On March 8 2013 women all over the world will be using their voices to celebrate their womanhood. You may wonder why we need a special day for women …
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women’s Day is a national holiday.
Suffragettes campaigned for womens’ right to vote. The word ‘Suffragette’ is derived from the word “suffrage” meaning the right to vote. International Womens’ Day honours the work of the Suffragettes, celebrates women’s success, and reminds us of inequities still to be redressed.
I will be celebrating by sharing my own story of how I survived ovarian cancer TWICE! There are still plenty of inequities in the healthcare system for womens’ health. Women are treated as organs not individuals, and referred to by their disease category rather than by name! I frequently heard phrases: ‘you are being treated by the breast man or the ovarian man’! Dreadful. What do women have to suffer before they are recognised as separate from men? And how are women recognised and heard in a system that treats the disease not the woman?
My answer was to use my voice to be heard, and to say that I was more than a bunch of ovaries.
Join me on March 8 at Buttercross House, Oakham at 7pm to hear me talk about a story that people say is inspiring. I will be signing copies of my book,
Hark Publications: Coming to my Senses: Finding my voice through ovarian cancer
“I found it exciting to read about her inner struggle, her courage to face very painful decisions. She talks openly about how everything that we do in life comes with a price tag, and only if we are willing to face this and the consequences, can we truly be healthy and take control of our lives, including our bodies. I have not had to face a life threatening illness, but I found that when she shares her deepest feelings, she speaks directly to issues in my life.” (extracted from Amazon review).
“Burnished”, gold leaf on canvas, Amanda Seyderhelm, 2005
Light candles, or go by the dark.
Lay your belly down in direct contact with the Dirt.
Ah, Mother Earth. Rain, slush, sleet, snow – no matter.
Feel the power of earthquake, power of thunder, power of fecund, fallow depth, upswell of Earth’s belly to yours.
Everything that was too big for you, or toxic, the Earth devours and instantaneously transmutes to nourishment for flowers.
This is the umbilicus of the year, the dark moon of the solar cycle.
Our ancestors surround us always and now we feel their blessing.
Take a pot of strong coffee or tea (or whatever forebears drank) laced with honey and, with a heft of basil as wand, spill three times by your hearth (stove), your front door and your back, singing a welcoming, blessing song.
Sing loudly, this is how those who have come before like it.
Time of augur, time of descent.
Entering time of silence and source.
Sit with sisters in the black moon time, bellies dark with dirt, in fallow, electric silence, and be Earth.
I often wonder what Virginia Woolf would be writing about today. I wonder what direction she would be taking, how she would adapt to this digital age of publishing. How the Hogarth Press would respond. I like to imagine myself reading Woolf’s tweets! I miss her style of writing that captures “the under-layers of consciousness”.
Did Woolf’s fear of being judged contribute to her mental breakdown as Tess Hadley suggests in her review of Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris?
All writers fear judgement from some quarter. Judgment of critics, readers, family, friends, but mostly themselves. Maybe for Woolf, “no matter how defiantly Woolf invented her own more flexible forms of life (and writing), some painful fracture seemed to endure in her.”
The whole book writing process is a process of healing the fracture, of bringing to form and life something that is hidden. To seal up the cracks, and at the same time to expose the rawness and bloodiness of the wound. This is what the publishing process is like from conception through to publication. The writer must be ruthless – to meet deadlines, to cut unnecessary words from the text, to challenge the status quo, to rummage through the ordinary and find the vintage meaning. To be both inventor and reformer.
Writing is like parenting. In the role of the writer there is a need to be both the creative artist who imagines and conjures up a new world, and the disciplinarian who organises and manages the material. Sometimes the job is a joy, you find the word you are looking for that sells the prose. Other times facing the page feels like an impossible challenge because you can never say what your imagination sees, hears, feels.
Some days all the words look jumbled, and meaning is hiding out, and the truth is not on the page but in your head. Those are hard days.
As we come to terms with the aftermath of the violent death of another violent dictator (Gaddafi), and having all the gory details reported on media loops, I was reminded of this poem by Diane Bergstrom (2006):
Darkness always births the light. There is no insanity
without surfacing reason. Apathy can give way to
conviction and action.
There is no suppression without eventual uprising.
Public silence unleashes individual voices. Where
there is death, there must be life.
Where there is waste, growth will be forged.
Narcissistic leaders incense empowered communities.
Censorship spurs collective voices.
Senseless occupations cause people to question.
Unjustified spending arouses investigations. The
pendulum always swings.
Hopeless, despair, intolerance and fear can
debilitate. Belief, anger, purpose, education, and
faith can facilitate. What can I do?
Stevie Nicks: what I always wanted was to affect people
… Especially women in rock ‘n’ roll and what they could write about. We are a force of nature.”
“I have truckloads of leather-bound journals. And when I’m long gone, my niece and all my fairy goddaughters will get to read about my songs and how they happened. They’ll have my whole life in their hands.”
What a gift that will be.
An artist who honoured her own voice, sometimes at great personal cost. She never wanted children of her own. Instead her nature chose to express her creativity through songwriting.
Great to see her back performing her music, and wearing her own clothes in the Elle shoot.
Although she was part of Fleetwood Mac, her voice both unified and also segregated her from the rest of the band.
Standing alone again, she unites the audience as she sings from her soul.
Congratulations to my friend Jon, Chair of Relay for Life in Australia. Over 50 teams and 1025 participants raised $117k for cancer research.
Relay For Life is an overnight event that gives your community the chance to celebrate, and remember those who have been touched by cancer while raising funds to support vital research into all cancers.
Thank you for publishing my survivor story in the Relay programme.
In my book it’s never ok to diss other women, however bad their choice of clothing … and what it reveals:
Nigella Lawson wearing a burkini, courtesy of Matrix Pictures in The Daily Mail
“It’s disgusting” said one of my WeightWatchers. “I’m never buying another of her cookbooks”.
I’d asked my members to bring in a picture of their future self which was designed to then motivate them in their weight loss journey.
“Is this your future self?” I asked the disgusted member (and owner of the picture).
“No” she said.
Afterwards I couldn’t help but wonder: why didn’t she bring an image of her future self? Was owning her own image so scary? Then I realized. She was brandishing her own image, and it was an image she was disgusted with.
Self-loathing in women lies underneath weight issues. In fact, it is often the grumbling, restless ghost in the room. While I ‘get’ it, dissing women is not the solution.
The Aborigines gave us Dreamtime, and in modern times we have our bodies – this has become our new landscape. We are more primed, prepped, plumped and pumped with pills than ever. Our bodies are reshaped, redesigned, stretched, pumeled, torn, cut and ripped apart, scarred, wrinkled, old and new. The new canvas of expression is the skin and bone, the ligament and sinew upon which and through which we find our expression – anxiety and depression, cancer and obesity, heart attack and breakdown, it all comes through the body. Industries have been built to soothe and swathe the body out of its coma. We feed it and starve it, depress it and suppress it with potions and lotions. Drugs, and herbs and vitamins are multi-billion dollar industries where the message is ‘fix me’.
In judging other women we are hurting all women including ourselves.
I am proud to post my survivor story during ovarian cancer awareness month:
I Am A Survivor
Survivorship is a daily act of remembrance. I remember to listen to my body, and to express my voice. And I remember gratitude. I’m grateful to be alive, well, and in a good place in my life. It wasn’t always that way.
My diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2002 came 3 months after my 40th birthday. I thought it would be the year I celebrated having a baby but that wasn’t meant to be. Years of work-related stress, IBS, and fertility drugs had a domino effect on my immune system. Doctors didn’t connect the IBS to ovarian cancer (it is a symptom), nor did they inform me about the connection between fertility drugs and cancer. I discovered these connections and their meaning through working with healers, complementary therapists, and a painting and writing process called healing art.
I was treated by the world renowned oncologist Dr Peter G. Harper. Nothing prepared me for how low I would feel after that first chemo session, but it got easier as I used complementary therapies to counterbalance the toxic side-effects. My husband and family were my rock, and instrumental in my recovery. I could not have got through those difficult chemo and post-chemo months without their love and support.
Prior to my diagnosis I left my corporate publishing job, and set up my own literary agency representing first-time authors. I started to paint with an art therapist, and found this helpful as I began to express my feelings for the first time. This was a safe place for me to begin exploring some of the trickier questions I was facing: will I survive if I push my body even further and do IVF? Will my marriage survive if we don’t have children? What is the point of my life post-cancer?
The painting process was inspiringly messy and unstructured, and I set up a home studio so I could paint during the night when I couldn’t sleep. The answers came the more I painted, and I deepened my awareness of the importance of using my voice as a writer, and creating a life that was in balance. As I regained my stamina and my hair grew back I was able to face closing the door on having children. When the time came to make that decision I chose life, my life.
In June 2010, I reached a tipping point when I celebrated my 5 year cancer clearance. My husband and I fulfilled our dream and moved from our busy city lifestyle in London to a country lifestyle in Stamford, Lincolnshire. We are enjoying creating a new life together that includes my dream of publishing my book about survivorship, and many good Pub lunches!
I have learnt that surviving was a choice. Sometimes the choices were hard but as I look around me they were worth fighting for.
"Your paintings are like auragraphs. You pick up the information from the person and express it through art. However, they are on an altogether deeper level - not dealing with the outer projection of ourselves, not even with the spirit, but on a soul level. They are soul reflections".
Mary Clair Kelly, Cruse Counsellor