. It felt like people were staring at – even though they weren’t – they were far too busy getting on with their jobs.

I’d taken myself off to the loo and just happened to walk past a pregnant lady in the corridor and it completely set me off. I spent the next 10 minutes sobbing uncontrollably in the toilet cubicle. Would that ever be me? It was all I had been thinking and dreaming of over recent months, waiting in anticipation and hoping for that little sign to appear in the pregnancy test month after month. I managed to pull myself together and hurried back to my desk to collect my things – I needed to be at home. A colleague followed me out to the car park and I explained what had set me off, and she gave me a big hug.

I’d arranged to have the visualisation session at my yoga teacher’s house that evening and as I pulled up in her driveway I admired the view she had at the front over the beautiful rolling fields. As she opened the door and welcomed me into her home, I commented on how beautiful her house was and what a lovely view she had. She then showed me through to the back of the house where an even more beautiful view could be seen – it looked out over the fields and to the Windmill in the distance. Wow, it was stunning, imagine waking up every day to see that!

She took me through to what she called her “spiritual room” which was also just amazing, adorned with Buddha pictures and ornaments, crystals and beautiful paintings. What a peaceful, serene and idyllic place to live.

I explained to Julie where I was in terms of the biopsy results and the initial prognosis. She was very positive about the fact that nothing had shown up in the lymph nodes. She told me that her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39 and had five lymph nodes removed, and now at the age of 56 she continues to be absolutely fine.

Julie already knew we’d been trying to start a family as I’d told her this when we started yoga at the beginning of the year (having read that yoga could be good for fertility). She asked if we would continue to try or if any IVF would be involved. When I said we would be doing IVF she sympathised with the fact that I’d be dealing with both things at once and how emotional that would be.

She asked if I was planning to continue working throughout all of this, which I said I was planning to take time out to have the treatment and how lucky I was that work had been so supportive of me. She brought up the few times that I’d texted her in the weeks before to say I couldn’t make it to yoga (due to work commitments) and had detected there was an element of stress going on there. Julie said she thought it was incredibly important to devote this time to myself.

She talked about David Hamilton’s Placebo School and that when people are told something, that their belief system quite often determines the outcome. She gave me an example saying ‘Just take these pills and they’ll make you feel better (and they are the real tablets).’ She then said ‘Or if I was to say okay Allie, I’m giving you these pills, and I had a white coat on and was looking you in the eye, saying these are the pills that you need to really get better.’  Julie said that the way we process that information and the way that we deal with it has an affect on the outcome. It’s a bit of an overused phrase but ‘it’s mind over matter’, she said and how very empowering it is to believe that we can take control over what’s happening in our bodies.

She then gave examples of how it had directly helped her – she’d once had a bad abyss in her mouth which meant she’d probably need a tooth out, and she’d also had a bursitis and the doctor wanted to give her steroids. Both times she went away and focused on visualising those parts of her body getting better and healthy and both times it had worked. ‘Never underestimate the power of your mind, in visualisation and relaxation it’s all about tuning into your body and getting connected with that.’ Not quite curing cancer I thought – but I’m definitely up for giving this a go!

She said we’d go through to her office to watch some videos by David Hamilton on the Placebo School and then we’d devise a strategy together. ‘It’s important that it comes from you, it’s no good me telling you what to visualise’. Julie emphasised that it needed to become part of a routine – apparently some people do it for 40 minutes at the beginning of the day, some people do it for 40 seconds 10 times a day. ‘It’s about having that continuous awareness, but you need to make it a daily habit – a habit then becomes a practice.’ It takes 40 days apparently to change the neural programming of our brains – the brain doesn’t die and get old, it keeps forming neural pathways, so we can continue learn to do new things.

After watching a few of the Placebo School lessons by David Hamilton we discussed what my visualisation would look like. In some of the examples some people had been kind to their cancer, thanking it for coming to their body but that it was time for it to go. I wasn’t in that mind-set at all, I definitely wasn’t thankful for cancer inhabiting my body. I eventually chose to focus on colours, visualising a bright white healing light shining through the crown of my head with the colour of the cancer cells being dark and the bright light blasting these black cells away changing them to healthy pink and green.

Julie then took me through a physical visualisation and relaxation session in her spiritual room – I came round feeling calm and much more relaxed.  We also developed an affirmation (a positive statement set in the now) about my state of health and wellbeing.

I left her house that evening feeling relaxed and empowered that I could use my mind to have a positive effect on my body and my health.

Laughter yoga youz

Pats and I had started going to yoga classes earlier on this year. The lady who teaches is called Julie and is such a lovely lady. From just the few yoga classes that we’d been to I’d really warmed to her personality. She is a really vibrant character (but not in an over the top way), full of the joys of life and has lots of energy, enthusiasm and positivity.

I love my job and am continually challenged which means there’s never a dull moment, but the flip side of that is it can also be really quite stressful. I often work to short timescale/multiple deadlines that can include working late in the evenings and at weekends which often leaves me feeling frazzled. Julie always speaks of positivity, kindness, gratitude and peace in her classes and I’d always left there feeling more relaxed and revived in both body and in mind.

She had previously talked about a laughter yoga class that she also takes. I had been quite curious about this, but so far hadn’t made it to one of the sessions. I received an email in my in-box about a session that she was holding that coming Saturday and I thought – sod it I’m going to give this a go!

In the week prior to this session I’d emailed Julie to say we wouldn’t be at the usual yoga class that Thursday and also explained what was going on with me. She suggested I read a book by Dr David Hamilton called How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body. She said she’d had one-to-one coaching with David and recommended I try a visualisation/relaxation session with her that she said would help.

The laughter yoga class itself was held at a workshop in the back of a spiritual type shop that sold crystals, angel cards and lots of Native American wears. A circle of chairs were formed and quite a few ladies were sat together chatting – some seemed to know each other already. I sat on my chair and smiled shyly at anyone who caught my eye.

Julie started off with a couple of games to get us up onto our feet, swapping seats with each other to get the energy levels up in the room. After we’d all swapped seats and were sat in a different one to the one we’d started, she asked us to start chatting to the person on our left about the things we love to find something in common with each other. I was sat next to a much older lady, and felt a bit silly to start with, but then somehow we got onto the subject of Malaysia. She told me she used to live there with her husband and her two children were born there. I said my Dad had lived there as a young boy and also Pats and I had visited there on our travels around the world.

Julie then went on to explain the benefits of laughter yoga in that it increases the oxygen into your body and provides a good massage to all internal organs. It is scientifically proven that laughter yoga does you good and apparently cardiac departments in hospitals use it for their patients. It releases a rush of stress-busting endorphins to instantly boost your mood and activates the body’s natural relaxation response. She said that even just changing your facial expression from a frown or glum look to a smile changes your mood. It’s hard to believe?!  Try it now. How do you feel?!

We got into some other exercises that involved interacting with each other and pulling faces and laughing in certain ways. I was massively out of my comfort zone and felt really self conscious, however I was open to it and found it amusing doing these random things with people I’d never met before. My eyes had started watering a little from chuckling in some of the silly exercises, but as we got into one exercise all of a sudden I could feel tears beginning to well up. Oh no, not here in front of all these strangers. This was supposed to be funny I thought to myself but I felt quite weepy, a bit silly and rather vulnerable and exposed.

Julie, had been keeping a kind and watchful eye on me during that session, helping engage me in the activities, and had spotted my tears beginning to fall. ‘Take yourself off for a few minutes Allie and get some water’, she quietly said. I made my way rather embarrassingly through the class and went to a quiet room at the back and sobbed. A few minutes later a really nice woman, who was also called Allison, came out the back and gave me some water and checked that I was ok. How lovely I thought to myself, she didn’t have to do that. After a few more minutes I’d managed to compose myself and re-joined the class with a kind and loving nod from Julie.

I carried on with the remainder of the session which culminated in us all laying on the floor laughing together non-stop for five minutes. Some people will think this is utterly bonkers, I must admit it did feel slightly odd at first! But I laughed and laughed and the more I laughed at the fact that I was lying here on the floor with complete strangers who were also genuinely laughing, I laughed even more! I had to keep wiping away the tears that were streaming out of the side of my eyes – these weren’t sad tears though!  Some people experimented with different kind of laughs which made others laugh more – it was very infectious and felt like a huge release. laughter-yoga At the end of the class I managed to catch Julie for a quick chat before heading off.  She said it was good that I’d had a cry as I obviously needed to release my pent-up emotions. She also said she had something good planned for the visualisation session that coming Tuesday. Click here to read more about Julie and her laughter yoga.