‘And an excellent and moving read it is too. And edgy, witty, informative, counter-hegemonic…’ Dr Alec Grant, Reader in Narrative Mental Health, University of Brighton.
One of my doctors in Mexico told me that cancer was a mensaje, a message. This memoir is an account of my healing and an exploration of what that message was for me, and how I came to see my journey as part of something far greater at this critical time in our evolution.
My healing took on new meaning when I began to see my body as a piece of nature that I could love and protect. I’d neglected it, and it desperately needed my conscious attention and care.
Widespread dis-ease, like our environmental and social crises, must be one of the very loudest wake-up calls of our age. Garden birds have chemo drugs, hormone disrupters and anti-depressants in their bloodstreams, fire retardants and other carcinogens are detectable in breast milk and cancer is being found in whale populations. Depression and other mental illness is at an all-time high, especially in the young.
Cancer can’t just be the result of living longer any more than the increased numbers of people suffering mental illness is caused by a better understanding of psychological distress. It’s the sort of denial that I used to avoid changing my destructive habits until I had no choice. But I wasn’t educated to love myself or to understand how everything we do impacts the whole of the natural world. I needed to understand this to heal; to somehow begin to rewild myself, and for me, that meant reclaiming the sacred, and embracing what Satish Kumar, Peace Pilgrim and editor emeritus of Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine calls ‘a reverent ecology,’ both inner and outer.
My experience of very different sorts of healthcare showed me that conventional and alternative medicine could combine so that patients don’t have to wage a war of ideologies at a time of deep personal crisis. All over the world healing centres are establishing and people are seeking them out, finding healing in the ancient and modern modalities they offer, from Ayahuasca to integrative cancer care.
My illness was the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and question whether my learnt beliefs were serving me; to stop living in fear and to allow myself to be happy, reclaiming the truths in my earlier ‘psychoses’. I’m grateful to cancer for making me clean up, speak up and feel OK about defining myself as spiritual as well as a human being, one responsible to and an inseparable part of the whole of our increasingly fragile world.
This memoir is dedicated to Dr Filiberto Muñoz, Dr Carlos Mancilla and all the staff at the San Diego Clinic, Tijuana, México.
And in memory of my mother, Agnes Nicol OBE and all the cancer patients who have touched my life.