We were fortunate to catch up with long-term community member Fay Blackburn before she left Findhorn to spend 3 months in Southern Spain. After receiving a cancer diagnosis Fay took immediate action to address her diet and underlying emotional matters. She shares her experience with us, including food items and books which helped her on the way to being given the all clear by doctors.
I had Colon Cancer fifteen years ago, which really shock me up. After the operation to remove the tumor, the doctor said I should have Chemotherapy just in case. I asked the doctor “what is the difference in survival rates between those people who take the Chemo and those people who don’t”. I know that doctors have to know this, as the drugs are double blind tested against placebos and different dosages. They told me 60% of the people who took the Chemo survived five years, of those who didn’t take the chemo 50% survived five years. I worked in hospitals much of my life as a lab technician. I found out that they were using the same drug to treat colon cancer that they were using thirty years. I thought a 10% difference in survival rate, well that’s peanuts and if they are still testing the same drug I am sure I can do better than that by going home, having a quiet lifestyle not stressing myself out and looking after my body.
I came home and I went to the Bristol Cancer Help Centre (now called Penny Brohn Cancer Care), a well known cancer treatment centre in Bristol, England, they are very hot on diet. I learnt a lot from them there and I learnt a lot from practitioners in the Findhorn community. I took their advice, and ate lots of antioxidants, drank fresh carrot juice, everything organic and was pretty well Vegan for five years, although I ate eggs, but had no dairy, no tea, no coffee, no meat, no fish, no alcohol (I don’t anyhow) and no sugar. I kept it up for five years, by which time we decided that the cancer was probably not going to come back. After ten years I had a full body scan, and nothing was found so the surgeon said I don’t want to see you again, unless you get worried about something!
Since then, I have maintained a commitment to boosting my immune system, by always having healthy food, and The Phoenix is great because they have all kinds of good food, which means you can have an interesting diet without feeling totally deprived. This is important as it is hard to maintain a strict diet, if you can’t make it interesting because you feel awful, really hard done by.
My favourite products from The Phoenix are the bread from Findhorn Bakehouse Bakery, the speciality yogurts from soya or goats milk, the variety of goats or sheep milk cheeses, and the selection of flour, for baking, all the different flours you can imagine, buckwheat, spelt, gluten-free, rye.
I always had an interest in really good food, my father was a gardener and he was into organics when I was a child, which is quite revolutionary now, but you see chemical farming was just coming in after the war, and he did not believe in it, he said that is not the way to go. We had a big garden when I was a kid, so I learnt all about gardening from my dad. Then when I had kids, we lived in the countryside and I had a big garden of my own, so we had home made food all the time, no packet mixes, always cooking from scratch, no takeaways.
I bake a lot, I do pasties, quiches, pies. It’s always been a way of life, my mother taught me to make a pie crust at ten years old. My daughter carries it on, she used to wow her friends at university when she would turn up with a pie she had made, because you see it makes ordinary ingredients so much more fancy if you put a pie crust on them.
Five years after the cancer diagnosis, I started to allow myself a piece of birthday cake or a cup of coffee every now and again. I don’t eat biscuits everyday, I only eat sugar on special occasions. I try to make everything fresh, none of these packaged foods where you don’t know what kind of emulsifiers they have put in them. I do not bombard my system everyday with the same thing. I continue to cut out acidic foods. I buy the west coast dulse from The Phoenix and I soak my grains overnight with the seaweed in it too, as the seaweed takes the grains from being neutral to more alkaline. I mainly drink barley cup or barley cup mixed with coffee. Sugar is very acidic, so I tend to avoid it. For breakfast, my favourite right now is the raw buckwheat, which I get from The Phoenix, I have this as a porridge with millet, barley or quinoa, even cornmeal, I soak them overnight, bring to boil in the morning then leave to stand for thirty minutes before eating. I particularly enjoy the barley, which is also brilliant because it is grown in Scotland. They say you should eat the foods that grown in the same climate zones for where you are living, because your body is better adjusted to them. Your body is not in a state to digest food from a different environment than the one you are in. This makes a lot of sense to me, I like to think I could grow my own food, but I don’t think I could, so the next best thing is for somebody locally to grow it for me.
Do you think the cancer was a sign that there was a need to change?
Yes, surely, I mean I was holding on to all kinds of old resentments about my husband, and my marriage, how he treated my son and all this kind of stuff. I had to go and deal with that with him because I knew that my biggest fear was knowing that if I didn’t solve the underlying cause of the cancer it would come back. I knew I had to deal with the emotional cause. From having read Louise Hay, there is always an emotional factor, Colon Cancer is holding onto old resentments, so I thought oh yes I know exactly where that is coming from. So I had to go to see him and deal with it, so I did and it was brilliant, as I could let go, forgive myself and forgive him and say ok that is water under the bridge and is not burning its way at the back of my mind all the time. It’s been brought into the open and we have talked about it, resolved it. I think this was just as important as the diet, I think you’ve got to do both. Otherwise it could maybe come back in some form or the other.
So from having the cancer and changing your diet, another result now is that you have an even better quality of life?
Yep, being straight with people, dealing with unfinished business in your life, the emotional unfinished business, because if you don’t it will undermine you at some time. I knew I was holding onto resentments before I was diagnosed with cancer, and I thought gosh if it is that bad that it has given me cancer then I have got to deal with it. I was steaming mad with him for ten years, but it took twenty years to develop the cancer. So it takes a long time for these things to manifest, yet you have to deal with it somehow at sometime otherwise it will catch up with you.
What have you been able to do in your life since recovering from the cancer?
Well tomorrow I am leaving to travel down to Spain to cook meals for Wwoof’ers on an olive farm! I have done twenty years volunteering with Trees for Life and twelve years of care work for old people in their home here in the community. In the last fifteen years I have travelled, to Florida Ever Glades National Park, I went to Greece by train from here to Athens and to Alsaka, something I had wanted to do for many years. I went on a convalescence trip after the operation to remove the tumor, I went on a world tour because a cancer book that I bought in The Phoenix which made the most sense to me – called “Cancer As A Turing Point” by Lawrence LeShan – said that what you have to not do is try and psycho-analyse why you got cancer, but look at it the other way around find out what it is you want to do, every morning when you wake up, what is it that is going to make you want to get out of the bed and live every morning, what is it you really want to do now before you die – like your Bucket List. What is going to make you feel turned on, because that is going to feed your immune system, feeling positive, feeling happy. The first thing that came to my mind is that I want to go travelling and not on anybody elses terms. Not with a husband, partner, children, what do I want out of this journey, where do I want to go.
I went to Australia to clear up with my ex-husband as part of my convalescence trip, he lives in Australia, so he invited me for Christmas and we had a great time. I went from there onto North America, Canada, West Canada, California, New Zealand, Australia, staying with friends and relatives, Then I went via Hong Kong to India and came home. It was amazing, just wonderful and I never got sick the whole time. Then I started working again and I got sick. So I quit, because I needed less stress in my life and here I am today retired. Compared to a lot of people my age, I am fitter and I have more energy. Maybe I have good genes, but I think it is the diet.