Being grateful and sad for Jess Ainscough

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The news that we had lost our Wellness Warrior, Jess Ainscough, on 26 February 2015 was passed to me by my husband. He subscribed to her blogs and had received an email with this photo. He went white as he read it and then gave me his phone. I read the words, and although the news was not entirely unexpected, tears just started to stream down my face. We both just sat there saying over and over “How sad.”

And let me tell you a little about my husband. He is a hard nosed commercial litigator. He has a poker face in most situations. He is a man of facts and generally, science. And he loved getting Jess’s emails. Often he would come home and tell me she had published a new blog and perhaps I’d like to read it. She had touched a place deep within him with her optimism and zest for life.

I had introduced them. It was a Tuesday in March 2013. I was in the middle of my third round of chemo, and was starting to feel nauseous and just oh so tired. But I dragged my weary body to St Michael’s Uniting Church where Dr Ian Gawler was to launch the new edition of his book, You Can Conquer Cancer. There were a few hundred people there, in various stages of wellness. It was the first “cancer” event I had been to. Ian led us in a brief meditation and then we were treated to three amazing speakers.

There was a woman who had been diagnosed with the same lymphoma as I had 3 years earlier. She had had no treatment, because the doctors had expressed doubt that it would work, so instead had attended a 10 day retreat at the Gawler Foundation. She had changed her lifestyle and was doing well. Instead of growing, her tumours had shrunk. As you can imagine, I was very interested.

The next speaker was Scott Stephens. Scott had been diagnosed with melanoma. He had some surgery after the cancer returned and then also went to the Gawler Foundation. The surgery hadn’t removed all his tumours but over the next months, he and his doctors watched his remaining tumours shrink. 10 years later Scott is alive and well. You can read his story in greater detail here.

The third speaker was Jess. She lit up the stage. She was bright, articulate and funny. Her eyes shone. And you can tell a lot about a person by their eyes. She spoke about the Gerson Therapy, and eating well and meditating. And told us that she was well. Apart from the fact that she found it difficult to use her left arm, apparently as a consequence of the large doses of chemo that she had received, her overall presence gave me no reason to doubt that she was thriving. I found out she had a blog so the first thing I did when I got home was find it. And ‘liked’ her on Facebook. And thus, our journey began.

As I started out on my own healing regime, post chemo and post remission, I always knew that Jess had done what I was doing. She made me feel that I was not walking the path alone. And whenever I had a question about what I was experiencing, I would search her site. Not for medical advice of course, but for reassurance that what I was experiencing was “normal”. Taking yourself out of the medical model can be very lonely and I pay my respects to Ian Gawler and Jess, and the many other pioneers who have blazed the trail before me. They didn’t have anything really except the courage of their convictions.

So this brings me to the sadness I feel about Jess’s passing. I don’t care that she hasn’t lived a long life. What she achieved in the extremely short time she was here is beyond miraculous. She encouraged so many brought up on processed and refined foods to “make peace with their plate.” She got them eating real food, whole foods. She got them affirming and meditating. Her blog posts were chatty and informative. She lived a life, albeit short, beyond many people’s dreams. She found true love and she had fun. It goes without saying that my thoughts are with those closest to her, her fiancé, her father and her friends at this time of great loss.

But since the news of her passing broke, there have been some who have seized upon it as an opportunity to condemn the choices that Jess made for herself, and to criticise her for sharing those choices with the world, and perhaps encouraging others to make similar choices. I have read many posts, news stories and comments (which I haven’t linked because I don’t want to increase their traffic) that she should have accepted her doctors’ advice and had her cancerous left arm amputated. It was in the context of that advice that she chose another path. Had she gone ahead with the amputation, she may have had a chance of surviving for 10 years, instead of the 7 years she did. Approximately, a 72% chance. That is what at least one cancer surgeon says. And he says that without surgery that chance was reduced to 33%.

If we look at the 72% chance she might have had, what it tells me is there was still a fair “chance” of it failing. No one could guarantee the surgery would work, just like no one can guarantee “alternative therapies” can work. But Jess might have fallen into the 33%. For all the evidence based medicine around, most (and I acknowledge that some conventional treatments work very successfully for some forms of cancer) cancer treatments remain a gamble. They may or may not work. Sometimes they buy some extra time, but not a quality of life (see a Four Corners programme about that here). And my personal experience is that although chemo helped me to go into remission, its long term effects severely compromised my quality of life and nearly killed me a year later (here). If Jess had chosen the surgery but still died within the same timeframe, would her choices have been judged so harshly? I think not.

And this is what I find most distressing and sad. Let’s venture into a parallel universe for a moment. Jess has chosen to have the surgery. The doctors tell her that it has been very successful and she is now cancer free. So she accepts what they say, spends time in recovery from the surgery and then resumes her old life, as best she can. She doesn’t explore lifestyle changes. She continues to drink and party and work at her high flying job at Dolly magazine, forever trying to hide because the surgery has disfigured her. Or worse, she is just so depressed by the surgery that she hides at home. And then one day, the cancer returns and the doctors say there is nothing they can do. Jess dies in oblivion.

The world just wouldn’t have had the benefit of her smile, her love and her encouragement. We wouldn’t have heard her admonishment to be kind, to be brave, to be well. So many of us might not have been inspired to overhaul our lifestyles, to strive actively to get healthy. She filled a gap in our lives.

It is very easy to judge a decision a person has made because we ourselves don’t agree with it. But when we do so, we don’t allow the bigger picture to unfold. We never know what gifts can flow from something that we judge to be negative.

Jess did what so many Radical Remission survivors do. She took control of her own health. She made the decisions that she thought were best for her at the time she made them. And she absolutely had that right. As did her mother who passed in late 2013. It has been said that Jess persuaded her mother to follow the same path. Although I read that Jess denied that, no one knows how her mother came to her own decision and no one ever will.

In making the choices that Jess did make, she helped the world to be a better place and many of us, to be better people.

I, for one, am enormously grateful that this angel spent as long as she did with us.

Rest in peace dear Jess. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And may you, dear reader, be happy. Be well. And just be.

And so be it.

Jane x

There is a wonderful post written by Jess herself in 2012 on the blog of Dr Ian Gawler. You can find it here.

About Jane Treleaven

Jane Treleaven is a meditation teacher and health coach empowering people to be happy and well through just being, essentially being.

36 comments on “Being grateful and sad for Jess Ainscough

  1. There have been some nasty articles written about Jess but this may have come from people who have lost loved ones to Gerson Therapy. Some of the worst comments were from her followers who at the end were telling her that she was ‘doing Gerson wrong’. All of this has been removed from Facebook and her website but it was noticed. The most compassionate article I have read is from a surgeon here (http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2014/12/16/jess-ainscough-finally-admits-her-condition-is-deteriorating/)

    Jess had the right to make the choice she did given that she had a difficult to treat cancer with a poor outcome. That’s fine but it seems to me that all of us have to check out motivations when giving out medical advice.

    Do we want to make money out of it? Do we want to be noticed? Do we want to avoid dying ‘in oblivion’.What effect will it have on others who have different illnesses which are far more treatable (what effect did it have on her Mum, Sharyn Ainscough, who from all reports had a breast cancer which was far more treatable and refused to even have a mammogram?).

    Disease and disability are horrible but that doesn’t make us heroes, it makes us human. Rejecting evidence based treatment for multiple coffee enemas a day doesn’t make us brave, it’s just a choice. I can get run over crossing the road on the green man but choosing instead to Jaywalk 20 metres from the green man isn’t brave, it’s just stupid and a poor choice.
    Encouraging others who are far more vulnerable, less discerning, less wealthy and with a far better chance of recovery from their disease to make poor choices as well is just wrong

    • I think what can be brave is assessing all your options and making the choice that feels right for you in a considered and contemplated way. We often talk about people who undertake conventional treatment as brave and they receive boundless support but those who step outside that model, for whatever reasons including very poor prognosis and lack of treatment options, are talked about as foolhardy and are not supported. I think in the case of jaywalking you are right. That’s not brave – it’s reckless and/or mindless. And there is a distinction. Jess looked at all her options and in fact, returned to conventional therapies shortly before her death. I understand from an email sent around in the last day or so by her fiancee that they were working well but she died of complications.
      I think too that there is an element in cancer circles of sharing experience and information, rather than giving medical advice. I never felt that Jess gave advice and I hope that no one interprets my blog as doing so either. It’s simply about sharing information and experience in the hope that others might benefit from it when confronted with having to make decisions. I certainly didn’t have such information at my finger tips when a decision was necessary and I wish that I had. It took a long time to sort out the dross and find information that assisted in determining the path to take. Be happy. Be well. Jane x

  2. As so many comments have said Jane, a great summary and reflection on all the wonderful good Jess did in her life. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful piece, and to Ian for sharing it. Coming from a family which has been greatly afflicted by cancer over the years I started looking at healthy alternatives some years ago, and through attending an Ian Gawler workshop heard about Jess, subscribed to her blog and was soon drinking green smoothies as if I were born to do so! 🙂 Jess managed to inspire so many people – those who are unwell and struggling to take control of their cancer treatment, to achieve the best possible outcome – and that includes those who followed conventional treatments as well as doing “alternative” supplementary treatments, but also those who are lucky to be in good health and wish to keep it that way. It seemed to me that Jess radiated love and kindness, and while her life may have been short she had a massive impact on so many. The bottom line is, we all have to take responsibility for our own choices, and Jess (like Ian) simply opened the door to demonstrating what other options are out there.
    Good luck Jane with your own health, may all good things come your way.

  3. I am posting here because your article put in words what went through my mind when I read people talking about this wonderful being’s passing away. I receive news from Ian Gawler’s mail list and I heard about this young girl that I have never heard of. I googled her to find out who she was…I was seriously appalled by the virulence and rage expressed by people who could not simply stand that someone chooses to not go through with Chimo, Surgery, and Radiation. I suffer from cancer myself and this is the very reason I do not even talk about my integration of nutrition, meditation, and physical activities in my quest for wellness to my doctors. I am just amazed by the polarized opinions that people have vis-a-vis those who are suffering and have chosen to live and die a different way than the medical establishment. I don’t know how many of the people who are so sad that she did not choose surgery, chimo and or radiation have seen closely how terrible and life quality diminishing these treatments can be…it is know that their rate of failure are pretty high…as I was doing research for my own cancer, I found that chimo rate of success is actually about 5%. My radio oncologist told me I had 60 to 65 percent of cure and the chimo doctor told me my chances would go up 65 to 75%…when the chimo doctor explained the side effects of the chimo medecine, I knew then that I would not take it…in my case, it was explained to me that I could not take tylenol in case of fever and that I needed to go to emergency in case of fever, a simple sickness as a flu could kill me if I did not get to the hospital because my immune system would be depleted by the chimo…etc…and of course the secondary cancers that I could get from the treatments and so on…These were explained to me by my oncologists so I am not telling a second hand story…All that to say it is easy to seat in a healthy person’s chair and condemn a person with cancer for not going through with these treatments…she probably had a better life in the seven years she lived than the 14 she would have had going through these gruesome and excruciating treatments…people talk about quackery, loo etc….but what if the quackery or the loo is my choice…a 23 years old adult chooses to take control of her own life…who are we to judge her…oh I forgot…cancer is a big business and every one profiting from it has to make sure they position themselves as the best cure available…and shake their finger of reprimand at the face of the sick who dares to choose otherwise…yet I am not sure they would choose the same treatments for themselves or their families…

    • Yes, it’s very easy for healthy people to think they know what they would do but until they are in our shoes, no one really knows. I wish you all the best with the path you have chosen. It’s not easy going out on your own and if you need any resources at all, please feel free to contact me via the contact page or just follow the blog because I post reasonably regularly these days. Be happy. Be well. Jane

  4. Thank you so much for your beautiful words Jane. I wholeheartedly agree with you!!! Goodness me, I really am so ridiculously proud of Jess for thriving with cancer and it makes me happy knowing we have all been blessed by Jess in some way, shape or form. She will always be my hero. Thank you again for sharing your story – Big hugs to you!! Love Simo xx

  5. Thank you for writing this Jane, especially this: ”It is very easy to judge a decision a person has made because we ourselves don’t agree with it. But when we do so, we don’t allow the bigger picture to unfold. We never know what gifts can flow from something that we judge to be negative.” I know that Jess would beam her love at those using her life as fuel to validate their own opinions. ”Opinion is the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in anothers world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.” ~ Bill Bullard. Big love for this amazing post and tribute to a trailblazer.x

  6. Well I want to post, but I am afraid you won’t allow my post to be heard because it doesn’t agree with your post entirely. Please hear me out. I don’t think anyone is anti-Jessica or not sensitive to her death, because I have read the other sites and the points seem valid. I truly think that it is a tragic loss. I don’t believe anyone is blaming her for her own death. Personally I think that Gerson should have some level of responsibility as they have failed her. Gerson clinic claims to truly heal and cure diseases, and as a result of their claims, then she should and would still be here continuing her mission of love and light like she gave so much to so many people as yourself. Because of Jessica I had made up my mind that the Gerson Therapy was going to be the option for me if myself or my loved one was ever diagnosed with something terminal. I would have completely declined conventional treatments because based on what was going on with Jessica, it truly ‘healed’ people, as I saw a beautiful and bright young woman who truly endorsed their program. She encouraged and promoted the Gerson and explained that conventional treatments were poison. The only flaw that I saw was that everyone could see that she was getting progressively worse but she was still preaching the same message. I could see progression on her arm back in 2011. There were clear lesions and she was doing everything to cover it up. In 2012, I saw what look like serious progression, and by 2013 it was beyond clear to me that the cancer was progressing pretty bad. Her raw honesty was what I loved. But towards the end, I saw people asking her straight out questions 2 years ago about the arm, specifically people who needed the honest answers and their comments either got deleted or she would say it was ‘lymphedema’ or stress, instead of acknowledging what we all could see. No one wanted to prove her wrong, they were just her legions of wellness warriors including myself who wanted to understand so that we can also make well informed decisions about our care. I dont blame the course she took, because we all have choices and all make our own decisions. I respect her decision and even myself wouldn’t feel comfortable with an amputation. I don’t and can’t blame her, and sorry if that sounds harsh. I just want to share the other side of the coin. I hope you don’t dismiss this or for that matter delete this because it does not agree with your comment. I will finally say that Jessica was a lovely woman and her positivity is what I will always remember. I don’t feel that is fair not to discuss all your feelings and truth, so here is mine.

  7. Hello Jane,

    I sat and watched my wife burst into tears when she received an email as she subscribes to Jess’s blog. It was a reaction that was overwhelming and heart felt. It is interesting for me to say that as an IIN graduate I would love to be able to take credit for my wife’s transformation physically and emotionally, but credit where credits due, it really was Jess all,the way! I think she resonated with so many people just for being authentic and standing by her choices! I was disappointed to see so many jump on the band wagon as people often do after someone passes when they are unable to defence themselves and their memory. It is amazing to see what people can achieve when they focus on a positive life and openly share. Thank you for your post and taking the time to respectfully reflect on a life well lived.

  8. Jane, this article beautifully expresses what I have been thinking! Jess leaves behind her a legacy of love & light for so many of us. I met her at a speaker’s training event many years ago and even though I have never battled with my health, her commitment to speaking her truth and sharing her journey with us has always inspired me. Not to mention her grace under continued crticism from mainstream media. Thank you for this lovely perspective and tribute x

  9. Hi Jane,

    What a beautiful post. Jess most certainly was an inspiration to her tribe and to the greater world, regardless of her choices. I agree, traditional western treatment or not, she thrived for 7 years and that really is all that matters. Had she have gone the route of invasive amputation, the world may never had known the vibrant soul that she was and all that she had to share.

    I wish you all the very best in your journey, which ever route you choose to take from here on in.

    Renee x

  10. A beautiful piece Jane. I met Jessica in Sydney last year at a writers workshop and she signed a copy of her book for me. I also noticed the mainstream media reported on her choices in a negative light. It’s all fear! You and I know very well that cancer = fear for many. Jessica was the demonstration of fearlessness and she lived well and she lived passionately and she lived with purpose. A pioneer. Sending love to you xx

  11. Beautifully said, Jane. I never usually read the offending page that this referred post has been written about, but in this case, I did and was so angered by the sheer disrespect and insensitivity of it. Thankyou for writing such a lovely post and above all, articulating exactly how how I felt.

  12. Really great post, Jane!! A well balanced argument from someone who’s got the t-shirt. It’s one thing to comment and give off an opinion but until it’s your life on the line I think it’s very rich to make judgement on the decisions that Jess chose. Dr orac needs to drop his holier than thou attitude. Seems he wants attention more than he truly wants to help people. RIP Jess and all the best with your health Jane.

    Jordan

  13. Reblogged this on The Green Nutritionist and commented:
    Thank you so much Jane,
    you have manged to put into words exactly what many of us have been thinking and saying since hearing the devastating news of Jess’s passing last week.
    I too knew Jess personally, loved her and was deeply inspired by her. My heart breaks for her fiancée, her dad, her loving friends and family, but I know her choice was the right one for her and her life was so much richer and fuller than many that exist for longer – as one friend said to me, after hearing the sad news “death is not failure” and that is so true – we all ultimately die, it’s what we do while we are alive that matters!

    I too spent time thinking what Jess’s life would have been like if she had gone with what the doctors advised – her arm amputated beyond the shoulder including her shoulder blade – in fact most of her upper left side … probably followed by more chemotherapy and radiation etc. and even then they said it would only give her a few more years.
    She would then have become virtually a full-time patient with long-term pain, drugs to manage that pain, future operations, physiotherapy, perhaps reconstructions or fitting of a prosthetic shoulder/arm … she would have been hideously disfigured at such a young age, may have become deeply depressed and certainly not written her blog and inspired so many others to follow a holistic and joyful life like she did. Jess featured on the cover of some wonderful magazines, wrote a regular wellness column, made life-long friends in the wellness arena, traveled the world, launched a book, found love, and so much more.
    I find peace in knowing she lived a full and beautiful life just the way she wanted, although she will be missed here on Earth, I’m sure her spirit will go on forever.

    Donna x

  14. Thank you so much Jane,
    you have manged to put into words exactly what many of us have been thinking and saying since hearing the devastating news of Jess’s passing last week.
    I too knew Jess personally, loved her and was deeply inspired by her. My heart breaks for her fiancée, her dad, her loving friends and family, but I know her choice was the right one for her and her life was so much richer and fuller than many that exist for longer – as one friend said to me, after hearing the sad news “death is not failure” and that is so true – we all ultimately die, it’s what we do while we are alive that matters!

    I too spent time thinking what Jess’s life would have been like if she had gone with what the doctors advised – her arm amputated beyond the shoulder including her shoulder blade – in fact most of her upper left side … probably followed by more chemotherapy and radiation etc. and even then they said it would only give her a few more years.
    She would then have become vertually a full-time patient with long-term pain, drugs to manage that pain, future operations, physiotherapy, perhaps reconstructions or fitting of a prosthetic shoulder/arm … she would have been hideously disfigured at such a young age, may have become deeply depressed and certainly not written her blog and inspired so many others to follow a holistic and joyful life like she did. Jess featured on the cover of some wonderful magazines, wrote a regular wellness column, made life-long friends in the wellness arena, traveled the world, launched a book, found love, and so much more.
    I find peace in knowing she lived a full and beautiful life just the way she wanted, although she will be missed here on Earth, I’m sure her spirit will go on forever.

    Donna x

    • Thanks Donna. I have to clarify that I never actually “met” her. It was metaphorical. But I agree with you. What was it that Mary Oliver wrote? “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Jess did amazing things. We are all blessed to have been touched by her, by whatever means x

  15. THANK YOU for this beautiful tribute! So beautiful and much needed in the face of the judgemental so called news-worthy stories that are doing the rounds. And thanks for sharing a part of you and your story too. The biggest message from all this, is LOVE over fear and judgement. Live life well

Comments welcome