Monday, 18 July 2016

Pausing in the sunshine

And so, chemo is over.  My best friend's diary has been chocker...  Line cleans, blood tests, scans and 18 weekly doses of the gruelling treatment itself.  Summer seems at last to have arrived and with it, we hope, some time, peace and space.

She is, we acknowledged over a rather yummy luncheon served to us beneath the beautiful canopy of creepers and climbers at Petersham Nurseries, an inspiration.

A small group of us gathered to celebrate her forthcoming marriage.  The sun's rays joined the warmth we all have for this very special woman.  Warmth and, in my case at least, pride.

It is the greatest privilege to call this woman my best friend.  She continues to epitomise my understanding of grace.  Our bodies are fragile things.  Our minds are frailer still.  In her composure and wisdom, she possesses an outlook I can only aspire to adopt.  From you, dear Charlotte, I learn and I learn and I learn.  

The only person who is educated is the one who has learned 
how to learn and how to change.  
Carl Rogers


Friday, 1 July 2016

Disturbing the peace? Not mine.

This time of year brings everyone together.  And we congregate at the Pool.  Some of us lie outstretched, towels upon concrete, others dip toes into the water whilst sipping something cool (soft drinks only, though) whilst others of us do what we do all year-round.

Summer swimming is both a pleasure and a privilege.  But it involves the recruitment of some different qualities to those practised in the cold, dark winter months:  as the weather gets warmer tolerance and equanimity are the order of the day.

It came up in conversation earlier today and she was of course right:  there is space for everybody.  Plenty, in fact. Yet, somewhere between June and July, something changes; suddenly it somehow feel like it comes at a premium. 

Letting go of expectations and taking an open mind with me into the water is always helpful.  I'm not there to prove anything.  I'm just getting on with it, and getting another swim in.  I tend to get down there 3 or 4 times a week and, as I'm not likely to be going anywhere too far away any time soon, there really is no pressure for any one swim to count for anything. 

Swimming is, for me, not just a form of exercise.  It is an important component in my self-care and maintenance.  It is capable of changing how I relate to myself and to the world.  And always for the better.  Swimming is how I connect to a sense that there is order in chaos, and a picture far bigger than that which I could ever conceive of.  Swimming is my solace.  Swimming is my refuge.  Swimming is my serenity.  When I let stop counting lengths they really count.  Effortless swimming makes all the effort I put in everywhere else worthwhile.    

©Swimmer, Carol Peace (2007)

©Swimmer, Carol Peace (2007)

Folks will do what folks will do.  Strangely enough, not everyone who comes to the Lido is a swimmer.  And not all those who identify as swimmers are, in fact, that interested in actually swimming.  After all, if the sun is out, the pool is a good place to catch some rays.  I just wish folks would look before they jump, and take their litter home with them...

What goes around comes around, just like a flip turn.

Friday, 10 June 2016

The eternal student

At school, I was hopeless at physics.  I have a younger sister whose aptitude for the mathematical sciences shone bright and quickly eclipsed my own.  We've both grown up.  School grades and exam marks matter very little to either of us now.  Today she uses her talents for the benefits of her patients.  And I endeavour to use my own for those I work with.

Physics notwithstanding, I was ever an enthusiastic learner.  And in this respect, I am well suited to my profession.  As a therapist, it is both a pleasure and a duty to continue to learn.  Einstein is said to have been the first to say that the more we learn, the less we know.  This is certainly my experience.  And, in the therapy room at least, not knowing is important.  

What know what we are but not what we may be. 
 ~ Ophelia, in Hamlet

My clients are my teachers, as well as their own.  Whilst I have skills, and training at my disposal, I am anything but the expert.  Therapy is the dedicated opportunity to explore one's own experience.  

I stand alongside my clients, and offer them a lens through which to observe that which they describe, but herein lies an often misunderstood fact:  a therapist serves the client by creating and holding the space in which they do their own work.

As a therapist, it is my responsibility to continue to work on myself.  This is where ongoing training comes into play, alongside my own therapy and supervision.  I doubt I will ever develop a mastery for physics.  Beyond the swimming pool, it has little relevance for me today.  The things that I will continue to explore, and keep abreast of are those things that I find most useful in the therapy room.  

Much learning does not teach us understanding. 
~ Heraclitus

Monday, 9 May 2016

Attitude adjustment

The sun had put its hat on. And it was as though everyone came out to play. The Lido was hectic. I'm not sure why this took me by surprise. It was the first Saturday morning that the temperature could lure out even the most part time of swimmers.

I am anything but a part time aquatic enthusiast. But I mistimed this swim by a mile. As I surveyed the chaos, two other regulars (already sensibly swum out) greeted me and we remarked upon the influx of wetsuit clad 'seals' who have most likely only now emerged from warmer climes (indoor heated pools). 

I almost talked myself out of the swim. I'm so glad I didn't; I exited the chatter rather abruptly and quickly got changed. Before getting in, I checked in with a friendly lifeguard I have come to know over the less clement months during which I've swum length after length, week in week out. She observed how little 'etiquette' was on display in the water, and I resolved to simply see how it went, committing to coming back later if it all proved too much.

The pool was busy. But there was plenty enough room for us all. Somehow, I found a channel through the crowd. I breathed into my stroke, got into a comfortable steady rhythm and relaxed into the lengths in spite of the now rather choppy water. 

I thought about very little to do with my fellow swimmers. Most of them were easy enough to spot: clad in black neoprene visibility is little effort. I renewed my intention to enjoy my sunny swim, and to swim for only as long as I was enjoying myself. 

3.7k or 2¼ miles later I got out feeling replete and complete.  Another swim, and another reminder...  Besides a good breakfast, I attribute the progress of my long swim to the attitude with which it was commenced and continued.  

Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.  

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The alien returns

Cancer has no respect.  She cares not at all about plans or dreams. She barges in whenever she pleases and takes pleasure in doing so with only the minimum of warning.  

She has made her presence known once more...

This patient knows her body well.  The unwelcome warning signs were recognised and acted upon.  Fast.  There is an action plan.  Boom.

Cancer doesn't like a plan.  Cancer is disorganised and chaotic.  This patient has resources aplenty.  Cancer is to be pushed to the max, and hopefully zapped into the middle distance.  

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The unwelcome visitor

Cancer doesn't play by the rules.  She plays dirty.  She defies those things that feel to make sense.  She arrives as if from nowhere and demands to be seen.  She can only be taken seriously.  She shouts loudly drowning out any protestations and sets the agenda.  She refuses to negotiate and drives the hardest bargain.

And so a new phase is entered.  Not a door anyone would wish to open, but one through which countless souls have travelled before us.  Across the threshold friendly faces, armed with expert knowledge await.  Paclitaxel administered weekly is the weaponry with which this battle will be fought.  

Also known by its brand name Taxol, paclitaxel is a potent cancer-fighting drug originally derived from the bark of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia nutt), a small to medium-sized tree that occupies Pacific coastal forests from southwestern Alaska to California.  

Development of Paclitaxel started in 1962.  It was soon found to arrest the growth of cancer cells by attaching to their micro tubules, thus preventing cell division.  By the late 1980s Taxol had become the drug of choice, despite its high cost, for the treatment of a wide range of cancers, especially ovarian and breast cancer.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Don't panic panic

Anxiety is on the up.  It makes appearances ever more regularly amongst my clients/patients.*  It comes in different guises:  sometimes attaching itself to certain triggers, at other times preferring to float more freely.

Anxiety is troublesome.  It demands attention yet does not like to be examined.  Anxiety does not always make sense.  There is often little value in seeking to ascertain its aetiology as, regularly, there will not be an obvious cause-and-effect in action.

First things first.  Anxiety needs to be put in its place.  Therapy can be extremely helpful in right-sizing panic when anxiety has become unmanageable.  

As a therapist supporting those for whom anxiety has got out of control, it is useful for me to understand what seems to be triggering anxious symptoms and how the individual experiences these.  No two anxiety presentations are identical, but there are patterns and traits I have become all too familiar with.    

Anxiety is a natural response that can get out of sync with the triggers that it should naturally follow.  There are a number of causes that can contribute to the development of anxiety and there exist powerful relationships between anxiety, stress, and depression.

Anxiety can be better managed once it is understood.  Coming to understand how it works can be enormously liberating.  Working out some strategies for better containment of anxiety provoking situations and triggers and self soothing responses can promote resilience and increase the likelihood that panic attacks will become a thing of the past.