Alongside the print version of Issue One of Flourish Magazine, The Nourish Issue (available to view digitally here: https://yestolife.org.uk/flourish-magazine), we are releasing weekly digital content on the Artlift and Yes to Life websites, such as film, creative writing and blog posts.
This week’s digital piece is a blog by Jo van der Molen on her approach to the integrative approach to cancer, covering everything from self care to nutrition to alternative therapies, and exploring how the love for her son has kept her going.
Follow Jo’s Facebook page Metsers Alive here
Navigating the Integrative Approach to Cancer
By Jo van der Molen
Matt and me relaxing at Tonquani, our happy place in the bush
“YOU HAVE CANCER”
Three small words that shake you to the core and change your life forever. Whatever your age stage, diagnosis or prognosis, you’ll never be the same. It’s a day you’ll remember forever.
It was Wednesday, 4 January 2017, I was 45 and my son was just 12 days old when I was diagnosed with HER2POS breast cancer, with metastasis to the liver. The first six months are a blur; caring for an infant, coping with chemo, losing my hair and just keeping it together.
Chemo was not a choice with a small person to live for, but I researched and explored integrative avenues, and I still am. After five years of exploring the integrative approach, here’s what I’ve learned…
‘HOLISTIC’ SHOULD BE SPELT “WHOLISTIC”…
… because it’s about treating the whole: finding a balance between using conventional medicine with supporting and protecting your whole body. It’s been interesting to reflect on those five years and how I’ve navigated it all.
Initially I complied 100% with what I call the “cancer commandments” – no sugar, dairy, etc., but the guilt outweighed the indulgence. My oncologist advised “everything in moderation”. Supplements I take include vitamin B and D, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and I also believe in gut health, so kefir, kombucha and fermented foods too.
I’ve tried the ‘buzzwords’; B17, Budwig, Cannabis, Curcumin, but let it go. Though it’s natural to want control and fix, my attitude is there’s “no one-size-fits-all”; every cancer is different and so are our bodies.
LIFE GOES ON, SO REACH OUT
They say when someone gets cancer, the whole family does too. Cancer has taught me the value of family and friends, who’ve given me the most amazing gifts.
But few know how to support a Metster, our anxiety, fatigue and side-effects, because we get past being the patient and don the brave face – so having the right support is critical! I’m blessed with a dedicated medical and support network, psychologist and two friends where I can use the ‘bad’ words, explore fears and the uglier aspects of this journey. The network of resources and support from Yes to Life and their Wigwam groups have also been invaluable.
EXERCISE, SELF-CARE AND THERAPY
I’ve done yoga, pilates and gym; having something to get up for. But on days where I’m too tired or suffering the effects of chemo, then Qi Gong or yoga clips on YouTube, a few criss-crosses or a short walk outside can do wonders for the soul.
Reiki, acupuncture, reflexology and CranioSacral therapy have been part of my regime and I believe part of my healing but – if nothing else – they’re relaxing!
Frequency and sound therapies may seem airy-fairy to some, but there’s no denying the vibration of a Rife machine, the heart of a drumbeat or the therapeutic afterglow of a sound journey. It’s science!
Neuroplasticity and quantum physics also fascinate me. I’m a huge believer in the power of thought and words, so I’m very aware of what I say and how I think!
There’s such stigma attached to meditation, “creating a sacred space” and “stopping your thoughts”. Heck, then you’d be dead! I’ve found such grounding in simply just taking a few breaths, sitting quietly counting breaths, visualising colours and energy or listening to a guided meditation.
I’m not great at journaling, but writing is therapy. I never imagined myself as an artist until I sat down beside my son and started splashing some paint over paper. Next thing I was staring at a beautiful mandala (see image above)! My dad made a bookmark of shared moments (see image below). Being mindful, being present, that is healing!
Mother Nature has a healing energy greater than we know, so restoring and good for the soul. I’ve got my happy place in the bush to escape, and if I can’t get there, then I love gardening.
“A cancer survivor, much like a garden, needs tender loving care, support, and an adequate diet of nutrients, water and sunshine to thrive”
– Dr Inge Kriel, Breast Care Centre of Excellence
Description: Dad’s bookmark of this journey we’re on together
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING, BUT AVOID ‘TOXIC POSITIVITY’
My son Matthew is my joy and reason to live. He demands less as he gets older, but he is more aware and possibly more vulnerable. He nurtures my inner child, pushes my energy and delights my soul.
I try to focus on the good stuff, appreciate the small stuff and avoid what’s termed ‘toxic positivity’. How often are we told “stay positive” or “don’t give up”. Some days you just want to stay in bed and cry, and that’s okay! You’ll get up and carry on the next day.
Author of The Cancer Whisperer Sophie Sabbage (a late patron of Yes to Life) quoted “nobody wins on a battlefield”, giving me permission to stop “fighting” and start living. What a relief!
I walk with cancer every day, but I also live beyond being a patient. And I will see Matthew fly to the moon!
Partners in crime, me and my co-driver