How angels helped me take the fear out of cancer
Is there life after cancer? Nurse practitioner Carol Ann Creagh certainly thinks so -- in fact, she believes her quality of life has been positively enhanced since her battle with breast cancer.
The spiritual journey she embarked on after being diagnosed a decade ago has brought "so much peace". It's this conviction -- that what doesn't kill you might cure you -- which has motivated her to write a book aimed at "taking the fear out of cancer".
"My illness propelled me into the most beautiful journey," she says. "There's a completeness to me now which I never had before. I feel whole.
"Getting cancer forced me to stop in my tracks and re-assess everything, right down to the roots of my relationship with myself. It was very painful but the result is that I now live so much more for the moment."
Previously a bit of a "compulsive personality", 53-year-old Carol Ann was working three part-time jobs, including weekend shifts in A&E, while studying for a degree, looking after her six children, renovating a house and trying to manage spiralling debt associated with the building project when she was diagnosed with an aggressive tumour, in 2001.
After surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she was officially better, but she feared a relapse because her life remained stressful.
In 2007, her brother Kieran, a Passionist priest who had set up a hospice for AIDS sufferers in South Africa, was left fighting for his life after being shot by robbers. In 2008 her son James was near-fatally injured in a road accident.
In between, her marriage buckled, and eventually fell apart, under the strain of her diagnosis and her conviction that she needed to explore her spirituality. "My husband thought I was having a breakdown, I felt I was having a wake-up call."
She explains: "Raised a Catholic, I had always been a believer to some degree, but when I got cancer, I found mainstream faith wasn't doing it for me."
Helped by her reiki-practitioner sister, Carol Ann began exploring New Age spirituality, in particular angel literature.
"I had always been into angels, right from primary school," she recalls. "We had these beautiful, big Botticelli-type pictures in our classroom. I would look at them to find peace and comfort when I felt afraid of the nuns, who were still very strict and Victorian at that time, back in the 1960s."
Creagh believes an angel called Jophiel -- associated with sunshine, a favourite of people with Seasonal Affective Disorder -- helped her at her lowest point.
"It was four years after my diagnosis, and I had suffered so many relapse scares. I felt frightened and low.
"I felt: 'I can't do this any more, I can't keep jumping these waves.' I wanted to feel in charge of my life.
"It was reiki and talking to my angels that made me feel most at peace. I suppose it was a very gentle coping strategy and perhaps that's why it worked. But it definitely did work. I felt healing almost instantly. And since then the angels have never left me.
"I once went to a cancer support group, but found it depressing," she reveals. "They were all, 'you haven't gone on to soya yet?' and 'have you checked out your face cream?'
'To my mind, that is letting cancer rule your life. I want to enjoy what time I have left, not make it a living hell of obsessing about my lifestyle."
As well as using annual leave from her job in a busy, north Belfast GP practice to volunteer abroad with different Irish charities -- she is currently on the GOAL waiting list -- Carol Ann has also realised a number of her dreams in recent years, such as walking the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage route.
"There's no point in living unless you're fully engaged with life," she says. "The goal is not to stay alive at any cost. We're all going to die -- it's what you do in between that counts."
Angels Under My Bed is available from Easons at €10.80 or directly from whiterowpress.com at €11.95 (includes P&P)