In May 2016, author and media personality Elle Halliwell was told she had leukemia. Two weeks later, she discovered she was pregnant with her first child. Since then, we’ve watched in awe as Elle grew and birthed a healthy baby, started treatment and completely changed the trajectory of her life. Here, she updates us on the lessons she’s learned along the way and much, much more.
Hearing Elle Halliwell’s journey over the past few years, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was impossible. First, a shocking leukemia diagnosis closely followed by the unexpected news that she was, well, expecting. These two bombshells went on to create another issue for Elle – would she choose to terminate her pregnancy to begin life-saving treatment, or carry on with her pregnancy and put her own life at further risk? She chose to continue with the pregnancy, but, as so many of us have witnessed, Elle also chose to embrace life in all its miraculous beauty. She’s written a book, A Mother’s Choice, stepped up as a warrior for those with cancer, changed her diet, mindset and almost everything in between. Here she shares her insights.
1. In those days and moments after your diagnosis and positive pregnancy test, what was going through your mind and how did you find the strength to get through it?
I was in so much shock. There were a lot of tears, and confusion. Having my husband Nick supporting me through it was so comforting. It took a while for us to know how to move forward, but we got there, and I know I made the right choice for me. I was blessed with my beautiful boy.
2. What does a good day look like for you?
It looks like most mums’! Up at about six, an F45 session and then time with my son or working on various writing and speaking projects. A good weekend involves being together as a family, trips to the local markets and time with friends. Small things tend to make me happiest these days. I don’t want for much.
3. What does a bad day look like?
They’re very few and far between fortunately. My energy levels tend to fluctuate but physically that’s now the worst part of my current treatment- the other side effects are quite manageable and a small price to pay for keeping me alive.
4. You’ve now found a new path in food and nutrition, raising awareness for cancer, author… the list is endless…as well as your existing (and incredible) career, do you think this experience came into your life to help guide you towards your true path?
Yes I feel like I’ve been reborn, in a way. Life is in technicolor and I’m so much more appreciative of life and small blessings. I also tend to not sweat the small stuff as much as I used to, and my chronic anxiety has become a rare occurrence rather than a debilitating condition which used to affect my daily life significantly before my diagnosis.
5. What tools do you draw on to help navigate living with leukemia? Hint: I’ve noticed you’re into meditation, healthy eating obviously, what else?
Yes regular meditation is important to me – I did a course in 2016 at The Broad Place which was really helpful. I also recently started seeing a hypnotherapist, Claire Aristides. I also try not to stress, as I think it’s one of the most toxic things for your health. And I also always try to buy organic when it comes to my toiletries, food etc.
6. Is gratitude a part of your toolkit now? If so, how do you practice gratitude and what are you grateful for?
It really underpins my life now. Each night before bed I’ll think of five things I’m grateful for, which puts me in great stead for the next day. I’ve also adopted a more minimal and sustainable lifestyle as a result. I consume less, but a lot of things second hand, and try to keep my waste as low as possible.
7. What has helped you gain the courage to not just survive but thrive in the face of adversity?
Realising that while my situation was a difficult one, I’m so lucky to be alive and am doing better than a lot of other cancer sufferers. The medication I’m on wasn’t around before the year 2000 and before that had a 3-5 year life expectancy. Now people with CML can live until old age. How can you not be thankful knowing this?!
8. I believe acknowledging death brings you closer to life. What are your thoughts around death now, do you even think about it or are you focused on living your most magnificent life right now?
I’m much more philosophical about it now. I’m currently reading The Untethered Soul, by Michael A Singer, which has given me even more perspective when it comes to death. I’m no longer very afraid of dying myself, but the idea of losing a loved one is still extremely upsetting.
9. Obviously we’re all going to die at some stage, how would you like to be remembered? What’s your legacy?
I really feel that thinking about what could be said in your eulogy if you died tomorrow and how you would like to be remembered is a good way to stay true to your values and life purpose. I realised after my diagnosis that I didn’t want to be remembered as a stressed out, selfish workaholic, so I sat down and thought about my values, beliefs and passions, and now try to live in line with these, rather than trying to live up to the opinions and standards of other people. It’s been very liberating. Being a good friend, mother and wife, treading lightly on the earth, and inspiring others to live an authentic, kind and healthy life are now my priorities.
10. What advice do you have for others who are at those early stages of a diagnosis? Any tips or hints to help get them through?
I believe maintaining a positive mindset is key, and surrounding yourself with supportive loved ones.