A day in my life.
Gemma Hoefkens tells of her battle with cancer.
I was a school registrar in London, aged 26, when diagnosed with cancer. That was 1996. Previously, in July 1992, I had had a condition called hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. I had an operation for this and had made a good recovery.
However, as time went on I began to get some alarming symptoms. My short-
My GP in 1993 referred me to St Bartholomew’s Hospital where I had a brain scan. I was told there was nothing wrong with me, it was my imagination. I was not convinced and my symptoms were getting worse. Later that year, I asked my GP for another referral and in June 1994 and I had another brain scan at Kings College Hospital. It revealed a growth in the middle of my brain. I was assured that this did not need any treatment because it was so small – the size of the little finger.
However in January 1996 I was told at Kings College that I had a few tumours but they were benign. They were too deep to operate on and I was advised to have a brain biopsy. I was then informed that I should have radiology treatment at St Bartholomew’s. It was terrifying. I had to lay face down on a table and have a mask bolted down over my face, so that I would stay perfectly still whilst the treatment took place. At my first appointment, the treatment was about to begin when the radiologist burst through the door and shouted "stop". The treatment could not proceed. They had discovered more tumours down my spine.
I then had to be marked up on my back with a pen -
Months later the results showed the radiology had removed the tumours from my spine but this was not enough. The radiologist advised me to have chemotherapy. My trust was in their hands and I believed their treatment would save me. "Doctor knows best".
It was years later I realized that I had fitted perfectly with traditional British culture.
I returned to the hospital and along with the chemotherapy, I had huge doses of steroids, aimed at preventing any more inflammation or growth of the tumours. In four weeks I had put on four stones in weight, I did not recognize myself in the mirror. My eyesight was getting worse, I had double vision, could only see an arm’s length away and even that was all fuzzy. My eyelids did not open voluntarily. I had to hold one eyelid up to see anything. When I could walk, I needed a stick. As things got worse I was issued with a wheel chair.
In October 1996 The consultant told me the treatment was making me worse and there was nothing more he or the hospital could do for me. He asked if I would like to stay in hospital, go to a hospice, or go to my parent’s home. He wished me all the best and said "have a very good Christmas". I realized some months later that what he had said indicated his thinking was that it would be my last Christmas. In his report to my GP the consultant’s registrar wrote "I have explained the scan findings to Gemma and her mother. I have explained that chemotherapy has not helped since her disease has progressed during her treatment. I have also stressed that there are no other viable options for treating the disease but that treatment will now be directed at the symptoms".
I decided to go home to be looked after by my parents. That was my lucky turning point. I was in a really bad state – apart from being bald and very overweight. The doctors were right I was on my death bed and needed to be treated as such. I felt so desperately depressed, it was so unfair, I didn’t want to die. I would wake up in the middle of the night with agonizing pain down my legs. I could not even get to the toilet on my own. I was not able to lift my arms to reach for a drink of water. I was just lying in bed – waiting to die. In my own words, I felt like a vegetable.
At this time, my sister-
I was a genuine sceptic of alternative medicine and anyway, I had cancer, not just a rash. How could plants and flowers help me? But I did not have anywhere else to turn, so I decided to "give it a go".
The homoeopath, Janice Butcher, came to my parents’ house, as I was unable to visit
her. She was very pleasant and kind, asked me lots of questions and gave me some
very small white pills. Within a day or two some more bottles arrived which she described
as organ remedies and one of those was a blood remedy. Miraculously, shortly afterwards,
Gradually I weaned myself off the steroids, so my weight could begin to reduce. My energy improved and I found I was able to move around more easily. I began to feel like a human being again. After the blood test Janice had put me on a detailed program. Personal counselling, meditation, relaxation, anger management were all part of the therapy. A detoxification plan was arranged. I had remedies to detoxify the effects of the many medications and the effects of the radiation. Diet and nutritional rebuilding were part of the program. Exercise, moderate at first, new interests and positive thinking were part of the homoeopathic treatment. I received fatty acid liquescence to provide a brain food and a blood tonic. Later I came to know it as omega 3 and 6. I remember the words "you must not waste your energy on being angry" and other such expressions from Janice.
In early 1997, one year after I had been sent home to die, I returned to London and moved back into the shared house I used to live in before my illness. I would still be extremely tired but I was independent again and that felt great. I did not go back to work as I continued with my recovery. In June 1998 I telephoned St Bartholomew’s Hospital to make an appointment. They remembered me and could not believe it – "You sound so well". They thought I would be "pushing up the daises" by then.
At the appointment I saw the same consultant. He did a few tests and said that I had made a "remarkable recovery". He offered me a scan but I did not want one. I knew what it felt like to have a tumour and I did not want to put myself through all the tests again. I told him about my homeopathic treatment and that I attributed the recovery to that. He walked across the room as if gathering his thoughts, then gave his opinion. He said my recovery was probably due to a delayed reaction to the chemotherapy.
On my way out, and of course walking without a stick now, I saw all the other cancer patients waiting to see the consultant. I wanted to stand on the coffee table and shout out to all of them – "You don’t have to do this, there are other treatments". But my eighteen months of homeopathic training paid off "take it easy" so I controlled my anger and said nothing. It was just the very direct dismissal of my opinions that had raised my ire. Later when I read his letter to my GP I felt a bit better, it read "this young lady has made a remarkable recovery, a few ocular motor movements are her only abnormality. Gemma attributes her recovery to homeopathy and whether it is due to that or a delay in her 1996 chemotherapy remains a mystery. Nevertheless I am delighted to see her in such good health." He was less sure in his written word.
I continued to make progress. I went travelling to the Middle East, to fulfil some
of my life dreams that I’d contemplated when I was so ill and thought I’d never get
to do. I visited the Pyramids in Egypt, on to Israel and other countries. Snorkelling
in the Red Sea is one of my best memories. I sent several cards from different places
to my consultant-
Do not get me wrong, I know homoeopathy or nutrition cannot cure everyone, in fact
I am convinced it will not. However, I am equally convinced it will help many people.
For those, a minority who have the information (who have the vision and the money),
they can go for private treatment, it is readily available. But the majority of patients
with cancer and other chronic diseases suffer needlessly and many die at an early
age. Having got a second chance at life, I feel duty bound, even passionate, to let
others know that there are other choices. What I would love to see today is an integrated
health service where complementary medicine and conventional medicine work hand-
(Written Feb 2012)
Gemma Hoefkens works as a complementary health practitioner and can be contacted by Tel: 0121 311 2824 or email