I am at London’s Heathrow airport, and have just checked in for an eleven hour flight to Sao Paolo, Brazil, when I spot something out of the corner of my eye. My doctor, Dr Dermot O’Flynn, is coming towards me, an enormously long cardboard box, barely fitting on his trolley. I stare at the box dubiously. “What’s in this?”, I ask. He beams at me. “A didgeridoo.” “A what now?” “A didgeridoo. An ancient Australian wind instrument.” He’s grinning. “Have you taken up a new instrument?” I ask. “Are you going to be practicing in Brazil?” “No,” he says. “It’s for you.” “For me?” “Yes, to strengthen the muscles in your throat. And your vocal chords.” Of course it is, I think. Why am I even surprised? I have known Dr O’Flynn for a few years now, and I know him well enough to not question his rather eccentric, outside-the-box-thinking when it comes to medical conditions. Because he is almost always right. But this one, I’m not so sure about… We are heading to Brazil, to a small, isolated village in the state of Bahia called Cumuruxaitiba; where Dr O’Flynn runs a health cleanse retreat for his patients. It is a long journey, taking over twenty four hours, with three flights and plenty of driving in-between. It is a journey I have done before, and one I am doing again, because it has helped me get stronger, and boosted my immune system – something I desperately needed after several years of being unwell. For eight days, we will survive on nothing except coconut water, herbal tea, and vegetable miso soup in the evenings. We’ll consume five to six hundred calories a day. We’ll spend much of our time exercising – there is a four kilometre stretch of gorgeous sandy beach in Cumuruxaitiba to run or walk on. To add to that is the scenic beauty of the ocean and a pool to swim in, bikes to ride, and yoga in the afternoons. We’ll be pampered with daily massages at Dr O’Flynn’s beautiful home, and have acupuncture, reflexology, cupping, and reiki healing provided by two lovely women, Juliana and Naioza. There are a total of six patients going on this trip: three have endured serious physical injuries in the past through sports with two having suffered from broken necks in the past, and one has blown out her knee. And the two of us are thyroid patients. I, however, have suffered from thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s Disease, as well as a host of other auto-immune diseases and syndromes – from polycystic ovaries, to polymorphic light eruption and actinic lichen planus, chronic sinusitis, serious anaemia, calcific tendonitis, arthritis, and recently, a bad back. Illnesses that I once couldn’t even pronounce are things I know far too much about today. Despite our different medical conditions, we are all together because we are hoping that by fixing our guts, we can boost our immune systems. Our small intestines host 40% of our immune cells, and respond to different foods at a molecular level. The microvilli are guardians of the intestine, breaking down the molecules and changing their shapes before they are allowed to pass through into our tissues. But sometimes, when the tight junctions of our intestinal cells come slightly apart, and food molecules such as gluten are allowed through, the body perceives them to be a threat to our underlying tissue, and attacks. The result of the body attacking itself can be different in everyone. Fatigue, rashes, headaches, allergies, anxiety and depression are but a few of the hundreds of symptoms people often discard as being ‘just run down’ or tired. But by fasting for a week or more, we calm down our system, allowing it to recover and to kick start again. One might wonder – I have done this before, so why am I doing it again? Partly, because I have spent years on the merry go round of chasing specialists to find out what’s wrong with me and how it can be fixed. I’m finally feeling better. I have more energy, and many of my symptoms are gone, while others are vastly reduced. But I’m like a junkie, I want to do this cleanse as much as I can, to feel as well as I can, now that I have re-discovered my health. It’s never an easy or straightforward path for those of us with chronic medical conditions, but Dr. Dermot O’Flynn specialises in the lost causes – with people who are pushed out of the conventional medical system because their symptoms are so diverse or non-specific. I know I’m in good hands and well taken care of. But at Heathrow Airport, I cannot stop staring at the long, awkward card box that contains the didgeridoo. Seriously? I am meant to play that? My vocal chords have taken a hammering since I’ve had thyroid cancer, but really? This seems like a step too far. As usual, Dr O’Flynn’s unconventional approach is based on something concrete. It turns out, that a study in the British Medical Journal shows that playing the didgeridoo strengthens and tones the tissues of the throat, and is good exercise for the respiratory system. It also aids in reducing sleep apnea and snoring. Still, the didgeridoo and I do not become friends on this trip. Instead, however, I meet lovely people, all who are either focused on the path to feeling better themselves, or are helping and supporting us. I’m surprised, once again, how little hunger I am experiencing most of the time. To be honest, the coconut water helps a great deal, and hydrates the body. The many distractions help too, as does the fact that I’ve learnt the difference between eating until you are full and eating until you are full up. I have come back refreshed, several pounds lighter, and more focused on my health. The only thing I have not come back with though, is an ardent desire to learn to play the didgeridoo.