Thursday, 18 June 2015

‘How to be a Cancer Maverick’ by Nina Joy – a Review

This post is a review of Nina Joy's new book 'How to be a Cancer Maverick', a follow up to the highly successful ‘The Adventures of a Cancer Maverick’. Nina has spent the last two years defying predictions on her cancer prognosis by taking control of the management of her health. Since the publication of her first book Nina has taken daily calls on ‘how she is managing to live so successfully with cancer’, in this book she sets out to offer some answers. To purchase a copy please click here

Sometimes you pick up a book, and you know within a few pages that the person who sat down to write it is a truly remarkable individual. This is one of those books, and Nina Joy is one of those people. In August 2012 Nina was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, she was labelled ‘incurable’ and offered systematic chemotherapy as her last and only option.

‘In the blink of an eye, your life changes beyond comprehension. Everything you have held dear, and have taken for granted, is blown into smithereens. The future you thought you had – gone. The events and experiences you thought were yet to come – gone. Have you had you last birthday, your last Christmas? And bizarrely, I wondered if I would get to see the next series of Downton Abbey.’

The prognosis didn't sit well with Nina, who instinctively felt that she did have other options and it was just a case of finding them. Now almost three years later, Nina is enjoying good health and living life to the full. Having already shared her personal story in ‘The Adventures of a Cancer Maverick’ this follow up book is her guide to dealing with a cancer diagnosis and coming through it stronger than ever:

‘It has been said that what has happened to me is nothing short of a miracle. It feels like it to me! But the good news is that this miracle didn't just land on me from heaven. It’s one which I have had to figure out and work for, which makes it all the sweeter. More importantly it means that I can share the steps that I have taken, so that you may be able to create your own miracle too.’

As Nina would say, ‘hang on to your hats, let’s go Maverick!’

So where to begin? In Nina’s experience, ‘the single most important thing you have in your armoury to deal with this situation is the power of your mind and spirit.’

With characteristic humour she makes this point very clear:

‘YOU MUST, MUST, MUST, WORK ON THIS FIRST. BEFORE DOING ANYTHING. Did I mention you must work on this first? I don’t want to be too subtle about it. This is not an optional step. It’s the one which will make the biggest difference to you, and the outcome’

This may not be a message that most people with cancer are told, but for Nina it is one we all need to hear as she believes a positive mental attitude is essential to healing. This is more than a personal belief, Nina refers to a selection of studies that show positivity to be a strong factor in achieving pretty much anything. What better reason to focus on your own happiness? Action for Happiness is a great online resource Nina recommends for learning small strategies to boost your mood.

Nina also suggests monitoring an important but overlooked component of health, Vitamin P. Nina explains ‘the P stands for Positivity, or Pleasure, or Play. Or if you’re really lucky, Passion’. This is no usual vitamin, and you certainly won’t find it in a vegetable! Yet she maintains it is one of the most important and one we need to make sure we are getting enough of, no matter what other health issues might be going on.

It is probably already obvious that humour is at the heart of how Nina approaches life and she has not let cancer change this. In fact humour is for her a coping mechanism in itself and what makes her book so readable and enjoyable, despite the serious subject matter.

‘You need to have a look around for something you are going to need in the coming weeks and months. You may feel that you have lost it since you got your diagnosis, but have a really good look. It might be difficult to find. Try down the back of the sofa, under the bed, or in the bottom of your handbag. What am I talking about? Your sense of humour.’

I laughed out loud numerous times whilst reading How to be a Cancer Maverick and that is a rare delight for a book about cancer. For example I will never see coffee enemas in the same way after Nina’s section on the topic, ‘I call it my daily crappocino. Which is why no-one invites me for coffee anymore!’

Rather than making light of the topic, Nina’s raucous humour offers a different way to approach cancer that is less to do with fear and more to do with embracing life in all its guises. Cancer does not need to be the end of laughter.

Positive thinking and a sense of humour are at the core of Nina’s guide to becoming a Maverick, but there are other important factors which she discusses. Nina describes her own experiences researching her options and visiting the 3E Centre in Germany which was a huge turning point in her journey, giving her many of the tools she would need moving forward.

Having options and choice was key for Nina, she knew she needed to go from feeling powerless to finding hope, ‘I was not interested in probabilities at all. I wanted to know what the possibilities were.’

Her advice is to be as open minded as possible ‘You have choices. If you don’t look any further, you may miss something really important. So get your curiosity on. Be open to learning. Get creative so that you generate more options for yourself. Options = choice. Having choices gives you power and some element of control. Which feels great when you are in a situation where it can seem that you haven’t’

This was where finding Yes to Life and having a consultation with Patricia Peat became ‘a turning point’ in Nina’s adventure. She explains, ‘now I wasn't alone. I had some people, experts and resources, who thought like I did.’

To hear Nina say ‘without them, I don’t believe I would be where I am today’ is a fantastic tribute to Yes to Life and our service. Hopefully there are many more people who will find this same sense of support.

Nina build up her own personalised programme to deal with her diagnosis and each aspect is given a chapter ‘Mindset – it all starts here’ (‘This is not an optional step!’), ‘The Nasties – less in, more out’ which is all about reducing the toxins that go in to your body and detoxing, ‘The Yumscious Nutrition Plan’ which is all about diet and ‘The Woo-Woo Stuff’ which is about therapies.

I am not going to share all her secrets here, you will have to buy the book for that! But I would like to make a small note about the last chapter, ‘The Woo-Woo Stuff’, which is so named because pre diagnosis that is how Nina viewed complementary medicine. Cancer however forced her to undergo a re-education and along the way she has now tried and continues to use a whole range of therapies, which help her in a variety of ways. In other words she opened her mind and I think this is incredibly admirable. I hope she will inspire more people who see anything complementary as a bit ‘woo-woo’ to open their minds too.

Although this book is all about how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, its message is not only relevant for people with cancer but for anyone who is touched by cancer in any way, which to be honest is most of us. There is a fantastic section on how to talk to someone who has cancer, which is very insightful and useful for anyone supporting a friend or loved one.

After such a life changing journey, is Nina traumatised by her experiences? Quite the opposite.

‘What is less well known is that there’s also a condition described as Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). This refers to how adversity can often be a springboard to a new and more meaningful life, where you re-evaluate your priorities, deepen your relationships and reach a new understanding of where you are’

What an incredible message. What an incredible woman.

To purchase a copy of 'How to be a Cancer Maverick' please click here

Read more about Nina on her website

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