01.06.2013 Relationships

A Journey Shared

Our much loved relationships counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders shares her own recent journey beyond pain, one with lessons for us all

As I walked towards my friend, sitting at a table in the outdoor cafe, I noticed she had a very different hairdo, short and curly rather than her usual sleek bob. After we hugged and sat down, I asked her about it. She then told me she'd had bowel cancer and the chemotherapy took her straight hair then grew it back curly. I asked her why she didn't tell me and her answer was very interesting. She said that being so sick became a very spiritual experience because she was totally removed from her everyday life for several months, something most people don't get to do in their lifetime. She existed in that bubble and didn't want to allow any outside distractions, even from close friends and family. It sounded surreal when she described it but I didn't totally understand it. What I've been going through over the past few weeks has put me in a similar place and I now get it.

I've been in hospital twice in the last three weeks. I'm going to now share this journey with you, not because my story is special but because it contains elements of challenges and issues that affect all of us. Some time ago, I slipped in the bath and hit my coccyx very hard but thought no more about it as it only vaguely hurt afterwards. On Australia Day, walking back from the Skyshow on the Perth foreshore, I felt something give in my back. The pain was horrendous.

I then went on a journey of various treatments - Bowen therapy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, GP. I was sent for a CT scan and very quickly, I found myself in hospital. Over three days that week, I began radiation treatment to shrink the lump they found at the base of my spine. At this stage, we don't know what the 'lump' is but it's irrelevant - what matters is removing it. Surgery is too dangerous and so it's radiation. Already, signs of improvement are evident. My mobility has increased, I can stand without pain. Walking is still risky so the future is unsure but isn't everyone's?

After I came home, I sustained another fall and that was it. I was unable to walk at all after that. Finally, on the following Thursday, the home visit nurse took one look at me and announced that I had to go back to the hospital. She called an ambulance and it took five guys and three morphine shots to get me out of the house. It was truly a page out of a horror novel.

As I wasn't expected at the hospital, I spent the next nine hours wheeled into a corner of the emergency ward. At 10 o'clock at night, a bed was found and I was taken into a four bed ward. This was temporary accommodation where I stayed for four days. There was a large picture window overlooking some trees so that made me happy but I experienced my dark days there. All the expected doubts, questions and insecurities came up - why am I here? What about the future? What if I can't walk normally again? What about my work? And so on.. I know better than to let these fears take hold but even though I didn't entertain them, they still left me feeling quite down. So, I asked myself what I would say to my clients in the same position, and the word that came up was choice. I had the choice to stay unhappy or start looking for the inevitable gifts waiting to be garnered. Of course, I chose the latter and everything changed.

On the Monday morning, I was moved to the radiation ward up on the 7th floor. Now, you know I believe in number energy and seven is the most spiritual number and one that's very compatible with my nature. It calms and nourishes me. You can believe me or not but within an hour of moving up there, I actually felt my mood lighten. I felt like my usual self, cheery, chatting, laughing, interacting with others. The whole week there continued in a positive vein. I found new energy, started tackling work issues, made calls, got my life moving again.


I've never liked this word as it smacks of giving up, letting go. But that last night in Ward 54, that's just what it felt like - giving up control and even understanding. It was very liberating. I turned my attention to what I could fix - my work. I made counselling appointments for the week ahead, I paid bills by phone, I updated my diaries. Then I laid back and allowed the magic to descend. Money started flying into my account from various sources, new clients appeared from nowhere, love and support poured in. I had visitors, emails, phone calls, offers of help in astounding amounts. Everyone is saying that it's simply the good karma from everything I've given out over the years. That's very nice but whatever the reason, I'm accepting it, difficult as it is for a giver like me - I'm not used to taking. If I'd known that surrender was so easy, I would've tried it years ago.


I believe we are surrounded by human angels who cross our path, sometimes just for a few seconds, sometimes longer but they're usually well disguised. In Ward 54, an angel appeared by the side of my bed in the form of a tiny Indian woman who came over just to say hello. We chatted a bit then wished each other well each time we had a treatment. She came over one more time and it made me feel cared for. It was nothing special, just a hello but we made a connection. When I was transferred to Ward 71, we said goodbye and wished each other well. She was a small light in those dark days.

Upstairs, I met two more angels. These were middle aged, down to earth, interested and interesting women who responded to my personality, listened when I "preached" my positive messages, helped in every way they could because I was immobile and they weren't. One helped me with tech stuff - my phone, computer and such; the other bought me coffee and cheese and biscuits. Nothing was too much trouble, and I never had to ask. I have to say here that I have had magnificent medical care on every front and I've been swamped with love, even from people who hardly know me. I've relinquished the need to know why. Often we don't see what we have gained till sometime in the future but I guarantee there will be at least one gift.

The whole of the last two months remains a mystery but already, I see some of the more obvious gifts so all I have to do is receive. Am I lying here, feeling scared, sad, self pitying, anxious, depressed, fearful? No! And I'm not faking it. I'm genuinely relaxed, at peace, relaxed, positive, engaged in my own life and trusting. This is the result of many years of releasing past conditioning and building a healthy new belief structure. However, you can change your life/thinking in one moment just as I did that new dawn on the 7th floor. Beyond the nice stuff, there's also the personal growth.


Focusing on the positives of the situation, being grateful for what you still have:
  • Identity - embracing change and a different sense of self
  • Acceptance, allowing, releasing the need to control
  • Letting go of fear
  • Staying in the present
  • Dealing with pressure gracefully
  • Trust, trust, trust

These may not be new but when life literally tips you over, it becomes very intense. The physical pain was so all-encompassing, nothing else existed. I was just a ball of pain and all I could do was wait for it to pass into the next moment that was pain-free. I don't know how I endured it for as long as I did.

Now, I'm pain-free, on a regime of measured meds. It's released me back into life. I'm still counselling, albeit from a hospital bed downstairs in my house. No one seems to mind and of course, I can still work online. It's not a bed of roses but neither is it a bed of pain or struggle or suffering of any kind. I'm happy. It's that simple. Right now, I'm confined to bed as another fall will be the end of me but I'm getting stronger every day so here's trusting for a positive outcome.

My journey is your journey because we are all one. We can't walk in each other's shoes but we can share the pain and the love. Let's do that and always walk together towards the light. In the end, we don't need anything else.

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.