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).
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.
By talking openly (you don’t get much more open than Letterman Live!) about his cancer diagnosis, Michael Douglas is doing us all a favour.
As a cancer survivor myself, I didn’t want to rush out and tell the world about my diagnosis, but I sure as hell wanted to find people who were willing to talk about their experiences. I had tons of questions, and getting a diagnosis is the loneliest feeling. Now I’ve passed my 5 year clearance, I feel differently – I want to shout and tell the whole world, ‘hey, I reached the top of this mountain’!
So hats off to Douglas for speaking so candidly, and at such an early stage of his treatment, when inspite of his optimism, he must be scared. A stage 4 cancer is not where you want to be. As Emma Thompson said in the movie ‘Wit’, about her character who had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer, ‘let’s just say there isn’t a stage 5.’
And it’s interesting that he has referenced the stressful events in his life (his son’s recent jail sentence and his ex-wife’s law suit against him) in the context of his cancer diagnosis, and not simply blamed his heavy drinking and smoking habit, because for sure both are not good for you, but not everyone who drinks and smokes heavily gets cancer.
What research has shown is the link between stress and illness, and how often cancer will form in the organ that is stressed. And in his case, it’s formed in his throat.
It must ‘stick in your throat’ when your ex-wife sues you for money she believes she is entitled to ten years post-divorce! And your son is banged up in prison, and no amount of star pulling power and lobbying can prevent that.
Just an ordinary dude coping with ordinary life. Just like the rest of us.
Ultimately, what we really feel will be voiced through our body whether we like it or not. The body and soul have a way of telling us the truth, and it’s our job to learn to pay greater attention to what it’s saying.
Is it good news that scientists at UCL have discovered a genetic flaw that increases ovarian cancer risk in some women?
“They analysed 2.5m variations in the genetic code and found genetic “letters” – called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – which when spelt slightly differently increase ovarian cancer risk in some women.”
This really is saying that your predisposition to ovarian cancer is encoded in your DNA. While this may be good news from a screening perspective, because it makes it easier to predict which women may develop the disease, it also makes me nervous.
What makes me nervous is the suggestion that our genetic makeup determines our health and life story script. It’s one step away from saying it’s kind of inevitable. You have no control whatsoever, because it’s all in your genes. It does not take into account the power of the mind over the body, the power of our emotions and spirit on our body.
What happens if you are screened and discover you are carrying this genetic flaw? Then what? You start carrying the anxiety that you might develop ovarian cancer. I don’t think that’s a healthy possibility to be thinking about. Difficult to shift that suggestion once you have made the connection between your genetic code and illness.
Ovarian cancer isn’t just about telling a scientific story, and I would not want women reading this research below to think that. I’ve had ovarian cancer and I know It’s much more complex than that.
Isn’t it time that women started ‘telling tales’ about how the body is much more complex than a set of genetic codes, about how WE are much more complex than our biological makeup, and how we do have the power to influence and affect our health outcomes, to counteract the view that telling the scientific story of a disease is the whole story?
Yesterday I posted about grief being an enabler to find your voice. Rage and fear are great motivators, sometimes more so than joy and love, especially if your survival is threatened as mine was through ovarian cancer. I’d spent years being ‘a good girl’, hiding (or so I thought!) my rebellious spirit, the Sagittarius streak that tempted me to ride bareback through the Kalahari. Oh yeah. Not done that yet, but I will.
When the rebellious streak kicks in, we find all manner of things to say and do, to create to try to push through, to grasp life with both hands. Some call this their activism, or finding their voice. I know one thing: when I went on BBC 1 Breakfast television to broadcast my news, I was being more than rebellious, and when I voiced these words, ‘ovarian cancer is below the belt’ on a t.shirt, I felt more than good, I felt outrageous.
What is your 1 outrageous act of justice going to be today?
Grief can keep you stuck for years or, it can break you open so that you find your voice.
Natalie Goldberg talks about finding a voice through being brought to your knees. ‘It’s the cross of gain and loss that electrifies our language – gives it force, direction, urgency.’ It’s this waking up, this jolt that gives us our voice.
Asking yourself: ‘what brings me to my knees?’ will take you beyond the polite chatter you use to mask your losses. The deep, outrageous, wired screeching voice, the one that keeps us awake at night and howls is the one that will enable you to honour your grief.
When we find this voice we are no longer stuck, because are connecting to our rage and outrage. Isak Dinesen in Out of Africa was fueled by the financial disaster of losing her coffee plantation – she needed money – matched by her homesickness for a land and life she had lost. Every page of her book rings with that loss and love, her grief.
What brought me to my knees was being diagnosed with ovarian cancer after several years of ‘unexplained infertility’. Professor Robert Winston says that ‘unexplained’ means doctors haven’t looked carefully enough to uncover the explanation. When we are grieving it’s hard sometimes to keep looking when everything is so raw, which is why writing and painting can be a haven and catalyst for this exploration. The point is, it’s a journey of inward introspection, uncovering broken pieces of brick and fragments of grief, to piece together the picture that makes sense to you.
Grief rarely makes sense when you are in the throws of it. When the vortex is pulling you to its core, it’s impossible to ‘think your way through it’. It’s not a linear process that you can will yourself through. Everyone has to find their own pattern. The writer Babara Cole explores this in her book Permission to Grieve.
What I used to say was just because you can’t see the body parts that are now missing, doesn’t mean I don’t grieve for them.
Is it the same for you? If you feel disconnected, I recommend writing it out or painting it in large red splashes of paint. It doesn’t have to be pretty or good, or any of those other labels that keep us trapped, it just has to make sense to you.
What brings you to your knees? Leave me a comment and tell me.
March is ovarian cancer awareness month, which is weird because cancer doesn’t observe the calendar.
When you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer it feels like you have no time to waste, and even less to understand all the options, which is why I wrote an article about some of the alternative treatments for http://www.helium.com. Alternative treatments are often ignored by doctors which makes it difficult information to find.
I hope you find this article helpful. Leave me a comment if you do.
To access the Alternative Cancer Treatment Guide by Dr Rosy Daniel, Integrated Cancer Consultant and founder of Health Creation, go to http://www.healthcreation.co.uk. Dr Daniel has trained a team of health coaches who will guide you through your options and ensure you make the right decision for yourself.
I want to be clear at the outset: I’m not angry with Jade Goody.
I think we’ve all heard the news that Jade Goody has been given only weeks to live, after her cervical cancer was diagnosed as terminal. It’s very sad. It’s hard to avoid knowing this as it’s been made news by all the mainstream newspapers, who this week published her story on their front page.
Why is this story front page news?
Cervical cancer has been struggling, like ovarian cancer, to be given the profile that breast cancer has. And the reason it hasn’t until now is because the number of women diagnosed each year is not in the tens of thousands like breast cancer. Therefore it does not attract the same level of government funding, charity funding and fundraising, magazine coverage and corporate sponsorship.
What makes me angry is how the British Government has suddenly decided to pour more money into cervical cancer screening. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Why does it take a celebrity to raise the profile of this disease and ‘force’ the Government to act? Are celebrities becoming more influential than patient voices? Answer yes, especially when that patient is a celebrity.
You may be saying, ‘well what’s wrong with that? At least some action is being taken’. But what about the other cancers that don’t have celebrity names attached to them, like ovarian cancer. 7,000 women are diagnosed per year, with a pitiful 5 year survival rate, yet because no big name is prepared to speak out about her experience, ovarian cancer does not attract the funding other more high profile cancers do.
The profile of cervical cancer just got a shot in the arm because Jade Goody has sold her story and wedding to the papers, and she’s done that because she’s hired an expensive PR agent.
What about the women who don’t have PR agents? What’s the vehicle for their story?
This was originally intended to be my painting blog, but now it's also about writing, what we ache for, and everything else important.
"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