Vanessa Tetlow: the person, the body, the aspirations

Cancer patients often find themselves assessing and prioritising goals and aspirations after a diagnosis.

The experience of cancer can cause patients to re-evaluate their professional lives, their family life, their goals and their passions. Vanessa Tetlow is no exception. A resident of Midrand, Gauteng, Vanessa always had a passion for success, but never really had the time to invest in the ownership and the upkeep of her wellbeing.

A very traumatic childhood of severe emotional and physical abuse, a disastrous marriage, very traumatic birth to her first-born and being raped at age 42, include the challenges that Vanessa had to face through her life up to now.

“After my divorce I had a burning desire to serve humanity in any way I could and I started doing aromatherapy massage, which led to what I do today. I thought I had broken the life-death pattern and was well on my way to fulfilling my mission on this planet,” said Vanessa.

At the age of 60 in August 2014, Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer – she weighed 168kg.

“I thought I had been through everything and succeeded, and my life was now going to calm down and settle a bit… Little did I realise just how much of a profound physical effect the trauma from the rape had had on me. I saw I was slowly gaining weight, but chose not to address it. It seemed a small price to pay for what I had gone through.”

Vanessa points out that her unexpected breast cancer diagnoses has driven her forward from many life-threatening experiences.

“The diagnosis shook me to the core and for the first time I faltered in my belief that I wasn’t going to die and it made me look at my mortality. It made me question all my beliefs, what I stood for, what I thought I had achieved and finally I took a long close look at what I had done to my body.”

One breast cancer diagnosis, a lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy and double mastectomy later, this shamanic mentor now has her heart set on reaching the highest mountain on the planet, Mount Everest Base Camp, in April of this year.

“This is more than just the whim of a breast cancer survivor needing to change the world,” said Vanessa. “This challenge is the pinnacle of my life and defines my complete philosophy of ‘this is not going to kill me, I will not die from this’.”

Shifting Priorities

After the operation Vanessa did some research. “I discovered that cancer survives in and loves an acidic environment. I changed my whole way of moving in my world. I revolutionised my eating habits completely, cutting out all acidic foods, everything except raw vegetables, fruit, fish, goat’s cheese, eggs and bit of yoghurt. I drink 2-3L of water every day.”

In February 2015, Vanessa joined Run/Walk for Life, where her first 250-meter lap took her six minutes to complete. “There were a bunch of people present, standing in awe and staring at me with disbelief,” she explained.

At the end of Vanessa’s first month at Run/Walk for Life, she was able to do six laps in 12 minutes.

Due to her surgeries, Vanessa was out of action for three months – quite the setback for her Everest mission. She did, however, commence her activity at Run/Walk for Life in July.

In August, Vanessa had lost 35kg since her first operation on 21 October 2014. She was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for her outstanding achievement in the face of huge obstacles.

In September this determined woman took part in her first 5km race, the Spar Women’s Challenge.

“Unfortunately, I hurt my Achilles tendon and faced another setback as I was forced to exercise in the pool for a month. After simply eight months of effective exercising, I’ve become much fitter. I am very strict with what I eat.”

The shift in focus that Vanessa experienced in the wake of the cancer diagnosis has extended beyond her shamanic healing and into her day-to-day priorities, which now revolve around enjoying life, spending time outdoors and fully appreciating time with family and friends.

“I’m finally at a place of complete upliftment, empowerment, a deep place of self-knowing and self-worth and finally, inner peace.”

According to Vanessa her motto has stood her in good stead right through her life, through all the traumas, to finally arrive today at the most amazing and life-defining successes.

“I feel amazing, alive and driven to meet my immediate, medium and long-term goals. I want to offer this experience to other women going through what I have experienced. I want them to feel the immense sense of meaning, purpose, achievement, upliftment and inner peace one achieves when one challenges oneself to do the seemingly impossible, even life-threatening, and come out on top. I am on track at the moment with my goals and will carry on in this way until we reach Base Camp.”

Vanessa was initially aiming to reach her goal weight – under 100kg – for her Mount Everest expedition. “Due to unforeseen circumstances limiting my training I won’t get to under 100kg for Everest, however, I’m changing by the day gaining muscle mass. I’ve simply shifted my focus.”

Vanessa has lost 40kg to date. She is expected to have breast reconstruction surgery when she returns from a successful mission.

Her message to other women diagnosed with breast cancer is:

Take advice from your medical team, but go with your gut. It’s a long journey, take it one day at a time. If you have the right mind set about anything, including cancer, you have won 50% of the battle!


Written by Elsje Smit.