When introduced to Carla-Jane Gluckman, it's hard to believe that one so beautiful, with a countenance that radiates serenity and good health, has lung cancer; an aggressive form of this hostile disease that ordinarily and all too quickly, steals away the very life blood of those it affects. But not so for Carla who, from the point of her diagnosis, chose life in favour of the unthinkable alternative. It's been eight years since Carla's prognosis and as she fast approaches 40, she considers each new birthday cause for celebration. Instead of nostalgia for a youth now spent and sentiments of being forever young, she is grateful to usher in yet another triumphant year.
It's the uncertainty, the unknown and the waiting for the potentially life-altering results that strikes a chord of fear deep within the recesses of one's heart and mind. Fear so primal you can almost taste it and when finally the courtroom of life pronounces a verdict of cancer, the emotions around the sentencing can best be described as suffocating. Carla was just 31 when it was finally confirmed that she had a three centimetre malignant tumour in her left lung; it took a year to get to this point with many misdiagnoses in between. With no family history and just a short spell as a teenage smoker, the diagnosis was an unexpected revelation and one that to begin with, left this ordinarily strong woman paralysed with panic and foreboding.
The intensity of the trauma of facing the reality of one's own transience is quite indescribable. But despite the enormity of the news, it's most often the individual's response to their diagnosis that maps the course of their journey. It's about the choices they make in the dead of the night, when facing their darkest demons. It's about how they choose to assimilate and process the daunting diagnosis that reflects their humanity. Once the mind-numbing shock had past, Carla made a persevering decision to use cancer for her gain. Rather than allowing it to sap her of her vitality, it was her resolve to treat her illness as an opportunity to strengthen her body and mind. This is what truly revealed her blossoming resilience. Carla believes that the body can heal itself and so, armed with this attitude, she began her conquering journey.
Carla relied heavily on the support of family, friends and teams of traditional and alternative practitioners to ameliorate her body and mind during this time. As a young mother to Jake and Max, just three and six at the time, Carla had an incentive to beat her adversary that transcended self-preservation.
Carla's course of therapy included the removal of half her lung, coupled with gruelling chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A believer in all things natural and opting for a more holistic approach to her restoration of health, Carla took up yoga, tennis, swimming and boxing. Building her lung capacity and keeping mentally acute and focussed on the final outcome she sought to achieve was the intention behind her new routine. Carrot juice and barley green were added to her emerging arsenal of cancer fighting tonics. A creative at heart, her mental agility increased with the introduction of artistically positive imagery that represented her victories; even the small ones.
The ebb and flow of Carla's emotions during her treatment, at times threatened to overwhelm her with the concentration of their power. A great deal of emotional stress, fear and anxiety often left her aching and a sense of loss became her constant companion. It was during this intense physical and mental journey that Carla started “living more consciously”. She became more aware of the magnitude of the responsibility she must shoulder to realise her dream of living a long and healthy life.
And for five years Carla maintained the cancer-free status she had worked so hard to attain; she thrived physically and grew mentally, while continuing to live a healthful lifestyle. But Carla's re-diagnosis in 2006 put her back in the ring for another round with chemo. It was especially ruthless and even more painful than the previous onslaught. This time Carla lost her lustrous waist-length hair. Undeterred, she continued to search for the positive and despite deep depression and anxiety, strove to be the conscious light determining her course. And Carla was again rewarded with another protracted period where her body was healed and without any sign of cancer.
But the ominous nature that characterises cancer saw Carla again toppled from the high of her achieved milestone. The news that her cancer was back, and that it now had a stronghold because of its invasion to new areas of her body, was a harsh and frightening blow to be dealt so far into her journey. Not daunted, the potency of Carla's inner strength gave her the might to again rise to meet the next challenge in her dance with this disease and she is continuing to determinedly face and embrace the rising of each new day.
Every part of Carla's life has been impacted by her cancer and despite the many victories along the way, there have also been a great number of defeats – nothing has been spared from cancer's filthy venom. “Cancer is a lifelong battle, and on the journey you are conscious of how, without exception, it changes everything. It shapes who you are and your attitude to life.”
Though her cancer may have taken much, today Carla can look cancer squarely in the eye and admits that she has taken far more from cancer than it has from her.