Living with Gratitude
by Brenda Scarlett
On March 22, 2010 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
Being told you have cancer brings the strongest person to their knees. There is a feeling of disbelief and your mortality stares you in the face. Suddenly all the things that seemed so important are trivial: that big deal you were waiting on, and the petty nuisances of life alike – it all suddenly becomes so meaningless.
I was in total shock, and confronted with the most important decision I have ever had to make. The surgeon at the time showed me a plastic bowel and said “We’ll only cut out this much”, but then he dropped another bombshell… the actual spot from where they’d taken the malignant polyp in the first colonoscopy hadn’t been tattooed, and I’d need a second colonoscopy, so they’d know which section of my bowel to remove. I was so angered by the oversight, and my confidence in the medical team diminished. My instinct told me to seek a second opinion.
I also couldn’t help but remember how a neighbor of mine who had lost her husband to cancer had arranged for donations to The Gawler Cancer Foundation in lieu of flowers. It really struck a cord with me that even though she had lost her loved one to cancer, she was still so supportive of the Foundation’s work… I had to learn more…
So the very next day I called the Foundation and learned about their upcoming Life & Living retreat program. Learning that it was a self-help program, designed to educate and empower people living with cancer really resonated with me. I booked in, and also ordered copies of “You Can Conquer Cancer,” by Ian Gawler and “Surviving Cancer: Inspiring stories of Hope and Healing.”
Following the advice from these books I started juicing and cutting out red meat and dairy products right away. I also rang another surgeon, who in 2008 had given me a successful full knee replacement, and asked: “If your mother had cancer, who would you recommend her to?” And within a few days I was in touch with a new surgeon.
Twelve days later and I was beginning my retreat experience at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, set in a wonderful rainforest setting. I felt like I was a million kilometers away from the harshness of the modern world, and I was thankful to be amongst people that understood what I was going through. Thirty-four people had arrived from all over Australia for the program – a very stressed and unhappy group we were on arrival.
But I loved the way we were led through a routine each day: so relaxed, educational and fun that we were unaware of the underlying process leading us to catharsis.
I was able to recall how after an almost fatal car accident in 1992, both knees were badly injured, and for the next 16 years I struggled with a limp and put on weight, while feeling weighed down with a lazy partner, elderly parents, thousands of sheep in drought conditions, and an enormous amount of financial responsibility.
On the seventh day, we released huge amounts of emotional baggage – people shouted, screamed or cried, including me, and afterwards those same people who just days earlier looked ghostly and haunted, now looked peaceful and serene.
I always thought I’d coped against all odds with my family challenges, however this eye-opening experience showed me how past struggles had still been affecting me, and how important it is to address all pain – physical, emotional and otherwise.
Within a week of returning from the Gawler program, my new surgeon ordered another colonoscopy of the ‘spot’ that the malignant polyp had been removed, and during the procedure a new polyp was found, removed and biopsied. A week later I received the remarkable findings: tests were all clear.
I often wonder what may have been had I not have been so proactive following my diagnosis.
Since my diagnosis over six years ago my life has changed dramatically. It’s as though I had a life before cancer and another after cancer. Putting my health first became imperative, so I made the decision to return to Apsley – my beloved birthplace – to live in a way that brings me happiness, and maintains balance in my body, mind and soul. I now live my life with purpose, passion, gratitude and peace.
I’m grateful for the tiniest little wonder: the miracle of waking each morning, the laughter of my grandsons, or the grace of my horses. Over the years there has been a wonderful trip to Machu Picchu, an amazing 50th reunion for six weeks with my old travel girlfriends on safari to Africa, and I’ve completed the first of three self-published memoirs… but I also live a quiet life now – growing my own vegetables and following Ian’s teachings.
I’ve had 5 colonoscopies, several blood tests and other tests over the past 6 years and nothing has been found.