The Art of Saying Thank You

Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.”

Two small words that mean so much, and yet I don’t think we say them as often as we should. And, when we do say thank you, what are we actually saying? Do we say it because we’ve been raised to know that it’s good manners to say thank you? Do we really mean it when we say it? Or do we say it out of a sense of duty? There are also times when we don’t say thank you immediately because it feels uncomfortable, like when we receive a compliment maybe or if we’ve been told we’ve done a job really well. Sometimes, it feels more comfortable to make an excuse about the thing we’ve been complimented on; this feels easier than simply saying thank you.

Many of us, including me, are often so preoccupied about what other people really think, that even when we do get told we’ve done something well or somebody is really happy with what we’ve done, those words of praise don’t seem to sit well and we deflect the compliment entirely. Hands up if that applies to you.  My guess is there are quite a few of us with raised hands right now; quite a few of us that do feel awkward when somebody gives us a compliment. ‘Thank you, that’s very kind’, is a much more straightforward thing to say but we often find ourselves searching inside for a response which really deflects the compliment altogether.  We’re a funny lot aren’t we?

Saying thank you in that sense, in response to something nice said to us, generally requires a verbal response but the art of saying thank you doesn’t always need to be via the spoken word. It can be said quietly with our internal voices. Eckhart’s quote reminds us of the wider, bigger than us,importance of saying thank you and how, even if we never pray in the conventional sense of the word, (I happen to and I also happen to believe in the psychological power of prayer) saying ‘thank you’ is the only type of prayer we ever need to say.  I think I can say with certainty, that kind of prayer gets said more than some of us would ever like to admit.

Who doesn’t say thank you with our inner voice, when we’re told a positive outcome about something that’s been long-awaited and to which there’s been so much uncertainty attached? Who doesn’t say thank you when we hear that our family and friends have safely arrived where they’re supposed to be?  Who doesn’t say thank you when our interview for a job is over (whether you know the outcome or not!) or a presentation has gone well? These are the kinds of quiet thank you’s that we think only we hear but they’re as important as the thank you’s we say out loud for everyone to hear.

Saying thank you in this quiet, internal, but at the same time, putting it out there kind of way, is an expression of gratitude; an acknowledgement of the things that are important to us. And, do we say our internal thank you’s knowing there’s only us that hears them or are we saying them just incase there’s something out there that can hear them? It’s a big old place this Universe.

Today, I want to say thank you for three things.  I want to say thank you for the lovely day that I’ve had with my family: my mother, my sister and brother-in-law, my niece and nephew and my two-year-old (totally adorable) great-nephew. We’ve celebrated a family birthday in a very normal kind of way but in a way that feels nice, comforting and warm.  I want to say thank you for my friends because you’re all just so lovely and mean so much to me and I want to say thank you for this wonderful life; we forget that sometimes don’t we, just how wonderful life really is?

At the end of every day (and it’s past my bedtime already!) what matters and matters a lot, is the act of saying thank you, the act of acknowledging and being grateful. And, whether you say it with your inner or outer voice the thing that matters is that you say it.

Let’s all practice saying thank you together and the next time somebody gives me a compliment, I’m going to say thank you to that too.30861-Meister-Eckhart-Quote-If-the-only-prayer-you-ever-say-in-your

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light Someone’s Path This Week

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Do you ever feel like your light’s lost its glimmer? Is there something or someone who makes you burn less brightly? The answer to this is probably ‘yes’ unless you’re a robot.

If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us experiences the loss of our light from time to time and it’s no wonder; life’s path sometimes takes us to places that can feel very lonely.  It can be hard to remember there’s light at the end of every tunnel.

All sorts of things can make our inner flame feel weak and often, they’re a normal part of every day: the highs and lows of family life, pressure at work or even days where the weather is grey and gloomy (and let’s face it, we’ve had a few of those this year). The reasons will vary for all of us but the remedy for a dwindling flame is the same: an energy source to feed it, that thing or things that give us a boost and in doing so, reignite our light.

For me, that’s spending time surrounded by three things:

No.1 My family whose arms are strong enough to pick me up and provide much-needed reassurance, battery re-charging and support.

No.2 My friends with whom I can be myself and where a good sense of humour is a shared commodity (there are no friendships more sacred than those where laughter, both with and at one another, without fear of reproach or offence is an integral part of the friendship’s mix).

No.3 Getting outside and breathing in that very essence of life: fresh air – the stuff that’s free and which fills your lungs with oxygen.  The very same stuff that a flame needs to burn.

These three things bring me back into the light with renewed illumination on my path.

For our own light to burn brightly, it’s all about balance; we should sometimes be the one who provides the re-charging and sometimes be the one to receive it from others.

In this uncertain world, one thing is guaranteed which is after the darkness, always comes the light. But what I’ve also found to be true is this: surrounding yourself with those who light your path makes the darkness, when it comes, all the more bearable.

So, whose path will you light this week? Or will it be you whose path needs to be lit? Whilst you’re deciding, let’s remember this fact: it’s actually very easy to light your own path.  Just step out of your shadow.

 

 

Here Come the Girls……

Good morning sisters! International Women’s Day 2018 has arrived…..let the party begin.

This event has been celebrated annually since March 8th 1913 and to say there’s been a lot of change for women since that time doesn’t adequately describe the real progress that has been made.  So, I’ll be bigger and bolder than that and say that the changes for women since then have been metamorphic. I do love that word: metamorphic. It’s one that I think does pay tribute to the massive changes that have taken place for women since International Women’s Day was first officially acknowledged all those years ago.

It’s a unique and very special day; the one day out of 365 days in the year, where women around the world should be and are collectively going to be, shouting from the rooftops about their achievements and experiences and about the progress we’ve made as women in this modern and challenging world.

This year’s International Women’s Day 2018 theme, #PressforProgress got me thinking about the bravery, determination and courage shown by Emmeline Pankhurst and all those other women who fought so heroically, 100 years ago, to bring about the monumental changes to voting rights for women. The movement they started, means we exist as women today in our country with voices, opinions and voting choices equal to those of men.

Today is about celebrating our strength and courage both as individuals and as a group of women collectively with the emphasis on unity and equality.  But, today whilst we acknowledge what great progress has been made, International Women’s Day reminds us that there’s still a long road to travel before we can look back and state unequivocally that gender disparity is a thing of the past.  We all know there’s still much work to be done: equal pay for equal jobs equals parity. Pay differences based on gender does not.

I’m very proud to have been asked to be the speaker today at Endeavour Partnership‘s celebration for International Women’s Day at Crathorne Hall.  I’m speaking on behalf of Breast Cancer Care who’ve been chosen to be the recipients of monies raised from the raffle that will take place at today’s event.  I’m excited because as a volunteer speaker for Breast Cancer Care, I’ll be able to tell my audience about a very special woman: the late Betty Westgate MBE.  I can’t think of a more appropriate day than International Women’s Day to be able to speak publicly about the achievements of this wonderful woman who is credited with playing a major role in changing attitudes towards breast cancer treatment in the UK.

Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1968. She personally experienced the woeful lack of support for women undergoing breast cancer treatment and the way in which she was treated during her experience, prompted her to initiate change.  Betty is definitely on my dream dinner party list!

On Christmas Eve in 1973, five years after her breast cancer diagnosis, Betty founded the Mastectomy Association from her living room in Croyden, South London.  As a direct result of Betty’s pioneering work, the Mastectomy Association turned into Breast Cancer Care as we know it today. They are the only UK wide charity to provide practical and emotional support to women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 1968, when Betty was diagnosed with breast cancer, there were very few female breast cancer surgeons in the world. As was the norm back then, Betty’s mastectomy was performed by a male surgeon. Today, I want to say thank you to those women who have trained as breast cancer surgeons and who, in 2018, are working alongside male breast cancer surgeons within our hospitals, providing a more balanced landscape and choice of surgeon for women undergoing such emotionally traumatic surgery.

And, for all our chaps out there today, please don’t feel left out. Celebrate with us and for us. We’ve come a long way but united, we’ll go further.

Sisters, let’s enjoy it!  Today is our special day.  #IWD2018  #PressforProgress  

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Betty Westgate MBE 1919-2000 (photograph courtesy of Breast Cancer Care)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grabbing Fear by its Ankles in February

Hello February………..you’ve arrived.  I thought you were never going to get here; your neighbour to the left of you seemed to go on forever! Maybe it was to do with the resolutions lots of us placed upon ourselves at the start of last month, not to mention the dryness of it, if January without alcohol was something you set yourself as a challenge. To those of you who did, well done! I tip my hat to you.

I’ve done a couple of dry January’s in the past and at the end of both of them, I felt an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction coupled with a wonderful sense of achievement (not to mention a much lighter glass recycling bin that I pulled with ease to the end of my drive using one finger instead of the two-handed effort that it takes sometimes!). May you enjoy a glass of something lovely this evening in the knowledge that your liver has been rejuvenated and repaired and although you can’t hear the words, it’s actually saying, ‘thank you’. It’s a Big Thing that you’ve just done for yourself.

Sticking with the theme of Big Things, what I want to talk about today shares its first letter with the first letter of this month but that’s just coincidental really. (I wonder sometimes where my brain is going but bear with, I’m getting there!). Today’s theme might only have four letters and in that sense it’s a small word but its nature is very powerful indeed.  I want to talk about FEAR. When you think about it, it’s actually massive and, if we allow it to, can hold us back enormously.

Here’s some of the reasons why:

  • It can stop us from trying something new for fear of failure
  • It can stop us from doing or saying the right thing in case it makes us less popular
  • It can stop us from enjoying each day due to fear of what tomorrow might bring
  • It can stop us from developing in our personal relationships with one another by being afraid to talk freely
  • It can stop us from performing to the best of our ability in whatever it is that our day entails
  • It can stop us from being us.

It’s easy to see the pattern: the word ‘stop’ and ‘fear’ go hand in hand. Fear wears an outfit whose colours are dreary; the fabric of its being is uncomfortable and itchy. It doesn’t hang well, yet we still choose to wear it.  Today I’m asking myself why? There’s a hundred and one reasons why and for each of us, the answers will be different but that’s no reason not to ask the question.

So….. hello February……I’m asking it of you! This month, I’ve set myself a challenge. Every day when I wake up and look at you, I’m going to ask myself what it is that I’m afraid of and I’m going to stare right back at it. I’m going to grab fear by its ankles, tip it upside down and give it a shake. Some days I’m sure, will be harder than others to grab its pesky  legs but there are going to be more days than not where I have you firmly in my grasp.

This month, be you, be proud of how far you’ve come, stand up for what you believe is right and look at fear for what it really is: a four letter word.

And finally, for all of you who’ve experienced the joy of seeing The Greatest Showman at the cinema last month, you’ll understand when I say, This Is Me, will now always be my go to song for lyrics that uplift, inspire and remind me to kick fear right up its backside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Fresh Start: 2018

It’s here! The first day of a brand new year: day one of another 365 days that have yet to unfold; a year full of pages that we haven’t yet read. Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

I’m sitting in bed with a box of chocolates by my side, fingers licked and at the ready as I write this blog post on the first day of 2018. It’s only 11.00am and I’ve already broken my first resolution: eat less chocolate. But what the heck, who cares really? The gold wrappers on the caramel Roses are far too shiny to ignore and washed down with a cup of tea, they are simply the best! So, onwards……..

Some of my friends reading this, have celebrated New Year in Sydney and are a further 11 hours into this new chapter of our lives. Happy New Year to you too! You’ve experienced more of this new day than we have in the UK. I hope it’s unfolding well. In fact, by the time you get to read this, you will probably have entered Day 2 of 2018. Funny that.

How is everybody feeling today? The effects of a few too many tipples last night might mean you feel a bit ropey but the good news is that as each hour passes, that will wear off and the new, more clear-eyed and 2018 version of you will begin to emerge. Or, you might, like me, have made the decision to drive last night and not drink alcohol. (I had a great time, honestly, just without the addition of alcohol). For that reason, I don’t feel so bad having indulged already this morning and munched on chocolates. How very rock ‘n’ roll!!

However we’re all feeling, may we all remember this: today is a fresh start, the beginning of a new year. There are lots of things that will happen this year that will challenge us. Some of those things will make us feel strong and some of those things will make us feel less strong. And, some of those things will be out of our control but there are also lots of things that are going to happen because we have been in control. Big thoughts like that make me feel a bit overwhelmed if I let them but this year is going to be the year where I try to feel less overwhelmed and more in control.

In the lead up to Christmas, in fact on the morning of the 23rd November, I woke up and a dog of the black variety had decided to pay me another of its unwelcome visits. It arrived without warning but made its presence known very quickly.

I wasn’t prepared for that particular visit. On other occasions I’ve been more prepared. I know I’m not alone in this because I talk, a lot, to other people who experience this and for those of you who recognise how those episodes feel, you’ll understand when I say that the long, dark days of the end of November felt very long and dark indeed.

Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you because I want to acknowledge that it happened. I’m telling you because by my telling you, it might help somebody else and I’m telling you because I want to say thank you. Thank you to my family and friends that supported me and an even bigger thank you, that as quickly as it arrived, the four-legged feeling of gloom, skipped off in to the sunset on the 20th December, in time for me to enjoy Christmas.

How random is that? But life is random. None of us know what tomorrow will bring (well actually, that’s not quite true). It’s the not knowing what’s around the corner that can make life exciting or terrifying. But, whatever challenges and/or opportunities we might face this year, all of them will be easier to deal with by talking.

When I started blogging in July of last year, I did so with a big knot in my stomach when I pressed, ‘Publish’ for the first time. Every part of me allowed me to think the worse: that nobody would read it and that those who did would think it was a load of rubbish. I didn’t allow myself to glimpse at how it might feel if my blog was well received and how it might feel if somebody contacted me to say it had given them a boost or brightened their day a bit.

Well, I’m starting 2018 with another big thank you, to every single one of you who have taken the time to read my blog posts. You will never know how much you have helped me and made me feel – all of which has been positive. I’m acutely aware that not everybody deals with things by publicly speaking about it but I would never be where I am today unless very kind people had taken the time to tell me that I am not alone and never will be. My blogging has helped me but I know now, because lots of you have taken the time to tell me, via emails, texts, Twitter and FB messages that it’s helped you.

So, in our own way, let’s all try and make 2018 our year when we help one another more: our families, friends and even people who we don’t yet know. We all hope that 2018 will be a great year but we know already that for some it will be difficult. Make it less so by helping each other in whatever way we can. My helping might be different to your helping but that’s what makes us all so unique and special.

2018: let’s do this.

 

 

Kindness at Christmas

What does it mean to be kind? Does it have a different meaning at different times of the year? I’ve seen a lot of things written lately about kindness at Christmas. What does that mean in the middle of the bustle, one of the busiest and what can often be one of the most stressful times of the year?

At the risk of sounding selfish, I want to tell you what it means to me. I want to do this because in the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with lots of things; normal day-to-day stuff. I know I’m not alone because I’ve been talking to lots of people: friends, family members and, actually, a few strangers that I’ve found myself in conversation with, in shop queues which at this time of year have a habit of moving slowly.

I’ve been having what I call one of my, ‘funny little times’. Not funny in a humourous way but in a way that means sleep has evaded me, my anxiety has gone beyond what I feel is manageable and there have been days when I’ve felt like I’m ploughing through treacle (metaphorically that is, because probably like you, I’ve never actually ploughed through treacle but I imagine it’s rather difficult).  In amongst all of this oddness, is the notion that December, with its anticipation and build up to Christmas, should be a time of being jolly, festive and kind to one another. But for lots of people, this time of year can be really difficult.

So, this morning, I’ve realised something. One of the reasons I’ve been feeling like I have (there’s a few reasons but this is the one I want to talk about) is because I’ve forgotten about being kind to me. That’s right. ME. That word that sees us looking inward instead of outward, makes us acknowledge things that maybe we’d rather not and which, if ‘me’ isn’t taken care of, makes it impossible to be properly kind to anybody else.

It’s a big THING, kindness. It’s one of those things that keeps the world revolving, like compassion and empathy. It’s the THING that I’ll be shown when I visit the chemotherapy unit at James Cook University Hospital this morning by the team of staff there who are part of my angels on earth, many of whom, I think, often forget to be kind to themselves. My visit today will see me put my smile on at the door and think of something lovely when the wonderful phlebotomist takes my blood, and who will do so with expertise and precision because it’s his job and he’s fabulous at it. He makes that part of things so much nicer.

When I leave the unit today, I’ve decided on something. I’m going to take home within me some of the staff’s kindness as a reminder that without kindness inside of me, shown to me, I can’t be properly kind to anybody else. And that’s part of my current problem solved. I’ve left kindness to ME somewhere and seem to have forgotten where I’ve put it.

Remembering to be kind to ourselves is vital, not just in December; it’s important throughout the year. But in the lead up to Christmas, with its madness and mayhem and frenzy of activity, let’s stop for a moment and remember you; that person who needs to show kindness to themselves first, a bit of TLC and a warm self-pat on the back as a reminder of how far you’ve come.

Kindness at Christmas: make it start with you. Sharing and showing kindness after that will help to make this season of goodwill kind to us all.

Merry Christmas. xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40-50 And a Nod to Gratitude

On November 29th 2007, ten years ago, when I’d just turned 40, a local eminent spinal surgeon had to give me some news that made my life stop in its tracks. He was looking at MRI images of my spine and seemed to be struggling to find the right words to tell me that my complaint of lower back pain was inconsequential; he could see the source of my discomfort was due to natural wear and tear for my age.

His apparent inability to communicate effectively came out as, ‘Have you come to the clinic with anybody today?’. ‘Err, no actually, I’m on my own’, I replied, which was followed by what seemed like a very long silence on his part. My mind flitted to what my husband was doing right at that moment, thousands of miles away in Japan and I started to feel a bit uneasy. I hadn’t been in this kind of situation before: alone with a doctor, being asked if I was alone. Somewhere, in the back of my mind,  I remembered things I’d read and seen on TV which made me think, THIS IS NOT GOOD.

The way the conversation went next is a bit of a blur to be honest.  But, what I do remember clearly, were the words that floated at the front of my brain for many long, sleepless nights afterwards which were, ‘shadows’ and ‘lungs’, and the memory of the ridiculous burning sensation in my cheeks when I’d told him, this Very Important Surgeon, that I’d only ever been a social smoker in my distant past, not a proper smoker, as though that would somehow make him think differently of me.  But this type of shadowing was not tobacco related. It was different and was related specifically to my breast cancer.

In an awkward way, for which I forgave him, the spinal consultant was trying to tell me that my breast cancer consultant would want to speak with me urgently. Putting two and two together came up with zero, never mind four because back then, I knew nothing about secondary breast cancer. ‘Why, what has this got to do with her?’, I asked, struggling to make the link. In the weeks that followed I learned very quickly why it was everything to do with her.

I always tell my children: the most important conversations are often the most difficult ones to have.  That conversation with the spinal surgeon was one of those difficult but important conversations. In the space of five minutes, my life as I knew it would always be different. Lots of you will have had five minutes like that; a slot of time which heralded significant change in your life. (I have photograph albums that I look at with invisible captions on them that only I can see, which read:  Before I Knew I Had Secondaries and After I Knew I Had Secondaries. Trauma does that to you).

Once I got past my two-year life expectancy prognosis, I was 42 and I dared to think that I might reach 43,  44 or even 45.  (Making negotiations with time is something that patients like me do a lot. Reaching big milestones but then wanting more, is something we do quietly so as not to seem ungrateful for the time we’ve already had).

Each month between then and now has passed and somehow, as my oncologist says, ‘the months have turned into years’, and I’ve achieved this monumental milestone which saw my twin sister and I, celebrate our 50th birthdays last month. (Yes, I know, some of you are sick of hearing about it, and yes, my celebrations have been all over Facebook for several months now but it’s because it was something very special to be celebrated).  I AM 50. WE ARE 50 and WE WERE ABLE TO CELEBRATE IT TOGETHER.

The fact that I am now 50 and am writing this blog is nothing short of exceptional (the part about me being here to write it of course, not the blog itself!) It’s a word I’ve been told I’m allowed to use by the medical people who know about this kind of thing. Apparently, I’m described as, ‘an exceptional survivor’, currently defying statistics and the data on 10 year survival patterns.  And, now I’ve entered my fifth decade, I really cannot stop smiling. I am so grateful because it’s something that I never thought I would see. I’ve had so much more time than I expected and it’s given me a perspective on being grateful that I cherish.

So, what is it that’s special about gratitude, a concept so massive that whole books have been written on the subject? Well, in my humble opinion, it’s one of the biggest things in our lives which if we get even half right, means we’ll end up happier and more fulfilled.

Now, if you are somebody who is truly grateful for everything and everyone that you have in your life and I mean truly grateful to the point where, if the world ended tomorrow you would have no regrets, then stop reading.  I’m talking to the converted if that is you and I salute you for the saintliness of your outlook. But, for the rest of us mere mortals, it’s great to visit regularly, the importance of gratitude and what it means to be grateful.

Humour aside, life can sometimes be very hard indeed and at the most challenging times of our lives it can be hard to see anything to be grateful for. Within my own extended family and within the lives of some of my friends, life events have happened that have been far from fair. In fact, they’ve been the polar opposite of fair; major, life changing, crushing events that have left gaping holes in their lives. It’s at those times that showing gratitude is hard because grief, anger, fear and acceptance all must have their rightful place before gratitude is allowed back in.

We’ve all been told from a very early age that time is a great healer but what we come to understand and learn as we get older and what I know at 50, is that it’s what we do with our time that heals. Being able to show gratitude again when a light has gone out in our lives is part of that healing process.

I’ve had the privilege of spending time with and getting to know people for whom life has been extremely hard and there is so much that I have learned from them.  Their ability to show gratitude in the face of extreme adversity is humbling. It’s given me lots to reflect on and lots to think about.

On that note, below are some pointers that I’ve written to help me keep the grateful switch in my head turned to ‘on’. It flicks to ‘off’ sometimes because I’m human. Some of it might resonate with you. Some of it might not.

  • Health, family and friendships are the things that really do matter. Material things do not.
  • Celebrate the small things that happen every day.  Every day isn’t going to be a great day but it’s a day that we can be grateful we’ve had.
  • Don’t cloud your vision by wanting. Try and see the good things that are there right in front of you. Seeing is more clear, when you focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.
  • Try not to be a complainer; someone prone to moaning. It’s too easy to say what’s wrong with everything and find fault. Make a list of all the things that are good in your life and look at it regularly.
  • The great outdoors can be a wonderful source of inspiration. Even on days when you don’t feel like going very far, stand at your door, open it wide, breathe in some air and be thankful for that simple activity. There are lots of people who aren’t able to do even that.
  • Keep a gratitude journal (before you laugh, there’s scientific evidence that shows it’s a really beneficial thing to do for our wellbeing). Focussing on three things at the end of every day that we are grateful for and writing them down, really helps to be reminded of the things that have happened that day, big or small, for which we are thankful.
  • Say ‘thank you’, a lot. Out loud and also silently. They are two short words that carry such clout. Giving thanks both outwardly and inwardly is a thing that we sometimes forget to do but there is always some thing to be thankful for.

With grateful thanks to being 50.

P.S. Here’s my 83-year-old Mam. With gratitude and thanks Mam for everything you’ve done for me and for your view on life that’s always encouraging. When life has thrown you lemons you’ve always managed to smile.

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P.P.S. In a week where Shelter have published their latest figures on homelessness, spare a thought this winter for the 307,000 people in the UK who don’t have a roof over their heads or a bed to call their own.

As I said, there’s always something to be thankful for.

 

 

 

 

 

A Date for Your Diary

Lots of you will know but some of you may not, that the month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s acknowledged internationally, as the month for raising awareness about, and raising funds for, breast cancer.

Originally introduced in America in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical section of Imperial Chemical Industries to raise awareness about the importance of mammography screening, the month has grown and developed globally into a pink-fest of the biggest kind.

This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Pink Ribbon which was introduced by Evelyn Lauder, Vice President of Estee Lauder Companies, as a symbol of hope and unity and to coincide with the launch of their Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Along with the ribbon, there’s now an endless display of pink merchandise on offer in the lead up to and during the month of October.

But for people like me, who live with secondary breast cancer, it’s hard to cope with the pinkness of October because living with the incurable form of the disease doesn’t come with a pink hue. In fact, the shade of this type of breast cancer is as far away from pink as you can get. It can often be a really dark shade of grey.

However, like thousands of other people, over the years I’ve done a lot of fundraising in October. Selling pink ribbons and badges and organising and attending events, raises money to fund the vital work of breast cancer research and helps to support individuals on a practical level who’ve been diagnosed with the disease.

But, I think the word I’d use to best describe the pinkness of the month, is ‘imbalanced’ because, whilst I appreciate that hundreds of thousands of pounds will be raised during October for both research and support, what is lacking is an awareness and understanding that the month is a big smack in the face for secondary breast cancer patients. There is still no cure for the secondary form of  breast cancer and it’ll be many years from now before it becomes a disease that can be controlled, like other chronic diseases. Breast cancer, like other cancers, is complex and it’s the very nature of its complexity that makes a cure elusive.

What can we do then to address this imbalance; to raise awareness and remember, that during October, amongst the pink, there are 35,000 people in the UK living with secondary breast cancer and 11,400 people who will die from the disease every year?  Well, I’ll tell you and this is the least we can do: we can open our diaries, iPhones, calendars or whatever it is that we use to earmark important days and put a circle around October 13th.

I’d like you to join me in doing this because it’s a very important day; it’s National Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day and it’s a day where we can all remember and acknowledge those who have lost their lives to the disease and those who are living with breast cancer cells and tumours that have spread to other parts of their body. This can include their bones, lungs, liver and brain.

It’s also a day when we can remember those who are working in research centres around the world. These scientists are trying to unlock the mystery of this disease so that in the future, if your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunty or friend develops secondary breast cancer, then she can expect to live far longer than the measly 3-5 years that is currently the average survival following a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. Some people live less than this, whilst some live considerably more.

Very soon, I’ll reach my ten-year milestone of life with secondary breast cancer. How I’ve survived this long and why, is something I ask myself every day but I do know the real answer; a combination of NHS funded drugs, my disease biology and a bit of statistical luck. (And, by the way, positivity has everything to do with being able to live a ‘normal’ life with cancer but very little to do with surviving cancer. If only it were that simple).

It’s a year that is very special for me, not least of which because this month I turn 50. During this year, I’ve already raised many glasses in celebration but I’ve raised as many in remembrance. Celebration, because I’m enjoying life and living and remembrance, as I’ve thought of my friends who are no longer here to celebrate special milestones because of this wretched disease.

So, if you can, in this month of October, remember the 13th and raise your glass too. Celebrate everything that is good in your life and at the same time, acknowledge and remember those for whom life might not be so pink at the moment.

Cheers!  xxx

 

 

 

 

Words

Which quotes inspire you? Do you have a favourite; one that really resonates with you? I read one a few days ago, on the wall of a treatment room at the Seven Wellbeing Centre at the Butterwick Hospice. I’ve seen it before but this time, it stayed with me:

People may forget what you said but they will aways remember the way you made them feel.

Fans of Maya Angelou will recognise it’s a modified version of words that are attributed to her, the brilliant American civil rights activist, poet and author.  (If I ever get asked the,  ‘If you could choose five people, dead or alive, that you could dine with, who would it be?’ question, then she would definitely be one of my five).

Like many of her quotes, it’s memorable because it is so true. When I think about certain situations, although I can’t remember verbatim what a person may have said to me, I can always remember the way they made me feel. The feeling might have been a lovely one or one that made me feel uncomfortable; one that made me feel happy or one that made me hurt.

Our words to one another carry with them so much power. The tone we use, our choice of words and the way in which we say them, create a physical and mental reaction within the person we’re communicating with, creating feelings that we can’t touch or see but which nonetheless are very real. Powerful stuff.

Reading that quote last week, made me think about how our words can change someone’s whole day and how they feel about themselves. On that theme, I thought I’d share some words of my own in the form of a poem (because it’s National Poetry Day!).

Here goes:

Word is ‘drow’ spelt backwards,

A drizzly, mist of a thing.

A word on its own can mean nothing,

Or it can mean everything.

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Words can create our emotions;

Can uplift, support and inspire.

They can make our day, or break it.

To the former, we all can aspire.

 

Laura Ashurst

28th September 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mindful View

Really taking notice of my surroundings is a skill I’m continually trying to develop and I’m pleased to say I’ve become much better at it over recent years. If I was to give myself marks out of ten, I would say I’m a seven now, but it wasn’t that long ago that I was hovering between a one and a two (yes, really that low) because my brain was always ten steps ahead of wherever I was.

And then I discovered mindfulness. But before you decide to stop reading because the mindfulness word has turned you off, please bear with me. Honestly, it’s changed my life quite dramatically and last night’s view has inspired me to share this with you today.

I was introduced to mindfulness about nine years ago during a particularly difficult and hugely momentous period; I call it my annus horribilis. We all have times, things and events that happen in our lives that are so emotionally BIG, it feels like we’ve forgotten how to breathe properly never mind take notice of our surroundings. Putting one foot in front of another during these times is an achievement in itself; noticing what’s going on around us can be a bit blurry.

My feelings of detachment and unfamiliarity with my surroundings at that time, prompted me to seek help.

Acknowledging that you need help is a BIG THING. It’s BIG because it’s scary and for all sorts of reasons but like lots of things in life, scary things don’t seem so scary when you look directly at them and get to know them a bit better.

Asking for help, introduced me to mindfulness and opened my eyes to a whole new world. I’d like to tell you how it did that but without sounding like I’m some kind of guru on the subject, which obviously I’m not.

There are lots of definitions about mindfulness, but the one I like best is from the master himself, who designed and delivered the first Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts in 1979. It’s this:

‘Paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally’, John Kabatt Zin.

Telling you the ins and outs of the MBSR patient course that I attended would be boring because, for it to be meaningful, you had to be there, but believe me when I say, IT CHANGED MY VIEW ON THE WORLD. Seriously. It came into my life at just the right time.

There’ll be some of you reading this, who’ve been introduced to mindfulness and who,  like me, may have been skeptical in the beginning about how ‘being in the moment’ was going to be of any real use. There’ll be others of you, thinking mindfulness sounds like a load of rubbish. I can only speak for myself, and do so with conviction, when I tell you: it has been and continues to be very helpful and beneficial to my wellbeing. But, like anything that’s of real benefit to our health, mindfulness has to be practised regularly to be effective. It needs some nurturing to feel the effects.

Don’t just take my word for it; there are hundreds of evidence-based scientific papers on the efficacy of mindfulness.

It’s been particularly effective at helping me to:

  • reduce the amount of time I have negative thoughts about the future which is beyond my control
  • take time to pause, really noticing my surroundings and being present
  • acknowledge anxious thoughts, without dwelling on them and becoming consumed by those thoughts
  • notice when I’m breathing shallowly, which reminds me to take a few minutes out, to sit and breathe deeply.

A homework task that we were set during my eight week mindfulness course was to take a mindful walk around the place that we lived; not a new walk but one that was familiar and that had been done many times before. The task was to walk a normal route but to walk and really notice our surroundings, using our eyes, ears and sense of smell.

I did this homework task around Stokesley,  the market town where I live. The things I observed were ordinary things, but I noticed stuff about these ordinary things for the first time: the way the sun shone through the leaves on the trees in the local play-park, the noise that the river made when I really listened and the way that the flowers in the baskets on the High St made the street look so pretty.

If this sounds like madness, I’m very happy to say it’s not; walking mindfully has changed the way I get from A to B and mindfulness can be applied to every part of our lives.  For example, having a mindful conversation with a family member, friend or work colleague and really listening is enlightening and so much less energy intensive than trying to listen to another conversation that’s going on in your head at the same time.

Eating mindfully, is another great way of being in the moment and was also part of homework tasks set. How many meals have you had, where you haven’t actually tasted your food properly because you’ve rushed to finish your meal, your mind elsewhere, thinking about other stuff you have to achieve that day? I’ve had loads of meals like that but I’m trying to have a lot less.

And trying is the key word because each day brings its own challenges. Some days are harder than others; we all have days where we feel exhausted and a bit worn out and it’s on those days especially that mindfulness has helped me.

Yesterday was one of those days and so, early evening,  my husband and I took ourselves off to Little Ayton, past Fletchers Farm and did a mindful walk. Stopping to really notice the sky, with its cloud formations and vivid colours, made me feel invigorated and reminded me of the beautiful things that are all around us and that are always there when we really take the time to look.

And, when I listened really carefully, I was certain I could hear someone say, ”You’re alive”.

 

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