From Comrades to Cancer

With a plant-based, whole-food diet, superfoods and energy healing I won the most important race of my life!

In 2015, at the age of 44, I started running for Kyalami Running Club, having previously run only 5km or 6km for health and fitness. I was soon running 21km races and loved it. In 2016, I took the next step and trained for my first marathon, which of course had to be the Cape Town Marathon, my home town. I was getting stronger, my 21km times improved and, to my surprise, I started placing in my age group at the Joburg and Pretoria races. It felt really good to be up on the podium. I had last run competitively at school.

In 2017, I trained for my first Comrades. I had, of course, told my family that I would never do anything as crazy as run Comrades. But I remembered a promise that I had made to my dad, who had been diagnosed with vascular dementia. We would watch Comrades together in the 1980s and I had promised him that I would run Comrades one day. I knew I had to keep that promise while he still knew I was running it. I ran the Up Run and loved every minute. I sobbed when the medal was put around my neck. My dad congratulated me and that made the training and running 87km all worth it, it meant so much to me. 

I was definitely stronger and fitter after running Comrades and I was placing more often, the highlight being a first place at Wanderers Aucor 21km. I was training hard and I knew that I had to start fuelling my body more effectively. 

Eating healthily has always been incredibly important to me. I began using and learning about the benefits of ancient superfoods such as maca, chia seeds, hemp seeds, lucuma, moringa, baobab, beetroot, rhodiola and spirulina as I am a true believer in eating healing nutrient-dense foods. I was feeling stronger, healthier, had more energy and never had a cold or flu. I was training and running very hard, pushing myself to become faster and I was achieving my personal bests. My Instagram #Superfoodstronger, gave me a platform to promote eating superfoods. 

I was incredibly fortunate to be offered a sponsorship by Mizuno, which was such a privilege and dream come true. I was, after all, not a professional runner. I received my first pair of sponsored Wave Rider 21s in February 2018. Mizuno was the clothing sponsor for Comrades 2018. 

I don’t think that any Comrades compares to your first but I did take an hour off my time, coming in at 9:15.  I was also so happy to be acknowledged and chosen to be on the National 21km SA Champions 2018 team. 

“In January last year, after a 32 km training run, an ankle injury flared up and I had it treated. I woke up the next morning with a much bruised leg and pain in my leg bone. I also found two lumps under my armpit. I thought it might possibly be time to go to the doctor. My doctor did blood tests. She phoned me the next morning and told me that my blood tests showed CLL, chronic lymphatic leukaemia and I should see a haematologist as soon as possible.  I was shell-shocked to say the least! I was the healthy ultra-distance runner, how was it possible!” 

Around August I started to feel concerned as my energy levels were suddenly very low. I was also consistently losing weight, even though I was eating well. I put it down to over-training and took some time off.

In November I battled through Kaapsehoop 42km, but I still managed to do a sub 3:30. The 32km Tough One is one of my favourite races of the year; however I did not enjoy it, I really struggled through it and my energy levels were so low. 

In January, after a 32km training run, the ankle injury flared up, I found the lumps under my armpit and I was referred to a specialist.

After a bone marrow biopsy, CT scan and numerous blood tests, the haematologist confirmed that I had stage 2 chronic lymphatic leukaemia. I had cancer in 60 per cent of my bone marrow. Blood tests that I had had in 2016, clearly showed CLL; unfortunately my GP at the time chose to ignore the results and put it down to an undiagnosed infection.

I was told that I would have five days of chemotherapy every 28 days for six months.  I would also lose my hair. As you can imagine, I was beyond devastated! They wanted me to start chemotherapy within two weeks.

I went down to Cape Town, to spend a week with my parents and sister. I literally felt as though I had been given a death sentence, not from the leukaemia but from the chemotherapy. I knew that there was no possibility I could survive that amount of chemotherapy.

  I felt so disempowered by the diagnosis. I was told that I would lose my hair, which really upset me. I did not want to lose my identity and become a ‘cancer patient’. I decided to take my power back. I was being pushed into doing chemotherapy and I felt as if I had no control or choice. I decided to be true to myself. I wanted to try the natural way first. Poisoning my body to heal it made no sense to me! The chemotherapy would also destroy my immune system. I wanted three months to heal myself; I had to try! 

  I knew that allopathic medicine, would cure only the symptoms of my leukaemia. I had to find the root cause, or it would return. Allopathic medicine does not recognise that we are more than cells and tissues, that we are more than flesh. Our soul and spiritual healing is as – or more – important to finding the cause and healing of our diseases. I started on a holistic healing journey. I had studied an accredited Usui Reiki course through the Reiki Association of Southern Africa in 2018.

  Reiki taught me that disease is from emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical response, to negativity such as bitterness, anger, loss of power, stress, trauma and environmental factors. I took time to look deeply at where my leukaemia could have originated. I looked at how many negative emotions and perceptions I carried. There seemed to be quite a few, the feeling of not being good enough, my whole life, seemed to be a strong contender. I had dealt with many traumas since my childhood and I always felt as though I had coped and moved on from them, but actually the deep emotional shocks were still there, just buried at a subconscious level…

I had not known why I had felt compelled to do a Reiki course. It suddenly seemed very clear to me; I had to heal myself and I knew that my body could heal again; I just had to it give the opportunity. I asked my Reiki group to do distance healing for me. I started doing Reiki self-healing every day, working especially on my heart chakra, to unblock and release the negative emotions and to heal my heart. I also meditated and used a visualisation technique to dispel the cancer from my bone marrow. I researched causes of cancer. I was surprised to learn that my dental issues, especially root canal could be linked to cancer. 

I began eating a whole food plant-based diet, as meat and dairy cause your body to be acidic. I thought that I was being fairly healthy by eating mainly chicken and fish, but chickens are fed GMO corn and pumped with antibiotics and hormones. Fish unfortunately contains mercury from our polluted oceans. I also tried to eat organically as much as possible. Commercially grown vegetables are sprayed with pesticides. I started making better choices, for my life and for my healing, so I gave up refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Cancer cells feed off sugar as they have more insulin receptors.  I needed to do an extreme detox.

I used all the knowledge I had gained on superfoods and took every one that I  knew had cancer-fighting properties: Wheat grass powder, barley grass powder, moringa, hemp seeds, astragalus, chaga mushrooms, turmeric, wild mushroom turkey tail tinctures and camu camu, which is very high in vitamin C.

  Within one month I had improved my white blood cell count from 52 to 42, the normal white blood cell count range is 4 to 12.

Over the next month, my count only improved marginally, but it was still improving. I was still healing.

 My decision to not do chemotherapy had caused a lot of anxiety and upset among my family and friends. The cancer was in my bone marrow, blood and lymphatic system. I was at huge risk of the cancer metastasising elsewhere. My daughters begged me to reconsider. I was under a lot of stress, which wasn’t good for my healing.

Findhorn Foundation

I relented and started chemotherapy in April, but I continued to do the holistic healing.

My hair started to fall out and thin, but I was so determined that I would not lose it, that it started to grow again. I also took folic acid, which I believe helped with regrowth.

I had two chemotherapy drugs and an immunotherapy drug, for three days every 28 days. It wasn’t an easy time, but I also knew it could have been worse.

I am so grateful for the love, support and prayers I received during this time from angel friends and family; I have never felt so loved. My husband and daughters were incredibly supportive. 

After four months of chemotherapy, my immune system was so depleted, that I was more at risk from infection than the leukaemia. They did a bone marrow biopsy again and I received the best news: I was completely clear of leukaemia. I had absolutely no cancer cells in my bone marrow. 

My immune system is improving and I’ve had to start my running from the beginning again, with walking then building up my mileage slowly, one kilometre at a time. I was beyond excited to reach 8km. I wore my running vest for the first time, my first race of the year, at the Irene Spring Race 10km, in September. It was so wonderful to be at a race again. A 21km seems so far off, but I am a determined person. I plan on doing an overseas marathon next year and Comrades in 2021. 

I know without a doubt that running and being so fit was instrumental in my recovery, as my haemoglobin and red blood cell count never dropped below the normal range, even though the cancer was 60 per cent in my bone marrow.

I absolutely believe that running has taught me to stay mentally strong and to face my fears. After all, standing at the start of Comrades can be exhilarating and terrifying! I did not allow negative thoughts to enter my mind, always fighting to stay positive, not giving up and always focusing on winning. I truly believe that I have won my race!

I took responsibility for my own healing! I don’t say that I am in remission, I say that I am healed. I am so grateful.  My motto: “You’re a fighter, you’re stronger than you know!”

Words by Debra

Savvy and insightful, Debra is the publisher and editor of Odyssey Magazine. Author, wordsmith and natural remedy consultant, Debra brings together extensive expertise in both corporate and personal wellbeing and combines this with her passion to uplift personal and planetary wellness through the power of words.

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