Breast cancer survivor, psychologist and author Dr Jodie Fleming will speak of her journey to wellbeing at the upcoming Divas On The Green event to be held on May 28 at Merewether Golf Club.
Who or what influenced your career?
I grew up in Warrnambool, Victoria surrounded by healthcare professionals and always encouraged to 'aim high' throughout my education. I remember watching Tin Cup, a movie in which Renee Russo played a psychologist, and the seed was planted. Unfortunately, I didn't gain entry into psychology immediately out of secondary school, but knew that I desired a career helping others, that would offer a sense of reward, and that would allow me to work with different people every day. I found myself studying myotherapy, a three-year course at RMIT in Melbourne, and entering into a career in myotherapy and movement therapy for seven years. Over that time, although I was helping people physically, it was evident that no one's experience was ever only biological, but social and emotional/psychological as well, so I succumbed to the strong pull back towards psychology.
How did you become a clinical and health psychologist?
As a myotherapist, I worked with people with chronic diseases, including cancer. I realised that there was a certain vulnerability people experienced receiving manual therapies that allowed them to open up and share their internal experiences, their lives, with the person providing the therapy. When I chose to go back and study psychology, it was with the specific goal of working in the field of psycho-oncology. I decided that if you were truly going to be of service to others, it should be when they most needed the support and that living with cancer would meet that criteria. That's where the health psychology came in. Clinical psychology also ensured job security and provided the skillset I would need to be able to assess, diagnose and treat high prevalence disorders such as anxiety and depressive disorders, and trauma related conditions, all of which were more likely to occur in cancer patients and their families.
When diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, did your work skills help you?
I don't think anything can prepare you for receiving a cancer diagnosis. There were certain coping strategies that I was able to actively engage with successfully and others that were fruitless for me. I knew from my thesis research that accessing my social support system would be a vital part of my coping toolkit and it was. I relied heavily on mindfulness and exposure therapy to help cope with the side effects of chemotherapy.
My focus for my own self care ... is to embrace Joy Of Missing Out (JOMO) and saying no.Jodie Fleming
How did it affect your outlook?
Facing your mortality can't help but change your outlook on life. I've become a much more mellow person, but that could also be my age (almost 50!). It helped me reassess my values and make some major life decisions to live more inline with those. I wasn't able to work in the cancer field for six years after my own diagnosis as it was too close to home and difficult to separate my emotions from my clients'. Relocating to Victoria, I found myself working at a new hospital, in a general mental health service. Now, I mainly work as a school psychologist.
Does your private practice The Psychology of It specialise in any areas?
Living in a regional town, it's difficult to have the luxury to specialise in any area. That said, I run a pilot cancer group therapy program with a local cancer centre, and collaborate with a local hospital in their cancer survivorship program.
Why did you write your memoir, A Hole in My Genes?
I didn't set out to write a book. I was actually writing letters to my Nan, who'd died six years earlier. When treatment ended, so did the writing and I missed it. I realised that I still had a lot to process after the year I'd been through and so I joined a writing class. There, I received feedback from other writers about how much my story was helping them to understand their person with cancer. We often seek meaning from the adversity in our lives and I saw that my story of coping with cancer could be helpful to others. Its core message revolves around the concept of stress-related growth, developing resilience in the face of adversity.
You spent the lockdown writing your second book, Be. What is it about?
It is a wellness non-fiction book that incorporates the latest science of wellbeing that aims to help other people make conscious decisions around the way they think and how they live their lives, to maximise their wellbeing. There is a strong message around more 'being' and less 'doing'.
How do you enhance your own wellbeing?
It's a never ending pursuit, isn't it? My focus for my own self-care over the past 18 months ... is to embrace JOMO (joy of missing out) and saying no. After having cancer, fearing a foreshortened life, I said yes to everything! I was a goal chasing, "to-do list" achieving person - and exhausted. Then my body slowed me down again with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. It forced me again to reevaluate how I was living my life.
Your tips for those who struggle to slow down?
Take a few seconds now and then to take a deep breath in and an even longer breath out. The only time you're actually living is in the moment you are in, so why not live it consciously, and not in your mental future that doesn't even exist yet?
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