Sunday, 9 February 2020

Fi Munro: "Time to Live"

Fi Munro at Trew Fields 2019
One of those folks who have inspired me to connect, feel and think more deeply about cancer is Fi Munro. You may have seen my clip in a previous blog (i) where she shares from the heart how, when we start to live like we are dying, we can come alive. As she says on her website: "Choosing to live like you are dying is about embracing the fact that we all have only one life and deciding to make the choice to start truly living for today."

Well I’ve since then read some of her blogs, book and Facebook posts about her own journey and wow, what a journey (ii). It includes life and death situations, multiple organ removal, a new immunotherapy trial and so much more. Her heart-felt honesty, courage, humour, love, connection, insights and more are beautiful, terrible and extraordinary. 

Fi's book
Fi has shared bits of her life from January 2016, when she was diagnosed at aged 30 with ’terminally’ Stage 4 B Ovarian Cancer. She writes about how to live well with cancer rather than being defined as potentially dying from it and how in her words, “My cancer diagnosis saved my life.”

Last week a local newspaper where she lives published a photo by Fi's husband, Ewan (iii). He took a picture of Fi slumped in the bath with a bowl floating nearby in case she felt she was going to be sick. It is a very powerful image indeed. The paper also included some of her Facebook post where she writes:
"Tonight I asked Ewan to capture a photo of the reality of what I’m going through - of what so many people with cancer are going through day in day out - it is so f***ing hard. When I’m out and about people see the impression of someone well. They see the make up and the clothes. They see the smile. They see what they want, or what they ‘need’, to see. “Daily I hear the words ‘but you look so well…’. Sometimes it’s a statement. Sometimes it’s more of a plea. But what these words fail to acknowledge is the pain and effort endured to make it through one more day....The hours of pain, of vomiting, of suffering, of fear, or the silent prayers that tomorrow will be a better day, that maybe if I put on my make up, get dressed nicely in my favourite clothes and smile wildly that I can convince my body to feel well too. Many of my evenings are spent in agony, vomiting, consumed by spasms of pain so extreme that morphine won’t even touch them. I spend hours with my head down the toilet or sitting in the bath, a bowl floating beside me to catch the inevitable waves of sickness. I am described as ‘brave’ or ‘inspirational’ but, in truth, I have no choice. I have no choice but to wake up each day and face this because it is my reality. It is the hand I have been dealt. But tonight I find myself reflecting that those that stand beside me, my husband Ewan, my loved ones, they are the truly brave and inspirational...because they do have a choice and yet here they are, beside me, holding me, every step of the way.”

Fi wrote on her Facebook after the article came out: "Well...if you’d told me four years ago that I’d be front cover of a newspaper, naked in the bath AND on a two page spread also naked in the bath I’d have freaked right out! Naked! Not so much! This is the reality of stage four cancer and I am so happy there is media out there willing to portray longer is it being hidden behind closed doors, shrouded in secret and shame...this is what millions of us face every single day and I stand with every single one of you".

I have not experienced any of those symptoms with my cancer and I am not stage 4, but I hugely welcome the honesty with which Fi shares her journey. I know a friend who has felt far less alone because of such writing. But also for me, Fi manages to capture that balance perfectly between the reality of the situation and positivity. In a previous blog about climate change and cancer I touch on the dangers of trying to be positive all the time (iv). We all need to acknowledge, breathe through the grief, the fears and more as well as find those places of hope, gratitude and beauty. 

As she comes through this latest challenges she asks that we see her in wellness; that is strangely so easy, as even as she writes I feel her zest for life.

I’ve heard Fi talk a number of times at Trew Fields Festival and she has this amazing positivity, passion and energy that is literally infectious. At one point in a talk she spoke with a panel of Stage 4 'thrivers' about the Four Minute mile (see video below), how it was seen as impossible but when one person broke the 4 minutes the following year many people did. Similarly many are told stage T4 is a death sentence yet many like Fi have long outlived what the medical profession had predicted. When Fi finished the talk a woman near me turned and said something along the lines of; “That woman has just given me a bucket of reality, positivity and hope all in one go”.

In her blog (vi), Fi muses on whether there is a stage 5 cancer; "What if cancer has a stage five after stage four? What if Stage Five is finding out what you are about. What if Stage Five is about LIVING?"

There is a lots more in her book, “How Long Have I Got?’ - and she has certainly impacted my own cancer journey - for example she reminds us of the obvious, that we are all terminal. And reminds us that our life is precious, oh so precious. This is the time to live.

I strongly recommend her book, Facebook and blog. Thank you Fi.

Update 14/06/20: Fi's talk at Trew Fields last year has just been uploaded here:

(v) Trew Fields Festival last year with Fi at about 13.40:

See also BBC 3 minute film with Fi:

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