26 December 2009

Living in Gratitude 84 : Go sweep out the chamber of your heart

Go sweep out the chamber of your heart
Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved

When you depart out

She will enter it

In you
void of yourself,
She display her beauties

Shabistari 13th Century

poem found while cleaning up my desk today

Got through the Christmas festivities OK - knew my limitations so kept the celebrations within the zone of not getting myself too tired.

Now, it's 26th Dec, hung out with my little brother today, showed him how to make his first sushi and tonight I sent him off to a Jazz concert with Australian friends who are usually based in Gaza/ Jerusalem+ have an appartment on the other side of the park (I have understood now after being back in Paris for 2 weeks that if I don't go out, I don't over-tire myself... it's simple but imagine, a city like Paris and not being tempted 20 times a day to do an activity!!!)


I'm clearing and cleaning the appartment, as while I was sick, I didn't have the energy to do anything for six months... after being in India, material objects seem so superfluous, although I do like the comforts of a warm bed, soft sheets, hot water in my bath, music to listen to.. I look at my huge bookshelf and think of all these books, my archives, catalogues, my photo collection... it all seems to be so much unnecessary "extra"...

I live fairly simply (on the material level) and I'm interested to live even more simply...

18 December 2009

living in gratitude 83 : 6 month check up


On my way home through the park on Wednesday, the day before the snow arrived... gloves made by Syl Lot from the sleeves of a beautiful cashmere sweater which shrank in the wash...

the snow came and created such magic and beauty

I was so grateful to Mother Nature for bringing me the snow this week... it helped soften the process

layers of winter clothes as I dress and undress for various exams...

my boob as seen by the ecography

This week has been rather testing ... have had appointment after appointment : osteoporosis test, mammogram, pap smear, lymphatic drainage massage (that is pleasant), physical therapy for pelvic floor... and today IRM, liver scan, blood test at Institut Marie Curie where I had my radiotherapy ( a place I don't like to return to)...

Physically it's been exhausting. And I'm in bed by 9pm each night ... this has never happened to me in my paris history! (waking up sometime in the night ... but managing to sleep well.)

The snow in Paris has added a layer of poetry to the week.

11 December 2009

living in gratitude 82 : woke up in paris

I woke up this morning and had no idea where I was, I touched my thick feathery pillow, felt the soft eiderdown... it all felt very comforting, I looked up and saw the blue morning light of Paris and understood I was in Paris... I pulled the eiderdown over me and fell back to sleep.

It is really lovely to be back in my appartment, feels like such a luxury to be in my own space. And it's so warming also, to see how much better I am... last time I was in this space was almost six months ago... there are loads of memories of that time : the medication, the betadine, the support cushions... I can really see how much better I feel compared to then! And that makes me feel very full and smiling inside. It feels like a huge gift.

photo: view from my window - the disney land looking structure on the hill is the sacré coeur, a church which sits on the top of montmartre... All the time I have lived in paris, I have always had a view of this church.

09 December 2009

Living in Gratitude 81 : leaving India

After 5 months, I leave India today. I cannot believe so much time has passed... what happened to 2009? A lot happened when I look at the details but it also feels like time sped by.
The usual busy phase of packing, saying good-bye, finishing things has been in place over the last few days.

My last posts have been about the fustration / courage / surrendering... and I see that this has helped me focus on accepting where I am at... and that, for an impatient Leo, is a huge step.

I need to constantly remind myself, but when I am in that space of accepting where I am at NOW physically and emotionally (not wanting things to be different), the reward is a feeling of peace I have never known.

07 December 2009

living in gratitude 80 : a path of surrender and courage

text : a path of surrender and courage
so much change
OM namo narayani

Someone had written to me asking if my time in India was full of bliss (as I am going to a lot of puja and doing meditation), I replied that no, this present path was not one of bliss... she responded that my present path sounded like one of surrender and courage.

this drawing was done last week

text : 7 months after surgery
8 months after radiation
feeling so flat
i can't stand all these changes in my body
hormone treatment still doesn't feel right, in need of something different, i want a natural therapy no more synthetic hormones
have put on weight
legs numbing
always tired
I don't know how I feel
I cannot recognise this body and how it feels

this drawing dates back to october...
text : 7 months after radiation and I still have symptoms of post-traumatic stress
the trauma is still in my body

05 December 2009

living in gratitude 79 : learning patience

text: the pain
the trauma
the trauma is still in my body

This morning I sat in my meditation and spoke to myself softly, saying "Nathalie you are really going to need to be patient here. Patience is really required."

I have been so fustrated over the last weeks that I am still in recovery mode, and yesterday after a conversation with a friend, reminded me yet again of that point of patience and acceptance of this is where I am at and to be grateful for this. Sure I still feel numb in the lower part of my stomach/ pelvic area and I get numbness and pain in my legs after walking and I get tired really quickly but this time next year I will feel different, I will heal, and to remind myself to be gentle with this traumatised body rather than curse it for feeling weak or numb or in pain.

So tonight I went for a walk, as usual, I had a lot of pain and numbness in my legs. Usually, I stop to sit and wait until the pain and numbness subsides but tonight I kept walking, talking to my legs, saying to them "I know it's painful, but if I can just keep breathing into you, keep giving you energy, and one day you will feel better, it won't feel like such a huge task as it does right now..." The pain seemed more manageable.

Nicole also said to me, just the fact that you have survived this, that you will be well one day, you'll be a living testimony which will help others. This feels like a long long way off... it's helpful to be reminded.

The slowness of this road is remarkable in how it's teaching me to be patient...and to learn to be kind to myself. I've never given myself time like this before. And here I am, quietly forced to...

these drawings were done with pencil last month

text : 7 months after surgery
still feeling vulnerable
coping level is low
in need of tender loving care

text : not coping with interaction

I have no sense of what I would like my future to be. This year I died a thousand deaths. Dying is lonely and it isn't. Still in Shock.

04 December 2009

Living in Gratitude 78 : fustration and surrender

These last two weeks have been a real challenge - sometimes I get so impatient with still feeling unwell, still feeling exhausted, still being so physically limited with what I can do within my day ... sometimes it drives me so crazy, I end up in tears out of sadness and fustration. I can hear myself saying "I should be feeling better by now!".... "why I am still feeling this tired?"... "when am I going to start feeling that I can do things more normally?"... "I feel so foreign in this body ..."

And those questions just DO NOT HELP ME.... it pulls me in tighter and I become more fustrated and upset. Which, of course makes me more tired.

And then I try to remind myself of the gratitude of having been so ill,of this slow recovery process, of what it is teaching me. I lie in bed or on the floor on my yoga mat and remind myself how this illness has stopped me in my tracks to teach me stuff that I would never have stopped for. Because I was always running. Running after something or running away from something.

And when I get into that space of surrendering to the physical limitations I have now, it's a whole new feeling. It feels more peaceful, more accepting, patient and kinder.

photos from boy's orphanage - we visit an orphanage each Saturday night and bring a good hearty meal. Last saturday the boys greeted us with music and stilts.... the stilts reminded me of how I feel a lot of the time.

24 November 2009


I lived life at a high speed, afraid I would miss out on something : there was so much happening in the world, and I wanted to be a part of it. I was healthy and strong, so I was able to push myself far.

This year I was forced to stop. While I was going through my treatment, although I was grateful that the treatment was curing me of cancer, I also cursed it for depleting my physical and emotional body. All of a sudden I 'got' what it meant to live with a body that was very weakened. I experienced what it meant when each step, each movement was a huge physical effort. It was like crossing into a grey area I had completely ignored: learning to have compassion for those with physical ailments (whether due to old age or illness).

Now, I'm so grateful that I have been forced to slow down. To take life at its pace, rather than at my previously, frantically chosen pace. It's given me a very new way of looking at life and relating to people, this, in turn, deepens my appreciation for E V E R Y T H I N G.

photos from this year's Diwali - India's festival of light (the equivalent of Christmas in terms of families coming together and celebrating).

12 November 2009


After reading a friend's book, I have been inspired to write again... although the fatigue still remains in my body, I feel like communicating again, for the first time in over 4 months.

My friend describes her journey with cancer: “yet with all our (medical) advances, far too many of us remain ill. We’re ill within body, mind and spirit. Patients who are dismissed by doctors as medically “cured” often remain unwell and restless in a quest for something more. The hurt hasn’t stopped. The search for well-being continues long after the treatments end.”

I have lived this. Once I was “cured” everyone around me expressed so much happiness and joy. I was off the "cancer" hook. However, inside, I still felt so physically unwell and so traumatised by the treatment I could barely talk about it. For the first time in my life, I knew what they meant by "shell shock", I felt like a veteran who had come home from war : shaken to the core and unable to share the feelings with anyone who had not been through the trauma (cancer treatment). I felt so alienated. It felt like my life, as I knew it was over. No more desires for anything. My spiritual and emotional bodies were also in great need of healing. And the doctors were calling me "cured!".

I was “cured” in June. It’s now November. I planned to touch base at Sakthi Amma's (in South India) for ten days in July and do the rest of my recovery period in Paris. But once I got here, I felt I was in the best place on earth for my recovery. It has been. And it still is.

In the last days I feel as if a layer of thick mist within has lifted. Actually, in the last few weeks, this feeling has arisen several times. Those moments of feeling well are like oil on the surface on water : as soon as I try to touch it, it dissipates, the fatigue rises and I’m back in bed for the day. The sense of a little victory disappears and I have no choice but to give in to the needs of my fatigued body.

One thing is different this time, is that I have the desire to write. This is new. Maybe a renewal.

23 September 2009

TEXT I wrote for Women's Health Conference

A New York friend recently asked me to write about my experience with cervical cancer for a conference she was organising on Women's health, encouraging women to have annual PAP smears. Here is the text I wrote:

The words I never, ever thought I’d hear, never dreamt I ‘d hear , came out of the doctor’s mouth: « you’ve got cervical cancer, we’re not sure how advanced the cancer is, but it’s advanced,».

It was a Monday morning sometime in January this year, I was in my hometown in Australia, sitting in a doctor’s office. The week before, I had had a general check up and had been told that my health was « impeccably good ».
« We haven’t got the PAP smear results back yet, they’ll take a few more days, » the doctor had said.

I was 39 years old, I travelled frequently for my work (something I loved) and I felt that my life was very blessed as I was very rich with friendships and somehow, life served me abundantly in rich experiences through my work and relationships.

The doctor had called me in, rather than give me the results over the phone which had given me an uneasy feeling. But, hey, I was super healthy in terms of my previous tests, wasn’t I ? Then those words…
« you’ve got cancer. »

It was one of those times in my life when all stands still. The words felt like thunder. « What ??? »
As the doctor called up the gynecologist oncologist for an appointment that very day, in order to measure the tumor, I sat there dumbstruck, with tears running down my eyes. I had gone to the doctor's appointment alone. I felt very alone.
« Is this how I die ? » It may sound dramatic but until then, I had felt invincible. Everything had felt possible. However, my father, uncle, grandfather and stepfather had died of cancer in the previous 3 years… I had seen with my own eyes, how deadly and painful cancer could be. Getting cancer had secrectly been my greatest fear and it seemed to becoming a reality. Furthermore, many women do die of cervical cancer each year.

The more I spoke to people about my condition, the more I found out how many women had had « warning signs » or « pre-cancerous cells » found in the cervix. Approximately 1 in 3 women I spoke to had had « warning signs. » These were women who had had PAP SMEAR tests anually.
What happened with me ? Why did I have full blown cancer when so many other women seem to have nabbed it in the nick of time ? I had neglected to have a PAP smear in 4 years. Eighteen months earlier I had visited my gynecologist who did not do a PAP smear, which I thought was « strange » but I didn’t insist… Now I so wish I had insisted on that PAP smear.

So what happened to me ? I survived, I’m here to tell you the story. But I went through hell – an expĂ©rience I wouldn’t wish on ANYBODY. For a week I received radiotherapy in form of Brachitherapy which meant direct radiation on the tumor found in my cervix. I was strapped to a bed, lying on my back for 6 days and received radiation for 30 minutes every hour, 24 hours a day. I couldn’t move as it would have endangered the emplacement of the radiation apparatus in my vagina and uterus. It was difficult to sleep as the machine kept clicking on every 30 minutes. After the radiation, I experienced chronic fatigue, depression and my body had greatly weakened from the radiation. A month later just before I had my 4th and final surgery for the treatment, I wanted my life to end. The suffering felt too much to cope with. I wanted to just disappear under a moving bus. Somehow I managed to keep myself to the footpath and underwent a radical hysterectomy which meant I lost my uterus and ovaries. Overnight I was a woman in menopause and I was only 39 years old... The chronic fatigue and depression continued. A far cry from the independant, free-spirited and loving person I had been a few months before.

The cancer was due to the HPP virus, an STD. My experience could have been much different, so less traumatic had I had my PAP smear done annually. Is there a moral to my life story ? If there is one, it’s about taking care of the goddess within. It’s about doing the really simple things, like getting a PAP smear done annually as well as getting one’s breasts checked every 12 months. PAP smears should be done annually as soon as one is sexually active (however recent studies show that the virus has been found in a percentage of young girls who have not been sexually active)
(IAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Volume 200, Issue 5, Pages 487.e1-487.e5).

If my experience can encourage other women to get their PAP smears done annually, then, there will have been a purpose to the profoundly difficult journey I have recently travelled.

08 September 2009


Well it has been a while... but honestly, my life here in South India is not at all conducive to sitting in front of a computer - and have been REALLY REALLY focusing on my internal healing as being cured of cancer is one thing but there is so much for the body + mind to recover from. In my case, the chronic fatigue and depression have certainly shifted since I have been in India. Other ailments like pain in my legs when walking or standing got me getting quite distressed ...then there has been the psychological mountain ... which I am still climbing through.

on another note...
Here are pictures from Sripuram's 2nd anniversary (last week of August) - the focuse of this year's celebration was very sober : there was a homam (fire ritual) where the vedas were chanted for 6 days, with 9 fires burning and 4 rituals done each day, offering ghee and other goodies to the spirit world so they can take good care of the rainfall, nature, and the world in general...

Unfortunately I was physically unwell that particular week, so only visited the chanting once a day... if i had been better, I would have been there all day as I love to listen to vedic chanting ! Despite me feeling unwell, I did delivery the priests some cake at the end of the day - on the last three days.

and yes, it did rain A LOT at the end of the 6 days...

31 July 2009


Today I turn 40 - and while others may be a little freaked out approaching the new decade - I'm grateful to be alive, cancer free, and grateful for the healing (possibly a bit slow for my liking at times... but this whole process has got me slowed down on every level...)

I had an attack of insomnia last night so baked a cake (I'll take it to the local pre-school and share it with the smiling children there), and started a new loaf of bread (baking bread has become my daily activity : it keeps me grounded + present + it's something I have always wanted to learn but always been too busy to do.)

I also did this drawing (I will upload a selection of most recent drawings - I have been consistently drawing but didn't have it in me to be in communication... had to have a shut down period).

I have been doing a lot of crying recently which is sort of a relief because I haven't been able to cry for some time. Now I can cry tears : feels like the next step of healing can take place - that sadness can now shift.

Text from image : gratitude, bread-making, living in the present moment, loads of healing tears. (I have been having difficulty living in the present moment, so this drawing was like preparing an ode for how to live today... and there will be smiles too...)

08 June 2009

living in gratitude 75 : 2 steps ahead 1 step behind

It's been exactly a week since I got back to my appartment after 3 weeks at Rose's home on the left bank with its elevator to get me up + down. It was really lovely to find my own space - I had actually been away for a month! (including the week in hospital)

text : 5 weeks after surgery
9 1/2 weeks after radiation

text : shattered

text : 4 general aneasthetics, 120 hours of radiation + surgically induced menopause
depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted depleted

The myth is that now I don't have cancer, I am well... mmmmmm... let me clarify: that I don't have cancer means I am cancer free... so that means I have a sense of relief (no longer have that sense of having a heavy sentence upon me as I don't have to do any more treatment) but I'm still in the recovery phase + it feels like it is 2 steps ahead and 1 step behind. Although my brain may tell me "I am cancer free", my body doesn't believe it.
My body answers back to me : " Are you kidding??? Do you really believe that I am going to trust you??? After all that you've made me go through... yeah ... sure.... how can I know you are not sending me off for some more gruelling treatment???..."

text : keeping myself excessively busy to not feel the pain
and now I am depleted
(this is in reference to my excessively busy life before being diagnosed where I was constantly travelling + working + exhibiting)

text : depleted

At the moment, I limit myself to an activity a day (which is usually a doctor's appointment).

For 1 or 2 days I am relatively OK (exhausted but ok) if I don't do anything else. And it seems that on the 2nd or 3rd day I am so depleted that I don't go much further than horizontal on my sofa or my sketching pad.

I'm coping pretty well with climbing my five flight of stairs - it's exhausting but do+able.

text : feeling so fragile

text : living with so much pain for so long

text : shattered

My cousin asked me "are you feeling better?" And ... well... frankly not particularly... the main difference is that the stomach area from surgery is healing + I can move much better + get up easily now from a sitting or lying position. But it does make a difference to know I don't have to have any more treatment for the moment.

30 May 2009

living in gratitude 74 : pause button on communicating

Now that my health is no longer in danger,
I am going to put the pause button on communicating
+ take a break from this blog +

+ focus on getting better physically

+ emotionally.

I will keep drawing + creating but keep it in the private realm.

I like this image, it gives me a real sense that
"I am alive, I am here -
and I have something as strong as the tree to lean on."

And this is a reminder of all the shadow work, the non-tangible internal work that needs to be taken care of...

will update from time - to - time.

28 May 2009

living in gratitude 73 : integrating new information

text : He said "the results are perfect."
I didn't hear him, my friend who had accompanied me to the appointment said to me,
"Nathalie he just told you of your results."
"Yes the results are perfect."
Are you sure? there is nothing? nothing? nothing?
I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing.
May 27 2009

text : I couldn't absorb what had happened. After the appointment with the doctor. I kept asking my friend.

text: As I stood in the street the sense that I was OK started to appear with me. I felt such quiet gratitude + I felt very humble.

text : I got back + I felt exhausted. I lay on the bed. I could feel the lightness appear in my body
the dread, the anticipation, the heaviness of the sentence
I didn't realise how heavy, how much weight I had carried.

text : the sense of relief + lightness settling within

text : I was feeling the lightness enter my body

text: At first i would ask WHY ME?

And I'd look at all those faces in the waiting room at INSTITUT MARIE CURIE + see how ANYONE could be diagnosed with cancer.
young, old, fat, thin, glamorous, ordinary, man, woman, black, white, asian.
there was NO PREJUDICE
so I would understand
it could be anyone

And yet today - I was told the results were perfect. And I know lots of people who didn't survive cancer. And I asked WHY ME?

27 May 2009

living in gratitude 72 : today i am perfect

I just got back from my appointment my surgeon + the news is :

He said the results are "perfect".

No cancerous cells found in the lymph nodes + nor in the cervix (radiation successful).

Here is a photo of my feet + yasmin's flip-flops in the waiting room at Institut Marie Curie. I wore a particularly bright skirt for the day as I thought, whatever the results are, it's a part of my life.

As I sat in the waiting room, I really felt that whatever the doctor says, I will continue this life journey embracing it all. And I kept telling Yasmin, "if that means having to go on with more treatment, I won't be delighted but I do accept that it may be the path I have to take. I'm not in charge. "

Yasmin's flip flops.
Waiting time at institut Marie Curie is always significant...

My surgeon (white doc's coat) + my toes while he checks out the my tummy + the scar. (photo by yasmin)

I don't believe my lucky stars.

Fortunately Yasmin was with me, because when the surgeon said "the results are perfect," I didn't hear him... I was talking about the symptons since the surgery...
Yasmin stopped me and said "he just said your results are perfect."
What? Really ? ?
"Oui, les resultats sont parfaits" he replied
You mean there is nothing, nothing, nothing???????

"Yes, no traces in the lymph nodes and nor in the cervix, the radiation worked well there."

I was and still am gob-smacked.
We went to lunch with Yasmin, her husband and their child and I had no appetite. I kept asking Yasmin "can you just repeat what he said one more time?"
"Did that really happen?"
"He DID say, it was all gone, it was perfect didn't he?"

Then as we walked back to the car, I started to have a sense of what this meant. I felt humbled + "why me? how come I get off the hook? how does that one happen?".

... Ganesh turned up today...
Yasmin's son, Louis with Ganesh at the shop window of DIWALI,
nearby Institut Marie Curie.

And now I am back home. I just want to have a rest. some zzzzz. That's a lot of emotion for one day... I still cannot quite believe what has happened... has it really? will I wake up + there be something else?

Thank you for your thoughts + prayers.

Now I can confidently ask you all to direct those prayers to others you know or don't know who are going through profoundly challenging moments.

And I am going to start to slowly integrate what this means, that I can just keep resting + getting better + remember to take EVERYTHING slowly, in its time + slowly start thinking about my second lease of life.