A Big Learning Curve

Spring 2016, Living Well Magazine

by Deirdre Loveless

It was after I had day surgery in 2008 that I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Following surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I booked in for The Gawler Cancer Foundation’s Life & Living Cancer Retreat.

Located in a beautiful bush setting, the Yarra Valley Living Centre centre was not only a beautiful place to spend time, but a healing place too. Unlike anything else I had experienced. In the lead up to the retreat I had no energy – I was tired and needed to nap every afternoon – but following my time there, my energy levels returned.

I don’t think it was any one single thing – the whole retreat was a really big learning curve, and a truly valuable experience for me at that time in my life.

Everyone had an opinion about what I should have been doing following my diagnosis. My family, my friends, they all had strong opinions about what would be best for me, but my time at the retreat really empowered me to be proactive, and gave me to the tools to connect with my own internal knowing of what was right or wrong for me… rather than getting pushed along by what others were telling me. Ultimately we all know our own bodies better than anyone else.

We learned a lot about cancer nutrition and the importance of a wholefoods diet, and for the most part, I still follow an organic wholefoods diet. I did try a fully vegan diet for some time after the retreat, but ended up incorporating fish to help maintain my weight.

Connecting with the other people was very beneficial for me as the retreat was the first time I had really connected with other people who had cancer. Having bladder cancer felt isolating. People with common cancers – like breast or bowel for example – have a variety of support groups to get involved with, but there weren’t any around at the time for bladder cancer, so having the opportunity to share and connect with people going through a similar experience to me was really very therapeutic.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of the people I met there have now passed, but I still keep in contact with some of their partners. Some expressed wishing their loved ones had gone to The Gawler Cancer Foundation earlier, but also acknowledge that the latter part of their partners life had been better for what they had gained from their time there. Their lives were no longer focused on the cancer and filled with fear… they had a better understanding about what was happening to their bodies and they were more empowered about their choices… they were focused on looking after themselves, and despite living with cancer they FELT good.

One of the areas we worked on during the retreat was ‘letting go’ of emotional pain – such as past grief and hurt – that many of us hadn’t realised we were still carrying. It was pretty amazing how much lighter we all felt after this experience, and I am more aware now and able to tune in and address painful emotions as they arise.

I had already been practicing meditation through the Brahma Kumaris centre here in Melbourne before my time at the retreat so meditation wasn’t new to me, but I really enjoyed the mindfulness practice. I still enjoy using the relaxation meditation CD’s that I bought there all those years ago.

And I really enjoyed our time with the gardening team learning how to create no-dig gardens. I work at a school two days a week, teaching the kids about sustainability, and following the retreat we made a kitchen garden on campus. The kids enjoy working in the garden, and cooking vegetarian and wholefoods meals in the kitchen. We have lots of community helpers who come in too, and we also plant trees throughout the school. It’s been a really good offshoot from Gawler, and being able to pass those skills on to young people is very rewarding.

Aside from my work, a lot of my time is taken up with my grandchildren, which I LOVE, but I also understand how important taking time for myself is. I have a friend who has a holiday house in Anglesea, so every now and then I go down there on my own, for some peace and quiet by the ocean.  I also returned to the Yarra Valley Living Centre for a Women’s Retreat, and have booked myself in for the Music & Mindfulness Retreat – with harpist Michael Johnson. I have fond memories of Michael playing during one of the meditation sessions at the Life & Living Cancer Retreat – we laid down in the meditation room while he played his beautiful harp music, the music just goes right through your whole body. I also look forward to receiving the Gawler magazine and emails, the articles are like gentle reminders to me to look after myself.

I would say the biggest learning experience for me has been to take each day as it comes… not to look too far into the future. Each day is important, so I try to live each day to the fullest, because none of us really ever know what is around the corner. I think Gawler really helped with that – making me more aware of living in the present moment.

Click here to learn more about The Gawler Cancer Foundation’s Life & Living Retreat program.