I don’t know about you, but until my recent colon cancer diagnosis I hadn’t heard of SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth). SIBO can be responsible for symptoms such as fatigue, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea, Iron and B12 deficiencies as well as more long term chronic disease. It dawned on me (slowly), how my ‘healthy’ diet had probably contributed to imbalance within my own system. Despite enjoying whole food, I very definitely place emphasis on starches and carbs in the form of rice, beans and legumes. I had no idea that the generic view of what is healthy, could actually be causing me a problem…
When you’re diagnosed with a critical illness, it’s like a bomb goes off in the middle of your life. Everything (literally everything) looks, and feels different. I was torn between a longing for the oblivion of yesterday and wanting to wake up sometime in the future when it was all over. Despite critical illness diagnosis, however, the body has a remarkable capacity to keep functioning ‘as normal’. Sleep still comes (albeit, anxious and broken), thoughts race, blood circulates, breath draws. I became acutely aware of my own body’s resilience and innate predisposition for survival. And with everything I had mentally and emotionally I jumped on it, screaming desperately “I’m listening, tell me how to survive”…
So, quickly realising that this body was the only way I was getting in, out or through this life I sat still (for the first time ever) and listened. It was buzzing with anxiety, stress, ringing with partial dehydration (probably from all the crying). It felt as though every cell of my body was vibrating with high crisis, and I realised that this was probably in response to my mind. The ‘C’ bomb is a threat to life, inside your own body, no amount of fight or flight is getting you out of this, it’s the ultimate disease of self destruction, your own cells turning on you. Sh*t I thought, this is bad. I’ve dealt with auto-immune disease in the past, so I’ve had my starter and main course already with self destructive illness, but when the surgeon says “Miss Bloxham, it does appear, that at the young age of 38, you have, in fact, developed colon cancer”, self destructive dessert is most definitely served with lashings and lashings of sickly sweet synthetic whipped cream. Needless to say, I felt sick. Shocked. Incapable of actually speaking. I simultaneously left my body and came back again over and over. There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide and I was staring death in the face… So fast forward a few hours, car journey home… (aren’t cars amazing? Like little teleportation systems)… and doors… doors are amazing too, they let you in and out of places… so cool! Getting the gist of my new view on life? Even so, impending doom was not going anywhere… so I sit…
“Hi death, Hi cancer, I’m Lauren… ummm… so here’s the thing… we could either just try to get along, or, if you take me down, then you go down with me… so should we, erm, just maybe, try and live together, at least for now?” (Subtext, please don’t take me down, please don’t take me down)… I actually had this conversation with myself… and it felt as though I had a murderer at my throat, the knife pressed to my skin… (I was pretty tense)…but strangely, the acknowledgement that we were all here, present and accounted for, and that maybe ‘I’ was in the driving seat again and not ‘cancer’… seemed to give me some space, like, an inch, but space nonetheless. It felt good.
What space gives is perspective. It offers options and choices. It places the perceived problem in the context of the healthy whole. With this space I began to see the whole of the rest of my cancer free body. The whole of the rest of my healthy heart beating, my lungs filling with life giving air. My limbs which moved freely and with strength and flexibility… My brain, capable of understanding all of this. This tiny amount of space and perspective began to allow me to see what is good in my body, the cells which serve me well, and my own incredible physicality. I started to appreciate what I had, rather than continually demand more. This came pretty easily… with floods and floods of good feeling. What came (and still comes) hard, is the insidious thoughts and mental processes which I have used to destroy myself. Not knowingly, never knowingly. But in looking this killer (cancer) and it’s apprentice (my mind) in the metaphorical eye I realised just how unhappy my mental process had become. Just how uncared for it has been. Funnily enough, given the nature of the disease, I noticed just how self destructive my thoughts had become. ‘When will it all end’, ‘when can I get a break’, ‘no one cares about me’, ‘life is hard’… hmmm my obedient body seems to have found a way out doesn’t it… ? Working this through gave me a little hope, and the thought, how do I work with what I’ve got, to create more of the good stuff. Sort of treating my mind like a naughty child… I’m just not giving any air time to the crap. I guess survival mode is showing me how to maximise the good, rather than deal with the bad?
So in survival mode I’m actually asking myself the question now…What do I need to feel better, more balanced and even survive cancer? So here’s my kit-list to date, and to date I am 11 days post surgery waiting on histology results which will determine the next course of action:
- Address all those underlying, small, niggly digestive issues I’ve had for YEARS! Go and see a Functional Medicine Consultant who can advise on nutrition and get my guts healthy & balanced. Because I wont hurt me, and it may even help me.
- STOP life as you know it. And take the opportunity to look around at what feels good, and what doesn’t. Pick up ONLY what feels nourishing. Leave everything else behind for now.
- RELAX. OMG I had no idea how deep and infinite relaxation could be. I have literally only ever dabbled at the surface of sitting still and connecting with my breath, but the depths, let me tell you, are infinite… and right now I’m not moving too far out of them… wearing pyjamas mostly. Sound Therapy and Reiki have been my go to (non invasive) treatments, both transport me to a very happy place, and connect me with a vibration of peace and wellbeing, which again… can only be helpful.
- Look yourself in the eye and be prepared to see it ALL. The chaos and destruction, alongside the beauty, grace and love. Begin to nourish the beauty, grace and love with thought, word and action. Talking to myself in the mirror has been really helpful (As well as really challenging at times).
- HEADSPACE. There is a cancer package on Headspace. It has been invaluable in helping me to sift thoughts and identify what works for me and what doesn’t.
- Sleep… This has been sacred. We have an air purifier in the bedroom now, and new sheets. Going to bed early and waking naturally for the first time in years feels energising and replenishing. I have also managed the odd nana nap during the day. Again… this can only help. The times where sleep has been more elusive I’ve used yoga Nidra and guided sleep meditations to focus my mind inward.
- LOVE… receiving and consciously absorbing the positive words of friends and family, receiving the offers of help, enjoying the contact with others has filled me when I’ve felt empty, and lifted me when I’ve felt down.
And applying all of those principles to the way I physically nourish myself is a manifestation of care too… so here’s the beginning of my SIBO diet journey (think grain, sugar and dairy free)… my pitch to rebalance and revive the cells of my body through nourishing and caring for my gut microbiome.
Blueberry Breakfast Crumble
100g plain coconut yoghurt
75g chopped walnuts
1 tsp clear honey
1 cup blueberries
1 pinch cinnamon
- Mix half the blueberries with the yoghurt and place in a bowl.
- Chop the walnuts and mix through 1 tsp of pure clear honey.
- Top the yoghurt mix with the walnuts and the remaining blueberries.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.
For more regular updates, follow me on Instagram.