Becks in the City

Sing with me :"From yu wake up dis marnin, you's a winner!"

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An Evening with June Sarpong

               June Sarpong and Rebbecca Hemmings

On Saturday 10th February 2018 in the stunning Malmaison Hotel Birmingham, I sat down and conversed with TV presenter and author June Sarpong. She was promoting her new book ‘Diversify – Six Degrees of Integration’. As this topic is very close to my heart, this interview was a dream in more ways than one. June was like that fun friend you haven’t seen in years but when you do, you both pick up where you left off – catching joke!

I absolutely love the fact that she is using her platform to talk about an issue that effects so many people worldwide, yet far too often the tendency is to want to sweep it under the carpet. June didn’t have to write this book as she is already successful and I am sure this book won’t come without its fierce critics. But she knows that she has influence and she is using it well. I am humbled by her tenacity and ambition.

The night was curated by BEX Live and Sandra Joseph of Club Lady Day was filled with black girl magic and of which I am proud to have been a part.

This story is best told through photos, so browse through at your leisure.

Photographer: Gavin Telfer of Plugged Designs

“Ladies and gentlemen, can we give a warm Birmingham welcome to June Sarpong MBE!”

June and I had a stimulating conversation on the plight of the ‘others’ contained in her book.

Me: So will you be Prime Minister in the future?
June: (laughing hysterically) NO!

Time for questions from the audience.

June wanted this beautiful lady to show the room what she was working with, so she did! 

This regally phenomenal poet Janette Barratt, danced as Saxophonist Millicent Stephenson blessed us with her enchanting melodies.

June kept the audience captivated and entertained.

June with my fabulous friend and make-up artist Sabrina Gonzales aka Boujee Makeup Artist.

Sandra Joseph (curator) led a discussion on the title of her new book ‘What Do Women Really Want From Men?’

We all have Bill Brown Founder of BEX Live to thank for his little black book of excellence.

Once the interview was over, I could finally relax and full-joy the evening.

and then, the next day… 🙂

Did Stress Give Me Cancer?

                           My state of mind prior to my diagnosis

 

I had cancer, right? The question I had to ask myself is: why was I able to get cancer? What was it about the conditions in my body that enabled this disease to take hold of my healthy cells and ultimately lead to me losing a part of my body? So, I embarked on a journey of research. I wanted to know how to prevent recurrences in the future.

Back in prehistoric times, stress was an essential part of human biology. We were vulnerable against the elements, which could cause natural disasters and we were also at risk from being taken down by predators. The body has an inbuilt system that helps us to avoid being eaten, attacked or destroyed. When in danger, the body has physiological responses such as pumping more blood to the heart and/or the muscles. These responses then help us to either run for our lives or stay and fight. The body can even enhance the immune system to help prepare wounds quickly. It’s the well-known fight or flight response. However, our bodies were not designed to endure long periods of stress. Consequently, what happens when the body experiences long-term stress, it takes its toll on our immune system.

This is the scientific bit now. Stay with me as this is important!

Corticosteroids are hormones which are made in the adrenal cortex.  What does that mean? 

Essentially, steroids (naturally produced in the body) reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. You may have heard of synthetic steroids being used for a variety of reasons such as reducing pain for people with arthritis and lupus. They can also help with hay fever and eczema. The fact that they help to reduce inflammation, makes synthetic steroids useful for the body (these steroids are not to be confused with  anabolic steroids which are often used by body builders to gain muscle mass).

However, as I said, corticosteroids also lower the immune system. The immune system, when working correctly, is our friend. No scrap that, it is our life-saver. It fights infections on our body’s behalf by using leukocytes (also known as white blood cells). There are different types of white blood cells such as T Cells, and B Cells. T Cells can also be referred to as killer cells as they destroy antigens (foreign substances that invade our tissues and subsequently lower our immune systems).

When experiencing chronic stress (stress over a long period of time), corticosteroids are released into the blood stream. This in turn, lowers our immune system and we are prone to contracting diseases that our cells struggle to eliminate. With cancer specifically, T cells are usually our soldiers that go out and destroy the rogue cells.

 

T cells have the important role of assessing whether cells are healthy or potentially harmful; if a harmful antigen is detected, T cells spring into action and trigger an immune response, activating other immune cells to immediately target and kill the pathogens. This also leads to the development of antibodies, which recognise pathogens with the same antigens if they are encountered again in the future, meaning they can be rapidly targeted.”

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This begs the question, what the hell happens to T-cells when cancer rears its ugly head? Why do they not kill the cancer cells like they are supposed to? From what I can see, there is a lot of debate around this area but one thing most clinical professionals seem to agree on, is that it is because cancer cells are clever. If the cancer cells sense danger, they can change the way they look or even become invisible to the t-cells so they cannot be spotted and consequently destroyed. If cancer wasn’t such an evil, destructive beast, I might hold it in admiration and marvel at its genius.

In my quest to identify why I got cancer, finding out of these facts concerning the immune system’s response to stress, makes a lot of sense to me. I had let stress become a part of my family. It took up residence in my body, made itself at home and wreaked havoc and I let it. I let it because I didn’t think it was much of an issue. Everyone gets stressed, right? I thrive off tight deadlines and pressured environments, that how I get stuff done. Maybe if these occurrences were occasional, that would have been fine. There’s nothing wrong with having a little stress occasionally to help you get stuff done. But to have it show up daily, from the moment you wake up ‘til when you go to bed, it’s a problem.

It is scientifically proven that it can harm you physically. I’ve only spoken about how stress affects the immune system in detail, but like I say it can detrimental implications to the rest of your body too. Why do many of us not take this seriously enough? 

So, did stress give me cancer? I can’t prove it – no one can but I strongly suspect it had a significant role to play in me contracting the disease. 

 

This blog is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: The Gifts that Cancer Gave Me

June Sarpong, No Way!

Yes way!

Tonight, I get to sit down with the amazing June Sarpong and interview about her new book: Diversify. Yes, it’s her Birmingham book launch which is taking place tonight at the Malmaison Hotel. Just in case you don’t know who June Sarpong is, she is the British TV presenter who became famous for her role on Channel 4’s T4 programme and  MTV. She’s also been a Loose Women panellist, has interviewed Tony Blair, co-hosted Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations with Will Smith, yadda, yadda, yadda. She is amazeballs!

June is a massive role model for many, including me. She has managed to navigate through some seriously rough terrain to break through and become a success on British TV. Through reading her book I have gained new insights into Miss Sarpong, such as: her passion and dedication to put diversity heavily on the agenda. She doesn’t have to do this, she is already successful but she cares and this is evident in her actions – I love her for this!

Plus, I didn’t know about her debilitating car accident at the age of 15 that nearly left her paralysed for life. The resilience she gained from being hospitalised for a year, absolutely must have helped her push through other tough times in life.

Massive respect goes to her for advocating to make poverty history. It’s a gigantic problem in society and we need more people with power and influence to talk about it and act!

Also, I could totally relate to her imposter syndrome (when you feel like a fraud) whom she names Agyness. I was surprised to learn that this was something she feels at times, given all her success, but she admits that it can and does still rear its ugly head every now and again.

The biggest lesson I have learned about June is just how concerned she is about the ‘othering’ of key groups of society, of which I am three: black, a woman and working class. At times it was difficult read as the words in black and white force you to face up to the problems that we deal with daily. But equally it offers hope and encouragement for better times ahead. Plus, the very fact that June herself shares the same ‘others’ as me, yet has defied the odds and smashed it, is hugely motivating.

I am truly blessed to have been given this opportunity, especially since I have not really been out and about in large crowds (where I know lots of people) since way before my cancer diagnosis in April 17. Tonight, I put on a brave face, my fancy shoes and take a massive leap back into society. What better way to do it! I am excited, ready to be inspired further and I definitely will be back to tell you exactly how it went.

Dealing with Toxic People

Dealing with Toxic People

 

Many of you will know that I run a private Facebook Group (open to anyone who shares our vision) called Living on Purpose 2018. In it, we had a discussion on dealing with toxic people, we decided as a group to create a document which would help our younger females (in particular, but not exclusively) to deal with toxic people and relationships.

I feel strongly about this, as I this topic isn’t taught in school. I imagine that most parents do not speak about it with their children, so the way we often learn about these people (who are essentially hurt and consequently hurt others to make themselves feel better), is by developing relationships with them.

It is my aim to make this a conversation that takes place more frequently, not just with young women but with everyone. Perhaps when it is more out in the open these people will become more aware of their actions and change for the better or at the very least more folks know what to do when they meet a toxic being.

Pshychologytoday.com have a great article on how to spot toxic people. For now, I will give you the list we complied on how to deal with them. Feel free to add your own rules in the comments section. Here goes:

 

  1. If at all possible avoid them. Cut them off! They do not deserve your time.

 

  1. Avoid getting bogged down in detail. Often their tactic is to blind you in confusion. Stay focused on the goal.

 

  1. Choose your battles wisely. It’s not always worth getting into an argument. Toxic people tend to thrive on drama.

 

  1. However, don’t let them get away with bad behaviour. They often prey on people they perceive to be weak. Therefore, show them that you will not tolerate their crap.

 

  1. Constantly work on your self-esteem and self-worth. If you are self-assured, you won’t let others undermine you.

 

  1. Ignore attention seeking behaviour. They will often try to draw attention to themselves to lure you into their web of deceit.

 

  1. Don’t be sucked in by a sob story. There’s nothing wrong with feeling sorry for someone but it is not your responsibility to get your hands dirty and help fix them. You can’t anyway, only they can fix themselves.

 

 

The B is Back!

Saturday 20th January 2018

I’m going to etch this date into my brain. Why? It’s the first day that I have had the nerve to run since my surgery. I did it during my regular boxing training session at WBC (Women’s Boxing Club) in Birmingham. I had been eager to get back to training after my mastectomy and reconstruction surgery (for breast cancer) in June 17 but of course I waited until I got the go ahead from my clinicians. So, a couple months post-surgery I went back to boxing but running and bouncing were out of the question. I had tempted fate a few times and regretted it as my scars scolded me for inflicting friction burn upon them and pushing myself too far.

Co Founder of WBC Jason Lowe and I

Though it went against my nature to push forward regardless, I waited impatiently. Then one morning I woke up smiling because I knew my body was ready. When Jason the instructor, told me to run, I ran like an escaped prisoner. When he told me to jab, uppercut and hook, I punched like Laila Ali. All that was left for me to do was to jump in the ring, beat my chest and roar from the bottom of my lungs ‘I’m back b****s!’

Or maybe I’ve just been watching too many episodes of Housewives of Atlanta.

It feels wonderful to finally be getting back to where I was and beyond. I say beyond because since then, I haven’t been able to stop running. Last week, I ran around Alexander Stadium’s track 12 times in one morning. This girl is on fire!

One of the best female boxers in the game & co-founder of WBC Mav Akram

If you’re in Brum, female and want to get fit, let your frustration out or even fight, I strongly recommend WBC. With 3 sessions a week, a central location and only £2.50 a session, you have every reason to give it a try.

Olive Oil vs Rapeseed Oil

Last night I was speaking on Facebook Live in my Living on Purpose 2018 group about plant-based eating, and some really interesting topics arose. One such subject was around the types of oils we use to cook. In particular, we spoke about what we perceived to be the benefits (or not) of Rapeseed oil. My knowledge on it was very sketchy but what I did know was that Rapeseed oil has a high smoke point. This is a positive attribute because it means that it can be cooked at high temperatures without breaking down. Once it breaks down, it loses its health benefits and can actually become toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing). But admittedly, I didn’t know much more beyond this.

Olive Oil has long been touted as a healthy oil but again, I could categorically tell you why. So, today I set about doing some research and this is what I found:

Olive Oil vs Rapeseed Oil

Personally, I need to be drizzling extra virgin olive oil on my salads for those antioxidant polyphenols. But as for my cooking, it has to be Rapeseed oil all the way, mainly due to its high smoke point. What’s the point having a so-called healthy oil, if it becomes toxic when heated? Which do you prefer?

Don’t Mess with My Tool Bag!

Good morning, good morning! The sun is shining and I’m feeling good today.

This is significant for a lot of reasons but mainly because, although I have decided to fully live my life, I am still human and I still get aftershock from the diagnosis 9 months ago.

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Every now and again, little negative Becky whispers in my ears and tells me stuff like: you’re not good enough, the cancer is going to come back, sadness is here to stay and other crazy stuff. I had a wobbly moment last night. What triggered it, I can’t pinpoint. Sometimes it’s just seeing someone struggle on TV (like last night on the program about people who stammer) or maybe an undesirable thought knocks me in my head. It doesn’t have to be anything major.

But what I really love about me now is I know how to deal with these moments. I have a range of armoury in my imaginary tool bag to whack those moments of disempowerment hurtling into space. They include: switching off social media (so if I go quiet, I might just be having a moment to chill), speaking to someone who knows how to help me lift my mood or altering my physiology in order to change my state of mind. This morning I danced with my daughter whilst eating my porridge. She loved it, as believe it or not (as a former Zumba instructor) she has not seen me dance all that much. Attending a HIIT class today was also part of my ‘getting back to my happy place’ agenda. Plus, I put on a Youtube video about listening to your heart and not your stupid brain (that’s what it’s called). All these have activities helped me to re-focus and get back on track. Now I am feeling absolutely awesome once again!

You can’t always positively think yourself out of a difficult place. What I now realise, is that you have to work a little harder than that. Being aware of the strategies you have available to you to get your power back, is essential to having a healthy mind.

I don’t ever want to pretend that I have it all sorted and that now that I’m choosing to live my life purposefully, everything is magically wonderful all the time. That is just false! I acknowledge that I will always have to face challenges, as all of us do. The difference is now, I am much better prepared to deal with them. With the power I hold in my tool bag,  almost feel sorry for any negativity that comes its way – almost

What tools work best for you?

Meat Who? Challenge

Challenge_ Don't eat meat for 5 days15th Jan 18 - 19th Jan 18In my bid to help people live happy, healthier lives I am setting a challenge called ‘Meat Who?’ In order to take part, you must be a member of the ‘Living on Purpose 2018’ Facebook group (see details below).

The challenge is to simply not eat meat from 9am on Monday 15th January 2018 to 11:59 pm on 19th January 2018.

There are already lots of people who have signed up to the group who are taking part in the challenge, so you will have lots of support. I and others will share plant-based recipes, motivational messages, videos and lots of encouragement.

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There are many benefits to eliminating meat from your diet or reducing the amount you eat which include: disease prevention (including cancer, diabetes and heart disease), an improved immune system, weight loss, it’s money-saving (vegetables and pulses are generally cheaper than meat), helping to save the planet and reducing cruelty to animals. Whatever your reason taking part, you will definitely benefit.

The aim is that after the challenge, you are able to have at least one meal a day without meat, thus reducing your level of consumption and consequently improving your health.

Rules:

  1. Don’t eat meat
  2. Avoid fish (as much of it contains heavy metals) but if you really can’t, then just eat it! Eliminating meat alone is a massive move.
  3. You can still eat animal products such as dairy and eggs. Though if you are working on becoming vegan, try to reduce the amount you consume.
  4. Have lots of fun trying new tastes

Link to the Living on Purpose Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/156099701701648/

About Living on Purpose 2018

Living on Purpose 2018 is a Facebook group. The aim of the group is to encourage you to find fulfilment, encourage healthy living and to help you to live life on your own terms.

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Photo credit: Gavin Telfer

It has been set up by me, Rebbecca Hemmings of www.becksinthecity.co.uk 2017 was the year the severely shook my core after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m lucky, after having a bilateral mastectomy, I can now claim that I am cancer-free. Many people have been denied the blessing that I have, so I feel compelled not waste the gift of a second chance but instead choose to live on purpose. It’s scary, its risky but most of all, it’s exciting!

It’s a place to set shiny new ambitious goals, share articles – recipes – quotes – ambitions, to be brave and to feel the fear and do it anyway. I share exclusive videos, blogs and posts designed to motivate, inspire and help you to work on becoming the best version of you.

I invite you to do the same. Use the group to be inspired to live your life purposefully. Go beyond merely making wishes, set your intention, make a plan and start taking steps towards finally making your dreams a reality. 

Fluffy American Style Teff Pancakes

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This morning I awoke with an appetite for American fluffy pancakes. As with many dishes, these days I am having to rethink how I cook without eggs and dairy.

Just in case you are wondering why I no longer eat these: Eggs have been associated with an increased risk breast cancer, read more here. Dairy too would increase my chances of getting a breast cancer recurrence as can be seen from this report. Whilst, I would love to be eating the once enjoyed dairy and egg based pancakes I once did, I love my life much more.

One aspect I am really loving about this plant-based journey is that I am constantly being introduced to new foods. 20171223_110510I was given a bag of brown teff flour from a friend yesterday. Teff is a grain grown and widely used in Ethiopia. It has a huge range of health benefits including: balancing blood sugar, being gluten free (though if you wish to make this dish gluten free you will need to eliminate the white flour), assisting digestion and elimination due to its high fibre content, being low fat and it actually tastes really good. Therefore, this formed my main ingredient for the pancakes.

This method of making pancakes was pretty much a trial and error job. Don’t be put off by the vinegar as you won’t taste it at all. As an acid, it is added to produce carbon dioxide. It reacts with the baking powder to help the pancakes rise. I might add a little more baking powder next time to help them become a little fluffier, but other than that, I am proud of my accomplishment. I ate them with maple syrup and seasoned baked beans (made with onion and black pepper).

You don’t have to be vegan or consciously living a plant-based lifestyle to give these a try but you will most certainly gain from its benefits.

Enjoy!

Ingredients

2 tbsp brown teff flour

2 tbsp white flour

1 tsp white wine vinegar

A dash of vanilla essence

1 tbsp coconut sugar (or any sugar you like)

1-2 tsp baking powder

150 ml almond milk

2-3 tbsp Rapeseed oil

 

Makes 6 – 8 pancakes

Method

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together
  2. Add the milk, vinegar and vanilla essence and mix thoroughly
  3. Add rapeseed oil to a skillet of frying pan
  4. Use a ladle to add the mixture in oval shapes to the hot oil
  5. As soon as you see the edge of the pancakes begin to harden, turn them over
  6. Once cooked, serve hot with maple syrup

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The 10 Changes I’ve Made Since Becoming Cancer Free

20643275_10159506323540221_103051546048746514_oIn two days, it will be exactly 6 months since I had my breast cancer surgery – a bilateral mastectomy to be precise. It has been one big ole crazy journey and I guess one that will not end anytime soon. The reason doctors generally don’t say, ‘You’ve been cured’ and prefer the term ‘cancer-free’ is because once you’ve had the disease, you are at greater risk from getting a recurrence (though the likelihood does lessen as time goes on).

This little piece of knowledge could really depress me if I let it. I could constantly be on edge, checking myself daily for any changes, getting paranoid from the tiniest niggle or ache but I choose not to. Instead, I am seeing the opportunities to live a healthier, fuller and more fulfilling life. I am embracing the gifts cancer gave me.

My life has already changed dramatically since 28th April 17 when I was officially charged with DCIS and invasive breast cancer. As I lean into the changes that I know I need, I vindicate my spirit and choose to live life on my terms.

I am now…

 

  1. F25158435_10160085984140221_8269649721085243961_nollowing a plant-based lifestyle. Most people who know me, see that I now follow a plant-based diet. This means different things to different people but what it means for me is that I no longer eat meat or dairy but instead, my diet is filled with natural produce from the earth and fish for my essential fatty acids & vitamin B12 (although I am working on weening fish out in 2018).

 

  1. Minimising social chatter. Those who know me on Facebook or Instagram, may have noticed that I am not as present as I used to be, that’s because I have deleted these apps from my phone. Oh my gosh! This has been a Godsend! My clarity of thought has improved, I do not get anxious as easily, I am much more focused and I get more done! After all, did we not have rich and fulfilled lives before the existence of these mediums?
  1. Avoiding toxic people. You can just smell them before they enter the room. They stare at you, beckoning you into their poisonous atmosphere. I am having none of it! If I suspect you are carrying bad vibes in your aura, I’m gone to tomorrow. There is not much worse than allowing a soul vampire to suck your positive energy dry.
  1. Indulging in music therapy. My soul has been soothed with some serious vocal and musical delights this year. I have attended quite a few of ‘Reed Bass Presents’ events this autumn. I cannot tell you how cathartic these sessions have been. I have sat there, sometimes with tears flowing down my face as the melodies and the golden voices of vocalists such as Nat Chards, Ola Brown and Sapphire Sings reached my core and coerced me to feel emotions again and released the numbness I used for protection.
  1. Being mindful of my thoughts. I am not going to sit here and pretend that everything is ‘cook & curry’ (as many Jamaicans would say. Meaning ‘everything is okay’); it’s not. I have had some really dark days (and still do), when I allow my mind to think about the dire possibilities i.e. the cancer returning, having to have another operation or worse still, leaving my daughter without a mum. Or sometimes, I try and reconcile what has happened to me. Some days I still find it difficult to believe that I had cancer. It’s weird. But lately I have had to remind myself of the energies that I am attracting when I think about these things. I believe that you attract the energy you focus on the most. I want to live a life that is full of fun experiences, magical moments and lots of happiness. Therefore, I actively choose to think about the endless positive experiences coming my way, in order to think the right elements into existence.

workout-1931107_12806. Partaking in Pilates classes. I used to think holistic classes such as Yoga and Pilates were boring. As a former Zumba instructor, I was used to loud music, high impact jumping and pumping. That certainly has its place, however what has been so lovely about Pilates is that I have been able to show kindness to my body whilst still challenging it. It’s going to be a while before I can bounce (I’m still healing from the operation), so Pilates offers me a way of staying toned in a way that will not interfere with my healing. Plus, the relaxing environment and serenity leave me feeling renewed and chilled out.

  1. Not caring so much about what people think about me. I have just gone through the most traumatic experience of my life and for the most part, I was very public about it (as it helped me to deal with the enormity of it all). Compared to this, most previously little stressful events, now feel like an ant scratching a giant’s foot. They just aren’t relevant.

25182113_10160077279240221_5819973162538717592_o8. Being completely present when playing with my daughter. Prior to my diagnosis, I was guilty of utilising a double consciousness when spending so called ‘quality time’ with my daughter. Half my mind was in the activity in which we were engaged and the other half was in: work, my list of chores, who I needed to email next, etc… It wasn’t fair on her. Now, I put down my phone, turn off the TV, I actively listen to all the important words coming out of her mouth and I dedicate chunks of time when I am completely hers. What played in my mind many times when I first found out I had cancer was ‘I can’t leave her.’ So why would I choose to be here and not be present in her life now?

 

  1. Meditating. I am very conscious of the fact that stress can lower the immune system and that when it is lowered, you are at greater risk from getting a disease. So, meditation offers a great way to de-stress. When all is quiet, I sit on my sofa or bed, switch off the lights and either listen to some meditation music, or sit in silence. This leaves me feeling clear of the brain fog and much more relaxed. I have on occasion, woken up with very stiff crossed legs.
  1. Following my dreams. When I was at my mum’s house recovering for weeks on end, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do. For a few months after that, I dismissed those things as pipe dreams but now that I have started to seriously focus on that which I truly desire, I’m already starting to reach for those dreams. I am not saying much now but I will say: You’d better keep watching this space. 😊 

 

***If you want to keep up with my continued journey to stay cancer-free, subscribe to this blog below. ***

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