A Penny for Your Thoughts


If we had a penny for every thought we experience each day, we’d all be very wealthy. As human beings, thousands of thoughts swirl through our minds every day. And knowing this, do you wonder how many of those thoughts are actually helpful to our mental wellbeing? I’m interested in the answer for a number of reasons. I’m interested, because I know how my mental wellbeing is improved when I focus more on the helpful ones and less on the unhelpful ones. I’m interested because during challenging and stressful times, I’ve sometimes found it hard to distinguish between what are thoughts and actual facts. (I’ve had a lot of help to understand that this is ‘normal’ during extreme and prolonged periods of stress). And I’m interested, because despite receiving psychological support from my clinical psychologist for over a decade, I’m still trying to learn the art of effectively managing my thoughts and feelings. It will always be a work in progress. It is for all of us. Accepting and understanding this fact is part of the challenge of being human.

It’s with a drum roll therefore that I present to you something astounding and which some of you may already know: research tells us that of the thousands of thoughts going through our frazzled minds every day, 80% are negative and 95% are repeated from the day before. Now, if my maths is right, and when I last checked, my mathematical ability was good, this means that for every positive thought that goes through our minds, it’s accompanied by four negative ones. And, that most of the time, we’re repeating thoughts that we had the previous day. No wonder life can sometimes feel like a struggle! Is there any good news you might ask?

I’m delighted to say there is but the extent to which this good news impacts upon us is determined by how far we put it into practice; in the same way that physical exercise is good for us but only if we do it, and drinking less alcohol is better for us than drinking more. Neither of which is rocket science but they each share an annoying element of truism.

The good news is this: generally speaking, WE are in charge of OUR thoughts, NOT the other way round and given that our thoughts translate positively or negatively into the words that we say to ourselves, this is a really important piece of news. And, whatsmore, it’s not fake!

The narrative of our internal self-talk moulds who we are, based on the notion that our thoughts shape our actions, our values, our beliefs and ultimately our whole lives. Chatter in our mind that’s helpful, creates a healthy internal landscape freeing us up to reach our potential whilst unhealthy chatter saps us of our physical and mental energy, limiting our capabilities and distorting the perception of the real us.

Breaking free from self-destructive thought patterns and the negative voice of our inner critic is key to a calm mind but as I’ve learned through on-going support, there’s a huge difference between a calm mind and a still one. In the busy, hectic world that is 2020, the former is accessible, the latter’s achieveable only, if like a Tibetan monk, you have the opportunity to meditate for 16 hours a day. Real life has a habit of getting in the way of the Tibetan lifestyle!

And so, in keeping with the spirit of this post about the impact of helpful and unhelpful thoughts, I’d like to leave you with three tips, which I’ve found to be useful during my ongoing quest to manage my negative thoughts and feelings. (NB: note the use of the word ‘manage’ as opposed to ‘stop’. None of us have the ability to stop all negative thoughts. It’s part of being human).

Tip #1Evidence-based mindfulness research shows us that along with our mind, our breath can be a very powerful, calming tool.

Noticing my breathing and acknowledging if I’m breathing shallowly prompts me to pause for a moment and in doing so reminds me to try to take three slow, deep breaths.(If you’ve ever experienced panic attacks, you’ll know how quickly shallow breathing can lead to one).  I’ve found this Box Breathing technique really helpful: take a deep inhalation to the count of four, hold it for the count of four and then slowly exhale for the count of four. Performed regularly, this can have a profound calming and settling effect on the mind and its thoughts.  Regularly pausing throughout the day to take some deep breaths reminds us that we’re all inspiring.

Tip #2Observing our thoughts.

I’ve found it helpful to try to observe my thoughts as though they are passing through my mind, rather than becoming tangled up in them. This is a mindfulness technique, which I find particularly helpful when I’m trying to get to sleep. At other times of the day, acknowledging when I’m having anxious thoughts is an anchoring point and helps me to break a cycle of worry before it gains momentum. Allowing ourselves time to notice our thoughts and feelings is crucial to our wellbeing.

Tip #3Acknowledge when you’re having a diffcult day.

Burying our feelings and trying to put on a brave face fuels anxiety. It’s easier to cope with our thoughts when we’re not trying to be an actor at the same time. Being authentic and true to your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s pretending you’re ok when you’re not that makes you feel weak. Authenticity allows the reverse to happen: it helps you to become stronger and more resilient.

I hope that you find these tips useful and whatever today brings your way, remember this: look after your thoughts, nurture those that are helpful about yourself and discard the unhelpful ones if you can.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash









Being on the Cusp

I haven’t written a blog post for a while and last night I bumped into somebody (you know who are) who told me how much she gained from reading my blogs. It made me stop and consider that whilst my mind was immediately making excuses for not writing (e.g. starting some new part-time work, empty nest syndrome, etc, etc, blah and more excusatory blah) all my inner dialogue really needed to do was to stop its noisy chatter for just a few moments. And in doing so, it enabled me to hear what this person was taking the time to tell me: that she really enjoyed reading my blogs and how they made her feel.

I accepted her generous feedback with thanks and gratitude and promised a blog post would be written before the end of the year. At the same time, I also asked the negative, you’re not good enough/excuse-making voice in my head to politely button it. That internal noise often means we miss such a lot. Asking it to be quiet is important and means we miss much less.

So here we are…..on the cusp of the old and the new: the fast approaching end of one year and, in sight, the brink of a brand new one.

And where within the cusp are you as you read this? Are you looking forward to the New Year with excitement as you look back on this one and acknowledge how far you’ve come? Are you reflecting on what you’ve achieved along with recognition of an inner strength you didn’t know you had; one that’s got you through the challenges that this year has brought? Or are you looking towards 2020 with apprehension, uncertainty and fear of the unknown?

In 2019, we will have each faced challenges of our own. And, as human beings we have each found the degree to which resilience has helped us to deal with those challenges. We each lead a life that has a way of showing us the true meaning and value of resilience to our wellbeing.

Whatever this year has brought to your door, it’s time to give yourself a big pat on the back. Physical self back patting is only partially effective or at least it was the last time I tried because you can only reach part of your back! Mental self back patting, well that’s another matter and it’s really important because it extends throughout your whole being.

It’s important because it’s part of our self care: the concept that the management of our health and wellbeing starts with us. This idea was brought to our attention in 2010 by the Self Care Forum in an attempt to reduce the heavy burden that exists within the National Health Service and as a measure to try and safeguard its sustainablity for the future.

For the last ten years there has been a national Self Care Week, introduced intially by the Department of Health but manged since 2011 by the Self Care Forum. Its theme for this year’s November event was Think Self Care for Life. It’s a concept that isn’t just about daily physical care of ourselves and the impact upon us of our lifestyle choices, it’s also about nurturing and cultivating our inner mental wellbeing, the part of us we can’t see but the part we can feel the emotional impact of daily.

And so, to return to self back patting….part of our self care, part of recognising our achievements, be it little baby steps of progress or some of the bigger steps of achievement in our lives. For many of us, it’s the little things that we manage to achieve each day that signify our huge steps of progress. Often, if life has been particulary difficult, putting one foot in front of the other is the biggest of achievements.

Being on the cusp of one year coming to an end and another starting will mean all sorts of different things for each of us but whatever that may be, remember to self-care, to look after your own back, to pat it and nurture it often.

2020 has 365 days in it. Make kindness to oneself present in each one of them. It makes the cusp of one day ending and a new one starting a better place to be.


Photographed sourced on Unsplash.com by Jamie Street


The Magic of Friendship

Life’s lessons teach us things all of the time. At almost 52, I’m still learning: from mistakes and successes, from experiences of day-to-day life and just generally, from things that life throws at me. We’re all students of life-long learning and how dull life would be if we knew it all. It would also make us rather irritating to others. Nobody likes a Know It All.

Different parts of our lives have different things within them that we learn from daily, and recently it’s the thing labelled ‘Friendship’, from which I’m growing and learning most; its presence providing such a wonderful source of personal nourishment, support, warmth and love. The beautiful thing about friendship, is that in a healthy one, turn taking and balance in what you’re able to offer one another, is woven tightly within it.

I feel very grateful that at the top of my friendship list are my family members: my husband, my children, my mam, my mother-in-law, my sisters, my brother, my sister-in-laws and brother-in-laws. Of course those friendship relationships have different elements to them than the non-blood friendships in my life but they’re an integral part of my support network and I count myself extremely fortunate in that respect.

And that is part of the magic of friendship. It comes in different guises, varieties and types. Some friends I see very regularly, others who live further afield, I see less so. But wherever they live, an integral thread to a good friendship is that time between seeing one another doesn’t count. You take up where you left off with no guilt attached to who last contacted who!

Genuine friendship has another beautiful kind of magic attached to it: joy and happiness when things are going well for you and the warmth of hugs, empathy, understanding and a shoulder to cry on when things are going badly. With strong friendships, the laughter is louder and the sorrow so much easier to bear during the highest of highs and lowest of lows in life’s colourful tapestry.

What good friendships don’t have, is a place for jealousy or resentment. Friendships with those elements to them are harmful and draining and as the word in the middle of friendship states, end eventually.

So, today is my day for saying ‘thank you’ to everybody in my life whom I lucky enough to count as a friend. I appreciate you, I love you and I am such a better person for knowing you.

Reach out to your friends today, whoever or wherever in the world they are because without friends, life would seem so much less magical. The Beatles were right…..we all get by with a little help from our friends.

Giving Old Scars New Life Through An Empathetic Lens

When something that causes us pain is hidden away for so long, its depth and intensity deepens. Covered under layers of emotion, physical and psychological scars left untreated, can take root in such a way that they develop a pain all of their own, one that’s driven by a longing to be set free. The process of peeling back our layers to expose what’s underneath, takes courage and willpower but it’s the first step towards true healing.

Our ability to try and understand somebody else’s pain is a human skill that requires compassion, and the ability to wear a set of shoes we call Empathy. Putting on those shoes and finding that they fit, gives an insight into how another person is feeling; the ability to sense and tune into another person’s emotions. Developing empathy, in a world where often it can be lacking, I think is one of the best life tools we can possess.

I took part in a photography session last month which came about through kindness and compassion shown to me by two very special women. I experienced a day where, through their ability to show true empathy, not only in their personal attributes but in their professional skills, I was able to make peace with parts of me that on a daily basis cause actual physical pain coupled with the ball and chain effect of emotional pain.

Like many people, I have scars on my body. A few are from childhood accidents resulting in a couple of stitches here and there. A few more are from later stages in life involving childbirth but lots of the scars are there as a result of surgeries to extend my life, performed by surgeons whose job description involves removing malignant tumours. It’s those scars which cause me the most pain.

The removal of my right breast in 2004, followed immediately by reconstructive surgery using part of the latissimus dorsi muscle on the right side of my back to create a new breast, sits up there with my most important surgical procedures. This type of operation involves intricate surgery, in my case lasting 8 hours, performed by a highly skilled surgeon who reconnected nerve tissue and blood vessels from my back to my chest, to create something that resembled a new breast (minus the nipple and every piece of existing breast tissue that he could cut away). Creating a new breast for a cancer patient from absolutely nothing and using muscle and tissue from another part of the body, is a special kind of surgery requiring empathy in bucketfuls and skill levels to match.

Plastic surgeons who perform this type of surgery on women with breast cancer do so with a huge proviso: that they will do their very best but it will be nowhere near an exact replica of our old breast/s. That is impossible to achieve but at age 37 and having already have said ‘hi’ to cancer once before aged 34 , many patients like me just want to be as near to ‘normal’ as possible (whatever normal is) and as far away from cancer as possible, so we nod and give consent to anything resembling our old form. We agree to undergo this kind of surgery in an attempt to be like the old us, the one before breast cancer took hold: in my case, a busy working Mum, with two young children and the rest of my life ahead of me……and two breasts.

N.B. Many women in my position, following a mastectomy choose to remain, what is termed in the breast cancer community, ‘flat’, and I totally respect that choice.

Breast cancer surgery is a practical and integral aspect of removing breast cancer from the body but I learned very quickly, at a relatively young age and the hard way, that cancer doesn’t just waltz in to your life and dance away again, leaving no trace of its existence. I learned that it can bring pain – physical and emotional, a permanent fear of reoccurrence and leaves you a very different kind of person to the one you were before. One who is forced to face their own mortality when really all you want to be thinking about is every day stuff like, what the kids are going to have for tea that night, where to go on hoilday next year and what to wear the following day that doesn’t need ironing. Anything really but the prospect of dying from cancer.

I digress, but looking at my scars has that effect on me. They transport me to fear, and are a daily reminder of my back and chest pain; old scar tissue that keeps wanting to talk to me with a grip that’s really tight, especially on cold, damp days, like this one.

Six weeks ago today was a very different Tuesday. It was warm and I was bathed in natural sunlight, providing the perfect backdrop to my photography session with Aphrodite Photography. The way that Deborah McDonnell and Emma Poole work has empathy central to its core. Together, they create something magical, made to look easy to achieve but in reality, like all the best magic does, needing a certain type of skill set to be performed correctly. Together, Deborah and Emma create an environment in which the stresses and strains of life are put on hold for a few hours, enabling you to lose yourself in the essence of who you really are.

They took pictures of parts of me that I thought were ugly, reminders of pain and fear but the natural light photographs of my scars have helped me to remember what they really are: a statement of survivorship and the beauty of life itself. Through the lens, Deborah and Emma spoke to me with empathy and encouragement enabling me to see what they could see: old scars being given new life with every click, every angle showering sunlight onto parts of me that normally remain covered.

Today I want to say ‘thank you’ to Deborah and Emma. You have helped me to heal. You have helped me to see what you can see: scars filled with life and love and hope.

Aphrodite Photography provided this dress which was purchased in a costume sale from Zurich Opera House. It was worn during the opera Rusalka by one of the three elves.

A special thank you also to my fellow breast cancer survivor, my lovely friend Angela. Hand holding is needed so very much through cancer treatment. Thank you for holding my hand, the day of the shoot and always. xxxxx

Stress Awareness Month

If you are reading this, it means that you are a human being. Obvious fact you might say? It is an obvious fact but there lies the end of the similarity between us all. As human beings, we are each so different from one another (unless of course, you’re an indentical twin and even then you will have different characteristic traits to your twin and patterns of thought). Remembering that fact more often, I think, would help us all. How we each respond to daily challenges, how resilient we are and the different ways that we are each affected by adversity is so variable. It’s that level of diversity amongst us that’s constant.

Human behaviour and how we respond to the highs and lows of life is a topic that fascinates me. What makes us who we are, do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think, is something I’m intrigued by. I must have asked my clinical psychologist: “Why?”, “What?”, “How?”, hundreds of times over the last ten years. I’m still asking her lots of questions about human behaviour and mental wellbeing but now I understand much more clearly the answers. As a clinical neuropsychologist, her professional life has been dedicated to supporting patients in their psychological wellbeing, helping them to understand their behaviour and actions.

With a particular interest and specialism in the mind-body connection and the role that stress plays in physical symptoms, her support has been invaluable in helping me to understand my mind and what affects its healthy functioning. And importantly, she has given me the tools to recognise patterns of behaviour and thought processes that are detrimental to my wellbeing. These tools are what help me to manage, much more effectively, my anxiety and stress levels so that for the majority of the time, I feel mentally well, something which is crucial to us all in order to have a sense of purpose and focus in life.

When I was first referred to her, I used to look over my shoulder to see if anybody was watching me walk through the hospital doors that led to her department. It wasn’t something that I wanted anybody other than my husband and closest family members to know: that I was under the care of a clinical psychologist. Back then, I went to great lengths to keep private, the fact I was struggling with my mental wellbeing and I never thought I would ever publicly share this information with the world.

Now, I’m a different person and ten years on the world is a different place as, thankfully, is the workplace. The subject of mental health has had its cloak of shame well and truly lifted so that more people like me feel encouraged and supported to talk openly about it. Employers now have a legal responsibility to address the mental wellbeing of their employees meaning that mental health is a much more widely discussed topic than it was a decade ago. An understanding of the impact that negative stress has on a human being is now acknowledged worldwide, along with a much greater awareness that mental health problems can affect all of us at some point in our lives. None of us are immune.

Talking publicly about the mental health challenges I’ve faced might help somebody else feel strong enough to talk amongst their family and friends about the mental health challenges they’re facing. During Stress Awareness Month make mental health a conversation. Ask how somebody is feeling. Check in with somebody that you haven’t heard from in a while. Silence can be deafening, especially if it’s you that needs to talk.

Strength of a Woman

I had the honour yesterday of listening to Yasmin Khan. Yasmin is the founder and chief officer of the Middlesbrough based Halo Project Charity which supports victims of honour-based violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM).

As I listened to Yasmin, I was struck by the silence in the room. Silence, as we absorbed what we were hearing. Silence, as we heard Yasmin’s harrowing account of the experiences of some of the women who have been supported by the Project. And, silence because the criminal activity that the Project is helping to uncover and stop is so utterly hard to hear.

I tried to imagine how it must feel to live in daily fear for your life, at the hands of abject cruelty, within a community of people that are supposed to love, care for and nurture you. I couldn’t. And, since yesterday afternoon, I’ve thought so much about the people whose stories we heard. Women who have experienced the kind of physical and psychological pain that no person should ever have to encounter. Women who have been murdered because they have brought so-called ‘shame’ or ‘dishonour’ to the family. Women whose genitals have been mutilated by family members and the silence that surrounds this utterly despicable practice. Women who kill themselves because they can no longer cope with the abuse that they experience daily.

On International Women’s Day 2019, let’s talk about breaking the silence that surrounds these crimes. “Break the Silence” is the Project’s strapline, chosen for its aptness and relevance. The noise that’s being created by its existence is loud, necessary and crucial, generating conversations that need to happen in many different settings.

One of the ways that the conversation around FGM will be encouraged is during compulsory relationship and sex education in schools. By 2020, the physical and emotional damage caused by FGM will be discussed with students in secondary school education. Students will be taught that this practice is a form of child abuse and a criminal activity from which women and girls can suffer long-term damage to their phyiscal and mental health.

I have a long held view based on things that have happened in my life: the hardest conversations are the most important to have, yet are often the most difficult to hear. That’s why the room was silent yesterday when Yasmin spoke and what I heard made me think about how different my life is, compared to the lives of the women that the Halo Project supports and protects. It made me realise how easy it is to take my freedom for granted. It made me realise how fortunate I am. And it made me realise the importance of women using their voices to speak out and speak up for women whose voices are silenced.

Yasmin, your voice has spoken. You’ve taken action and brought about great change. Your Halo Project is saving, transforming and making safe the lives of so many. You should be very proud indeed. You’re an incredible woman of Teesside whose achievements I want to celebrate.


I Am And I Will

Today is World Cancer Day 2019. Each of you reading that sentence has been affected by cancer. It’s a global disease which evokes an emotional response within us all when we see or hear the word ‘cancer’ because we’ve all felt its impact.

Some of you reading this, may have lost a partner or other family members and friends to the disease.  Cancer is not selective.  It can develop within individuals of all ages, gender and background. Some of you may have experienced a cancer diagnosis yourself. Some of you might be the partner, family member or friend that has supported, loved and helped somebody close to you during their cancer treatment. Some of you might be all three.  Whoever you are, World Cancer Day, speaks to us all.

Cancer can develop in any part of the body. We’re each made up of trillions of cells and cancer’s capable of developing in any one of them. It’s a sobering thought and when looked at in that way, makes the magnitude of the task facing cancer researchers seem insurmountable. But, despite the scale and extent of the work still to be done, World Cancer Day is a day where we can look back on the groundbreaking steps that have been made, which mean that 50% of people diagnosed with cancer today will survive that diagnosis by 10 years or more.  It’s also a day to look forward: to a future where our children and future generations live in a world where all cancers can be controlled like other chronic diseases. A cure for cancer might seem like an unattainable dream but it’s that very vision that drives, inspires and motivates all cancer researchers to do what they do.  Each step of progress they make, takes us all one step closer to achieving that dream.

World Cancer Day is a day where the cancer focus worldwide, is on the detection, prevention and treatment of the disease: currently over a third of all cancer cases can be prevented, and with early detection and treatment, a further third can be cured. Those figures must improve but today we must also acknowledge and applaud the enormous progress that has been made with life-saving and life-extending drug development.

On World Cancer Day, prevention and early detection are key areas of focus – there is still much awareness raising to be done to ensure that early signs and symptoms of cancer are acted upon quickly and are then exposed to effective treatment. But, that can only be achieved with sufficient cancer services resources and it’s one of the reasons, that as a Cancer Research UK Ambassador, I took part in the Shoulder To Shoulder Against Cancer  Westminster lobby last year.

We need an NHS that can cope with the changing demands that cancer places upon it.  An NHS where health professionals are properly supported to be able to access diagnostic tests for their patients, so the best targeted treatment can be offered. Current staffing shortages within the NHS mean the capacity to diagnose cancer early is limited. Now, in England, almost half of cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage where the effectiveness of any subsequent treatment is then reduced. This is unacceptable. The NHS deserves better. You and I and our families and friends deserve better. The Shoulder to Shoulder Against Cancer campaign exists to improve this.

World Cancer Day photo 1

The theme for World Cancer Day 2019 is: I am and I will. My personal story is that I am a woman who has had a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. I am not just cancer but it has shaped my life. It is part of who I am. My decision to talk openly about my diagnosis and share my cancer story, makes me feel that I’m helping to lift the stigma and misunderstanding that still surrounds the disease.

I’m a normal person, like thousands of others diagnosed with advanced cancer, but I have been incredibly fortunate. My body is responding to a cancer drug that’s been controlling the metastatic spread of breast cancer in my lungs and pleural lining for  over 10 years now. I was only supposed to be on the drug for three months as an interim measure between rounds of chemotherapy. Some people would say my response to the drug is luck. I know it’s not. It’s precisely to do with the biology of my disease and my individual make-up – my genomic profile. I look to the day when cancer researchers will be able to tell me exactly how and why my body is responding in the way that it is. The answers to that will help others in the future.

But for today, I’ll be remembering family and friends who have died as a result of this disease, my friends who are currently undergoing treatment for it and those whose treatment will be ongoing for the rest of their lives. I’ll be wearing my Cancer Research UK unity band as a sign of acknowledgement and support.


To all my friends worldwide within the cancer community: today, we can and we will stand Shoulder To Shoulder Against Cancer#IAmAndIWill #WorldCancerDay

The Therapeutic Power of Touch

We experience the power of touch when we take our first breath and enter this world. Upon leaving our mother’s body we experience the sensation of being touched by another human being; something so powerful and vitally important, that as humans, we’re unable to develop and thrive without it.

The benefits of personal touch from one human to another, in a world where we’ve never before been so connected technically, are far-reaching. The comfort of a hug, a pat on the back, or a gentle squeeze of the hand convey so much; our bodies crave it when we go without touch for long periods of time. The fact is, we cannot flourish emotionally or physically without it.

Within our lives, there are many different ways we can experience touch. One of those is via therapeutic massage. The de-stressing effect of a body massage can help to nourish the soul, soothe aching limbs and help to slowly unknot tight muscle fibres in our body. Facial massage techniques, applied with precision and care, can nurture tired faces, stimulate the blood supply and provide a feel-good factor element that’s simply wonderful.

I want to tell you about how it feels to live with a diagnosis of cancer and to be told that you cannot be touched via therapeutic massage because it ‘might spread your cancer’. Imagine that……? Thankfully, it’s not the advice that’s given by an oncologist; that’s quite the opposite actually. Oncologists recognise the benefits, on both a physical and emotional level, that patients experience when accessing massage treatment.

(N.B. Tumour sites and areas of recent surgery/radiotherapy treatment must be avoided).

Being refused a massage treatment on these grounds has happened to me on many occasions in recent years: times when I’ve been on a spa break with girlfriends, times when I’ve been celebrating a friend’s special birthday and during periods in my life when I’ve been most in need of some relaxation and me-time.  On one occasion, whilst my friends were all able to enjoy a relaxing body or facial massage, I was confined to the nail bar where I was ‘allowed’ to have a coating of polish on my chemotherapy ravaged nails (that now don’t grow like they used to because the cells in the nail matrix where new nail cells grow, have been permanently damaged by chemotherapy). I don’t have enough fingers on which to count, just how many times I’ve been given this ridiculous, myth-based reason for not being allowed to have a body massage or facial. It made me feel angry, upset and isolated.

Well thankfully, that lonely landscape is changing because the beauty and spa industry are finally been taught that for somebody diagnosed with cancer or undergoing cancer treatment, it’s actually OK, indeed beneficial, for that person to receive massage treatment. This comes with the proviso that the therapist has the confidence, skills and knowledge to be able to carry out the treatment professionally, with appropriate communication skills and the ability to make the client feel like a human being and not a ‘cancer patient’.

Enter ‘tpot’, otherwise known as The Power of Touch. Launched in 2014 by Michelle Hammond, her vision has created a fundamental and much-needed change in attitude towards the treatment of beauty and spa clients who have experienced a cancer diagnosis. Tpot training provides therapists with the necessary skills and knowledge to treat this client group, in which I firmly sit, with compassion and a desire to eliminate misunderstanding, myth and taboo.

A few weeks ago, I had the total pleasure of experiencing a full body massage provided by the delightful, tpot trained, Louise, at the newly refurbished Ingleby Barwick Bannatyne Spa .  The Bannatyne Group has invested heavily in the refurbishment of their spas nationally.   Part of that investment is a collaboration with tpot and a commitment to ensuring each of the spas within the Group have therapists who have undergone the specialist training that tpot provides.

The whole experience from start to finish was first class. Louise immediately made me feel at ease with her relaxed yet confident manner; entering the treatment room found me walking into a cocoon of comfort and wellbeing. Dimmed lighting, relaxing music and a divinely comfortable massage bed all added to the serene ambience. A big plus, was that the treatment room was heated to an appropriate temperature so that I didn’t feel cold when I undressed.


Louise wasn’t fazed by any of the scars on my body. She talked with me at ease, and maturity that belied her years,about my cancer experience. I felt completely relaxed and in well-trained hands.

The SLOW tpot massage techniques that Louise used during my treatment worked effectively to relax my peripheral nervous system, providing a feeling of wellbeing and calm. Applied in a regular, rhythmical fashion, the massage techniques allowed the tension in my back and neck to ease considerably.  Overall, each aspect of my treatment session was carried out with professionalism and importantly, compassion – an important ‘c’ word when treating somebody who has had a cancer diagnosis.

I want to say ‘thank you’ to Louise and give a big shout out to the Ingleby Barwick Bannatyne Spa. Your tpot trained staff provide a much-needed solution to something that’s long been a problem; I hope more people like me can experience therapeutic massage in a spa setting without facing stigma, ignorance and being told ‘no’. The power of touch benefits us all.

Onwards and upwards!


Being The Story

Life is full of stories. They’re an integral part of who we are, made up of pages of our lives; chapters that start and end, capturing whole episodes of our time here. Our heritage and culture has been shaped by them; storytelling has survived generations of progress with stories from hundreds of years ago still influencing our lives today.

Our lives are our story and we all have a story to tell. Things that have happened to us in the past, go on to shape our future and so our stories continue. Some parts of our story aren’t within our control – others parts most definitely are.

Some stories stay with us longer than others. Their influence has longevity because the content has touched us deeply with a narrative that’s provided insight in to the difficult lives of others – people who’ve faced traumatic and challenging experiences of the kind that perhaps we haven’t. Listening to other people’s stories helps us to build our compassionate self but only if we listen with ‘open’ ears, without judgement or being critical of the human struggle of others. Because, the poignancy of our own stories, is they contain chapters we have yet to discover. Our story may, in the future, need a compassionate, listening ear.

Stories told today, become the reason things happen differently tomorrow. We can all learn from the moral of a story, or the message it contains. But, the greatest change happens when we do something with that message, when we share that story to help to build something for somebody else: hope, empowerment, self-esteem, progress, courage and, a desire for things to be different; a glimpse of a brighter future.

Being The Story, held at Conway Hall in London, is an event that helps to achieve just that. Created and led by Jude Habib, founder of the award-winning Sound Delivery, Being The Story has, for the last three years, given a voice and a platform to the stories of individuals that need to be heard – stories whose words challenge stereo-typical thinking, inspire and provoke action for change.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to take part in Being The Story. My initial response was panic, accompanied by Mrs Self-Doubt, who tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “You’ll never be able to do that!”. What she didn’t know, was that I had the much louder, stronger and caring voice of  Jude in my other ear saying, “Yes you can!”.

I can count on one hand the events I’ve been part of during my lifetime that have had a lasting impact on me in the way that Being The Story has. I learned so much from this year’s speakers – people who’ve faced many challenging and traumatic aspects of life including poverty, migration, social injustice, prison, gang culture, addiction, domestic worker abuse and transphobia. They were people who have grappled with their experiences head on and with help and support, have developed resilience, resolve and, importantly, a desire to challenge misconceptions by sharing their empowering stories to help others and influence positive change. To bare your soul, in front of a couple of hundred people, in the hope that what you have to say inspires others to change and challenge stereotypical thinking, takes courage, bravery and a channelling of nerves that enables you to walk on the stage and speak – without drying up!

Hope, mental health and facing adversity were interwoven throughout all of their stories and it was those topics that united us all.  Although we each hadn’t experienced what the other had been through, what many of us shared in common, was the effect our individual experiences had upon our mental health.  It was uplifting and freeing to be able to talk openly about my anxiety and depression and the resulting effect my personal story had played on my emotional wellbeing.  Hope and its song made us equals.

The atmosphere in Conway Hall on Friday 19th October, was one filled with empathy, compassion and a shared belief amongst the audience that powerful story telling inspires, motivates and provide others with a vision for change. It was an honour to be a part of the Being The Story family.

Thank you Jude for including me in your line up of speakers; I left London that day feeling part of something very special.

You can listen to my Being The Story by clicking on the link below:

PS. It’s 14 minutes, 40 seconds. Grab a cuppa and if, after listening to it, you think of anybody in your network of family and friends who might need a message of hope, please do share and pass my story on.

Thank you.


















Bridesmaids Revisited

I’ve been a bit stuck lately and being stuck means I haven’t felt like blogging. Today I decided to unstick the stickiness and say ‘hello’ to all of you who are reading this; some of you have asked me where I’ve been and I thank you for that.

I’ve actually done some very lovely things over the last couple of months.  I’ve spent much-needed time with Team Ashurst (aka Paul, Megan and Jack), had catch-ups with wonderful friends whose company makes me smile and I’ve also attended the 40th, 50th and 60th birthday celebrations of some very dear friends, who all come from different areas of my life, but who each bring love and laughter into it. Thank you lovely ladies for each being lovely you.

And, in amongst the parties and celebrations of others, the last few months have also seen me attending a party of my own.  This kind of party doesn’t need an invite; you  simply turn up and attend whenever you want. A pity party is what I’m referring to: unique in nature and without limits.  In fact, you can go to one every day of the week if you feel like it. Let’s PARTY!!!!!

However, there’s one major drawback to pity parties: we often over stay our welcome.  Cue, very good friends and family, who are close enough to us to say, “Come on, it’s time to go”.

Now here’s the interesting thing about pity parties. Whilst doing a spot of research about these kinds of parties, (yes, this type of research does exist!) I’ve discovered that it’s actually ok to attend them. Indeed sometimes, they’re essential because they allow us time and space to lick our wounds and reflect on what’s brought us to the party in the first place. Pain, hurt and sadness can all be triggers for attendance but whatever our reasons for attending, it’s acknowledging those feelings that’s important; looking at them and saying: I know you’re there but what’s the best way for me to move forward and become unstuck?

Following a difficult time, parties of this kind can be therapeutic however the secret is not to stay very long; show your face, have a few nibbles and only stay for one drink before the tracks with titles like Woe is Me and Why Me? start to be played.

It’s a fact of life that it sometimes throws us lemons and in varying sizes: some are so small they don’t even qualify as lemons and others are big like the Ponderosa type, leaving dents in our lives, holes even, that take a whole lot of filling and patching up. Awful things happen to lovely people and awful things happen to awful people; lemons don’t discriminate; they’re random. I’ve found it helpful to remember this. Stay at a pity party too long and it’s easy to lose sight of this fact.

I watched Bridesmaids again last week and the scene below inspired me to write this blog post today. Apart from being very funny, there’s some great messages within the film including how sometimes, we focus so much on the bad things that have happened, that we can’t see the good stuff right in front of us. One thing’s for sure, watching it again has got me out of my stickiness and back to blogging.

This Wednesday, I’m attending an event in London hosted by Breast Cancer Care. It’s for people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and who blog or are interested in blogging and want to learn more. I’m never going to say that cancer came in to my life for a reason because that would be silly and I’m not in to that kind of talk but what I will say, is that I’ve met people as a result of my diagnosis that otherwise I wouldn’t have met. The wonderful team at Breast Cancer Care are some of those people. Here’s to them and becoming unstuck.