My partner and I have lived in Frome for many years and have known about WHY, originally Positive Action on Cancer, since it was founded by Jill Miller over 25 years ago. Friends have used your services over the years and have always found it beneficial.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2018. Previously to that my dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was 20, and heartbreakingly passed away a year later. Over the following years my Aunt and cousin also both had breast cancer, so unfortunately the disease has been part of our lives for a long time. However, getting your own diagnosis hits you differently.
I was treated last year (2018) which I am very grateful for as I am acutely aware that not everyone gets that option. Since then I have been trying to find my new normal.
The RUH invited me to a ‘moving on day’ post treatment, which was very good. It confirms the realization that just because everyone else may think you have finished treatment and you are well, you’re not and that’s normal, that’s ok. The nurses treating me had told me that it was likely to hit me mentally afterwards, which it did. The catalyst for which was twofold for me. In December my aunt & Godmother, who having experienced breast cancer herself had been a huge support to me during my treatment, told me she had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer that had spread to her liver. This was devastating to all of us and she passed away a few weeks ago. Also, whilst I was having treatment last year, two other mums at my son’s nursery were diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the nursery teachers, who had previously had breast cancer, created a group to encourage us to support each other. Sadly, as one of the mums was coming to the end of her treatment, she got told that it had spread, and she passed away a few weeks later.
I found myself struggling to cope with all the different emotions and physical exhaustion, I knew I needed some help. I always thought I would at some point, so I was prepared. My employer was very supportive, they offered me access to an employee assistance program and counselling, but I always said, ‘no its ok there is a local charity who will be my first port of call’. So, I referred myself to WHY and I received the initial phone call back. Even just referring yourself is such a positive step and then receiving that phone call back, that half an hour to talk to go through your circumstances is quite cathartic. I found it of great comfort to hear somebody pass on little bits of advice and reassurance and then present you with options of what might work for you. I went into it thinking there was just one option of 1-1 counselling, which I would have opted for, but being presented with an opportunity to take a place on the WHYoutdoors pilot course really resonated with me. I still can’t believe the timing of it really which is a lovely feeling, like the help I needed was there when I asked for it. As the counsellor described that the course would take place in a woodland, with a fire and a yurt I flashed back to my teenage years and thought ‘That’s me all over, I want to do that’.
I didn’t really know what to expect, and was a bit nervous on the first day, it was a long way to go, and we had been given prior notification that the location may be a bit difficult to find, so it was like going on an adventure. You forget that its counselling which is the genius of it. The first thing they did after we’d all arrived and had a cup of tea, was sit us down and ask us to introduce ourselves and what had brought us there. I spoke first and then we went around the group one by one. Just that simple introduction was an extremely emotional experience and bonded us as a group instantly. They didn’t ask us to pour our hearts out at any point during the course, but we were given the space to do so as and when the emotions presented themselves. Even just saying what you’ve been through and why you are there is enough. I found comfort in the fact that we had each been offered a place because we’d had cancer. For us as a group it was good that there was a common theme, and I think it would work just as well if you were the carer friend or relative of somebody with cancer, all in a similar position. I must also say at this point that it becomes clear very quickly that this style of practice and therapy would work for any human being regardless of where they are and what they’ve been through which is a wonderful thought.
I know that yoga and mindfulness are good for you, I’ve dabbled in practising them but not consistently, there are always other things that seem to take priority of your time. Participating on WHYoutdoors gave me the excuse to take the time out. It was wonderful to have someone ask you to go off by yourself for 20 minutes and simply find a sit spot and observe the beauty surrounding you before calling you back for some delicious homemade soup. In the afternoons we would be asked what we found or thought, and It makes you think ‘well what did I discover’. What comes out of your mouth surprises you and then listening others recount their experiences nourishes both you and them. During our first session we were introduced to a ‘grounding’ technique that we practised and our homework ahead of week two was to spend 10-15 minutes a day just sitting somewhere out in nature. I picked a spot in the garden, where I could sit and practice. There were days when I thought ‘I can’t find 10-15 minutes, why can’t I do that? Why is this hard?’. Our daily lives can get so busy with ‘things to do’, ‘ things I should do’, ‘things I want to do but never seem to get round to’ and for me the real revelation that week was how hard it was just to sit for a relatively short space of time each day and how much of a difference I felt if I did it.’
There were a couple of us who had relatively recently finished treatment, so fatigue was still very much an issue. One of the things I realised during that first session was how I was feeling increasingly frustrated with my body and its ability to get back to normal. I kept getting colds I couldn’t shift and would end up on antibiotics, the speed of my physical recovery seemed to be holding everything else in life back. The course leaders pointed out that the natural world works at a different pace, it’s very busy but it’s not so obvious, nature has its own rhythm that doesn’t comply to the pace of modern life. They introduced poetry into the course, things like ‘don’t think about the third step, think about the next step’, which resonated with me and helped.
Prior to the course it had occurred to me that the way I used to deal with daily stresses before I had cancer, possibly contributed to me becoming ill in the first place. I was almost panicking that my life would go back to that ‘normal’ and there was a big lesson I was going to miss. I felt something needed to change, I knew the normal would be different, but I didn’t want to just recycle the same behaviour as before.
I had been struggling to manage the seemingly relentless fatigue. When I was feeling exhausted, I would lie on the sofa and maybe watch tv, but no matter how long I did this for it never really felt long enough. I could be there for hours and maybe feel a bit better, enough to get up and going again… for a bit, but it didn’t really have much of an impact. I have a young family and household to run so it was difficult to find the time to rest when I needed it, I ended up pushing my body perhaps more than I should have. One of the Professors at the RUH mentioned on the moving on day that ‘you can’t throw will power at fatigue’ and he’s right. In incredibly stark contrast to this I found that just 15 minutes ‘homework’ sat in my garden practising the grounding technique reenergised me in a completely different way. The exchange of energy is incredible, I almost still can’t really believe it, but it does work. It’s been an invaluable revelation that has enabled me to successfully manage and eventually banish the dreaded fatigue.
When I started WHYoutdoors I didn’t really know what I needed other than I needed help. The course provided the room in my mind to slowly understand what I needed help with. It felt like I had the opportunity to revisit things I used to love to do with older eyes. As your life progress you can gradually disengage from the natural environment more and more, not consciously, just largely due to the fast pace and demands of modern living. Our emotional and physical wellbeing are intrinsically linked to nature. It was pointed out to us that human beings have spent 99% of their existence in the wilderness. On personal reflection a lot of happiness has centred around time spent in nature, either on my own or with family and friends, climbing trees, playing hide and seek, walks by the river, visiting lakes, forests, running in a field or sat on the beach looking out to sea.
At the RUH moving on day they said that society gives you six weeks after you finish treatment, and then you’re expected to be back to normal. People will say ‘how are you? You look really well’ and you’re thinking, ‘ok I may look well but.…’. It was easier mentally when I was in treatment because everyone knew I was on the floor, whereas after that ended people expected me to be fine and I was drained, worn out and lost.
I finished WHYoutdoors in August and feel blessed to have taken part. I can testify to the benefits of the course, for me personally I gained invaluable tools that have enriched my life and those of my family and friends in so many ways. I practise the different techniques & pathways to connect to nature every day, not regimented, just as and when. I believe that everyone on the course gained from being there, we are meeting again in a month and it will be interesting to see how people have moved forward.
I’ve been totally inspired by it. Simple things like listening to the rain, two years ago I would have been sat at the laptop and I wouldn’t have even noticed it, I wouldn’t have taken the time to go out and stand in it, which I would now because it’s priceless. In a way I now feel grateful for everything we went through as a family to have learnt that lesson. It was a gift to have the time to be outside, be peaceful, be alone in good company, I couldn’t wait to get there every week.
Looking back, I realise that didn’t really pay much attention to my body before cancer, I was relatively fit, or so I thought, but in truth I took my body and health for granted. I am thankful that my condition was able to be treated and that I have subsequently had the opportunity to learn from this life changing wake-up call. It’s given me a new sense of perspective, allowing me to process personal experiences and gain a clearer, beautifully unfolding, understanding of what I want to do with this gift of life.
Thank you WHY