How to Have a Really Happy New Year

It’s New Year’s Eve and friends are planning everything from full scale public events to quiet nights at home. We’re still not sure what we’re doing but the offer of something in between sounds appealing. A stroll to the waterfront to watch the local fireworks followed by a wander back to a nearby home for the Sydney edition on television.

I suppose at some point in the evening, whatever we decide to do, there will be inevitable question about New Year’s resolutions. I don’t usually make them. Research shows that they’re a waste of time and that most people have broken them before the end of January. It’s not that we don’t want to break bad habits, it’s just that it takes more than one commitment on one night every year to do it.

I’ve been thinking about successful alternatives to the resolution ritual. I like to pick a theme for the year. Last year (not surprisingly) I chose ‘health’ and I regularly revisited that goal, thinking about how I might incrementally improve on what I’d already done. This works well for me. It’s not a daily obsession. More a thread that runs through the year that I come back to on a regular basis.

My beautiful yoga teacher, Emma, held a class today and reminded all of us that in yoga, we make resolutions (or ‘set intentions’) every time we come on to the mat. Yoga also teaches that we should be kind to ourselves and to not push ourselves beyond our intelligent edge. That brought me all the way back to resolutions and the kinds of intentions that are usually behind them.

It seems to me that a lot of New Year’s resolutions are a mild form of self-bullying. We hunt for our deficiencies, give ourselves a good talking to and commit to doing better. No wonder we fail. Why does being healthy have to involve attempts to leverage guilt and shame? When did guilt and shame ever reliably motivate us to do anything?

What if, instead of beating ourselves up, we saw our new habits and practices as gifts we give ourselves.

The key for every new habit I’ve formed has been the joy it gives me. I love yoga, massage, my weekly gratitude posts, my connection to what I value and my commitment to building on my strengths rather than focusing on my weaknesses.

I am human and therefore fallible. I don’t always eat as much salad as I would like to, and I sometimes have too much refined or processed food although to be honest, this happens less and less as I become more aware of how unwell it makes me feel, but you see, that’s the critical difference. I’m not carrying around a list of things I’m ‘not allowed’ and calling myself a failure if I eat them. I could eat anything. I choose to eat well most of the time.

I’ve even come to enjoy my two fast days every week. Seems crazy, I know, but I enjoy a whole day without cooking and cleaning up afterwards and I love that I’m doing something proactive to prevent cancer from ever coming back.

It’s the same with exercise, drinking much less, building good relationships with friends and family, forgiving those that have upset me, doing all of the little things that add up to a joyful and happy life for me. I choose them.

I choose them because it took cancer for me to really understand that I am limited, time is limited and this is the only body I will ever have. (Thanks again, cancer). It also took cancer for me to understand that the greatest gift I can give to the people that love me is to take action that contributes to my health and happiness.

And that’s all I want from them too. I want them to joyfully make choices that help them to have a healthier life. To give themselves the gift of good health.

It’s also what I wish for all of you.

Thank you to all of you for continuing to read and share my blog. I got an annual report from WordPress telling me that enough people visited my blog this year to fill three concert halls. That’s amazing! It’s also very humbling.

So here’s my wish for everyone this New Year; please consider dispensing with the resolutions and deciding what gifts you might give yourself. You deserve to be healthy. Please shift your focus to being healthier and happier all through 2016 and leave the resolutions alone.

Happy New Year.

All I Want for Christmas

Hi Everyone,

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything here. Fear not! I am well and healthy.

I suppose it’s one of the best indicators of recovery from cancer that I no longer think about it anywhere near as often as I used to. Yes, I still check for lumps routinely after my shower but it’s become like brushing my teeth; just a normal part of body maintenance and not a source of anxiety.

I’m still seeing one member of my medical team every three months. I can understand why a lot of people let these slide. Two of my doctors have moved to different locations. I’ve followed one and opted to stay with the local practice for another. Check up time typically involves asking me how I’m feeling (fine thanks) and whether I have any concerns.

I’m mildly concerned that with underlying pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia and peripheral neuropathy it will be difficult for me to detect the symptoms of secondary cancer should that occur. Of course, catching it early if it’s spread is really not much use so I sardonically decide it’s not worth worrying about.

My days now are occupied with all the things I love to do. There’s plenty of fun times with good friends and family, a bit of painting, a bit of writing and a lot of gardening. After a life time of informal permaculture I’m finally studying it formally with the fabulous Milkwood team and greatly enjoying the neural sparking it triggers. If you’re still struggling with brain fog then I recommend studying something you’re really interested in, even if you already know a lot about it.

I’m still experiencing hot flushes from time to time but they’ve reduced since a friend told me about tomato juice. Tomato juice! All the different strategies and concoctions and it turns out that the simple tomato can reduce my hot flushes from six or seven a night to one a night. They are so infrequent during the day that I need to check its not just a normal reaction to summer weather.

Here’s the link to the research:
Tomato Juice and Menopause Research

I’m not a huge fan of tomato juice so I’ve just been adding tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato passata to anything savoury. It’s made a difference.

I’m still fasting every week and my oncologist and surgeon are both sufficiently impressed by the science that they’re letting other patients know about it. I’ve now maintained a healthy weight for over a year and I’m getting the additional cancer-busting benefits of autophagy (cleaning up my damaged cells) and lowering my insulin type growth factor (typically high in people with breast cancer). On my most recent visit to my oncologist a few weeks back she declared that I look 20 years younger. That’s what I want to hear!

Yoga is still part of my daily program for staying well, even if some days I only manage five minutes of it. I’m also having a weekly massage with someone trained in specialised oncology massage. I think it’s a combination of these that’s ensured I have better range of movement in my arms and shoulders than before the mastectomy. I haven’t experienced any lymphedema problems either. Another part of my daily routine is gently stroking my skin to encourage lymph drainage. This helps too.

I’ve given up drinking over the Christmas and New Year period to avoid over-indulging. I drink very little now and I find that setting aside regular stretches of complete abstinence helps to keep it that way. Alcohol is a sneaky drug and a couple of drinks once a week can all too easily become a couple of drinks every night if you don’t keep an eye on it. I don’t think I’ll give it up completely because a couple of glasses of really good wine with a great meal is one of life’s pleasures, but wine has become a very occasional treat.

My husband and I continue to sleep in separate beds. It’s been a long separation with his snoring, followed by my treatment, his bad back and then my night sweats. Now that things are settling down we might even move back in together. Hmm. We’ve actually both become fond of having all that space to ourselves so we shall see. We’re still loving and affectionate with each other. Menopause has made anything more than that a bit of a major production (is there anything less sexy than lube?) but neither of us are that fussed about it. Both in our mid fifties we’re finding that it’s the physical affection and emotional support that are the most important.

We’re coming up to Christmas and my birthday the day before. It’s also become something of an anniversary for me finishing chemotherapy two years ago today. Every birthday is one I might not have had. I am deeply grateful.

We’re having a big family get together at our house this year. Everyone is bringing something to contribute to the feast. We’re hoping it’s not too hot and not raining. There’ll be loads of food and most of it will actually be pretty healthy. We’re not giving presents. Everyone is going to put what they would have spent on presents into an envelope and then we’ll pass those on to Coast Shelter, a local charity that supports homeless people.

All I want for Christmas is my own good health, and the good health of my friends and family. One of the biggest lessons of fighting cancer has been how important those people are to me, and how insignificant anything else really is. I don’t need any more stuff. I don’t need my family to endure the madness that is Christmas shopping to buy me something that I don’t want. We’re all looking forward to a happy and relaxed day.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my garden and helping a beautiful local woman with a seriously disabled son to build a permaculture garden in their back yard. I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun. I’m thinking it might be time to start another blog about permaculture. That’s where my heart and my time are these days. I’ll post a link if I do.

I hope that wherever you are in your treatment, Christmas gives you the opportunity to spend time with those you love, and those that love you back. It’s such a good time of year and a great reminder of all the things we can be grateful for.

Merry Christmas! And the very best of health to you in 2016.