Sunday, 26 February 2017

MindChoice Blog No.7

Mindfulness for Living Well with Cancer

Taster Workshop and 8 Week Course

I have been teaching workshops for the charity Breast Cancer Care for the last 2 years as part of their Moving Forward Course and I taught my first 8 week course in mindfulness at the Oxford Maggie Centre in 2012.  I am really excited to be hosting a workshop for Yes to Life in Oxford and a full 8 week course in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy especially adapted for people living with cancer.

I have found that even in a 30 minute workshop participants gain an experience of the peace and calm that is possible by coming to the present moment and begin to see how they may be adding to their own suffering with their habitual reactions to pain and illness.  For example, a pain in the body after you have had a diagnosis of cancer triggers anxious thoughts; we tend to tense up “what’s happening? Is it back? How long is it going to go on for?” These quite normal reactions create a cycle of suffering.  Mindfulness helps us develop a different relationship with pain and illness by becoming aware of this cycle and replacing the tension and resistance with more helpful responses.  We learn to let go of the struggle.

We are very fortunate to have 2 hours for you to experience and explore the benefits of mindfulness so that you have a real feel of whether this is something for you.  You will experience some simple meditation practices, have some practical tips and tools to take away and use in everyday life and when things become

I see mindfulness as a life tool for transformation, not just in how we relate to the challenges of living with a chronic illness like cancer but in how we relate to our thoughts and feelings, those around us and the lives we lead. Mindfulness opens up a space, so that instead of being on the treadmill of life, we find we have a choice and are therefore better able to take responsibility for ourselves. We begin to develop a kinder, gentler attitude to ourselves and our limits and to create space for what really brings us alive.  And even without changing anything in our lives, we bring more joy by simply being present for the good things, the enjoyable things.

I will always remember a wonderful young man who was dying of cancer and was in that first group at the Oxford Maggie Centre alongside his fiancée. They had both dreamed of their lives ahead.  He was understandably full of anger at his prognosis but at the same time wanted to enjoy the time he had left.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen Buddhist Master wrote a book called The Miracle of Mindfulness. To this courageous young man mindfulness was a miracle.  From the very first practice he did there was a great sense of relief.  He described how he had been completely stuck in his head with angry thoughts about his illness and that it was the first time in months that he had really been present and alive to what was happening during the meditation.  To him this was revelatory.

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom. 
Victor Frankl

Peace is in the Present Moment

Just think for a moment, when you are stressed or can’t sleep what is happening, where is your mind? 

Yes, it is either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. These thoughts affect our mood and behaviour. Yet, often we are unaware that our minds are even doing this – we are on automatic pilot.  We live on automatic pilot a lot of the time whether we are showering, eating, driving or walking we are frequently unaware of the experience of what we are doing – we are lost in our heads.  The risk of this, and if we talk specifically about living with cancer, is that we may be worrying about the future, stirring up anxiety and tension in the body and increasing any pain in the process.  But we also miss the enjoyable moments of our lives – being with our children or friends, listening to a concert or being in the beautiful countryside.

Looking at the diagram above, it is easy to see how we could give our nervous systems a break by allowing ourselves some time each day to be in the present moment.  We have the breath and/or the body to use as anchors to the present moment.  By focusing the attention on the sensations of breathing or the feel of the body sitting in a chair, the weight held by the chair, the feeling of the feet on the floor we come into the here and now – rather than in the virtual reality of our minds. Thoughts will soon come in again but we train ourselves to notice them and, without any judgement, guide the attention back to the breath or body.

There are numerous studies showing the benefits of mindfulness for people living with cancer. They show reduction of stress symptoms, enhanced coping and well-being, improved immune function and improved quality of life.  There is also something very powerful that comes from the shared experience of being in the group.  Furthermore, studies have shown that personal growth and healing is possible once we get below the surface of fear, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness is a vital practice for living with a chronic illness like cancer and coming to terms with loss and one’s own mortality.

If after the Workshop you feel inspired to take it further, then please see below for more information about the 8 week course.  The course dates are: -

Tuesdays 2.00 – 4.00 pm
Starting: 2nd May 2017
Ending: 27th June 2017
No session during half term 30th May
Full practice day Saturday 17th June

Course Structure

The course is taught in eight 2 hours sessions and a day of silent practice, and includes: -

         guided instruction in mindfulness meditation practices and mindful movement
         an opportunity to explore your experiences with these practices through group dialogue, to support learning and understanding
         a short breathing practice to use in times of stress
         theoretical teaching
         home practice of meditations and weekly suggestions for ways of integrating mindfulness into daily life
         CDs with guided meditation for home practice and weekly handouts to support learning

Participation is always at your own level of comfort

About the Home Practice

         Mindfulness is more a way of being than a technique and it is the regular daily practice (30 minutes) that increases the likelihood of being able to use mindfulness when times are particularly tough.

By committing to the daily practice, at least for the duration of the course, you give yourself the best opportunity to experience a difference in how you relate to what is happening in your life. You may be surprised!

To register call Yes to Life on 0203 222 0587 or email  They will send you a registration form to fill in and send back.  Following this, they will arrange a time for you to speak with me.  This is an opportunity to talk about yourself and the particular challenges you may be facing at the moment and to learn more about mindfulness and how it may help.  You will be able to chat about any concerns you may have which may help in deciding if it’s the right course for you or the right time to be embarking on it.  It is a challenging but at the same time life-enhancing course.

I look forward to practising and learning with you.

Clare McLusky

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The slow, sloooow march of science

Today's blog from our Founder Robin Daly examines very closely the role of the 'scientist' in medical outcomes

Science is defined as ‘systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation’. Sounds straightforward enough, but in the hands of humans with complex and poorly perceived motivations it can become translated into a dystopian but powerful worldview that makes little sense, but that has the power to harm very many people.

Ideally a scientist has an endlessly enquiring mind and is always convinced of how little he knows and how much more there is to be found out. In practice, however, the stance of science is all too often 

  • they used to think they knew 
  • but they were wrong 
  • now we know
This is a perpetual state of arrogance and ignorance, driven by a deep unacknowledged fear of the unknown and the uncertainties of life. While this is a fear shared by most humans, often science is used as a particularly effective shield to provide the illusion of security. In medicine, for example, this can manifest as the brilliant surgeon, supremely confident in his or her abilities and knowledge, who sweeps around the ward devastating one vulnerable patient after another, due to his or her utter disconnectedness from the realities of being human.

And as for ‘what’ is known, this tends to be what was taught to them at an early age, and that they will often cling to for dear life, against all the odds, often for a lifetime. Continuous Professional Development is an attempt to counter this destructive inertia, and I’m sure it has helped somewhat, but it is a very far cry from being driven to learn by burning intellectual curiosity. There’s a lot of truth in the commonly quoted observation that the real controlling factor over the rate of change in medicine is the working lifespan of doctors - you have to wait for one lot to die for any substantial new scientific view to be embraced.

Einstein - by anyone’s standards a ‘proper’ scientist - described this tragic state of affairs: “In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside.”1

More sinister than these very ‘human’ tendencies towards security, ambition, wealth and power are the forces that use them to their advantage. Here I am referring to business. Corporations have a very different raison d’être to medicine. They are there, first and foremost, to make money, not to save lives and not to make people healthy. If you manufacture patented pharmaceutical drugs, then you want the medical world to stay right on message with a credo that goes something like:

o   a drug is the answer to most health issues
o   drugs are safe and effective
o   any natural, unpatentable product is dangerous quackery
o   it is enormously expensive to make drugs so they have to cost an awful lot
o   drugs that are out of patent are of no interest or use - newer is always better
o   there are no simple, cheap solutions

and so on. Corporations have a very clear and well-documented understanding of the lack of true scientists in medicine (those rare beings who are more interested in what’s true than in their own comfort or advantage) and they use it mercilessly to maximise sales. Most doctors still believe that pharmaceuticals have little or no influence on prescribing habits, but science shows otherwise. Professor Peter Gotzsche2 in his shocking exposé of the pharmaceutical industry - Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare - makes clear the morally bankrupt methods and deadly consequences that characterise the business of medicine. Pharmaceutical corporations are using any and every method they believe they can get away with to keep medics ‘on message’, to keep them, at the very least, buying, and preferably endorsing and promoting their products. Using the tried and tested twin prongs of fear and desire, they incentivise medical staff looking for power, wealth, recognition and status and encourage fear of exclusion, ridicule, and loss of status for the sin of non-conformity. This is hardly the ideal climate for genuine scientific progress. But then business cares little for progress, only for profit.

To give just one small personal experience of the consequences of this situation: You would reasonably hope that the leading surgeon at a top London hospital would have achieved that status through his skills, his scientific rigour and his consequential ‘cutting edge’ knowledge. Following the amputation of my daughter’s leg due to a recurrence of cancer, he had her on ‘the latest’ in pain management for such situations - Oxycontin. My daughter then experienced marked symptoms, between doses and during the period when the dose was being reduced. We had no idea if these were symptoms of cancer or of treatment. So we asked the ‘expert’, who breezily responded that it couldn’t be the medication as, despite being an opiate, it didn’t have any side effects or withdrawal symptoms. 

A little while later, out of desperation to help our daughter, we consulted the internet. All you needed to do was to pop the word ‘Oxycontin’ into Google and ‘boom’ - there it was: reams of posts and articles from people about the exact, unacknowledged side-effects my daughter was suffering.

How could a top surgeon have got it so wrong? How could someone clearly so intelligent act in such a blind and stupid way? Well it all came out in the news eventually: the pharmaceutical sales reps had been instructed to simply tell the medics that it had no side effects. That’s literally all it took! No science required. The profession was so thoroughly ‘on message’ that scientific scrutiny and the interests of patients had long ago been dispensed with. This is a small example of the sort of dystopian ‘science’ I referred to at the outset.

Of course it has always been thus. What is fairly new is our ability, as the public, to check up on what is going on, via the internet. Doctors have up to now enjoyed unjustified levels of public trust, but fortunately the days of carte blanch acceptance of their ‘expertise’ is waning and their real allegiances are increasingly exposed. If doctors don’t start changing their ways very soon, experiences such the one I described above, or bogus dietary advice based upon zero training or knowledge’ will have them languishing at the bottom end of the ‘trust tables’ along with bankers and politicians. Blandly pronouncing that there is ‘no evidence’ for anything that they don’t understand or that isn’t a drug, as a way to justify ridiculing and dismissing it makes them look increasingly stupid to a public often better informed about the evidence than they are.

Tragically the charity sector all too often lines up dutifully behind business interests as well. Simplistic health messages and ‘health myths’ that are winners for the food and pharmaceutical industries become fixed charity dogma, propelled forward by the imperatives of industry’s bottom line, long after any shred of science that once supported the initiative has evaporated. And then we have to endure the painful process of damage limitation: an ‘authoritative’ organisation that is supposed to have the public interest at its heart - but that has allowed itself to become ridiculous by dogmatically adhering to superceded ‘scientific truths’ - desperately scrabbling around for ingenious ways to refresh their dogma without losing too much face. It’s embarrassing, and the health cost paid by the public for this kind of ‘science’ is appalling. Tragically, you see evidence of this  malaise in many of the major charities, and you only need to look to their sources of funding and at which industries they habitually recruit their top executives from, to understand why.

Successive governments - also prey to the allure of almost limitless money and power exuding from industry, not to mention the threats to take their riches elsewhere if they suffer too much scrutiny or regulation - have been cripplingly slow to realise that to entrust the progress of healthcare to business is a fool’s game, since business has no intention to make us well. It profits from our disease, and if halting the progress of science is what it takes to make more money, that’s what will be happening. We urgently need a UK ‘Bernie Sanders’  to start telling it like it is, and to finally dispel the one massive and self-evident healthcare myth - that corporations care about our health and well-being. They never have, and asking them to is a clear case of putting the fox in charge of the hens.

1 Address at Physical Society, Berlin (1918), for Max Planck’s 60th birthday
2  ISBN-10: 1846198844  ISBN-13: 978-1846198847

Friday, 10 February 2017

A Mother's story by Virna Baillie

Part Two – Jordan’s Journey - Entering the tunnel of darkness

It lands on your door stop like a meteorite - here it is a letter from the cancer centre for my 18 year old son. At first the awkwardness, then the pain and then summoning up the strength to face this journey is beyond immense and that's for just me.
What must it really be like for those who tread this splintered path?  The truth is until we do, we will never know because those who do are the most courageous, humble and caring people and they are the ones who actually end up carrying you.

I ashamedly could not go to the first appointment with Jordan to the cancer centre. I stayed at home on Valium, petrified, in tears, with a fear that if I should go, I would break down like some wreck while my child got battered by the news he was to receive.

That day he had a series of questions and tests then a pat on the back and a cancer sentence given to him.   No formal diagnoses just we know you have cancer just not sure which type yet.

I remember Jordan coming home shutting himself into a dark bedroom and going to bed.  I stood outside his door feeling sick and not even knowing what to say or how to give him hope - any hope.

Nothing from this moment on made sense. Bombarded with information, but nothing to offer him but the standard cancer treatment.  No choice, no real explanations just information and leaflets which may as well have been in Japanese.  Your brain can simply not take in any information - your child has cancer. How on earth do you function? Well let me tell you - YOU DON'T.  You forget how good it feels to be alive, you put one foot in front of the other but it's not you walking.

Jordan’s now admitted to hospital as his pain in no longer controllable at home.  A very pleasant member of the pain team comes to visit Jordan but just dosed him up on morphine.  Ahh the worlds a shiny, happy place. Chemo starts in a couple of days.  My baby boy gets hooked up to his poison - he instantly goes yellow, transparent and ill. His taste changes, he feels sick. His eyes can't bear light so much so he has to wear glasses. His bones and muscles ache and sleep becomes his only escape. How can this be happening - not my boy - none of this makes sense and why should it.  The chemo flows through his veins, this poison that is so strong the nurses are protected from head to toe. If it touched your skin it would burn a hole so imagine what it does to your insides.

Like a fire destroying everything in its path apart from the cancer. Jordan is desperately ill after his first round of chemo. Absolutely nothing helps subside his sickness, he in such a bad way. After still feeling like this after 5 days they decide that this is not a normal sickness but possibly a blockage. The tumour had bled, haemorrhaged causing the tumour to block his bowel. Jordan now needed life-saving surgery.

So here's the best bit. The oncologist tells me he has a great chance of not making the operation and he now has very few white blood cells otherwise known as neutropenic and that he would have no defences to fight an infection.  In other words the surgeon is telling me without the operation the obstruction will kill him.

Jordan wanted the operation so we were booked in with Dr Shanker who is a sarcoma specialist and apparently eats sarcomas for breakfast.   At last, a glimpse of some hope in this crazy world we were all living in.

Four hours of walking up and down Tottenham Court Road in a daze with a girlfriend of mine and then I am called by one of the consultants. Jordan was in recovery, the tumour had been removed and there was no spread of the disease to other organs and as far as the human eye could see no more cancer.

We had reached the shore. My amazing, lovely boy was on the road to recovery to be a fit healthy 18 year old and if anyone can beat this Jordan could. 

My beautiful son 
A fit young man

Monday, 6 February 2017

Ginger & Blueberry Cookies from Graeme Tomlinson the fitness chef

Hi, I’m Graeme Tomlinson.

In my time as a 
fitness trainer & nutritionist, I’ve seen and heard some crazy things regarding weight

loss. Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten about health. When it comes to making change, people’s thinking and resulting actions have become totally messed up. I scratch my head at how the fitness industry is slowly but surely screwing up simple science which always has and always will get results and replacing it with crazy methods that only make you suffer and ultimately leave you with negative results. It doesn’t make sense.
Food and health are my two main passions, so I decided to combine my knowledge of the two and create some easy to follow recipe books for those of you interested in making real change and achieving real results. When I’m not training my clients in the gym, I’m always thinking up new recipes and usually posting them on Instagram!


A study by The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre stated that ginger can cause extraordinary effects with prostate cancer. The findings suggest that regularly consuming ginger as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle might help prevent cancer from even taking root in the first place. It certainly won’t hurt — the root is also renowned for its ability to treat inflammation and nausea and is an essential part of an overall holistic living strategy. Blueberries are one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants, constantly eliminating the free radicals in your body that can lead to formation of some cancers. The positive results of multiple studies have found that regular consumption of blueberries lowers your risk of cancers of the breast, colon, bladder, lung, esophagus, skin, and small intestine.

Makes 6 cookies


150g ground almonds

2 tbsp ground ginger
1tsp baking soda
3 tbsp of pure maple syrup
Handful of blueberries
Zest of a lemon
Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until dough is formed.
Place baking paper on a baking tray. Break up the dough into six evenly sized balls and press ball down on baking tray into cookie circles.
Bake in the oven on a medium/high heat for 10-15 mins and allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes before tucking in!
Check out more of my recipes at