I was born in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in 1957 and moved around the world with my peripatetic parents, who divorced when I was eight. After a childhood, which saw me attending at least nine schools, I scraped into Cambridge to read anthropology and archaeology, where I met my future husband, Ross.
My roots have influenced my life choices and I subsequently had a long career in both book and newspaper publishing in Africa: I was Publisher of the Heinemann African Writers Series and authors such as Chinua Achebe, and no less than four Nobel Literature Prize winners. I am currently a member of the Council for the Caine Prize for African Writing and Chairman of London Art Gallery Art First, in Eastcastle Street.
After various spells working in the UK, as Enterprise Director for the Telegraph Group and Managing Director of PRNewswire, my last full-time role was as Media Director for the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development, responsible for the media portfolio of newspapers, TV and radio stations in East Africa.
Meanwhile life went on: we seemed to be the model family: two successful parents and two lovely children, Tommy and Louise, born in 1988 and 1989 respectively.
Then a series of catastrophic life events unfolded, starting with the death of my mother in 2009; breaking my hip in a skiing accident in 2010; the death of our beloved Louise, aged only 21, in 2011; Ross’s prostate cancer and, finally, my father’s death, both in 2012.
Losing a child is the most shattering experience, especially when that death is sudden and unexpected. We believe that this surfeit of bereavement has played a pivotal role in both of us developing cancer.
After Louise’s death, I became an Ambassador for the Angelus Foundation (www.angelusfoundation.com) and I helped spearhead a public campaign to introduce compulsory drug education in schools and to warn of the dangers of ketamine and legal highs. The current high profile of this issue is largely due our work and to my public profile. You can link to some of the articles and Louise’s tribute site here.
In 2013 we were offered the chance to move on when Ross was offered a job in Singapore. Despite the anxiety of leaving our remaining ‘child’ – now an adult with a job and a flat of his own – we gladly embraced the challenge of a new job, new home and new environment. The anthropologist in me has delighted in exploring new countries and cultures (you can read about our travels here), and it has provided a welcome respite from the constant painful reminders of England: Louise’s friends getting married and having babies, our contempories charting their own children’s achievements and milestones in ways we can’t do with our Louise: she will be forever 21.
Ross’s cancer was successfully operated on using the latest robotic surgery and his prognosis is excellent. The bombshell arrived late in 2013 when a suspected sports injury in my calf turned out to be an aggressive and malignant soft tissue sarcoma. In fear of losing my leg, I rushed back to England – thank God for insurance – and was operated on by one of the world’s top limb sarcoma surgeons. There followed six and half weeks of radiotherapy before I returned to Singapore in March 2014.
Before my cancer, I was extremely fit, a keen skier and practised yoga. It was but a small leap to start thinking about alternative approaches to my health and well being, involving yoga, Traditional Chinese Medicine (I am ideally placed after all!) and diet.
This website is the result of my exploration of all of these and the result is my personal blueprint for continuing health. I am sharing it in the hope that it may help others as much as it has helped me. My first set of scans were clear – both leg and lung, the seat of the secondaries from this sarcoma – so even if one can’t say it was down to any one particular thing, I do believe this holistic approach has to be beneficial. Dr Fi will explain about how taking control of your illness can make a huge difference to your recovery (see My Doc).
Please feel free to share your own experiences and tips via this website so that we can all learn from each other.
I have been a following your journey over the past few years and shared in your pain and seen how remarkably you have transformed every situation into something positive! I have also been enjoying your recipes :-). As I was looking for a recipe for chicken on your site I had a look at your My books section, as recently after 10 years Peter has finished his book following his cancer episode and I was curious. Now that Peter has finished he is looking for feedback to his book. I wondered if you may consider reading it and seeing what you think? I know you must be busy but feedback from someone who has had cancer and read so many books would be ideal… Let me know if you can find the time and if you would be willing to take a look.
Dear Mandy, I would be delighted to read Peter’s book, of course. Perhaps he can email it to me so I can download it onto my kindle. So glad you like the site and the recipes! Quite a few more chicken ones coming up, including today! Much love to you all. Vxxx
Hi Vicky – we met many years ago with Don and Lizzie and I caught up with Sarah S last Wednesday who directed me to this blog and website. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer late October last year and had a mastectomy on November 18th then a lymph clearance on 16th December when they found cancer in two out of the three lymphs they took at the sentinel node biopsy. I have been on that roller coaster and am also looking at my diet – been to an amazing place in Fulham called The Haven – where I have been having acupuncture and seen a nutritionist – she interestingly says its fine to have some red meat and dairy – not lots but not so good to have caffeine – but maybe that’s more to do with hot flushes than the cancer. Like you I have cut right down on alcohol and resist the good old Kettle crisps and the odd bit of choc. I was a bit of a marathon junkie having run 13 in the last 9 years and I am happy to say I am very gently getting back into a small jog from time to time. How nice to be in Singapore, not cold grey UK in late January – that must boost your mood – thanks for your ideas – I have only just had a skim read but I will come back and visit. I have a blog – much more light hearted and meant to break down some of the silence around the “C” word – especially for our next generation of kids. You can find it if you visit firstname.lastname@example.org
You continue to keep well – will follow your news. Take care Susan Kennedy
Susan – I had heard from Lizzie about your diagnosis; what a bummer. You seem to be coping well though; I am following your blog (nice and clear and clean) and posted some ‘advice’ from this old veteran, gleaned form my various researches. I eat a little red meat – well pork, but find beef and lamb make me gag now. Dairy – very occasionally (in Switzerland, home of cheese!) but if you skim through the book The China Study, which puts together all the research on cancers (and other illnesses) and diet in China and Japan, where breast and prostate cancer for example are virtually unknown, it is makes you think! On meat, the most important thing if you are going to eat it, is that it is grass fed and not soy or corn fed (not only unbalances the omegas but destroys the planet). I will follow your progress with great interest and wish you well. 80% dark chocolate is good! Vicky
Hi Vicky – I’ve been following your blog for a while but only just navigated here to read the full story. I now understand why your posts are so wise and readable. You are an inspiration. I have just ‘re-blogged’ your latest post over on my nutrition and health blog ‘Growing Out of Cancer’, and will continue to keep in touch. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and encouraging us all.
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Dawn, thank you. I am very touched by your response. We must all support each other in this journey…
I’m a 2 time Melanoma Cancer Survivor. I was given 7 months back in 2002, still here! Cancer can be beat!!!
That’s pretty amazing. Well done you!