25 March 2020: My cancer and the global pandemic are calling me inwards. It feels like world events are asking all of us to make radical reassessments. Maybe the cancer gave me a head start. It is demanding that I turn inwards, and get grounded in the earth. It’s only a week since I was so full of the joys of getting back to “normal” but it turns out there is no normal to get back to.

Turning inwards: the privilege of a retreat space

With my wife’s wonderful support, I was determined to create some retreat space after my radical prostatectomy. We are lucky enough to have access to a wild piece of family land about 100 km from Cape Town. Pandemic panic is rising all around us. A few days ago, rather against the sensible advice of our sons, my wife and I made a pre-dawn dash to Johannesburg airport and flew down to Cape Town, rented a car and drove out to our little piece of heaven in the Palmiet River Valley.

Dawn breaking over Palmiet River Valley on our morning walk

We reckoned Sunday at dawn is the quietest time in airports – lots of time to refresh the air overnight – and the best chance of a relatively empty plane. We used about a gazillion wet-wipes to sanitize around our seats in the plane, and all our kikois and sarongs to create a relatively sanitary nest. Grateful the plane was indeed almost empty.

It feels so good to be in a safe space, and let go of all those city urgencies. We are indeed privileged. And it is amazing how easy it is to slow down once the diary has been cleared.

Fast first

My gut still aches – no longer sore enough for painkillers, but reminding me that knives and lights and cauterising instruments have all been rampaging around my insides. They also used gas insufflation to push other organs out of the way during surgery, and my body still feels the impact. On the way down we both recognised our needs to detox.

On Monday we fasted all day. My clear intention is that this helps shake loose some of the remaining cancer cells in my body, supporting my immune system. My body has been crying out to be relieved of the residue of anaesthetic and painkiller drugs.

Lockdown looms

We booked this retreat for just one week. On Monday night, the President announced a radical 3-week lockdown, one of the most severe in the world, starting tomorrow night. Yesterday we sat with the dilemma: do we brave the crowds and dash back home, or settle in for the duration? We don’t know how long this will last. We don’t know if there will still be food in the shops, or fuel at the petrol stations. What if one of us gets bitten by a snake, or our car breaks down in this remote rural area?

Today we have decided to stay. This morning I drove into the nearest village, in foraging and protecting mode. Buying in stocks, lots of canned chick peas, beans and tomatoes, olive oil, some wine, two big jerry cans for fuel, some extra tools, and and and…

Wiping down groceries with bleach before entering cottage


We sanitise every item with soap and bleach on the front porch before bringing anything inside, then wash all our clothes too.

Back to earth

Along with groceries, I bought vegetable seeds to plant. Who knows how long we will be here? Clouds are blowing in, it is a good time to plant, and I just cleared a space and planted fast-yielding varieties: micro greens, rocket, lettuce, baby spinach.

Seed bed cleared in wild land with vegetable seeds planted

The tide has turned. It is time to connect inwards and go down into the earth. Perhaps I am lucky that my personal healing helped put me on this track. Now it seems the world needs something similar.