Welcome back to A Magical Life. We’re here today to talk about cancer. In fact, something we say often to people is, “it’s only cancer.” And that’s because of our own life experience with it. We’re talking today to the lovely Sophie Woodcock, who is not only a very good friend, but one of our gorgeous clients. And Sophie is going through her own battle with cancer at the moment.
Sophie, we’ve had numerous chats. This is just for the listeners. This podcast is a bit different from how all the others go. This is more a bit of a vent, and a public service announcement.
So, Sophie, we’ve had a lot of chats about when you get a diagnosis of cancer, especially late stage cancer, how certain things tend to happen in your life. Now, the first one we’re going to tackle is, that your friends seem to disappear. What would you have to say about that?
“At the very beginning of this journey, you told me that 50% of your friends will be the same, and the other 50% will be terrified. But I found those that weren’t your friends leave, and those that will surprise you generally step up and fill that void. So although you lose the vast majority of friends that run for the hills, you gain new friends in unexpected places.”
Something that we found is that people almost treat you like you’re made of porcelain or fine crystal or something, like they’re just too scared to interact with you.
“I think you’re definitely right about that. I don’t think I’ve gone out at all if you took COVID out of the situation, I don’t think I’ve been invited out for coffee or for dinner for at least since the start of the year.”
Whether it’s cancer or any other diagnosis, the important thing people need to realize is that you still need to invite people to places, it’s totally up to them if they say no. But it’s more hurtful if you don’t invite them because you know, social media and phones and everything that we’ve got, it’s highly probable that they’ll know that you’re going out for dinner, and being left out is worse than having to say no, wouldn’t you say?
“I definitely agree with that one. Because you say everything on social media, like you’re saying on Facebook so you know people are having a life and you just sort of – hope the best, that they’re not avoiding you on purpose, but it’s hard to explain.
You can only show them that you’re not breakable, but you can’t tell them that you’re not breakable. But for the vast majority, I think I am stronger and healthier than most of my friends. If I go and help out in the sanctuary or in a rescue I think I hold my own and you would think hopefully that proves to them that, I can drive at night and have dinner with them and a few drinks and come home again.”
Sophie, before you got your diagnosis, you’d had some ongoing health issues already. What would you say for you that you found the top tips to accelerating your health have been?
“Plant based diet, good support network, get you out of the house, get you moving, get you doing things. I think getting the right treatment team of having sort of a wholistic approach. Probably mainly diet and exercise.”
What influence has your pet had on you wanting to get well?
“I think they are the reason I want to get well. If your friends don’t come and help you take you out, you have to walk the dog. You spend most your time at home so they become your mates.
One thing I must be able to do when I am at the gym or I have any kind of fitness assessment, I always say I need to lift the dog in the car if something happens, so that’s the minimum that I want to be able to lift and at least walk 10 meters to the car. So from a health perspective, I need to be able to lift them, from a mental health perspective, they are fantastic at listening to your secrets and not telling anyone when you’re crying in their fur.
Now, what would be your top tips in creating wealth? (When we talk wealth we’re talking not just financial, but emotional and spiritual.)
“I am very much into the mindfulness-based kind of healing, actually taking the time to acknowledge your sadness and acknowledge your happiness. This is a key point, when we get a diagnosis of cancer, especially late stage cancer, you actually have to accept how you feel about it. You have to really come to terms with it.
Before you can move on from that label, you have to understand that the sadness is okay, but that there are positives to come from it also. And you can enjoy the sadness or appreciate the sadness and know that it is what it is. You don’t actually get to appreciate the happiness in quite a powerful sort of spiritual way. As long as you know the sadness is coming or you’re having a bad day, you know how to pre-empt that. You’re able to say today is not a good day. You can message your coach to give you a kick up the pants as well, but it makes the good days better because you can acknowledge the bad days for what they are.”
When one of our team got sick and found out it was cancer, her weight started coming back. A lot of people have a misconception that all cancer sufferers are going to be bony skinny, and we have both discussed our weight issues, post-diagnosis and weight being a symptom of the cancer itself. How have you coped with fluctuating weight?
“I mean, you often complain very often. I think I have a couple of different size wardrobes, but again, exercise I think is the best for me. If I can move, I seem to be happy upstairs. If I’m still moving, I can only maybe – so I can’t really get too angry at myself for putting the weight on but you have to learn that the concoction that you have in some months you’ll lose weight. Then the moon will align with a different planet and then you’ll start putting the weight on, but at the end of the day, as long as I can move and get around and I’m happy in myself and I really don’t care what other people think of me.”
So, when you get the diagnosis, let’s kind of go back in time a little bit here – what goes through your mind when they tell you it’s cancer?
“I think for me, the first three or four days, all you hear is cancer. C word. Cancer. C word. Cancer. C word. Nothing goes in, nothing goes out, you get through life like nothing’s happened but the word is just continuously on replay. Then you catastrophize because no one tells you what’s going on. For me, I got thrown into hospital so I didn’t have pets around me, I didn’t have family around me. Although it’s a lovely hospital, it’s disgusting food, but that is another story. It was lovely. But it wasn’t a nice place to try to learn to live with your diagnosis and it doesn’t help your family to come to terms with your diagnosis when you’re suddenly removed and treated like you’re breakable is healthy.”
And how did you bring your family along on this journey with you?
“I think I tortured them by just saying if I have to do it, you have to do it with me. So if I had radiation, I would drag family and friends down with me while I had radiation. When I have scans, they have to come too. If I have to have a green liquid diet, then they have to go through it too. If I lose all my hair and shave it off, they will have to also do it too. And I think it’s really important to understand that when we have this diagnosis, we’ve got 1,000,001 things going on in our own heads, as we discussed just before, not inviting us out, makes things worse.”
What would be the top three things that people could do to help you once you’ve got a diagnosis?
“I’d say just be there. If we can’t leave the house or do something or go for a drive, just get the person moving. Be there – you don’t really need to talk about cancer, just watch a movie, but sort of invite them. People always say to me, you know, we’re going for a dog walk, but it’ll be too hard for you. Let me be the judge of what’s too hard. That’s it. Basically, just be there to be a sounding board.
In a way, it’s hard to answer because I’ve had quite good support from my close friends. So it’s hard for me to sit there and go, what have they done for me? Where they would probably be going, “Yes, I just listened to her sound like a broken record all the time.” I would say don’t be scared of the word cancer. It’s only a word. I’m having an ankle operation that’s going to be far more debilitating to me for six months than the cancer has been. And one has a terrible diagnosis and outcome that terrifies the world and the other one, is something athletes would be proud of having.”
Our wider communities and families put this supposition onto us. It’s not just in the social realms, it’s almost like we can’t talk for long on the phone or like it will go on the dog walk without them. It’s just so important to keep people in your community in your social circles, whether it’s cancer, whether it’s heart issues, whether it’s a disability, whether it’s a mental health concern, you still have to involve people and let them be the judge of what they are, or are not capable of.
Sophie, you are an animal lover. And you have this uncanny knack of bringing animals into your family that are NQR (not quite right), for want of a better expression. How have you found coping with the loss of your gorgeous animals when you’re dealing with something so personal as your cancer?
“In some ways, it’s made it a little easier, which in my mind makes me sound a little bit more callous, but I can’t get in my mind too upset over the death of an animal when I’m looking at doing the same thing. And if dying is such a terrible thing, then I will really have to get upset about going there. But I’m at peace about going there.
I like to think there is a happy hunting ground or a rainbow bridge, not so much Heaven and Hell, but it gives me peace, knowing that I’ll be able to see them again. So losing them is not so to me, I guess traumatic. And for other family members, I think I have to sort of try and make it a jovial thing because I’ll be doing that to them at some stage.
So I think that’s really important for people that get a diagnosis to be okay with the people and the pets around you. They’re there to support you. And should you lose someone from your inner circle and they cross the Rainbow Bridge before you, don’t fear that they’re gone because you will see them again, one day, whatever you believe in. Heaven, Rainbow Bridge, Happy Hunting Ground, whatever it is. If you do the calculations, I probably have more animal friends there than here. So it’s about love and family. Sheer numbers, I have more friends over there, then over here.
The title of this episode is “it’s only cancer.” And a few of you probably thought, ‘Oh, they must be mad’ because you know, cancer is such a scary thing. But if we’ve learned anything from this episode, it’s that it is just a label as with any other medical label, it’s a diagnosis. It’s a name. It’s not your life , and Sophie, we’ve talked about this at length, that the person who has the cancer is still the person, they are not the cancer. Don’t go treating people first of all, like they’re breakable or like, she’s not going to accept this invitation. So let’s not bother. But treat them as the person that you knew before they got the diagnosis. What do you have to say to that, Soph?
“I think you’re right and, I look at it as I have been given a chance and permission to enjoy life and see life. I’m aiming for quality, not quantity. A lot of people plug through life and wait for retirement before they travel or get an animal. I’ve always wanted to do or have to see change. But I’ve just been given the hint that I don’t do that. So I will be able to achieve most of my dreams or my bucket list because I have been diagnosed with cancer. So when it comes to the end of the day, I probably will have a more exciting short life and permission to enjoy it, than the next person.
I went to Africa last year. The main reason, was to trek to see the mountain gorillas. I also spent time in an Elephant Orphanage. That was just pure heaven. I would have to say nearly the entire trip. I fell in love with Kenya and I think the entire trip was exhilarating. People were so kind and responsive to the situation, that I’ve got to do many things that I would never be allowed to do in Australia. Go horseback riding with rhinos, and other wild animals, even when I haven’t gotten on a horse for nearly 20 years back home. So that was the most amazing experience, meeting as many rhinos as I possibly could along the way.”
We talk here a lot about environmental connection, in that humans are only one species. And to be healthy, we need to connect to the environment and the other creatures in it. When you were over in Kenya, and you got to appreciate some baby animals what would undoubtedly be the worst day of their lives when their mothers are cruelly taken from them, how did you feel connected to them at that point, and how did that help your health?
“I think they get on with life, or that they’ve had the worst time of their life. They’re still plodding forward and their story is so much worse than mine. And they can get along with life and not carry this baggage with them. They’ll have their own baggage, but at the end of the day, they’ll put one foot in front of another, you know, they’ll know that they don’t have a big family, but they get on with life. And that’s fantastic. They do it well.”
Now, some top tips here from our discussion for the listeners. The first thing is, it’s only cancer. It’s a name, a diagnosis, a label, but it’s not who the person is. The second would be to appreciate every day that you have, whether you get this diagnosis or not, live to your fullest potential and really embrace opportunities that come to you such as the animals doing in the orphanages.
The third thing is don’t make judgments on people. They may have a diagnosis but it’s not up to you to decide what they are or are not capable of. Is there anything else you would add to that? Sophie?
“I will say when people say something negative about cancer, I say, “but it gives me permission to live,” which means I live each day as my last. Try not to be angry. I know it’s easier said than done. But it all takes energy. At the end of the day, it’s mindfulness. But just give yourself permission to be happy and have fun.”
Thank you, Sophie. For now, everyone go forth and create your magical life.
In the next episode, we will be talking about nutritional choices which will include how to cater for fussy eaters in your family that also require a varied diet, and how to create balanced meals for everyone in your home.
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