Making peace with her plate: Jess Ainscough. Photo: Hannah Millerick Photographer
Life's wake-up calls rarely come in welcome ways. But when they do come, they can be transformative in wonderful ways.
For Jess Ainscough it was no different.
The 22-year-old was working as an online editor for Dolly magazine and burning the candle at both ends.
She spent her 12-hour working days desk-bound, didn't exercise and ate poorly. She was also drinking too much, too often after work. "Nothing was very wholesome about my lifestyle," she says.
When she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she took it as "a big, big message from my body" that she needed to do things differently.
Doctors advised that her best bet for beating the cancer was to have her arm, where the tumours were, amputated.
"[The cancer] was so stubborn, traditional treatment methods wouldn't work," Jess says she was told.
The doctors ended up offering Jess a less aggressive alternative to amputation. They performed a procedure called an isolated limb perfusion, which essentially means a high dose of chemotherapy is delivered to a confined area - in this case Jess' arm.
She also began researching alternative therapies.
As a result of her research she decided to try Gerson Therapy. The controversial treatment involves, among other things, no alcohol or meat, daily juicing and up to six coffee enemas a day.
The National Cancer Institute provides this statement about Gerson therapy: "Because no prospective, controlled study of the use of the Gerson therapy in cancer patients has been reported in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, no level of evidence analysis is possible for this approach.
"The data that are available are not sufficient to warrant claims that the Gerson therapy is effective as an adjuvant to other cancer therapies or as a cure. At this time, the use of the Gerson therapy in the treatment of cancer patients cannot be recommended outside the context of well-designed clinical trials."
Despite this, Jess decided to do it her way. She quit her job and moved home to be with her parents in the Sunshine Coast.
Then, she found out the cancer had returned. Again, the doctors advised her to have the arm amputated.
She had been reading up and was now "more confident I was able to heal myself".
The doctors were unimpressed. "It was foreign to them," Jess says of the alternative treatments she was adopting. "They didn't want me to do something silly."
But amputation didn't sound like a "very attractive option" particularly given the doctors couldn't guarantee that, if she had it, she would be healed.
For this reason, taking an alternative approach "was a gamble I was willing to take", Jess says.
It paid off.
Now 28, Jess has been in "recovery mode" from cancer for almost six years and, to track her recovery process and journey to wellbeing, she began writing a blog, The Wellness Warrior, four years ago.
"It started out as a personal journal online and attracted a worldwide family craving this information," she says of the blog about nutrition, meditation, self-love, alternative treatments and eco-living.
Since its inception, it has received more than two million hits.
As a result of her blog's success, she also nabbed a book deal with Hay House.
Her national tour to launch Make Peace With Your Plate begins in Sydney on Wednesday night. It is a book about learning to nourish yourself from the inside out, she says, without deprivation or dieting.
She walks her talk and while she may be busy with her blog and her book, life for Jess these days is about balance and nourishing herself.
She wakes up early to meditate, walk on the beach, have a green juice, breakfast and a coffee enema.
"Work starts around 9 or 10am, with breaks throughout to lie in the sun, bounce on my mini trampoline, or play with my dogs," she says.
After a "big organic salad" for lunch she often goes for another walk.
The evenings involve another 20 minutes of meditation, another coffee enema and dinner with her partner.
"After dinner we watch some TV while drinking peppermint tea and eating some kind of dessert."
Despite her enviable lifestyle and snowballing success, Jess is not without detractors.
She is passionate about her path, but there are just as many who are just as passionately opposed to those who promote alternative therapies as viable options for treating life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
"These treatments don't work for everybody," admits Jess. Her own mum also tried Gerson therapy and died of cancer late last year.
"It's the same thing with conventional treatments.
"It doesn't mean alternative medicine doesn't work and that chemotherapy doesn't work."
She says she used to try and fight back against criticism. "Now I realise everybody is allowed to have their voice... we need all the options on the table."
Click on this link for further information on Cancer Australia's stance on complementary and alternative therapies.
* This story has been updated and includes additional information from Cancer Australia.