Family And Friends

Friends can pull together and do the most amazing things for you
Friends can pull together and do the most amazing things for you

There are many types of beasts that statistics dictate may come and consume you in a life changing way. Very few people manage to get through life without having to confront a beast of some description. So when brain tumours, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, failure of one or more vital organs, the loss of one or more senses, back pain or joint problems, circulatory problems, a muscle-wasting disease, mental health problems, growing old too quickly, or a combination of problems becomes the beast you have to fight in order to have life; whether disease, sickness or just general ill or failing health, your family and friends are going to be an essential ally in your drive to beat the beast or to prevent the onset of ill health in the first place. If indeed you have been unlucky enough to have been diagnosed with a disease or illness, your family and friends will be a critical support network in your battle to beat the beast of a disease, sickness or ailment. To beat the beast of a disease, or to try and beat the statistics and remain healthy, you are going to have to become transformational in the way you structure, lead and live your life. It is going to take serious determination and you will find that you will become obsessive about how much you exercise, how much you eat and what you eat, how much you rest, and what you do on a day to day basis. In order to have life, a much, much, much better life, you are going to have to change your life because, as I have said before, when talking about ill health, its prevention and its healing, you will quickly understand that we are talking about percentages. Every percent in your favour that you can muster by the actions that you take will quickly add up and, done over time, start to stack up to a massive percentage advantage in your favour. I can’t help you to beat your beast. I can only advise, inspire and encourage you. Your medical team can treat you, but only you can help yourself to beat your beast and only if you take action. Don’t just talk about it. You must do it. Design your strategy and check it for its suitability with your medical team or GP. Then get going. But you will need to be transformational in your approach. Don’t dilly dally. You are going to have to completely change aspects of your life in order to have life, a much, much, much better life.

To greatly enhance your percentage chances of achieving success in your transformation, you really need the understanding, practical support, inspiration and encouragement of your family and friends. I garnered such strength from the positivity of the vast majority of my family and friends and even random strangers: people I spoke to on the bus, or the train, or in the street, some of whom became friends in their own right. So while I would love to paint a picture of a perfect community of family and friends in support to you, I do have to provide a health warning at this point.

Good Times Canoing at Callandar with Martin
Good Times Canoing at Callandar with Martin

If you are recently diagnosed with a condition and are setting out to fight it, while telling your family and friends about it to seek encouragement and support you will need to tell it warts and all so that your family and friends know how to support you, how to encourage you, and what they might be able to offer in order to help. Many of your family and friends will be brilliant in the support that they offer and some may even surprise you in the resilience they demonstrate in their support for you. Sadly however, some of your friends or family may reel back in horror at what they are hearing and even react in certain ways, but remember that you are, in a sense, confronting them with a sense of their own frailty and mortality. Some will just not know what to say and in their shock and uncertainty or fear may say some extraordinary or discouraging things. From a small number of family and friends I have heard:

Day 153, with the wonderful Montigne Family
Day 153, with the wonderful Montigne Family

As I told of my stark prognosis, ‘Well I could get run over by a bus tomorrow!’ We all know that something MAY happen in our long lives, but it is quite a different thing when you are told that it WILL happen in a very short time. Remember that they are probably just trying to bring some light into the conversation in an effort to avoid having to face facts and have no idea of the true horror of the fear of the facts that you face in your prognosis. They will, in time, so do not turn away from them and dwell on such foolhardy comments. Instead forgive them their lack of understanding, humour them and embrace them as they start to realise the full horror of the battle you face.

As I was telling of how it felt as I progressed through my treatment and how I was trying to face up to the future and battle for a new life:
‘Archie, you really should just suffer in silence!’ Remember that they may have no idea of the suffering, pain and fear that you face so don’t get angry with them. Suffer with grace and humility yes, but not in silence. You need to let people know how you truly are so that they may know how to help you because, sure as eggs is eggs, you will at times need emotional help, empathy and even some practical support.

 Family and Friends helped me to smile and enjoy life even during treatment.
Family and Friends helped me to smile and enjoy life even during treatment.

‘Archie, stop trying to make people feel sorry for you!’ Remember that they may have no idea of the suffering, pain and fear that you face, so don’t get angry with them. You need to tell the truth in order to let people know how you truly are so that they can know how to help you because you will almost certainly, at times, need emotional help, empathy and even some practical support. Suffer with grace and humility yes but not in silence.

From a surprising number of people I heard tales of friends or family members who had a brain tumour and died from it. Such a comment would of course remind me of my own frailty, mortality and looming demise and make me want to turn away in horror, but I think that what they were trying to say is that they shared my pain, that they understood how serious my condition was and that they were with me on my journey. Embrace such people, don’t turn and run.

Some Family and Friends will surprise you in disappointing ways and many will surprise you in amazingly positive ways. You will find out on this journey, not who your true friends are, but who has the strength, courage and empathy to be able to support you on your battle against your beast. Don’t lose friends on this journey. Instead forgive those that get it wrong. Remember that you are, in a sense, confronting them with a sense of their own frailty and mortality.

Dumbleton Hill with Allie, Heather, James, Rob and wee Archie too!
Dumbleton Hill with Allie, Heather, James, Rob and wee Archie too!

But when you have found those that can provide you with the emotional help, empathy and even some practical support that you might need, hand-pick a member of your family or a friend who can escort you to your medical appointments to help steady you or even catch you if the bottom falls out of your world. They can be the listening ear, taking notes and asking questions on your behalf as you struggle to come to terms with the news that you have just been faced with. They can help you find the silver lining in your cloud, help you to see the rainbow, and help you to find a more positive and structured approach to whatever news you receive. They can help you to confirm your physical and feeding strategy to beat your beast with your medical team. They will be like a sea anchor providing you with stability and continuity as you wrestle with the scale of the challenge you face. A clear-minded presence with a loving and supportive shoulder.

There are many other ways in which your friends and family can help:

  • They can help you with and escort you during exercise to ensure that you are safe if you need an escort. It was a dear friend who came to the hospital and helped me to learn to walk again after ear surgery removed my inner ear in its entirety. It was a group of friends who came walking and running with me as I fought to get my immune system strong again.
  • They can help with your feeding plan. They can help you to shop so that you can get to places where you can buy fresh and good quality ingredients for a healthy life rather than the cheap ready-made meals in the village store. They can help you to cook as there may be days in which a seizure or other severe event makes you cognitively incapable of following a recipe or perhaps even dangerous in the kitchen. You may even be temporarily bedridden and unable to cook, but you must eat as healthily as you can to stand any chance of beating the beast so family and friends can help.
  • They can help with managing your bills and finances and other administrative tasks a modern life requires while you struggle to see, let alone think through the fog of treatment.
  • They can help with a positive mental attitude, an empathy for the discomfort you suffer, a listening ear and encouragement to keep up the fight.
  • They can help you to seek professional counselling and support services should you require it and remember that, especially if they are particularly close to you, the shock you face will be a shock those close to you will face too. Your closest family and friends will be taking every painful step of the way with you and may need a break from time to time, or even some professional counselling for themselves. There are organisations out there to support full-time carers. Seek their support for your carer.

Your transformation will require a huge amount of determination, flexibility, imagination and an obsessive seizing of opportunities as you change your life. It is going to make you feel more tired at first and seem almost unachievable, but YOU CAN DO IT. You can achieve your goal and even make the seemingly impossible possible with the support of your family and friends.

If you are going to start by giving up smoking, the last thing that you will want is your family and friends teasing you about it, or smoking around you, or offering you a cigarette or a draw on theirs. You will want them to be understanding and supportive and to adapt their own practices around you in order to support you. But they can only do that if you let them know that giving up smoking is what you are doing. You might even find that one or two of your friends may join you too. You might inspire your friends to make changes towards a better life.

Christmas walk with Allie, Rob, Isla, Gam, Heather, Harry and James on Bredon Hill
Christmas walk with Allie, Rob, Isla, Gam, Heather, Harry and James on Bredon Hill

If you want to change the way you eat in order to enhance your chances of beating your beast, then you will need to let your family and friends know in order that they may adapt what they eat and what they offer you to eat when with you and, better than that, they may well become deeply interested in the way you have changed your eating habits. They will encourage you to pursue it further and even better still, they may even join you in your change to your eating habits even if they were, at first, a little sceptical.

If you are going to make changes to the way you structure your life in order to make physical exercise a major part of your day, every day, then again you will need to let your friends and family know so that they can support you in your aspirations or indeed, as I needed from time to time during the difficult phases in treatment when I was at my weakest and therefore in most need of physical exercise, come with you to make sure you are coping, managing and safe as you walk or run or swim or bike or go to the gym, or do whatever combination you select to do in order to fight to get your strength and your very life back. Again, you may well find that your actions inspire and encourage your friends and family to take on additional physical exercise in order to get a better quality of life. Keep your friends and family informed at each and every stage and they will go out of their way to help and encourage you and even enable your aspirations as you will become an inspiration to them too.

You will hit dark days during which you may appear to be on the losing side. You will hit days in which you appear to be going backwards, not forwards. You will hit days in which the enormity of the beast you are trying to beat appears to be insurmountable. You will hit days in which every fibre of your being is screaming at you to stop, to give up. Pervasive, very persuasive and all powerful arguments and excuses for giving up and going back to your old ways will at times permeate your every waking moment. You may even find yourself bumping along on the bottom of the deep dark river of despair, but having a strong cohort of family and friends who are all informed and all involved, will provide for you the hope, inspiration and encouragement needed to get you to lift your head out of the river, take a deep breath of clean air, and clamber out of the river to take further giant strides towards a new and much, much better future with your beast beaten and well and truly back in its box.

At the Wallace Monument with Harry
At the Wallace Monument with Harry

BUT THERE IS NO SILVER BULLET. You cannot do one thing and not the other. You cannot pick the bits you like and ignore the bits you don’t. You have to take a holistic approach and embrace this fleeting opportunity for a chance of healing. So once you have garnered the support of your family and friends, get started and, when you do, the tired old battle cry of the three musketeers rings true. For by getting started you become the sole source of inspiration to your family and friends to encourage some of them to start a transformation, ‘ONE FOR ALL’ and while you fight your beast, by involving your family and friends who can and want to help you, will find that they will join forces and become an all-encompassing body of ‘ALL FOR ONE’.

By being holistic in your approach and involving your family and friends you truly can make the impossible possible, so go for it.

Many have been asking me about food in order to improve their chances of beating their beast, so this will be my next chapter. In the meantime I give you a quick snapshot of what I eat to beat my beast.

There are many fad diets out there and so much information on Google about how to beat cancer through food. It is confusing but compelling and it is far too easy to cause more damage by trying one of the convincingly presented fads. I dived headfirst into a raw vegan diet and tried to make myself alkaline rather than acid in order to beat the beast, but ended up needing an entire course of treatment in order to put out the fire that I lit within my body. I shocked the body and suffered greatly for it. Instead, follow the NHS Choices advice on eating and consider, after checking with your GP, the following, because this is what I have settled on as the key foods to be eaten every day, as part of my balanced diet, in order to beat the beast. We are what we eat and by eating right we can strengthen our body to use the immune system to take the fight to the beast, while also focussing on certain foods that are known, by the NHS, to tackle tumour cells.

After a brisk walk and before breakfast I eat 2 brazil nuts. (Brazil nuts replenish selenium levels in our modern diet which are too low. Selenium is said to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death) in tumour cells. The temptation is to eat a whole bag of them but please do not do so as you can make yourself ill by overdosing on selenium! So just 2 brazil nuts after exercise and before breakfast.

Good Food With Good Friends
Good Food With Good Friends

Breakfast: I slice a banana into the bottom of my bowl then mix a seeded, oat-based muesli with a fruit and nut oat-based granola to add into the bowl. In that I add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed which can be found in most supermarkets and on top I add 40 grams (approximately 24) of blueberries. Chemotherapy made me slightly lactose intolerant so I use either Arla’s Lactofree milk, or Koko coconut milk with the vitamin and calcium added as a dairy substitute. I then have a slice of wholegrain seeded toast with butter and marmalade followed by an apple.

Hot drinks during the day: I have the odd decaf, almond or coconut milk, mocha as a treat during the week, but each day I will have: a mug of Horlicks light, and a mug of Pukka’s three ginger tea. This can help with nausea and stomach upset but crucially also has turmeric root in it and I will mention more on turmeric shortly. I also have a mug of Clipper green and lemon tea which is a great antioxidant. Throughout the day I sip on water with a slice of lemon in it that I change each and every day.

After a good session of physical training, a good stretch and a shower I eat 2 brazil nuts then prepare lunch.

Lunch: Every day without fail I consume the following fruits and vegetables and I am convinced that they have played a key part in my possible healing. They may not be exciting but when you know that each and every mouthful has the potential to heal you, it all of a sudden tastes so much better:

Carrots 100 grams sliced into batons
Tenderstem broccoli 50 grams
Cherry tomatoes x 6 (tomatoes are said to help prevent or slow the ability of a tumour to grow)
Red Grapes x 12 (A chemical in the skin of red grapes is thought to cause apoptosis in tumour cells)
I then have a poached egg (the original superfood packed full of essential vitamins and minerals such as protein, calcium, vitamin D and B12 et al essential for a healthy balanced diet) on wholemeal seeded toast with a good handful of spinach, rocket and watercress salad on the side.

For pudding I have two squares of 85% dark chocolate. (Again thought to cause apoptosis in tumour cells but it can be very fattening so don’t guzzle it. Just two squares for now.)

If I am out for the day I take all this with me as a sandwich (either tuna mayonnaise or egg mayonnaise) with spinach, rocket and watercress on top and the vegetables mixed up in a veggie pick and mix bag! I also add a Stoats flapjack as an additional carbohydrate to keep me going on a long day out.

Climbing Conic Hill with Anne
Climbing Conic Hill with Anne

After a brisk walk I eat a final 2 brazil nuts then prepare tea.

Tea: No more ready-made meals. Instead have a really good balance of home-cooked meals made from fresh and raw ingredients. It takes time and is hard work but you can pick the meals that include a healthy balance of protein and calcium (both essential for a strong immune system), carbohydrates (essential to maintain energy levels and mood) and vegetables each day in order to further boost your immune system, general health and well-being. Again follow the NHS Choices website advice on food. As a result I try to ensure that I only eat red meat once a week, white meat a couple of times a week, oily fish once a week, white fish a couple of times a week and have a vegetarian day once a week. Once you have established a good routine for planning the meals, shopping for them and preparing them, the chore of cooking fresh starts to become a delightful handrail for health, and the joy of eating such good food makes it well worth the effort. I do try and add leeks where appropriate in certain recipes. (Again thought to have anti-tumour properties) Avoid alcohol as much as possible with the exception of a port-sized glass of organic red wine with each meal. It is thought that the wine-making process magnifies the potency of the chemicals in the red grape skin that may cause apoptosis in tumour cells, but don’t overdo it. 1 port glass, no more. A bottle of red with me will go off before I get to drink it all!! Sainsbury’s do a really good organic Cabernet Sauvignon at a very reasonable price. I finish my evening meal with a turmeric supplement. I get the ones from Healthspan which are thought to be the most potent and body useable turmeric supplement on the market. They have also added vitamin C to aid immune system and joint health. Turmeric is very much focused on causing apoptosis in tumour cells. I then have a yoghurt (calcium being essential for the immune system and bone health (which can suffer during chemo)) with a teaspoon of ground flaxseed mixed in, followed by a tangerine and 2 squares of 85% dark chocolate.

If you start to have trouble sleeping 2 cherry tomatoes taken before bed may help as they are said to have a soporific effect while also of course helping to slow/prevent tumour growth.

It is really important that you have something to look forward to every week. Once a week make one of the meals a comfort foods meal, but keep it low on sugar content. If you are eating as healthily as you can you deserve a treat!

There will be a little more detail on food in the next chapter but this info has been given to you to help in getting you started.

Work hard, be determined, be obsessive, be true to yourself and Deo Juvante, together, and with your family and friends, we can beat the beast!

Yours aye