Monday 29 Nov 2021
Maggie's West London
Gillian was working in the fashion industry in Paris when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged 31. Her interest in nutritional therapy took on a new significance, and has now paved the way for her new life and career.
For me, cancer came completely out of the blue.
Like most young people you think it’s never going to happen to you, and that it’s always going to happen to someone else.
I was living in Paris, having the time of my life.
I’d studied French at university, and got a job in the fashion industry, working with models, managing their careers, all the way through my 20s.
When you’re at that age, doing that, you feel like you’ve made it.
But even though I loved the career I was doing, I knew it was draining.
It took a lot of energy to keep up with the job. It was 24/7, you were often on call.
I was the models’ mum, their sister, their therapist and their dietician, all wrapped into one.
It was amazing, but that lifestyle takes its toll. Because it had so many perks, I think I went on longer than I should have.
The brain tumour would have been growing for years before it was found, but when it was discovered, I was 31.
Six weeks before it was first discovered, my father died unexpectedly, which was a source of huge stress for us all.
I went to a hospital in London, but I didn’t meet the bar for further investigations.
My second seizure followed soon after, when I was with my family in Hong Kong.
That time I was diagnosed, although it could have been missed so easily.
But even then, what was being mentioned was “lesion” or “mass”, not “cancer”.
In the back of my mind, all I could think about was brain cancer.
In the years before, I’d become fascinated with an author who’d been diagnosed with brain cancer at a similar age to me, and who’d sought active ways to care for himself and his cancer beyond the normal chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery treadmill.
As soon as I’d read his book, it completely changed the course of my life.
I became so passionate about health and natural healing, and so confused that no one was talking about it.
I became sceptical about what we’re sold or told to eat or drink, and increasingly mindful of what I could do to change it.
When it came to my own diagnosis, all that research and all that work I’d done previously came in handy, and equipped me to not be scared.
I was soon diagnosed with a grade 3 astrocytoma tumour.
I changed my focus, and once I let go of the part of me that was resisting, I could channel my energy into looking after myself.
I went for the recommended treatment, but started to really delve into what I could do to help myself as well.
I video blogged every day of my treatment, to share with the people who had supported me.
Thankfully, after a while, I saw an improvement, life started to take over again, and the video blogging became less frequent.
My treatment lasted eight months.
I recognise that I was lucky, and that many others don’t have that opportunity, but for me, my diagnosis was a catalyst for change.
Cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It can be an opportunity to change the way we were living before. It can lead to an even better life.
When I was diagnosed, and I still felt like I had the rest of my life to live. I truly believed that, and I think that makes a huge difference.
I took it as an opportunity to change my life, with an awareness that I was young and had more than half the rest of my life to go.
I wanted to make changes that made my life healthier, and I was passionate about it.
When I finished my treatment, I moved back to London, and enrolled into a course that would take me four years to complete.
I was very alone in the way I was thinking about the cancer, in shock but also in disbelief that it was happening, and that everything I’d read about was happening to me.
When I got to London, I was looking for support, and became part of the monthly brain tumour support group at Maggie’s West London.
The friends I made there I’m still close with today.
We’re on the same wavelength, we’re like-minded and with them I’m not alone in having changed my diet, or found different supplements, or tried hyper-baric oxygen therapy.
Friendship is so precious. And you get support from your friends and family from different parts of your life.
But no one is really going to know what it’s like to go through that diagnosis, and know the thoughts that are going through your head.
Knowing there are people who are going through or have been through it themselves – it’s a whole different level of connection with people. It gives you freedom to voice things that might have remained unspoken.
Maggie’s also helped me with the financial side of things. I was a British citizen but newly back to the UK, so they gave me advice on benefits.
I qualified as a nutritional therapist, using food as medicine, with the aim of trying to investigate the root causes of a person’s illness or condition.
Once you’ve identified it, then you can make changes to their diet and lifestyle, using nutritional medicine and science to balance their bodies, their bio-chemistry.
There aren’t many within the field who specialise in cancer, but I do. Now I’ve set up my own clinic, and specialise in helping people get through diagnosis and treatment.
Often now I deal with people who have been diagnosed with a brain tumour, and are going what I went through.
I remind them that they are in control. Our minds have this ability to run off with themselves, and quickly get caught up in thinking.
For me, it’s about reminding clients they are a person, not their cancer.
I like being able to use my experience to help them.
Having had cancer, I feel much more in control of my feelings and emotions, and I’m also very proud of myself.
I completely changed my career, went back to school, studied for four years, and that felt amazing, because I was passionate about something that I was doing for the first time.
Cancer has given me a whole new life. I find fun and happiness in new ways.
I could have felt like a victim, or worried I was so young to get the diagnosis, but I didn’t choose to do that.
Everyone has a decision, and I chose to take every opportunity to learn everything that I could.
And above all I was interested in it all, despite my diagnosis, which is what helped me wade through the harder bits, and get me to where I am today.
If you or someone you love has cancer, we are here with you.
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