I’m 35 years of age, have celebrated 8 years of marriage to an amazing man, I’ve skydived, I’ve swum in, and flown above the Great Barrier Reef, I’ve climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, I’ve been in a seaplane, I’ve walked in the Daintree rainforest, I run a successful dessert catering business, I’m a qualified pastry chef.
I was a contestant on television show Zumbo’s Just Desserts and I have recently launched a charity.
But seven years ago, it could have been so very different.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a baby.
In 1984, type 1 diabetes was a known but little-understood disease, and so my parents learnt as they went, challenged by the fact that for me, despite all best efforts, this disease was difficult to control. Two dramatic ICU visits, induced comas and my Mum and Dad being called to inform them that I ‘may not survive the night” were testament to the veracity of the disease, as was being read the Last Rites at one point.
Determination, or perhaps sheer stubbornness saw me stare death in the face and laugh, however, in 2009, a month after I was married, a new challenge emerged, one that directly shaped the person that I am today.
My body was failing me – I was succumbing to diabetes that had ruled my entire life. I was on dialysis four days a week as my kidneys failed, my vision was almost non-existent and I really had little hope of a future of any kind. The topic of possible transplantation was raised, and the process of testing to gain the best possible match began, with me being placed on the official waiting list in September 2010.
Waiting for the bus is hard. Waiting in line at the bank is hard. And waiting for that first sip of coffee on a Monday morning is seemingly excruciating, but waiting for the phone to ring to tell that your life has essentially been saved is a whole other level. When that phone call came in May of 2011, I was elated, but also very aware that someone, somewhere, was grieving the loss of a loved one, and I carried that through to the moment that I woke up from my 8 hour surgery, deciding that the legacy of my donor was going to live on in me, and I was going to do great things because of my new gift and second chance at life.
Here, seven years later, that dream has really begun to take shape. I found my passion post-transplant in desserts, which led me to becoming a contestant on “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” on Channel 7 in 2016 and training to become a pastry chef. The irony of being diabetic AND a pastry chef has never been lost on me – I actually don’t eat a lot of what I create, and I still can’t stomach drinks with sugar in them. I guess old habits die hard, and in all honesty, it would be something of a waste to go and gorge on sugar at the first opportunity post-transplant. I love nothing more than having people leave my table, satisfied and with fond memories of the last thing that they ate – their dessert.
My life post-transplant has been different, not necessarily better, but not worse either, simply facing a new set of challenges, particularly around employment. It was hard to maintain steady work, simply because my health could occasionally be unpredictable, seeing me in the hospital overnight for what another person may have found to be a “simple” cold.
It was after realising that I wasn’t alone in this situation that I launched my charity, The Sweetest Gift, where my vision was (and still is) to open a dessert restaurant that employs and trains transplant recipients and people with chronic illnesses, giving them the flexibility, understanding and opportunity that they (and I) so desperately needed, bringing a sense of normality and inclusion that we see occasionally lacking. I want this to spread everywhere and help as many people as possible. I want to create awareness about organ donation, chronic illness and the problem that we’re trying to solve – there is no organisation that does what we are doing.
It’s a long road ahead, but I feel that finding that purpose in my life was more than half of the battle. My health doesn’t define me, but it makes up a huge part of who I am, and it may sound strange, but there’s no way I would change a thing about it.
Of course, part of my dream is hearing other people’s stories – I’ve been contacted a few times through our website and Facebook page, and it always makes my heart sing. So please, if you want to ask a question, or share your story, please get in touch. I do respond personally!
We would love your support in our quest to support as many transplant recipients and people with chronic health conditions as possible. You can go to our website www.thesweetestgift.org.au. Donations over $2 are tax-deductible, and whether you can spare a little or a lot, it will be greatly appreciated and go directly to our cause. We’re also seeking corporate sponsorship. And welcome contact through our website – you could end up with a dessert in your company’s name!
To register on the Australian Organ Donor Register, please visit www.donatelife.go.au. No matter what your stance on organ donation is, I implore you to discuss your decision with your loved ones – they are the ones who get asked that difficult question at the most stressful of times, so make that decision easier by talking about your wishes with them.
The Carousel would like to thank Patricia Scheetz for this article.