In May 2011, eight innocent words strung together triggered chaos: “I am so sorry. You have breast cancer”. Force-fed a lifetime diet of fear, partly due to close family deaths from cancer but also liberally fuelled by media hysteria, the diagnosis was not the cause of chaos but bizarrely, a symptom of the overwhelming desire to retain control over a year of intense treatment. How on earth do we, as patients with a bold “Cancer” label stuck on our hospital folder, fight our way through chaos and come out the other side – whatever that may mean – feeling as though we are still ‘us’?
Triple Negative breast cancer had presented itself as an unwanted gift, so I listened carefully to my heart. It appeared that my sole task ahead – for the coming months, at least – was to channel the fear, the ensuing chaos, into creating a new way of living while I still had the chance. I had waited thirty years for breast cancer to reveal itself to me. I had not lived my life fully. I had hidden away – the sad reality was that I had been waiting to die. With a crippling low self-esteem having thrown a shadow over my life, this diagnosis, this dark gift, was my chance to learn how to live : fearlessly, joyfully, playfully and full of colour.
To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
We, all of us, know how to help heal ourselves, irrespective of our diagnosis and prognosis. I truly believe this. As a creativity coach and a spiritual healer, I knew I could try to run from this chaos but I would never out-run it. In the few short days between diagnosis and my first surgical procedure, I instinctively worked in bursts of frantic activity, followed by sitting quietly; practising a simple mindfulness technique – ‘watching the breath’, quite literally feeling the breath flowing in and out of my nostrils as a mental exercise – was a sanity-saving exercise. I found solace in an Art Therapy class, held at The Haven in central London where, not only did I discover a powerful healing totem in the shape of a peacock but I also made friends with a dear lady who was to become one of my stalwart cheerleaders through the darkest days ahead.
From the very depths of my soul, I refused to believe that cancer was going to get me. I was 40 years old, for heavens sake, not yet a grandma – that I knew of, at least! Journalling, mindful walking, mindful movement, Laughter Yoga, reading all took their rightful place in my healing space. Working through the ARTsignments™ I had in my toolkit as a certified ARTbundance™ coach, I uncovered many old stories that sought closure : I chose to channel my chaos through the power of art. Chemotherapy left me unable to write, but on my good-energy days I would splash paint about or use chalk, anything that didn’t require too much hand-eye coordination or more than a cursory grip of the artist tool.
Art is a wound turned into light – Georges Braque
Slowly but surely, I learned that life is best lived in the moment. On my slooooooow walks, I noticed the gentle kiss of mist on my face; I loved the wind’s caress on my bare scalp and, as the temperatures dropped, I was enchanted by how many hats I could get away with buying. Hehe. I fell into a deep, passionate love affair with cashmere socks, a perfect gift from my best friend. No more dark colours in the wardrobe: the charity shops had a field day. Bold colours were all I could face wearing. My inner peacock was blooming and enjoying the preening with each passing day.
I found that consistently saying YES to things that resonated was both a courageous and inspiring act, too. Three months after completing chemotherapy, I was invited to be filmed for a Walk The Walk charity video on behalf of The Haven. I was thrilled to be part of filming, captivated by the behind-the-scenes technology. I loved being an Ambassador for The Haven. I had finally found my voice. As a result of this confidence-boost, I reached out and engaged more with the local community, my friends, my loved ones. I joined a Writers Circle. Accepting an invitation as Visitor Speaker at The Haven’s Christmas Carol Concert in December 2012, I spoke – without a script or cue cards – to 550 guests from the pulpit and was warmed by so much positive feedback, discovering how my simple, unremarkable story had touched hearts. Tweeting early one morning in Spring 2013, I was invited by SkyNews to appear live on their morning news show to discuss a high-profile story about breast cancer; a few months later, a further invitation by them was issued. I would be delighted if you would take a few moments to take a look: http://olioterapeutica.co.uk/
Slowly, slowly, the chaos unfurled and out of the fog stepped a warrior goddess. Magnificent in her splendour yet still living with uncertainty, depression and the knowledge further surgerical intervention is necessary.
My story is not unique. Each and every one of us faces challenges that colour our lives; just as each and every one of us has the power to triumph over adversity, even if the outcome is not one which we seek. A painfully shy, deeply-insecure mother now presents herself to audiences, the whole world over – much heavier in weight than she ever has been in her life, with breasts very uneven thanks to life-saving operations – because she believes in herself. She believes in her story – HERstory. She believes that, in some small way, her play-focused work and her story may help others to conquer their chaos, empower them to discover their voice, give birth to their dreams and create themselves a-new.
If we own the story, then we can write the ending – Brene Brown
May you feel inspired to believe in your dreams, and be inspired to dare to live your life as you dream – I believe in YOU.
Olio Terapeutica shares wellbeing and research articles, videos, personal stories and playfull tips to help you make informed wellbeing decisions – please subscribe for up-to-the-minute news and offers (http://www.olioterapeutica.co.uk/p/contact-callie.html). Callie would love to hear about your own experiences of creating something beautiful from chaos. Please kindly leave your comments in the comments box below – and, if you liked this article, please kindly share it with your friends.
Callie Carling is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher, play-focused creativity & conscious business coach, mentor and speaker located in London, England, and one of the story contributors in my book Radiant Survivor. Through the use of a wide variety of therapeutic practices, techniques and tools, Callie supports, educates and enhances individual, community and corporate wellbeing with the power of creative play, art therapy, laughter therapy and storytelling. Combining her personal experience of treating her own breast cancer diagnosis and chronic long term health conditions, alongside 15+ years experience within the training, corporate and holistic industries, Callie has developed an inclusive approach to natural health, wellbeing and business, enabling her to provide innovative, intuitive and creative wellbeing solutions for her clients. http://about.me/calliecarling
My book Radiant Survivor (coming November 19th, 2013) is a story of the journey to higher consciousness of 14 survivors of life-altering experiences, such as stroke, cancer, abuse, addiction and many other life traumas. I hope you’ll subscribe to this blog in the form at the top of this page so we can tell you about our exciting (free) telesummit coming November 12th – 14th, with a panel of wonderful guest speakers including Dr. Bernie Siegel, Allison Maslan, Mal Duane, Deb Scott and many others.
ERICA TUCCI had a full life as a corporate manager of a Fortune 500 company, a healing arts business owner and an author of three books. It all came to a screeching halt in June 2011 when she had a stroke that left her completely paralyzed on her right side. During Erica’s recovery, she gained much wisdom about what’s really important in life, and she re-entered the world with a new mission: to use her story as an inspiration for others facing life challenges, which we all have, big or small. That story can be found in Erica’s new book, Radiant Survivor: How to Shine and Thrive through Recovery from Stroke, Cancer, Abuse, Addiction and Other Life-Altering Experiences, launching on November 19th, 2013.