• Jo Draper

My gift from cancer

Updated: Mar 1, 2019

Just over one year ago, a miracle happened. I was given the news I had cancer.

The surgeon looked at me through painstaking eyes as he blurted, “You have at least, stage three melanoma”. He repeatedly said the words, “I’m so sorry. This is nasty. Really nasty”.

I had recently found a lump my left armpit. The biopsy results uncovered it was a large tumor which had been caught by my lymphatic system. Because the cancer was so aggressive and fast growing, medical professionals expected to find other tumors circulating throughout my body. The size of the tumour, the number of tumors, my fate, and my destiny were unknown.

The following week remains a hazy memory of back to back medical appointments, poking, prodding, needles, ultrasounds, PET scans and CAT scans. Between appointments I devoted every waking minute to researching natural therapies and consulting with cancer clinics around the world. A week later I was scheduled for emergency surgery, to remove the fist sized tumor lodged in my left armpit. The operation took more than twice the expected time and revealed the tumor had spread behind my left breast and was millimetres from attaching to my main artery.

Words cannot express the shock a diagnosis like this creates. I didn’t know what was next. I didn’t know which path to take, and I didn’t know how much time I had left on this earth.

This is where the miracle happened. Despite this initially sounding like the worst possible diagnosis, everything since has resulted in the best possible outcome. The surgeon successfully removed the tumor. The tumor was contained inside the ‘node’, which meant it hadn’t spread throughout my body. A massive 36 lymph nodes were removed from my armpit, and pathology later confirmed only two contained cancer. Excellent news. The tumor, almost reaching my main artery, hadn’t actually connected and I didn’t have to make the grueling decision to amputate my left arm.

I almost postponed the surgery, due to my desire to take a natural path, and considered not having it at all. The surgeon later explained if I had delayed it, even by one week, it would have been a very different outcome.

I always knew if I was presented with a life-threatening illness, I would consider alternative therapies. I refused to believe this disease would take me at the young age of 37, so reached out for guidance in every health professional, life coach and healer that I could find. It was here I was put in contact with a nature cures coach, and the most intelligent human being I have ever crossed paths. I switched to fully raw, vegan diet and experimented with several alternative therapies. It wasn’t easy.

A lot of my lymphatic system had been removed, and I was recovering from major surgery. What I wanted to do was eat comfort foods. But what I did was juice, eat raw vegetables and started intermitted fasting. Initially I was very weak, and I was fainting often. However, my determination to overcome this naturally, outweighed any desire to indulge in form of food that was ‘comforting’.

I thought I had survived the cancer relatively unscathed. Then derived the ultimate test. Three months post-diagnosis, I entered a new relationship. Despite using contraception, being 38 and still recovering from cancer, I fell pregnant unexpectedly. It was a massive shock! But one I couldn’t walk away from. I believed it was a miracle; a gift from the universe. I felt a massive connection to the pregnancy and I wanted to keep it.

Conversely, the guy I was dating felt very differently. There was an instant shift in the way he looked at me and the way he spoke to me. It crushed me. For the next two weeks he only spoke to me in desperate attempt to persuade and manipulate me into having an abortion. My yearning to feel happiness and excitement was outweighed by his feelings of disgust and resentment towards me. I carried massive feelings of guilt and questioned if I had the right to change the outcome of someone else’s life.

Two weeks following that pregnancy test, he ended the relationship. He walked away, and I have never seen him again since.

Despite his reaction, I couldn’t bring myself to terminate the pregnancy. I did try. It was scary, for I knew this decision would present a hard and lonely path. I accepted my destiny and proceeded to make future plans for me and my unborn baby. With support from family and friends I was determined to make it work. Choosing to keep the pregnancy also meant as I was putting myself at massive risk, as I could no longer have regular PET scans. These scans were the only way to detect tumors and the chance of the cancer reoccurring was high.

Nevertheless, this was short lived and all uplifted once again. My eight-week scan revealed there was no heartbeat. The baby wasn’t alive. Like any mother to be, who has miscarried understands this feeling of loss.

I accepted my fate yet again. I prayed, and begged, and prayed again, that I would miscarry naturally to avoid any further surgery, pharmaceuticals, or hospital visits. On this occasion my prayers were not answered. An ultrasound confirmed my body would not miscarry naturally and I booked in for surgery.

This was more than I could handle. I fell apart.

I felt as though I had completely lost control. This was one significant live event too many, and it tipped me over the edge. I started binge eating and couldn’t stop. I ate and ate and ate until I made myself physically sick. I knew it was happening. I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t stop. I was drinking daily and taking Valium. One night on my way home from work, I drove through a bottle shop, grabbed a bottle of wine and threw is back like a swigged it back like water. Each bite and every sip contributed towards massive feelings of guilt and self-despair. The past eight months I had been completely dedicated to rebuilding and healing my body naturally, and I was now watching myself slide rapidly on a downward spiral of self-destruction.

The past year had endured too many surprises. I had experienced serious illness, fear of the unknown, suffering, loss and abandonment. I reached my limit of what I could handle, and I stopped giving a fuck. At that point nothing mattered; my stupid raw diet, my stupid cancer. Essentially, I was self-harming and self-destructing. I was doing anything to escape from this nightmare.

Thankfully this behaviour was relatively short lived, as I worked really hard and found the strength to pull myself out of this hard hole I had crawled into.

While the past year has presented some major obstacles, it was also a huge learning experience and a massive period of growth and transformation. I have tried and trialled many natural therapies and learnt about many more, in every effort to heal my body. I believe so strongly that we manifest disease and I choose a path of self-discovery. I looked at my own thought patterns, behaviours, past hurts and anything and everything that may have contributed to cancer. This is what I have learnt:

Practice gratitude

Each and every single day appreciate what you are grateful for. This is what got me through my illness and I believe what helped save my life. When I was lying in hospital weak and facing losing an arm, or my life, I practiced gratitude again and again. When I felt ‘unlucky’ I would walk outside, breath fresh air and remember all the things in my life I had to be grateful for. There are so many!

We need balance

I chose a raw path, and in all honestly, it was hard. I was fully committed and so strong and determined I started eating raw the day I was discharged from hospital. I was weak, I was fainting, and I had lost my energy. I found social situations so hard that I isolated myself altogether. Looking back, it was worth it for my physical health. It helped heal my body, but the time came when I wasn’t strong enough to continue this path, I accepted that. I still maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle; however, I don’t ridicule myself for indulging occasionally. Without good mental health, we don’t have good physical health and that’s why balance is everything.

Show vulnerability

I used to hold on to everything. I could be falling apart on the inside and simultaneously be smiling on the outside. I could wipe away tears, then walk into a room full of people beaming with happiness. That is fake and incongruent with myself and my true feelings. We are often raised to hide emotion. That is not healthy. If we don’t express it, we bottle it up inside, it grows, and festers and manifests as disease.

Let shit go

Sometimes life is unfair. People hurt us, or do wrong by us and we question where is the good in humanity and the universe. So many people have experienced so much pain and suffering and it crushes my heart to think about it. Life can be hard, but we need to find a way to let shit go, as anger and resentment will only hurt us.

“Holding on to anger is like poisoning your own cup and expecting the other person to die from it” Buddha.

Everyone has the right to walk their own path

I used to want to help everyone. I would see people with addictions (food, alcohol, relationships) and so badly want to help them, or think I have the answers. When faced with a life-threatening illness, I chose to combine alternative and conventional treatments. I had surgery but didn’t take pharmaceuticals. When I almost refused surgery, people I love respected and supported my decision, even though it was against their own beliefs and it was tearing them apart internally. We all have the right to walk our own path. I wouldn’t choose chemotherapy, but it works for others. I don’t have the right to judge them and they don’t have the right to judge me. I believe all we can do is share information and people will come to us for help, and support when and if they are ready for it.

Share your pain/your story/your journey

When I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, I made the decision to commit to sharing my journey. My writing was raw and real, and I put my feelings out on social media for the world to see. Scary! I did this because I hoped it would help and inspire others. And it did. Many people made contact to express their gratitude, in how me sharing my experience so openly, had helped them. This made it all worth it. What was unexpected was how much sharing my journey would help me!

Slow down

Many people I know will read this and laugh, as I have always charged through life at one hundred miles per hour. For as long as I can remember I take on multiple jobs, fill every minute of every day and I push myself to exhaustion. I can reflect now and understand this achieved nothing. It affected my mental health and I believe contributed to my illness. Growing up my father constantly told me, “If you keep burning the candle at both ends, you’re going to bur n out”. I was determined to prove that theory wrong and thought I had for so many years. I was wrong. This was my burn out.

I am loved

Days following my surgery, I was presented with the most profound experience of my life. I was lying in hospital feeling stressed about how I was going to pay for my medical expenses. I wanted to take a natural approach and I didn’t know how I would pay for it. Right there in my hospital bed I created a crowd funding page and posted it on facebook. Within minutes I had thousands of dollars being transferred into my account. Friends and family were contributing large amounts of money and my phone was flooded with messages of love and offerings to transfer more if needed. Tears flooded down my face. It was tears of pure gratitude. A year on, and I can’t even write this without crying. It was in this moment I got to experience love like I didn’t know existed. I discovered how much love people had for me, how much love there is in the world and how much good there is in people.

Despite the pain, the suffering and sometimes darkness in this world; the love, support and beauty is stronger.

Don’t let it take cancer for you to feel this. Know that you are so loved and so appreciated and find ways every single day to show others how much they are loved.

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