Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happiness



After a long and sometimes painful disengagement from London, I finally find myself living in the town of my hopes and the house of my dreams. I've landed in a place of happiness. Over the first few weeks I recognised my tension in the gentle faces of strangers; my pace too fast, my sense of urgency fictitious. Since being here I've met like-minded people, and have explored the vastness of the South Downs, a huge smile on my face, tears on my cheeks. Finally I can see the horizon and feel small under a big sky, something that my heart has desired for many years.

And so to the point of this post. How could I hope to fully heal when I felt such dis-ease in London? Here, I feel happy and this is reflected in my alkalinity. Even though I've yet to get into a juicing routine, I'm off-the-scale alkaline. This is the magic of contentment. Importantly, I BELIEVE I can heal here, and the power of belief has an overwhelmingly positive effect.

When it comes to healing there's no doubt that nutrition and exercise are imperative. Supplementing and monitoring are sensible protocols. But it's so important too to find peace. Following the heart, manifesting positive change and living the life we want are equally the keys to wellness.

Happy Christmas. Peace and Love.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What does cancer look like?

These days "You look well" can feel like a loaded compliment. 

What does cancer look like? Scrutinising photos of me on my 40th Birthday, just weeks before diagnosis, you would never have known that my world was about to change. Too often we confuse what cancer looks like with what chemotherapy looks like. Someone with early stage breast cancer will most likely look perfectly 'normal'. Maybe the more pertinent question is "What does cancer feel like?"


This photo was taken on my 40th birthday, a month before diagnosis.


For me it felt like a little grain of rice just under the skin. A second, smaller tumour resembled a piece of grit. Surprisingly, these two tiny, painless lumps measured a combined 2.4cms! But breast cancer comes in many guises. Inflammatory breast cancer may manifest as a hot, swollen breast. Nipple inversion or puckering can be a sign of disease, as can a hard, moveable lump, dimpling or discharge. Pagets disease of the nipple can rarely been seen, and invasive lobular cancer is difficult to palpate. There are many forms of breast cancer, varying in location (ductal, lobular, nipple) and hormone status (oestrogen and progesterone positive being the most common, with HER 2 positive cancers being generally more aggressive). Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) can present as tiny calcifications within the breast, and is generally deemed a pre-cancerous condition.

Beyond the tangible, cancer patients often talk about feeling slightly 'off', sensing that something is wrong, but without knowing exactly what. A poor immune system, recurrent candida and simply feeling tired all the time were unread clues to my early stage cancer. Weight loss, night sweats and persistent aches and pains could point towards more advanced cancer.

It's empowering to be pro-active with breast health. Get to know your breasts. Examine yourself at the same time each month (it's best not to check during your period when breasts can typically be tender and lumpy). Know what's normal for YOU. If you feel changes or are concerned, a good first call for monitoring would be a thermo-scan, which is non-invasive and can show changes in breast tissue years earlier than traditional mammograms.

Despite knowing that we should be breast aware, how many of us actually are? Unfortunately tragedy is usually the catalyst for change. SInce most tumours have been growing for around 7 years before being large enough to feel, what would I say to the 33 year old me? I would tell myself  "It's time to overhaul your life. It's OK to put yourself first." I would cut out sugar and swap my processed, fast food diet for greener, whole foods. I would learn to read my body better - to see how I felt after eating gluten (bloated, itchy) or dairy (like I had a constant low-level cold and heavy chest). I would stop rewarding myself with a glass of red wine at the end of a long day or a bar of chocolate on meeting a tight deadline. I would rest when I was tired, rather than pushing through with a cup of coffee or a can of coke. I would stop those sabotaging negative thoughts which were slowly destroying me. And I would tell myself how fantastic I would feel for making these simple changes.

So lately when someone tells me I look well, then pauses, the unspoken question "ARE you well?" hanging in the air, I think about how great I really feel, inside and out, and reply "Thank you, I AM well!"

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Exercise

Exercise. It's a bit of a dirty word to me. I was a lanky, late-developer; rubbish at sports and always the last to be picked for the team.  I have zero muscle memory, and nowhere does exercise represent a happy place for me. Throughout my life I've been tall and slim, despite my sugar addiction. Please don't misread this as fit. I've never been fit, and this was part of my pre-diagnosis problem. I ate what I wanted without putting on weight. I never had to 'control' my diet, nor cut down on processed, sugary foods for vanity's sake. This in part lead to my holistic unwell state. 

Many studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise (equating to about half an hour a day) can reduce the risk of cancer returning by up to 40%. To put that figure in context, it's almost three times more effective than the combined success rate I was given of chemotherapy and radiotherapy working for me. However, purely improving diet, or solely focusing on exercise, has a much lower effect on survival rates. 

Breast cancer patients in particular seem to benefit from physical activity, possibly because it has a balancing effect on oestrogen and insulin levels. Insulin has a mitogenic effect (ie it encourages cell division) on breast cancer cells. Oestrogen can inhibit apoptosis (ie stop programmed cell death) and is also mitogenic. Exercise also diminishes fat deposits, which is often where excess oestrogen and toxins are stored. And let's not forget that the lymph system, responsible for cleansing our cells, relies on our circulating blood system to move. Exercise gets the heart pumping, and improves blood (and so lymph) flow.

I've dabbled in exercise since diagnosis. I try to walk whenever possible, I do the mildest form of yoga (gentle stretching at best, definitely not gymnastic inversions) and I chase my children around the playground, but I have yet to commit to a regular, invigorating practice that would increase my heart rate enough to improve my circulation. 

As I've said many times, I'm a work in progress. There's always room for improvement, and for me exercise is the glaring omission in my healing protocol. However, I refuse to berate myself that this is Not Good Enough, and instead am making a concerted effort to Try Harder. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Observing

A significant part of my healing has been learning to observe my body, and listen to what it's trying to tell me.

Before I was diagnosed, I totally subscribed to the idea that I could motor on through illness, regardless of how bad I felt. There were pills for every ill. At the first whiff of a headache I would take codeine. I took anti-cramping pills for bad periods, and regular spoonfuls of Kaolin and Morphine for tummy ache. As a mum of 2 young children, I believed I was irreplaceable, that I had to drag myself out of bed and get on with my busy day no matter what. This carried on for about 6 years, until (a month before I found the lump in my breast) I got so ill that I was bed-ridden with swine flu. I ended up losing my hearing in my left ear, and now have relentless tinnitus. The irony that I didn't listen and that I ended up deaf is not lost on me. 

For a long time I had felt that something was wrong, but I didn't have the tools to read my body, or know how to heal myself. Instead I relied on doctors and medication. I never looked at the underlying message, and I never took responsibility for my health. We're born with a natural wisdom to understand our physiology, but it's been silenced by a constant bombardment of 'wrong' messages from adverts, doctors, vaccinations and fast food. As a result we've become largely disconnected.

Early on in my healing, my nutritional therapist relayed to me the importance of only doing what is Right and what is Needed. She taught me that we must find the delicate balance of cleansing at the correct pace for our bodies. So for example, if I'm having a hectic day, and my kidneys and adrenals are feeling fatigued, a coffee enema and endless cups of green tea are not the best remedy (despite their health-giving properties) because they will put further pressure on those organs. On a day like that, a chamomile enema, and increased water intake would be more sensible. When I first bought my juicer, I started off with carrot and apple juice. Super cleansing green juice came later, when my body was becoming better at using it's rusty elimination routes (ie when my cells were less clogged with bad cholesterol, when they were more able to unload their toxicity into my lymph, and when that in turn could filter out through my liver, and finally my colon). If any one of these elimination routes is blocked, the body will attempt to cleanse through a less efficient organ - usually the lungs or the skin. For me, skin complaints are often a good sign that I have the pace of cleansing wrong.

It's also important to observe how the body reacts to food, to see if what we're putting IN is causing stress. Quinoa is a super food, no doubt, but it doesn't agree with me. We're individuals. Some things suit our biology, and some don't. Don't plug away at a 'diet' which is not working for you. Bashing on regardless can actually do more harm than good. Telltale signs are dark shadows under the eyes, lethargy and cravings caused by blood-sugar spikes. 

Watching thought patterns is equally important. For me, going back to a place of 'not good enough' makes me repeat age-old habits, like scratching non-existent itches (literally 'tearing myself apart').

These days I don't get period pains. I supplement daily with magnesium, and that was the deficiency which those cramps were trying to alert me to. Headaches are now thankfully a rare occurrence. If I do get one it's almost always down to stress, and a coffee enema tends to relieve the pain, whilst meditation calms the stress. And tummy aches are a thing of the past since my diet no longer contains processed food, gluten, sugar, caffeine or MSG. These were the substances which were irritating my gut lining and creating an imbalance in my gut flora, leaving me susceptible to infections.

In my experience, observing, becoming aware, and making changes is an imperative part of healing. Listening to the body is a skill which may have been lost, but is easy to re-learn.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Dairy Connection

Dairy is a no-no for those of us with cancer, particularly hormone driven cancers like ovarian and breast. Why? All milk contains the hormone IGF-1, an insulin-like growth factor needed to promote the rapid growth of infants (be they human or animal). Guess what? This hormone also promotes the growth of tumours. Non-organic dairy is also laden with toxins; pesticides, hormones and antibiotics fed to cows as damage limitation for poor farming methods. All of these chemicals are passed on to the consumer.

Dairy is mucous forming; it slows the lymph, the very system which needs to be free and fast flowing in order to efficiently remove toxins from our cells. It also creates inflammation and acidity, the pre-cursers of disease. To balance this, our bones will leach calcium to alkalinise the blood. Yep, dairy can contribute to osteoporosis! And after the age of 7, most of us can no longer digest lactose, the sugar present in dairy, because we have evolved to be weaned by then. Persistent dairy ingestion therefore puts enormous pressure on the digestive system. 

'The China Study' by Colin Campbell is a fantastic book, which talks in detail about the link between animal derived protein, particularly dairy, and cancer growth. Jane Plant also talks about this in her book 'Your Life in Your Hands'. She made the connection between the low incidence of breast cancer in China (1 in 10,000) and low dairy consumption. Scientific research showed that when Chinese or Japanese women move to the West, within one or two generations their rates of breast cancer approach those of their host community (closer to 1 in 10).

The idea of giving up dairy can seem challenging, particularly as we have been programmed to believe that it's our ideal source of calcium. The truth is that there are other, great sources. Kale, broccoli, almonds and black strap molasses all contain high levels of absorbable calcium. 

































There are delicious, health-GIVING dairy alternatives out there. At the moment I'm making fresh coconut yoghurt and kefir, which are a great way to repopulate gut flora. Coconut oil tastes great as a butter replacement when cooking and baking (although after a year of being a vegan, I now eat a little unsalted, organic butter). Nut and coconut milk is full of protein and calcium and is so easy to make. Simply soak nuts (almonds are great) overnight (coconut flakes can be soaked in warm water for just 20 minutes), whizz in a high speed blender with fresh water and strain through a nut milk bag or muslin. Cheeses are harder to replace, but cashew cheese is delicious. To make, soak cashews overnight, empty a probiotic capsule and whizz up in a blender. Leave in a warm, dark place for 12 or so hours. You can flavour with herbs, or pepper. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Stress

Stress is a killer. These are not empty words. Chronic stress, over time is catastrophic for the body.

I'm in the process of buying a house. It's been one of the most stressful things I've ever done, and I'm feeling it. Stress is incredibly acidifying. It doesn't matter how many green juices I drink, or how well I eat, when I'm stressed I can't get alkaline. Stress has a physical effect on the body, causing the adrenal glands to pump out adrenaline and corticosteroids. The knock-on effect of these powerful hormones is an increased heart rate, a less effective immune system and dehydration at a cellular level.

Whereas in nature the stress response is a powerful life saver, for most of us it's become a fabricated reaction to a too-fast pace of life. When our bodies perceive danger, we're flooded with adrenalin, the Fight-or-Flight hormone, which gives us superhuman (yes, really) power, to flee the scene, or fight our attacker (historically this was presumably a wolf, not an estate agent!) Corticosteroids are also produced, and work FOR us by temporarily increasing energy production. However, they suppress the body's immune and inflammatory (short term healing) response. They also work in opposition to DHEA, an androgen produced by the adrenals which protects bone density, regulates sleep patterns, and maintains cardiovascular health by controlling bad cholesterol levels. In this modern world, many of us are in a permanent state of stress: when we're late, when we have an altercation with our boss, or when we miss a deadline. None of these situations is life threatening, but the resulting stress certainly is.

Of course this constant, excessive hormone production is harsh on the adrenal glands. Over time they become depleted and the body becomes unable to produce enough DHEA (the very hormone which balances the effects of steroids and adrenalin in the body). The result is lowered immune function, fatigue, sweet cravings, reliance on caffeine, low libido and disrupted sleep.

Although stress is real to our cells and organs, the truth is that most of it is created in our heads. And so we have power OVER it. These are my top stress busting tips. I'm writing them down in the hope that I will remember to use them more often!!!

BREATHE. Deeply and from the stomach. Ten deep, committed breaths will slow your heart rate, sending the signal to your body that you are safe.

Find a time and a place to meditate. This doesn't have to be a daily, dedicated, hour long practice. Even five minutes of mind-silence will take you to a place of calm. Longer periods spent in contemplation can give you precious insights into the world. What often comes up for me is that 'it doesn't matter' or 'it's OK'. I see my problems in a better perspective. I become aware of my organs, my heartbeat, my breath, and I see how hard my brain is making my body work.

Get out and MOVE. Exercise, in whatever form, releases happy hormones, which are the perfect counter to adrenaline. Being outdoors, being in nature, and breathing fresh air away from electro-magnetic stressors is both invigorating and grounding.

Sleep. Getting enough sleep is vital for repairing burnt out adrenals and allowing the body to heal. Ideally get 8 hours of good quality sleep (ie going to bed before 10pm in a darkened room free from mobile phones, computers and television screens).

Love your kidneys: The adrenal glands sit directly above the kidneys and they're closely linked organs. Lemon and warm water is a great tonic for the kidneys - it's calming and cleansing, and perfect upon waking. Drink plenty of water throughout the day (up to 2 litres is ideal), and limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, which makes work for the kidneys. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Speaking up

Despite a great fear of public speaking, I recently agreed to talk to a small group of women. The brief was "A three minute mini-talk on something that you're passionate about." Unsurprisingly I spoke about the thing which has changed my life; cancer. As I practiced my little speech over and over again, the message became clear, and it was that we all have a choice. Whether your choice is chemotherapy, or any one of the alternatives, the simple fact that you have educated yourself, that you are aware that you are making a CHOICE, is so empowering. Being empowered takes us away from being a victim. Being empowered is the first step towards healing.

I observed my body under stress throughout that mini-talk, I used everything I'd learned to breathe deeply and to be calm. I wasn't totally aware of what I was saying, but at the end of that nerve-shattering 3 minutes, I was met with faces registering just a little bit of shock at what I'd said, and in that moment I realised (sadly) that there will always be an audience for cancer.

I can't deny that I got a buzz from telling my story that night, from showing that there are different healing modalities. In that spirit, when I was asked to film a testimonial for Dr Nyjon Eccles about thermography as opposed to mammograms, I jumped at it, feeling nervous, but passionate about sharing some of what I'd learned. I feel so strongly that the current medical paradigm isn't working, that we need to update screening technology to safer, less invasive methods, which already exist but are not mainstream. (I've discussed my feelings about mammograms in my post about monitoring). How amazing would it be if a generation of women sidestepped the dangers of mammograms and benefitted from the earlier detection that a thermo-scan offers.

Here's the link to the video;  
https://www.facebook.com/BreastScreeningUK/posts/712875578726724?notif_t=like

Thursday, 27 June 2013

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics

The joy at the recent headline-grabbing news about Angelina Jolie's elective preventative mastectomy is understandable if you believe that her risk went from 85% to 5%. In truth that was her RELATIVE risk. Her ABSOLUTE risk of dying of breast cancer due to the BRCA1 gene was an increase of 1.7%. 

Despite passing my statistics 'O' level, I was never very good at maths. Sitting in the oncologists office, how I wished I'd paid more attention. None of the figures thrown at me made any sense. Of 100 women in my age bracket (40 - 50 years old) with the same sized tumour (2 - 5cms) and the same amount of positive lymph nodes (1 - 10) only 65% would survive 5 years without any allopathic treatment. What did that mean? I had no idea. The second opinion doctor was straighter with me. When I asked him did I have a 65 percent chance of surviving until I was 45, his answer was no. I had a 50 % chance. I would live, or I would die. 

My Dad tried to explain relative risk vs absolute risk. I was none the wiser, but I was told that my chance of surviving 5 years decreased from between 90% - 80% to 75% - 65% if I chose to reject chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen. (The figures changed depending on which consultant I saw, and how optimistic they were with my 'data') In total, the 3 biggest guns that the NHS had to offer gave me (at best) an increased survival rate of 15 percent. Chemotherapy alone offered me just 5 percent. FIVE PERCENT? And that was without taking into consideration the potential carcinogenic side-effects.

I asked my oncologist, who are these women who have chosen to do 'nothing'? What is 'nothing'? Are they smokers? Overweight? He didn't have answers. And later I learned that statistics are actually stacked drug against drug, not necessarily against a 'clean' control group. I have certainly never been asked to be a part of any survey, and even if I were, I would argue vehemently that I have done 'nothing' to prevent a recurrence. 

Regardless of any numbers, none of the allopathic options offered to me resonated.

In my opinion, it's vital to understand that we're not a collection of body parts. We cannot chop bits off hoping to evade a systemic disease borne not of inheritance, but of toxicity and deficiency. Epigenetics tells us that it is the environment within the body which switches genes on or off. How empowering to know that we have some control, that by creating an alkaline, oxygen-rich environment, disease is far less likely to happen. Japanese women who carry the BRCA1 gene have a 65% less chance of a cancer diagnosis than their American sisters with the same inherited faulty gene, unless they move to America, then the rates level out very quickly. What does this tell us? That cancer is a disease of malnutrition and lifestyle.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Scars

Before I had my right breast removed, I couldn't imagine my body without it. The days leading up to the operation were difficult. I tried hard to prepare for it's absence, but it was impossible, inconceivable.

I never wanted a reconstruction, hating the idea of unnecessary further surgery. Besides, anaesthetic suppresses the immune system (as do the inevitable subsequent anti-biotics and pain-killers), and I was trying to boost my immune system to deal with any residual cancer. I was working hard to detoxify, so the idea of loading my liver with toxins was counter-intuitive. I disliked the idea of silicon in my body, a foreign object that would permanently remind me of what I had lost. I didn't even consider the more complicated surgeries which would involve taking fat and skin from my belly and back. I imagined a body-map of scars and a possible franken-boob. My final, absolute no-no was allowing a surgeon to 'match' my remaining, (and let's face it, after 28 months of breast-feeding, well worn) breast, to it's new perky, plastic counterpart. Cutting into my healthy breast, and leaving it potentially lacking sensitivity seemed a little crazy.

The worst part of the operation was the tubes which were sewn into the surgery site to drain off lymph fluid, and their removal a few days later. I can't honestly say that I remember pain, more bruising and tightness, which continued for some months.


Mastectomy and Lymphadenectomy scars

Naturally, it took time to get used to my new body. It was uncomfortable, and I got a shock every time I saw myself in the mirror. I guarded my surgery site with my arm, scared that my children would hurt me as they came in to land for cuddles. Looking back, I resembled a bird with a broken wing. It took a while to get full mobility back in my arm, and the area under my armpit is still a little numb. That first summer I hated my prosthesis; a hot, sweaty burden, heavy and unnatural. But I'm a sucker for symmetrical, so I persevered.

Now I wear my scars with pride, they're thin and the wounds are well healed. And what are scars if not a visual reminder of survival?

My husband, amazingly supportive throughout, has no issues with his one-breasted wife, and I still walk around naked in front of my sons. They're all totally un-phased by my missing body part, if a little unimpressed by my immodesty!!!

These are intensely personal decisions, and I make no judgement of what others choose. I understand the weight of attachment to a breast and the potential loss of identity post-mastectomy. For me, I simply accept my new body, and that makes me happy.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Armpits

Like many women who have had breast cancer, I have had a Lymphadenectomy - the removal of all of the lymph nodes in my armpit. This operation, performed only a fortnight after mastectomy, posed one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. During the mastectomy one lymph node of the 12 removed showed positive for cancer and I was advised to undergo a full lymph dissection. This would involve going back in through my very recently (and beautifully) healed mastectomy scar to remove every last node in my armpit. I felt reticent about compromising such an important part of my detoxification system, but also anxious about potentially leaving cancer within my body. I made a decision rooted in fear and it's one that I regret, particularly because I've since learned that the primary reason for removing lymph nodes is for diagnostic purposes, and I had already decided that I would not be having chemotherapy. 

The surgeon did not in fact use my mastectomy scar, but went in through my armpit, creating a 5 inch horizontal scar which has caused much pain and discomfort. (You can elect to have a 'frozen node biopsy' which obviates the need for a second operation, but this was not available at my hospital). Removal of the lymph nodes often creates 'cording', a painful tightening of vessels in the armpit which leads to restricted movement of the arm. There is also a risk of lymphoedema, a dangerous and sometimes irreversible build up of lymphatic fluid in the arm, which thankfully I never experienced. (I regularly visited a lymphatic drainage specialist after surgery to 'create' pathways for my damaged lymph system to drain into). There was no sign of cancer in any of those further 22 removed lymph nodes. Great news for my prognosis, not such great news for my lymph.





























Every cell in our body is bathed in lymphatic fluid. Toxins, cell debris, viruses and bacteria are drawn into the fluid, and transported via the lymphatic system (a network of thin-walled vessels) into lymph glands. These outposts for the immune system exist throughout the body, and contain high levels of white blood cells, macrophages and lymphocytes, which destroy or remove toxins. Other organs like the thymus, appendix, tonsils and spleen are also part of the lymphatic system. Unlike blood, the lymphatic system has no pump, instead it relies on movement of the body. A sluggish lymph makes for a sluggish immune system, which in turn leads to toxic build up within the cells and the intra-cellular fluid.

The purpose of sweat glands in our armpits? To expel toxins from the lymph. The purpose of anti-perspirant deodorants? To stop that sweat from coming out through the skin. The result? Toxins are forced back into the lymphatic system. This is particularly bad news for breasts, which, due to their fatty nature and proximity to the armpit, often end up as a dumping ground for toxic by-products, which the body would rather have eliminated through the natural process of sweating. As tissues become more and more toxic, acidity levels rise, oxygen levels reduce and the potential for cells to mutate into cancer cells increases. 

Even deodorants (as opposed to anti-perspirants) are dangerous, as many contain aluminium, which blocks pores, again, impeding the natural movement of toxins out through the skin. As well as being chemically laden, spray-on deodorants cause harm to the lungs as micro-particles are breathed in (particularly in the often humid environment of the bathroom).

But we don't have to give up deodorant entirely (although from personal experience I can vouch that the cleaner the diet, the less smelly the armpit!!) There are great aluminium free options out there, from crystals to roll-ons. I like Urtekram's organic rose roll-on, which works even on the hottest days (sweat is actually odourless, and only smells when microbes oxidise on the skin).

And there's more bad news for the lymph. Bras, particularly underwired ones, can also impede the lymphatic system, building pressure, creating blockages and increasing toxic build up within breast tissue. 'Dressed to Kill' by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer makes for interesting reading. They did a study which showed that the rate of breast cancer amongst bra-wearing Maori women is the same as in Western countries, while Aboriginal women, who predominately go bra-free have practically no breast cancer. The same is true for 'westernised' Japanese, Fijians and other 'bra-converted' cultures. Take time to go bra-free. Avoid under-wiring, and never wear a bra to bed. 

There are ways to improve lymph flow - exercise, dry brushing, rebounding (trampolining), hydrotherapy (switching the water from hot to cold and back again in the shower) and using a FAR infrared sauna all work beautifully. On rising in the morning swing and stretch your arms out behind and to the side four or five times to kick-start lymph circulation. 





Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Skin protection

I've always burned in the sun, but avoidance is not the answer. Safe exposure is so important in maintaining optimum levels of vitamin D3, implicated in a healthy immune system. As well as containing toxic xeno-oestrogens and carcinogens, commercially produced suncreams filter out almost all of the ultra-violet light which the skin needs to synthesise vitamin D3.  Our skin is not only a barrier, but a carrier, so whatever you put on it will be absorbed into your blood stream, making more work for the liver. Last summer I made a decision. I ditched the suncream and instead used pure, organic coconut oil. I didn't burn, not even in the hot Ibizan sunshine.


Coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids like capric acid, caprylic acid, lauric acid and vitamin E, all of which nourish the skin and cut down on ultra-violet ray damage. But it's not just about coconut oil's amazing properties. Equally important is my changed diet, which has improved my skin's ability to produce melanin, protecting it against sun damage. I drink at least 6 cups of green tea a day. Green tea contains massive amounts of anti-oxidants, which fight off free radicals, can prevent sun damage and even stave off skin cancer thanks to it's anti-inflammatory properties. I take krill oil which is full of astaxanthin, another super anti-oxidant which offers UVA protection. I supplement with 10,000 iu's a day of vitamin D3, which increases sun tolerance and protects against sun damage, which is a beautiful irony considering we should get 90% of our daily dose FROM the sun. I also drink vegetable juices daily. My morning carrot juice is a valuable source of vitamin A, and is full of antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, all of which protect, nourish and moisturise the skin. Nutrition from carrots helps to reduce photosensitivity, promotes skin renewal and protects from sun damage.

I'm not advocating the total replacement of suncream with coconut oil. My young children spend hours in the sea when on holiday, and their diets are not sufficiently full of anti-oxidants or phytochemicals to go cream-free. What's important is to maximize safe sun exposure to improve natural levels of D3, whilst avoiding burning. This would mean exposing 80% of your body to the sun for up to 20 minutes, avoiding the hottest part of the day between 11am and 2pm. When I feel that my kids need protection I use a 'clean' sunscreen like Badger, which is unscented and free from chemicals. In previous summers my children never went out in the sun without first being covered in suncream. They NEVER got any natural vitamin D; they were always covered by t-shirts, hats, sunglasses and cream. These days they develop gentle tans, indicating that their skin is reacting positively to the sun. 

We live in a society which warns of the dangers of sunbathing, and suggests that the answer lies in a tube of chemically engineered suncream. Instead the answer lies in proper nutrition and common sense in the sun.


Monday, 22 April 2013

Who Am I?

I'm a woman who has had breast cancer, but I'm more than that. I'm a Wife, a Mother, a Daughter, a Sister and a Friend. Sometimes I'm Scared. Mostly I'm not. I read, I research, and I'm Positive. I believe that I'll remain cancer-free, that I'll see my children grow, that I'll live long enough for them not to need me so much. That's where Fear lives, not in the idea of actually dying, but of leaving my family.

Sometimes I cry tears of disappointment, but never of self-pity. I put energy into my wellbeing, and as a result I feel healthy. But not safe. Never again will I take my health for granted, I know that this area of my life needs consistent, continued input.

I carry the weight of my prognosis constantly. That doesn't always mean worrying about cancer, sometimes it means learning from it, sometimes being driven by it, always accepting what is, and what has been.

I try to listen to my body, but pain still freaks me out. Could it be a recurrence? Have I missed something?

I watch in disbelief as cancer claims the lives of people I know, and I try to find a place of reason and understanding.


I cherish my life, I'm Alive.


I embrace my scars, they're part of me. I rarely feel the loss of my breast, but when I do it's an indescribable grief that I can't comprehend - a raw absence.

Mostly I feel Blessed. Blessed to explore a world of health and spirituality that previously eluded me, to be connected to kindred spirits, in a place of constant learning and healing. Perhaps the gift of cancer is to share all that I've learned with those I love, without them having to endure the uncertainty and pain of a diagnosis. For this I'm Grateful.

Friday, 12 April 2013

A hard lesson, but a good one

I've met some amazing people since being diagnosed with cancer. The inevitable downside to this new world, is that death becomes such a big part of life.

This post is in honour of my friend Renee, who has taught me something beautiful about death. She died yesterday, surrounded by love, celebrated by those whom she has touched, and free from the fear that many of us experience when faced with death. She was so passionate about life; she never stopped living in order to die. Her beloveds wished and prayed only for a gentle journey for her, a sweet transition into the next realm. How extraordinary that rather than being held onto, she is released with love. To be surrounded by so many loving and grateful souls is a direct reflection of Renee's spirituality and compassion. 

It's wonderful to believe that we're part of something bigger, that we have a purpose, even if that purpose is only to explore, communicate, love and play on Earth. How liberating to feel our importance and lack of it, to shift our focus to joy and trust. This, to me, is Renee's legacy. She shows us all by example how to live fully in the moment, surrounded by love.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Guest blog

It's Asbestos Awareness week, and to draw attention to this subject Cameron Von St James has written a guest post. He talks about his experience following his wife Heather's mesothelioma diagnosis, and gives an insight into how it feels when a loved one has cancer.

Mesothelioma has a poor prognosis, but Heather is now cancer free. I once read that if you can find ONE person who has survived with your type of cancer, then it's also possible for you to survive. The power of hope can never be undervalued, and Heather is a beacon of light for others with the same cancer diagnosis.

How We Got Through Cancer

After the birth of our daughter Lily, my wife and I were excited about making her first holiday season special. However, everything seemed to change a few months later. On a late November day, my wife Heather was given a cancer diagnosis. It was the day that I was forced into a position that I would never be ready for: the caregiver of a wife with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The job began the moment she got her diagnosis.

Her doctor began giving us background information on her condition and advised us to see a specialist. He gave us three different options, but my wife was in a total state of shock. Within a matter of seconds, I made it clear to him that we would be seeing the specialist in Boston.  His name was Dr. Sugarbaker and he was renowned for his experience in treating mesothelioma. While this decision was the best one for Heather's health, it would not be easy to make it through the next few months.

It was becoming increasingly difficult carry on with our lives. Between taking Heather to her appointments and taking care of Lily, on top of working as many hours as I could to support us, I was overwhelmed. Going from having two full-time incomes to less than one after Heather had to leave her job eventually put us in a financial bind. Feeling overwhelmed by our situation pushed me to my breaking point. I sat on the kitchen floor one night and suddenly felt myself coming apart. There was nothing I could do to fix the mess we were in. Nevertheless, I knew that I was going to have to find a way to be strong for my wife.  At that point, all I could do was keep moving forward and do the best I could to get my family through this tough battle.

I thought we had to go through this alone, but I was wrong. Friends and family members were able to help shoulder some of our burdens, be it emotional support, a meal, or even financial help to get us through our tough spot.  I had to learn that there was no room for pride in this fight, and once I accepted that, these offers of help lifted a weight from my shoulders.

Having gone through this experience, I can honestly say that it is not easy on anyone involved. While Heather had to focus on getting well, it was my responsibility as her caregiver to make things easier for her. It is important to learn how to manage negative emotions. Once they find a door, anger and fear will certainly try to sneak their way in. Relying on friends and family is the only way to keep from drowning in the despair.  Above all else, never give up hope.

Despite the difficult fight and the bleak prognosis for mesothelioma, Heather is here seven years later, and is cancer free. This entire experience has taught me to value my family, our time together and my stubborn streak. It just goes to show that with a little bit of hope, people have the ability to achieve their heart's desires.  Heather and I hope that by sharing our story, we can help inspire others in their own battles with cancer, to never give up and never, ever stop fighting for the ones they love.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Taking responsibility

There seems to be a direct correlation between the evolution of modern medicine and a growing disconnection with our bodies. Over the past few decades we've handed the responsibility for our health over to the 'professionals'. In trusting others we have lost the ability to trust ourselves. Pharmaceutical and food companies are businesses motivated by money, not the greater good, and we must remember that. 

To regain or retain wellbeing we must take back responsibility for our health.

When cancer woke me up I did just that. I suddenly understood that the only person who could heal me WAS me. 
A Western Doctor is trained in Medicine. A Western Doctor can only give me what is in their tool kit, in short, drugs and diagnostics. I wasn't interested in drugs, I wanted to DEtoxify my body, to return to a place where I could begin to heal. My amazing body knew how to grow my 2 babies, while I consciously had no understanding of that process. In the same way I realised a simple truth - that my body is programmed to heal. I don't need to understand HOW, I just have to give it what it needs; nutrients, hydration, relaxation, oxygen. And trust.

I take full responsibility for every choice I made up until the point of diagnosis. I chose what I put in my mouth, what I put on my skin, and how I reacted to stress. At the time I was unaware that these WERE choices, but they were, and they made me ill. By taking responsibility I regained my power, I never felt like a victim, hope was never lost. I didn't rely on anyone but MYSELF to heal ME. That's not to say that I didn't ask for help. I turned to professionals for guidance, but I did the work. 

We each have the innate gift of being able to listen to our bodies, an ancient, instinctive wisdom that we have almost lost. We need to reconnect with ourselves, and maintain responsibility for our choices, in order to heal. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Everybody loves the sunshine




As living beings, we rely heavily on the power of sunshine to develop, grow and stay healthy, but in recent years, the sun has become the enemy. We've bought into the myth that we must protect ourselves from it's dangerous rays, and in the process have made suncream companies rich. Many sunscreens use harmful ingredients (more on this in another post) which permeate the skin and are far more carcinogenic than sensible sun exposure could ever be. How is it possible that in Britain, skin cancer rates have almost doubled in the last 7 years? 

Our immune systems rely heavily on vitamin D3, 90% of which we would ideally get from sunlight. Small amounts are available in egg yolks, butter, cod liver oil and cold water fish. We also need D3 for calcium metabolism and bone building. Interestingly, people with auto-immune disorders, including cancer, are often massively deficient in this important vitamin. Studies have shown that people with the highest levels of vitamin D3 at the time of diagnosis have better survival rates, suggesting the importance of raising levels.































On average we can get enough vitamin D3 from 20 minutes unprotected exposure to the sun (avoiding the hottest part of the day between 11am and 2pm). However, people with darker skin need more sunlight, and those of us living in the Northern Hemisphere where the sun is weaker, may need longer exposure. It's important to avoid burning!

Taking a good quality supplement can entirely reverse deficiency, but current daily recommendations are set far too low; cancer patients need between 5000 and 8000 iu's per day. It's worth investing in a high quality product, and at all costs avoid using Vitamin D2 supplements, which are synthetic, less potent and poorly absorbed. During the winter months, and even on summer days when there is no sunshine, I use 4 drops of Liquid Sunshine, which delivers 10,000 iu's of D3. I would recommend bi-annual blood testing as it IS possible to overdose on supplementation. Interestingly toxicity does not occur when D3 is synthesised from exposure to sunlight.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Change

Many years ago I was given a gift of Janey Lee Grace's fantastic book 'Imperfectly Natural Woman'. Everything within those pages seemed so unachievable, so far removed from my then-lifestyle. And yet I've become one of those annoying women who eats gluten free porridge with chia seeds for breakfast and who makes their own almond milk.

How did this transformation take place? For me it took a cancer sized kick up the backside, but in reality it was as simple as crowding out the bad with the good. I replaced milky tea and coffee with green tea, sugary snacks like cakes and biscuits with nuts and seeds, and alcohol with coconut water (in a wine glass!). Drinking 2 litres of filtered water per day flushed toxins from my system. I started juicing, and my sugar cravings disappeared because my body was finally getting what it had been pleading for; nutrients! I began to cook with herbs and spices, removing the need for salt. Feeling the benefits of this new regime motivated me to stay focused. I had more energy, felt less toxic, and as certain chronic ailments like gum disease and painful periods disappeared, I began to believe that I was giving my body what it needed to heal itself.

I now have four daily rules. 

       Alkalise (eat clean, whole, unprocessed food, and drink green juice)
       Oxygenate (breathe and move)
       Relax (meditate, say daily affirmations, take enemas, laugh)
       Hydrate (drink filtered, alkaline water)

These are the non-negotiables, but I'm a work in progress, so there's always room for improvement. Taking exercise seriously has yet to happen!


Change can be difficult, and many of us actively avoid it. I began to embrace it when I stopped looking at food as a reward system. I now see every mouthful I eat for it's nutraceutical potential. Food has the power to heal, and these days I get my rewards elsewhere. I no longer 'treat' myself to a glass of wine or a bar of chocolate at the end of a long day with the kids, rather I see my long day with the kids as reward enough. I feel very lucky to be here, and to be well. That's motivation enough to carry on.





Friday, 1 March 2013

Sugar

When you're diagnosed with cancer, possibly the first and most important thing you can do is to cut refined sugar from your diet. I used to have a sweet tooth. The amount of sugar that I've eliminated from my diet over the past 3 years could fill a house, which is scary when you consider that cancer loves sugar. 

Cancer cells have mutated to survive a toxic, low oxygen environment within the body. As Nobel Prize winning Dr Otto Warburg discovered in 1931, to exist they must respire anaerobically, which requires a process of sugar fermentation. All cells use blood sugar (glucose) for energy, but cancer cells use up to 8 times more sugar, and yield only 5% of a normal cell's energy return. They essentially starve the body of energy for their own respiration. As a by-product they churn out acidic lactic acid, which creates an ever increasingly toxic environment. Interestingly PET scans take advantage of this sugar respiration. Radioactive glucose is injected into the body, cancer cells greedily absorb the sugar and tumours are highlighted.

Many alternative treatments rely on this greed to work. To a cancer cell, high dose vitamin C (given intravenously) resembles sugar. On absorption the vitamin C works as a cytotoxin, instigating apoptosis (cell suicide). This has no ill-effects on surrounding cells which are using oxygen to respire. Baking soda mixed with maple syrup is another well known alternative therapy discovered by Dr Simoncini. The cancer cells take up the sugar, but are destroyed by the alkalinity of the baking soda (remember that cancer cells cannot survive an alkaline environment).

Excess sugar consumption leads to a surplus of glucose within the body. This disrupts the balance of healthy gut flora, and has a direct impact on the immune system. High blood sugar is linked to candida growth, and creates systemic inflammation, the pre-curser to most disease. Furthermore, excess glucose not used for energy production is stored as fat. The body deposits toxins within these fat reserves.


Sugar comes in different forms: fructose, sucrose, glucose, maltose, galactose, and lactose. Read labels and be aware of their presence. Don't be tempted to swap refined sugar for alternatives. Particularly avoid aspartame (a carinogen), high fructose corn syrup (high on the GI index, creating insulin spikes), and xylitol (alcohol derived tree bark sugar). Safer options, in extreme moderation, are stevia, raw honey (watch out for supermarket honey which is often high in refined sugar), maple syrup, coconut sugar, and molasses. In their favour, these sugars contain enzymes and minerals, which processed sugars do not. 

As all carbohydrates are metabolised into glucose for cellular energy it would be impossible to cut sugar from our diet entirely. Simple sugars (ie sucrose) should be avoided because they're absorbed directly through the gut wall, creating high blood sugar levels, requiring the body to produce unnatural insulin spikes. Complex carbohydrates (like legumes, starches, grains and root vegetables) must be broken down into simple carbohydrates via the liver before they can be used for energy. This longer process means that blood sugars and insulin levels remain stable. Tropical fruit, and even root vegetables should be eaten in moderation despite the fact that the natural sugars in these foods result in a slower release of fructose. You can slow the effects of sugar consumption by eating protein at the same time, for example, eating a handful of nuts and seeds with raisins.

Eating a diet rich in sugar gives cancer cells a quick fix whilst giving nothing of value to the body. It's imperative to reduce the foods that these abnormal cells can easily use to grow. So many times I've been welcomed to cancer support groups and fund-raisers with a plate of biscuits or a tray of cakes - hospitals and clinics seem unaware of the sugar-cancer link. In order to heal, we need to inform ourselves and reject sugar in favour of a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and unprocessed foods.



Monday, 11 February 2013

Balance

Last week I met a friend for lunch. She has also had breast cancer, yet she surprised me by telling me that she never thinks about it. It made me realise that I keep cancer close, albeit in a mindful way. 

Finding the balance on this journey has proved challenging. My daily routine subtly reinforces the fact that I'm in the process of healing. Coffee enemas, juicing and taking supplements all tip their hat to cancer. In my home there are many nods to health: the water filter in the kitchen, the geopathic stress buster in the dining room, the FIR sauna in the bedroom. These are all health-promoting gadgets, but still they are winking at cancer. Meditating, yoga, blogging, all of these activities remind me that where I was once ill, I am now on a path to health. While none of this is negative, the danger is that if I take away cancer there's nothing left. Being The Cancer Woman is not a title I desire! 

I'm genuinely not afraid of cancer. It's my companion, my teacher, my guide. And so while I will embrace the time when I no longer think about it, I'm cautious of leaving it behind, because it still fulfils a purpose: gently reminding me to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to keep growing. In the meantime, maybe it's time to pick up some of the things I dropped on the day of diagnosis.



Monday, 4 February 2013

Sleep

In the period leading up to cancer, I was incredibly sleep deprived. When I say 'the period' I'm talking about 6 years of broken sleep. My husband and I had struggled to conceive our sons and I was a fearful parent, overprotective and running to every nocturnal cry. Consequently I created bad habits and our children were exceptionally rubbish sleepers. I was tired to the point of hallucinating. I felt sick on waking, which I averaged 3 times a night for many years. I was constantly unwell, but I soldiered on with the help of a well-stocked medicine cabinet. I set myself up as indispensable in the care of my babies, and in doing so created the perfect environment for disease. Only when diagnosed with cancer did I magically find the time to look after myself, to listen to my body, to understand it's calls for rest and self-love.

Sleep is more important than I ever understood, despite my body screaming for it. We are regulated by a circadian rhythm - the body clock. The need to respect this is far greater than our desire to reclaim some adult time in the evenings. Our pineal gland waits for darkness before it starts to produce melatonin. This hormone is responsible for the winding down of daytime oestrogen production amongst other important jobs. When we stay awake beyond natural daylight hours the artificial light created by television or computer screens sends our pineal gland the message that it's still daytime. Even sleeping with a nightlight will disrupt our production of melatonin. This can eventually lead to an unnatural hormone imbalance. Oestrogen dominance is a strong pre-curser to certain cancers like prostate and breast. It has been proved that night shift workers are more prone to breast cancer (and conversely that blind women are less so). This is thought to be due to an excess of oestrogen and a lack of progesterone: a hormone imbalance linked to the suppression of melatonin production. Melatonin also directly affects the immune system in ways not entirely understood. Taking supplements is not the solution, as it stops our innate production of this hormone.

Sleep also has a direct impact on the liver, which has hundreds of jobs to do at night, jobs which cannot commence until we are asleep. It's important to try to maintain regular bed and waking times to allow the body to follow it's natural circadian rhythm. 





Traditional Chinese Medicine links periods of the day and night to specific organs. If you wake regularly at a certain time, this chart may help you to see which organ is compromised. For a long time I would wake just before 3am. Unsurprisingly this time correlates to the liver.

Ideally we should go to sleep at 10pm and wake at 7am. This gives us an optimum 9 hours of health-giving sleep, and means that we are up and ready to clear our bowels of accumulated night-time waste at the point of 'activation' (around 8.30am). Waking later often leads to the re-assimilation of some of these toxins.

Thankfully my children are now fantastic sleepers, and I make uninterrupted sleep a priority in my journey back to health.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Juicing

Juicing is probably the best thing I do for myself each day. What if I told you that when it comes to fruit and vegetables, five a day is not nearly enough, particularly if you're recovering from disease. Juicing is the best way to incorporate more fresh, raw produce into your day than you could ever manage to eat, and it's a fast way to alkalise and repair the body. Just one 8oz glass of vegetable juice delivers a densely packed nutrient hit. The gut can assimilate these live enzymes, minerals and vitamins incredibly quickly (within half an hour) as it doesn't have to process any fibre. For this reason it's important to rely mainly on green vegetables to avoid overdosing on sugar. Even root vegetables like carrots and beetroots have a high sugar content. At the Hippocrates health Institute, recovering cancer patients are banned from drinking carrot juice for this reason.

Other cancer protocols (like The Gerson Therapy) recommend 13 fresh juices a day, taken hourly to give the body the constant stream of enzymes that it needs to heal. These take the form of carrot, carrot and apple, green, and one fresh orange juice a day.


We should each aim for at least one 8oz green juice a day. Because of the volume of produce being eaten, it's imperative that it's organic. My favourite recipe is kale/chard, green pepper, broccoli, cucumber, celery and apple, but you can include anything green and in season. 



So what's in a juice? One of the key ingredients is potassium, necessary for the function of every living cell. Green juices are also loaded with magnesium, needed by muscle tissue, and used to aid the absorption of calcium. Carrot juice is full of beta-carotene, a cartenoid which is converted into vitamin A in the body. This nutrient is vital for growth and development. The brassica family (particularly broccoli and kale) contains the powerful phytochemical Sulphoraphane, which has been proved to help regulate hormones, and inhibit the growth of cancer tumours. Watercress contains calcium and iron. Chlorophyll in green leafy vegetables is a great blood cleanser and booster, and increases magnesium levels in the body. Wheatgrass is particularly high in chlorophyll, but the potent flavour can take a little getting used to. Maybe surprisingly, green juice also contains protein. 

There are many different juicers on the market. The perceived best is the Norwalk, (which uses a two step, grind and press process), but at £1500 this is a big investment. The second best option is a twin gear juicer, like my trusty Greenstar. It's best to avoid centrifugal juicers if you are recovering from disease, as most of the precious enzymes and nutrients are lost in the spinning process.

Initially, green juices can be challenging for the body, sometimes sparking an uncomfortable healing crisis. A healthy approach would be to begin slowly with carrot and apple, gently introducing green vegetable juices over time, starting with cucumber and celery bases. Be aware that the vital enzymes will start to break down and oxidise within 15 minutes of preparation, so it's always best to make your juice fresh. Ideally, it should be drunk on an empty stomach, or at least an hour after meals. Also, avoid combining fruits and vegetables, with the exception of apples, as they require different digestive processes.

Something else to consider is the green smoothie. Rather than juicing, this drink is made in a blender. It's a great way of getting fibre into your diet because it uses the whole fruit/ vegetable. It's filling enough to serve as breakfast, or an afternoon snack. I start with an almond milk base, add a banana, blueberries, a little raw honey and spinach. You can add super-foods like chlorella, bee pollen or chia for an extra boost.

I'm so used to my daily green hit that I start to feel a bit toxic and twitchy if I miss one. Juicing will give you noticeably increased energy and focus. Working up to 32oz a day will bring an unbelievable sense of clarity. Once you start, it becomes a difficult habit to break!