Wednesday, 8 April 2015

'Take Control and Live' by Gillian Gill - A Review

Today’s post is a review of the recently published ‘Take Control and Live – Surviving Ovarian Cancer’, an autobiography by Gillian Gill.

In October 2000, Gillian Gill (or Gilly as she is known) was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. Her prognosis was bleak, with her oncologist breaking the devastating news that she had only a few months left to live. Yet here we are 14 years later, reading a very different story. Gilly’s book is the story of her unique journey through cancer; it is a story full of painful truths but also an incredible account of hope and an indomitable will to live.

The book’s title, ‘Take Control and Live’, is a mantra which runs through Gilly’s whole experience of cancer and is what she sees as the fundamental tenet of her recovery:

‘I can sum up my story like this: although different therapies help in different ways, recovery is about trying to give oneself positive healing messages, by natural means and by becoming adept at listening and responding to your body’s needs. It’s a bit like driving a car and being personally responsible behind the steering wheel. Fundamentally, it’s about being empowered to do things for oneself, not about handing it over to others. They can help, yet ultimately it’s only you who can do it’

Embracing this empowerment took time and hard work, and this is the journey we share with Gilly.

The book begins with Gilly’s diagnosis, which she describes as ‘a real living nightmare’ flooded with emotions of shock and horror. Gilly lost her younger sister Joanna to cancer some years ago so the diagnosis also brought back intense emotions from that experience. She had also watched her aunt suffer through breast cancer, undergoing a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy fighting ‘long and hard until she lost the final battle’.

It was witnessing these ‘harrowing’ cancer journeys and the fact that any orthodox treatment offered could at best prolong her life by a few months that led Gilly to pursue a different path. Her oncologist was fearful for her, and tried her best to persuade her to have chemotherapy but somewhere in herself Gilly knew this was not, at least for the moment, what she would choose.

One of Gilly’s first self-revelations is that it is the small things that can make the most difference. Just before being diagnosed, Gilly and her family had lost their much loved family dog Lucy. After some initial doubt they decide to get a new dog, an energetic rescue pup called Charlie. He becomes a central part of the story, offering affection and welcome diversion.

Charlie’s innocent joy inspires Gilly, ‘his tail went up and ears pricked, he quivered with excitement as he burrowed alongside Lucy, learning the ways of the countryside. That joy is his rightful inheritance to claim, I thought. Watching them I realised happiness is everyone’s rightful inheritance, and thought how much more accessible it became by decluttering life and living more simply.’

Learning to find happiness in different places, in small places and in the midst of such a deeply traumatic experience is a tribute to Gilly and it is impossible to read her experiences without feeling that perhaps living more simply would benefit each and every one of us.

As the months pass, Gilly begins to develop her own plan for recovery, still feeling that orthodox treatment is not for her. Despite loving biscuits and bread, she cuts out sugar and wheat and bolsters her diet with foods known for their anti-cancer properties. She uses various therapies, practises spiritual healing on herself and turns attention towards her emotional health through meditation and learning to accept help from others, something she felt she had previously been unable to do.
Her experiences are not easy, she struggles with each and every step and faces various symptoms from pain, to bowel problems, to fatigue. But her tumour markers are shown to be stable and she finds a way to keep moving onwards.

Gilly comes into contact with Dr Rosy Daniels, an Integrative Medicine Consultant who offers her warm support through her chosen path and eventually introduces her to an Ayurvedic Indian herbal medicine called Carctol. A combination of eight different herbs, Carctol had been seen to produce good results for people whom conventional medicine had not. With respect and trust for Dr Rosy, Gilly decides to see if Carctol could work for her.

This was a turning point for Gilly and gave her a renewed sense of hope and purpose, ‘believing in the path one chooses can affect one’s recovery and finding a new way of living can increase positive
mental attitude. After all the sadness and illness around cancer that I’ve seen, I like to think that many of us, given the chance, would be willing to try holistic or complementary medical treatments when conventional methods have failed. Some people respond to certain forms of medication, others do not. Of course, I can only speak of my own experience.’

Part of the Carctol regime involves going on a vegetarian Alkaline diet, Gilly is very open about her struggle to stick to such a strict diet yet she commits to giving it her best shot. Soon she is discovering all kinds of new things to eat and ways to make her diet as interesting, appetising and nutritious as possible. This leads to her writing a book of her recipes called ‘Where’sthe Meat: Acid-free vegetarian dishes’which is a testament to Gilly’s perseverance to make her chosen path work for her, and to not give up on making the most of enjoying life. This also becomes her first expression of a growing urge to share her story and reach out to others in similar situations.

Over time, the regime seems to have positive effect. Gilly’s tumour markers shrink and she mostly feels much better that she ever dared hope. There are ups and downs, and many intense emotions along the way. Gilly faces a form of mental breakdown which she discusses candidly, but also learns to experience deep gratitude and love for all those around her. The journey is by no means smooth yet she continues to find a way through each challenge.

As her health improves, Gilly shares her story even wider by appearing on GMTV. Although reactions are mixed to her alternative path, her story clearly inspires many people as the phone calls flood in following her interview. Everyone in our society, in some way, is affected by cancer and the realisation of the magnitude of people seeking information, help and encouragement through their own journeys sowed another seed with Gilly.

In 2009, nearly ten years after her initial terminal diagnosis and with her tumour now shrunk from the size of a goose egg to the size of a small hen’s egg, the seed springs to life. Gilly and her husband Simon, who despite initial scepticism supported Gilly incredibly throughout her journey, decide that it was now time to help others. 

They discuss starting a charity, ‘I had been fortunate because, firstly, we had the financial means to fund my holistic approach, as most of the therapies that I took were not available on the NHS nor covered by medical insurance. Secondly, I was able to access one of the few experienced integrated medicine doctors in the country. The idea developed between us that the charity could make the biggest difference by promoting change in the medical profession so that more doctors could understand and support the route to recovery that I had undertaken…Therefore, we decided the best use of the charity’s funds would be to widen the education of young medical professionals. They could then offer support to their patients by using the best of conventional medicine, complementary medicine and self-help techniques on a personalised basis.’

And that is exactly what they did. Gilly’s Gift now works to help increase the knowledge and practise of integrative medicine with the hope that more people will have access to medical professionals who understand and follow an integrative approach. Gilly is very clear that every path is individual and in sharing her experience she is encouraging you to find yours.

‘Take Control and Live’ is another gift from Gilly, a remarkable story written with true honesty and warmth. For anyone affected by cancer it offers a rare tale of hope, and most importantly empowerment. It is the kind of story we need to hear more of, and I can only thank Gilly for sharing it.

To purchase a copy of ‘Take Control and Live’ please click here

To find out more about Gilly’s charity, Gilly’s Gift, please click here


If you are facing cancer and need support in taking an integrative approach please call our helpline on 0870 163 2990 or email helpcentre@yestolife.org.uk

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