Water Your Own Garden: Practical Tips

Following on from last week’s post about how and why to take charge of your own recovery, we’ve collected together a series of practical tips for you to use in your own recovery journey:

advocates for breast cancer_south africa_horticultural therapy

Ensure that you have the right relationship with your treatment team. 

REMEMBER: you have the right to be treated as an equal partner in your health care management.


To make sure you become part of your treatment team, it is important to let them know:


  • how you are viewing your situation — and the way you are choosing to deal with it
  • how much information you want to be given
  • how hard you want to fight your cancer and to what lengths you are prepared to go medically
  • if you prefer not to have medical treatment or to stop treatment you are having
  • how you are reacting emotionally to your situation and how well you are coping (or not.) 



ASK = Attitude + Skills + Knowledge




  • take COMPLETE ownership and charge of your situation, never allowing yourself to be rail-roaded into any treatment decision!
  • ask for understanding and flexibility and help if at any time you feel too vulnerable to have treatment
  • ask for the support you need
  • try to explain to your team your values which underpin your approach and beliefs
  • ask your team to be tolerant of the choices you are making with regards to your health care.



  • To get ALL the appropriate information about your situation
  • be given time to digest and react to this
  • gived informed consent to treatment
  • prepare yourself for treatment – and then embark upon your treatment fully confident that YOU have picked the very best course of action for YOU!

NB: if you are unhappy and uncomfortable with your consultant and their opinion,

it is your right to ASK for a second opinion!




Here are some seeds to plant in the garden of your heart to grow hope and a healthier, more resilient you: inside and out!


(Please note that one or two of the articles are quite scholarly – but we thought you would still find them helpful!)

Healing Gardens

The Healing Garden

Home Gardening: An Effective Cancer Therapy  by The Journal of the Cancer Institute

Growing Hope: Horticultural Therapy & Restorative Gardens by Cure Today 

Advocates for Breast Cancer - Laetitia Maklouf - Gardening Therapy for Cancer


And for those of you who fear their thumbs could never be green, then the delightfully darling Laetitia Maklouf will be just the right cup of tea for you with her book, The Virgin Gardener, which comes wonderfully recommended by one of our bloggers who herself experienced the therapeutically grounding and growing benefits of getting her hands down ‘n dirty!




Uniquity: No Two Women, Cancer or Journey is the Same


What tends to happen is, as noted in our Journey to Joy post, each woman will move through her cycle of emotions  in a way that is completely unique to her – based on her particular life circumstances, the degree of support she has, her personality/emotional style, the type of cancer she has, the type of treatment she needs.

Sometimes we get stuck in one emotion for interminable months – even years. Sometimes we pass through the different emotions quickly and with a degree of relieved ease. Sometimes, we shift into reverse, backing into a stage again if we find we’re not ready for the new emotions, feeling and responses we find ourselves experiencing.

And all of this is normal. It is ok. There is no right way, or wrong way. What must be emphasised is: we must be gentle with ourselves as we try and observe ourselves, almost standing away at an objective distance, as we move within this set of stages, which again – could helpfully be viewed as a journey. So too we must be gentle with those around us who adore and cherish us – who are faced with their own journey and how they’re going to move through their own ones.

What we’re seeing in South Africa is that the vast majority of people being treated for breast cancer do not have access to psycho-social support, nevermind knowing they have a constitutional right to receive support as South African citizens. An effective, equitable breast health policy will ensure that these rights are actively recognised.

We leave you with this:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross


Write Your Heart Out

“The difference between a victim and a survivor is the meaning made from the trauma.” – Louise DeSalvo Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives.


Writing as a Way of Healing
Writing as a Way of Healing


Whilst writing is an excellent self-healing tool you can use on your own, it is also vital to seek expert psychological support from a trained professional such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Many therapists recommend storytelling and journalling as a self-therapeutic tool – but writing about a trauma without knowing how to write about it is asking for trouble, with the risk of re-traumatising yourself all over again. Louise de Salvo gives these guidelines your writing-as-a-way-of-healing should follow in order for it to be effective:

  • Your writing must contain concrete, authentic, explicit details of events, set within a logical narrative/story.
  • Then, you need to link your feelings back to the details/events.
  • It is important to balance negative and positive words in describing your feelings.
  • Remember to reveal the insights you achieved through your painful experience(s).
  • Whether you’re writing a daily, private journal, a public blog or an actual book you want to publish, you need to tell a complete, richly detailed,  coherent story.

And while De Salvo notes the incredible healing success people have experienced by writing in this prescribed way, she reinforces the validity of this approach by including medical and scientific proof about what happens when we write like this. Part of the research included measuring the brain activity of test subjects while they wrote about their painful experiences in three different ways:

  1. Writing only about the concrete facts of their story. eg. I walked to the shops late that afternoon to buy bread and milk. I was tired and my head hurt. I didn’t have enough money to pay. I had lost my job because I was too sick to go to work.
  2. Writing only about the emotions of their story. eg. I felt humiliated, helpless and hopeless. I felt terrified I would never be able to afford all the treatment I needed.
  3. Linking the emotions to the events/facts. eg. When I walked to the shops that afternoon, my heart was heavy with sadness and fear because my boss asked me to hand in my resignation. He said he was losing money what with me being off from work so much. This left me feeling useless and hopelessly discouraged. The nausea, constant physical weakness and the constant headaches made me afraid… afraid the treatment wasn’t working and I was closer to dying. Actually, I’m not just afraid – I’m terrified. And now I don’t even have enough money to pay for something as simple as bread and milk! I feel angry that life has thrown this unfair curveball at me! Saying that I am grateful and humbled that my sister has – with her kind and humble heart heart – offered to step in to help me financially every step of the way. This gives me hope, and my heart feels lighter.

“Creativity is a basic human response to trauma and a natural emergency defense system.” Louise de Salvo

Has anyone ever given you the advice to journal your way through your BC journey? How did it feel to pour your heart out on paper: exhilarating? Scary? Liberating? Please tell us – either in the Comments box below, or join us on Twitter or Facebook. Our follow-up post will look at the medical and scientific evidence to support why writing is just what the doctor ordered! (PS. This gives you the perfect excuse to splurge (a little) at Typo!)

Seeing with New Eyes

In our previous post about how using metaphors to understand, explain and cope with breast cancer and its physical and emotional repercussions, we touched on the use of visualisation as a healing and emotional management tool. We also strongly support the recommendation that patients and survivors ask for psycho-social assistance and community support through their clinic or hospital.

 Many therapists include guided visualisations and relaxation techniques which assist in managing anxiety and improving a general sense of physical well-being. What tends to happen, though, is that most patients don’t actually know they can request the service – and the wider implication is that if insufficient people request it, they service is very likely to be discontinued.

 We’ve included two excerpts for you, one from a scientific journal and the other from a therapeutic counselling expert, about visualisation techniques and the evidence which proves its effectiveness:

 “Since the body and mind are so connected, when we change the image or the metaphor in our mind, our emotions AND body begin to respond to the new image. I have witnessed people who have experienced a complete healing of illnesses, a change of perspective, forgiveness or a very profound understanding when using this approach.” — Lamp On The Path

 “What is healing but a change in perspective?” 

Advocates for Breast Cancer

Whilst researching scientific facts for you about the power of your mind over your body and visualisation, we discovered this brilliant video by Dr David Hamilton who is Whole Science’s mind-body expert:

If you’ve used visualisation before as a technique to manage your heart and body’s einas and hopes, we’d love to hear how it helped you! Have your say in the Comments box below, or join our conversations on Facebook or Twitter.

Writing as Therapy


Therapists and counsellors are increasingly encouraging the practise of journaling to supplement therapy.

Writing it down is like letting it out. Release your fears and anxieties and you’ll often be amazed at how that diminishes their power, set free your hopes and dreams and see if they grow in the light. Make a gratitude list, and keep adding to it. Address your cancer, your body, your doctors – say all the things you don’t feel you can utter out loud.

Longhand, shorthand, typed, drawn, doodled. Lists, records, poems, random words, letters, blogs, fiction, cartoon strips. Moleskine notebooks, legal pads, scrap books, Airbook, phone, giant sheets of paper, tiny Post-Its. For your friends and family, for anonymous strangers, for your therapist or for your eyes only. There is no right or wrong way to record your thoughts, dreams and fears. There is only the way which works for you.

Reading about other people’s cancer journey and how they write it can be as therapeutic. And serve as inspiration to start writing your own.

British novelist Frances Burney could be one of the first recorded examples. She wrote a detailed account of her mastectomy in a letter to her sister, 9 months after the operation which she underwent without anaesthetic in 1811. (link: http://newjacksonianblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/breast-cancer-in-1811-fanny-burneys.html)

Locally, Beverly Rycroft published her poetry anthology, Missing (link: http://www.kalahari.com/Books/Missing_p_38135710), after her diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. Read some extracts here. (link:http://peonymoon.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/beverly-rycrofts-missing/)

And this, equal parts amusing and wry, Open Letter to the Mammogram Machine at Beth Israel Hospital (link: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-the-mammogram-machine-at-beth-israel-hospital)A woman called Melinda wrote a poignant and funny Letter to My Boob (link: http://community.breastcancer.org/topic_post?forum_id=91&id=741285&page=2 ) on an online American Breast Cancer Discussion Board.

There are countless blogs, writings and similar projects initiated by cancer patients online. Seek them out and explore ways to find your own voice.

Keeping a diary of your emotions, however you chose to do it, is often cited as an integral part of a Patient Active Approach (link: http://www.cscpasadena.org/about-us/our-history/patient-active-concept) to managing diagnosis and treatment for cancer.

Write. Explore.Voice. Heal.

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