Survivor and Thriver
By Nilla Spark

On the 25th October 2004 a day that will be forever chiselled in this book called “life”… the day that I heard those dreaded words “you have Breast Cancer”…

A journey that was to take me to the depths of despair, depression and the real contemplation of suicide started to unfold. These were some of the challenges I was about to face.

Seven years after this life changing day, I was approached to write my story. Today 10 years on I sit here so grateful for my Breast Cancer as it has given me the life I have today…

Now this is my story, it would be my privilege and honour to share it with you…


I walked into the doctor’s room, and I knew without words being spoken… then I heard what I didn’t want to hear.
“Nilla, I’m sorry… .” I finished her sentence by saying, “I have breast cancer, don’t I?” The doctor looked at me and nodded. I fell sobbing into John’s arms, thinking, “I am going to die.” We hugged each other for what felt like forever; all my fears and emotions around  dying surfaced. Would I die like my mother had? What will happen to John? I didn’t want him to become a widower! Who would look after our business, our home? What is ahead of us? My mind spun out of control!

This wasn’t meant to happen. Even though the odds were stacked against me, I told myself that cancer wouldn’t occur in my life. My doctor, on one of my normal checkups, told me to be diligent with my breast examinations, as my chances of getting breast cancer were very high. She said that my mother having passed away due to breast cancer and my Nonna having had both breasts removed were huge contributors. Also, I had undergone five IVF treatments, and had not had children, subsequently had not breast fed… BLAH BLAH BLAH. I just sat there thinking, “So what? That means nothing to me. I won’t become a victim to breast cancer!” How wrong could I have been? I sobbed in my husband’s arms.
THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE HAPPENED! I began to doubt the power of positive thinking, to doubt myself, as well as life and the injustice that had just been thrown at me.

Once I reluctantly accepted the reality of my situation, it was time to see what had to be done, as it was time to rid my body of this unwanted intruder. It had created so much vulnerability, uncertainty, fear, and pain not only for myself also for my husband John, my family and friends, and I just had to confront it. I didn’t want to die! Then the adrenaline set in; it was time to take action to get rid of this intruder! We scheduled the subsequent surgery. War had been declared… Let the battle begin!

The evening after I received my diagnosis, I couldn’t sleep so in the middle of the night I went up and sat on the couch totally alone, in the stillness and the darkness of the moment, I contemplated my future. I had been planning my 50th birthday party and was determined that I was going to celebrate it. I thought of all the future weddings, birthdays, Christmas’s, Easters, anniversaries in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. I wanted to live! I had too much to do, to experience, and to live for.
From that moment on, I realized that it would be one day at a time, and every day was precious.

On the day of my surgery, I underwent a procedure where they injected me with nuclear dye to trace where the cancer was. I was about to be wheeled into the operatig theatre when my surgeon mentioned that some dye was detected around my lung area, and she did not know what she would find until she operated. Tears ran down my face as I was being anesthetized, not knowing what I would wake up to… a missing breast? Being told that the cancer had spread to all of my body? Having this disease made me feel so alone, so helpless, and yet so desperate to cling to life… while John was left to wait and see what was going to happen to his wife.

I woke up in pain wearing a blood-stained gown, John by my side in a room filled with flowers… still alive and feeling loved very much! Where to now? The operation was a success! I was very blessed as they had found the cancer at its earliest stages, even  though it was aggressive. Only a quarter of my right breast had been removed, and thankfully, the cancer had not spread into my lungs or lymph nodes.

Now it was time to work out my recovery and the best way to deal with the situation at hand. The surgeon and nurse took both John and I aside and explained what we should be considering in aiding my recovery, to ensure that the cancer would not reoccur. They suggested that I take a course of cancer treatment  drugs for the next five years and strongly recommended that I undergo eight weeks of radiotherapy, as they were confident that they had eradicated the cancer in my body. The surgeon placed no real urgency on the radiotherapy treatment other than to say that she highly recommended it.

This caused consternation in John; he was fearful of my filling my body with drugs and radiation. I, however, was determined to do whatever it took to rid my body of this intruder. John said, “Nilla, the surgeon has told you that she took all the cancer away. You no longer have cancer.” I replied that I would do what I needed to do to stay alive and that I wanted to undergo radiation treatment. I thought the only option was to fill my body with drugs, just in case there was a rogue cancer cell running around inside my body. All I wanted to do was to take action. As they say, with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The conflict between my determination to do what I thought was right for me, and John’s frustration at watching me suffer began to take its toll on our relationship immediately.

On the first day of my radiotherapy treatment, John drove me to Perth and that night flew to Vancouver to be with his son. This was his way of showing me that I was fine. I was devastated the person I loved the most in my life had left me to face this challenge on my own…

The doctors, specialists, and surgeon had all reassured us that the cancer had been taken out of my body and that continuing with treatment was only a precaution and in the end, my choice.

John left me to face my first day of treatment on my own with an angel of a girlfriend. As I walked into the treatment room all I saw was a lone table in a huge room, with machines everywhere. I burst into tears! I felt so alone, so vulnerable, and so scared! I knew I had to be brave, as I had a fight on my hands, and I was going to be the victor. No one could win this war for me; I had to do it, with or without John’s support.

While I underwent my radiotherapy, I was told by a fellow breast cancer survivor to be mindful of allowing depression to set in.

What was she talking about? That was not going to happen to me! But depression had already crept into my life. I had become irrational and cried all the time. I felt like I’d lost my personality, and I was slowly losing myself. My family and friends merely tolerated my behaviour because they loved me, and our staff would have left our business if they’d had any other place to work. John stood by and watched as the person that he loved slowly destroyed herself, when in essence, there was no need. He knew that this would happen, he just had to let me do what I felt was right for me, despite how hard he tried to make it different. Could it have been that I had allowed the depression to set in and that I subconsciously decided it was going to serve me, and that I didn’t deserve anything more? Could it have been that watching John stand beside me, loving me even though he was watching me destroy myself; when I realised
that something had to change? Could it have been by chance that I was open to what happened next…

An email from John arrived in my inbox in February 2006, suggesting that we attend a personal development weekend. It asked if our lives, health, and wealth were where we wanted them to be, and suggested that if not, we should consider attending the seminar. I suddenly realized that our relationship had reached the breaking point when I saw that my husband had sent me an email when we were within an arm’s distance from each other! Our ability to communicate was gone.

Our communication skills had become so bad that John couldn’t even talk to me. My immediate response to the email was “Yes!
My life, health, and wealth are desperately in need of improvement!”
I thought to myself. Could my emotions about our relationship be affecting my life so deeply that I let it affect my health? Could opening my heart and listening to those who loved me help me heal my body?

In April 2006, we attended a personal development seminar, which changed my entire life. How could two days change my life forever? During the weekend, I realized that I alone have control over every outcome in my life! John saw such a difference over those two days that he did not hesitate to invest $17,000 for me to continue learning about how powerful the mind is and that everything starts from within. As he signed the contract for me to attend subsequent courses, we looked into each other’s eyes and he uttered these words,  ”Nilla, this is your 50th birthday present.” What a huge gift it was! Over the next six months I learned to take responsibility for the results in my life and to understand that the mind is the most powerful thing that I possess. Once the mind is stretched it can never go back to where it was.

John gave me a precious gift, a gift of love, of understanding and ultimately the gift of the life that I have today.

Thank God I have survived and thrived from breast cancer because today I live in gratitude for a husband that truly loves me.

Because of my experience with breast cancer, I am now able to help others. My hard-won message is that the most important thing is to not get caught up in being a victim to cancer. Cancer is not a death sentence! Having had cancer created opportunities for me to learn, to grow, and to live without fear, without  regrets, and without expectations.

There were many times when both John and I could have given up, there were many times that I wanted to end my life, there were times when John wanted to walk out of the darkness that the cancer and depression caused! The miracle of love is what saw me get through to what seemed to be an impossible dream, the dream of a normal life, with the one I love…John.

With the “miracle of love” I am now able to live my passion each and every day. I also live my purpose each and every day, which is to lead, inspire and make a difference in people’s lives through travel and travel experiences.

It is through travelling, meeting people, understanding cultures, and having the desire to learn and grow personally that has created an open mindedness to what can be achieved and what is possible.

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