The first results are in

The first results are in and they don’t look good. Tumour markers for the ovaries are high. The cyst is 10 cm long. The gynaecologist rang and pushed to move my appointment for a scan forward to this week, so it is on Thursday instead of in 10 weeks time. Great that they did it. Worrying that they found it necessary to do so.

I’m having to face the fact that it is likely that I have ovarian cancer.

What can I do now? Keep my appointments and find out what I’m looking at. Keep a positive attitude. Continue to eat well. Meditate and do qi gong daily. Avoid alcohol. Appreciate the good I have in my life. Exercise. Write.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Hang in there.


Living with cancer

I have lived with cancer for as long as I can remember. I was eight years old when it finally took my mother from me completely.

Cancer continued to pick away at my wider family, laying an aunt low to treatment here, killing an uncle there. It left my widowed father struggling to raise 3 daughters on his own and with an unhealthy paranoia over every lump and bump and skin discolouration that should rear its ugly head on his body.

Cancer also buried itself deep into my consciousness. It became part of my story. Perhaps the biggest part. A motherless little girl attracts a certain kind of pitying attention from friends and adults alike. I could never bear pity.

I remember one particular lunchtime at school – it must have been soon after my mother died, because I was still at my first school and I was only there for 6 more months – and my classmates were testing my grief. Some bright spark had come up with the theory that I welled up whenever the word ‘mother’ or ‘mum’ was mentioned. So our time in the dinner queue was spent with my 8 year old tormenters getting me to spin around to face them as they hurled the words at me repeatedly and inspected my face closely for signs of impending tears.

I bit those tears down and spun on my heels with a grin as wide and bright as a showgirl. Now my heart breaks for that little girl but back then my only thought was suppression for survival.

Being treated to such a masterclass in cruelty so early on made me learn quickly and really well. I became a world-class represser of untidy emotions. By the time I was an adult I had become so skilled at beating them into submission that even I didn’t really know what I was feeling any more. On the upside, no-one else did either and so no-one could hurt me. Or so the unexpressed but deeply-felt theory went.

Having had cancer shove its big, scary face right up and close into mine at such a young and formative age also made me react in a way opposite to my father. While he dogged his doctor with requests for ever-more checks, tests, scans and biopsies, I developed a deep distrust of the medical profession and a desire never to look cancer in the eyes again. So I retreated from their orbit.

Ask no questions and you’ll hear no bad news went this second, unexpressed mantra to live by.

Only it turns out that’s not actually true. It just means that you’ll hear the news later and that it will inevitably be worse.

Let’s just hope that I have copped on to myself in time and raised my questions before it was too late.

Results day minus 6.


Breaking the block

I have a cyst on my ovaries. I found out yesterday, at my first gynaecological appointment in about ten years. I don’t know what size it is or much about it as I was flummoxed and nervous and couldn’t think what I should be asking. Or feeling.

I suspect it is large. The gynaecologist said I may need an operation. That sounds like it’s big. Or potentially serious in another way. He did my bloods and booked me for an ultrasound scan. He made detailed notes and marked my case ‘urgent’.

I spent the journey home googling ovarian cysts and cancer.

Once home I grasped at normality and took the dogs for a walk, headphones on as ever. The interviewee (Mirna Valerio) on the Rich Roll podcast mentioned her favourite mantra ‘I love myself unconditionally,’ which she had taken from Christiane Northrup.

It struck my like a bolt. What a beautiful affirmation. And as Mirna said, keep saying it until it becomes true. I have a horrible habit of muttering ‘I hate myself’ under my breath in times of stress or when I have failed at something. You don’t have to be a genius to figure that that can’t be good for you. And here Mirna presented me with the perfect way to push that negative habit out of the way. I’m on it already. One day in and it’s already getting easier.

The other gift this gave me was that it reminded me of Dr Northrup’s book ‘Women’s bodies women’s wisdom’, which I have owned and cherished for over twenty years. For some time now it has been sitting untouched on my shelves as life wandered on other paths. With a pending gynaecological diagnosis this was a timely reminder to pick it up again.

Reading the wisdom of Dr Northrup and the women chronicled in her pages had a grounding effect and helped me draw in, in positive reflection. The complete opposite of my earlier panicked googling.

The recurring theme attached to the ovaries in her writing is that of creativity. As someone who feels enormously blocked creatively, desperate to get started but seemingly unable to burst through my own confusion or lethargy, I responded tremendously to this. Dr Northrup sees ovarian issues, and cysts in particular, as a manifestation of blocked creativity.

My body and my mind are screaming at me in unison. And so here I am.


A Vote for Peace


I was born in 70s Britain to Irish parents. I had a comfortable, middle-class upbringing in Gloucestershire, punctuated by IRA atrocities on the news. My father had a building company and employed a large number of Irish builders, as well as British and other nationalities. When the Birmingham pub bombings happened, some of his employees were taken in for questioning. For being Irish and near the West Midlands. It was a frightening time to be an Irish immigrant in the UK just as it was a frightening time to be an IRA target.

Following the death of my mother from cancer we moved to southern Ireland when I was eight years old. The evening news continued to punch out stories of sectarian violence on a daily basis. Somehow though, there in the deepest, darkest west of Ireland, the violence felt more removed than it had in genteel Cheltenham. The north was another country. A world away, although little over an hour’s drive to the border. In the UK we had felt threatened by the violence – at risk of being caught up in an attack and also of becoming a suspect. A climate of fear, division and hatred reigned. It was good to be out of it.

When the Irish referendum on the Maastricht treaty came around in 1992 I was in my final year at university in Trinity College, Dublin. About to graduate into an Irish economy where jobs were thin on the ground, where emigration was still the norm and where the box in the corner continued to spit out nightly news of bombs and shootings.

I voted ‘yes’ to further integration with Europe at that time because I saw in it the first vague hope of a peaceful resolution to the hatred and conflict that had raged in northern Ireland all my life. For the economic benefits too but primarily my vote was for a philosophy of coming together, of unity as a power for good and for peace.

And so it proved to be. The northern Irish peace process of the 1990s culminated in the signing of The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the unthinkable finally happened. The atrocities stopped. For the first time in my lifetime Northern Ireland knew peace.

Forget the Celtic Tiger, the real miracle that Europe wrought in Ireland and by extension in the UK was not an economic one. It was far more profound, far-reaching and life-altering. It helped create the political environment which made a lasting peace possible.

24 years on and we live once again in troubled times. There are terrorist threats from other quarters. The politics of division and hate are on the rise. And it is the UK’s turn to hold a referendum on their future in the European Union.

For me, the choice is clear. I cast my vote for European unity. For integration, for the celebration of our shared humanity and the resolution of our differences. I vote for peace.


Unsticking the Stuck

Stuck. That’s where I am. Not in the middle with you. Just stuck.

In fairness, today was a day that invited melancholy. It dawned grey and grisly, with a thorough downpour. And not forgetting it was a Monday. Factor in a house undergoing renovations (read: no roof. I repeat: NO ROOF!) and you are probably getting an idea of how my week kicked off. (Ferrying soggy cardboard boxes around as their bottoms fell open spilling my worldly goods on the ground and generally feeling sorry for myself.)

But actually the weather and the worldly goods spilling on the ground weren’t really the problem, if I’m honest. I was just having one of those stuck days. Those days where the awareness of the length of your to-do list weighs so heavily on your shoulders that you can’t hold your head up straight. But equally you’d rather check in on Facebook just one more time rather than face action-ing just one of those suckers. And let’s face it, it’s not your fault. If you can’t hold your head up high enough to look at your to-do list then you can’t really be expected to tackle it, now can you.

So that’s how my Monday went. Avoiding. Sitting. Hitting ‘like’ on Facebook. Letting my woes mount. And then it struck me. The way to become unstuck.

There is no one item on my to-do list right now that will make me feel immeasurably better through doing. But there is one thing. And that thing is writing. Which is why I’m here. Unsticking the stuck.

Please bear with me. And you? What do you do when you need to shake things up? Have you a cure I need to know?

Sunday Siesta

Two bodies curved together in the half-light of curtains drawn against a sunny afternoon

Children rattle round the yard noisily

Parents ignore doggedly

Snatched moment of much-needed repose

Rare pleasure of skin-on-skin with no small body wedged between

10 minutes respite off which a solid week can be built

Sunday siesta


Anger Management

I can be a *tad* moody sometimes. (Read: I have been known to scream in a Basil Fawlty-esque manner and kick inanimate objects over what might seem minor irritations to more zen-like beings.) Not all the time, but some times. And it’s never nice. Not for me or for those around me.

The problem is that once you find yourself in that wound up state it’s very hard to get yourself out of it. At least that’s my experience. And the truth is that the kicking and screaming doesn’t help. You think it will be a release, and it may be for a micro-second, but then the anger bounces back and winds you even tighter.

Tonight I found myself escalating into one such mood. I caught myself tossing toys into their boxes with increasing force as I tidied up the play room. I was snappy and belligerent with my other half. I made more noise doing the dishes than a jumbo jet on take off.

Luckily for me my other half isn’t one to let me get away with it. He challenged me to explain my mood. I couldn’t at first. I really didn’t know why I was feeling so goddamned grumpy but I was. As he probed further and I got rattier, eventually it sprang to the surface. I was actually feeling hurt and left out by a friend. I blurted out my grievances in a rush, surprising even myself with the source. I cried a little. (Well, quite a lot actually.)

I got it off my chest. And then I felt better.

The key is finding the source. Generally speaking it’s not actually the thing at which we are throwing the shoe and mostly it’s not even the person at whom we are snapping. More often than not it’s some hurt within ourselves. Looking in and asking the question can really take the wind out of the gale of anger that is blowing.

Once my brave other half had helped me to identify the source he went so far as to propose a solution. If I’m feeling left out then I need to make the effort to reach out. Instead of feeling angry with people for not calling me or including me in their plans I need to be the one making the calls and the plans. Taking control of my life and my moods.

Simples eh? Like all the best things in life, it’s magnificent simplicity and profound complexity all rolled into one. Now there’s something to meditate on.