Thriving despite a diagnosis – Part three by Gail Donnan

This is the last of a three part blog which moves through a beautiful cancer survivor’s journey of how she thrives and continues to build resilience using different complementary therapies and delving whole heartedly into spirituality. Please note that none of this advice is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Previously Jo (49) told how she continues to thrive despite having been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease at 19 and stage 3 Breast Cancer at 32, we began looking at her journey so far, taking in her positive encounters with counselling, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), aromatherapy, energy medicine, reflexology and meditation. This particular blog looks at Jo’s experience with talking therapies, mindfulness, Bach Flower Remedies, Reiki and holistic retreats.

Over the years since her all clear from Breast Cancer Jo experienced a “scare” and understandably didn’t cope well and during this time so her GP referred her for telephone counselling with a wonderful male therapist who used the term “would your thoughts stand up in front of a Judge in court?” He introduced Jo to how our neural pathways work and how to insert new thinking and reactionary pathways into her life. He talked of “blue sky moments” of which Jo started experiencing where she had rushes of well-being and gratefulness, his five sessions supported Jo to have a cognitive shift and were life changing. Jo now pays as much attention to her mental health as her physical health. After a diagnosis or scare Jo advises it is important not to reach a low point and work on building your resilience and she admits she feels like running away and starts to feel unwell before she has a check- up appointment coming up.


Mindfulness is the mental state achieved by focussing our awareness on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting our emotions and feelings, thoughts and physical sensations with compassion and without judgement. Mindfulness has existed for centuries, at least since 500BC with its roots deeply planted in Eastern philosophies from India, Ancient Nepal, Tibet, China and Japan. Mindfulness and meditation are principle teachings in Buddhism which believes in ones’ own strength and vision rather than the belief in a higher force. The root of all Buddha’s teachings is that everything begins with the mind. Mindfulness is ‘informal’ and can be used anywhere at any time and meditation is a ‘formal’ version which you purposely make time for. From using mindfulness techniques, Jo has developed a certain ‘awareness’ which brings the ideas that suffering exists, big emotions will come and go, thoughts can be taken too seriously and the ability to sit with uncomfortable feelings a little longer to identify and process them rather than putting them in a ‘box’ hoping they will go away. It is about living in the present rather than allowing your mind to take you to the past or future. In Jo’s words she uses mindfulness “because it feels nice and I can use it if I feel like it, not because I have to”. Mindfulness isn’t something else to fit into your day because you can “live mindfully” quite easily. Jo enjoys using a gratitude diary to note down what she is grateful for and her ability for rational thinking has removed a lot of her fear.

Taking a leap

For many years I have organised wellness retreats on the Yorkshire Moors and Jo took a brave leap to book onto one of my two night retreats which in her words was “life changing”. Jo said she took away more than she could have possibly imagined and found answers to questions she didn’t think she had! She was nervous and a little stressed travelling alone but by the time she arrived to her first retreat she realised she shouldn’t have worried. She met women from all different walks of life who had the common bond of the same wellness goals and intentions for the weekend. On the retreats Jo has enjoyed meditation, mindful walking, art sessions, sound therapy sessions, yoga, nutritious food, time out, treatments and different self-development workshops. Jo has enjoyed many more retreats since; she has made some new friends and thoroughly recommends anyone taking that leap towards investing in some self-care and dipping into new ideas and self-development.

Bach Flower Essence Remedies

In the previous blog, we looked at energy or the body’s vibration, how it is a vital, living, moving force that stimulates the body’s own ability to heal itself to promote health, balance and relaxation. Jo has recently visited a Bach Flower Essence remedies practitioner to balance her emotions and feels they are helping her because there has been an improvement in her anxiety levels, her ability to cope is generally quite good but she can sometimes take a dip whereas she has remained stable using the remedies. Bach Flower Essence remedies are powerful yet gentle healing tools that can help resolve emotional imbalances and were developed by Dr Edward Bach 1886-1936 who was a medical Doctor, bacteriologist and homeopath. They are available to buy in most pharmacies and health food shops or you can visit a practitioner for a consultation for a personalised tincture with up to 7 remedies. Negative thoughts and destructive emotions create blockages of this flow of energy that leads to emotional and physical imbalance. This can be helped by using flower essences which raise the vibration from the lower vibration of the human body to the higher, gentler vibrations of flowers. The flower is the part of the plant’s highest energy vibration and concentration of life force and each particular flower in the Bach Flower Essence system is specifically linked to an emotion, mental or physical state. Thoughts and feelings create a certain electrical current that travels through the body via its neural pathways creating a physical response.

Research shows that every emotion and thought has its own energetic frequency – negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, shame, anger and guilt resonate at low frequencies compared to love and joy. When we don’t acknowledge strong emotions their energy doesn’t stop just because we ignore it, the electrical charges keep on looping through the neural pathways and over time cause pain, dysfunction and inflammation. When we change the frequency of an emotion it has to change and Flower Essences can help the body to relax which slows down the production of adrenalin (stress chemicals) to release endorphins (feel good chemicals). There are 38 Flower Essences plus on Rescue Remedy to address a specific range of emotional frequencies. They work by acting as a catalyst by creating rapid and powerful shifts in our mental outlook and raising our vibration.


It is an energy treatment which is performed with the client laying down, fully clothed on a treatment couch, covered with a blanket, it can also be performed seated of via distance healing. The qualified practitioner may work with a hand placement system sometimes with the addition of a crystal pendulum and a crystal grid. Reiki address the person as a whole, rather than targeting individual symptoms and can create subtle but meaningful shifts from deep within you own being. It was developed by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century and is rooted in Tendai Buddhism and Shinto (Japanese religion). The Usui system has been passed through the west through a lineage of teachers and is still used today as a complementary healing system. It works with ki, energy, and encourages its flow through a series of energy channels within the body. Restoring harmony and balance using the body’s innate capacity to heal, whilst energising and promoting an overall feeling of wellness, it takes into consideration our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional levels.

Reiki is something that Jo tried recently with me as a Reiki Master Teacher and the effects during and after the treatment took her by surprise. During the treatment she explained a lovely feeling of relaxation and contentment, but there was a moment where she felt like her heart was coming out of her chest and she had to draw a couple of steadying breaths, however, she was not afraid because it felt like a clearing or moving of something and felt really good! She also experienced a sensation of a bright light behind her eyes as I placed my hands on her head and neck. She woke up the next day feeling super charged which lasted for quite a few days, she has booked a second treatment and is immersed in a Reiki book that I leant her.

Is everything we go through for a reason?

Throughout her career Jo worked as a secretary and later as a cashier for a high street bank, even though these were respectable jobs, she never felt fulfilled at work and decided if she could survive cancer twice then she was definitely not going to spend the rest of her working life in jobs that didn't inspire her. Jo had some made to measure roman blinds made for her kitchen - deciding on the fabric and waiting patiently for them to be delivered and fitted really seemed to excite something in her. She decided to approach Sandra the lady who made her blinds and more or less begged her for an admin job which was a side to the business Sandra disliked and Jo even said she would work for free in return for giving her an insight into the soft furnishings business! Six months later Sandra did employ Jo, who worked with her for two years until the recession hit and sadly she had to let Jo go. They remain great friends to this day and she helped Jo to establish her own workroom. Jo took a diploma in Soft Furnishings with the National Design Academy and then hit the ground running. She has been trading for eleven years and knows that this direction in her life was down to being diagnosed with Breast Cancer and she takes this as a great positive from a negative and difficult time in her life. Please note that none of this advice is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Thank you

I want to thank Jo for sharing her story, she was passionate about paying forward this information because she can’t stress enough how much of a positive impact all the therapies mentioned in this series of blogs have had on her and if she was armed by this knowledge back then she wonders if her “rain cloud” would have gone on so long?

She has also reflected on what a fantastic journey it has been talking about her past and she is now considering working as a mentor to support others, something which never right before now.

She hopes her story inspires others to learn about and be open to trying different therapies so they can build resilience, improve their well-being and thrive despite a diagnosis.

Click here if you would like to read part one or part two of Gail's blogs. 

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