“Like many of us, my childhood was dysfunctional to say the least. It was messy and emotional but looking back it certainly set me up with the ability to provide for myself in my older years. I didn’t care much for school at the time. Just like so many other kids that come from dysfunctional homes, school was a place where I could be a bit of a class clown & get some sort of acceptance from my peers. Except for hospitality, were I had an amazing teacher who could see through my BS happy go lucky attitude & really pushed me to excel rather than punish me for acting out.
Cooking was my first real outlet that made me feel like I was capable & self-sufficient. It was a place I felt I belonged, so I dropped out of school but kept up with that. Fast forward just a few more years, I had become a fully qualified chef, travelled up & down the east coast of Australia in my van, lived that gypsy lifestyle away from all my demons back home. It was a great life for a while, but it didn’t last forever. Long hours of standing all day followed by big nights of drinking all night resulted in my body reaching breaking point.
I had developed Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD or OD) is a joint disorder in which cracks form in the articular cartilage and the underlying bone. Mine being in my knees which would swell up & buckle under my weight. It was time to head home, have some surgery & choose a new career.
I soon found that fitness not only helped my condition but also excited me, so I became a personal trainer. I loved my new job & things were going well. I had put nearly 4 years of hard work into my business which had become a great success, however one day that all came to a halt.
I was riding my motorbike home from work when suddenly a car cut me off causing a nasty collision, it was a miracle that I survived. I ended up with serious damage to my right foot, ribs, a deflated lung & a broken lower middle & upper spine, including a very fragile area of the neck known as the odontoid peg. Ultimately, my injuries required a spinal fusion, foot surgery & lots of time plugged in on the hospital bed.
My whole life had changed in an instant. I went from what I considered a successful young man to a shell of my former self. Recovery was painstakingly slow & frustrating with many emotional hurdles along the way. It felt extremely emasculating for me.
Once I was finally able to start working & things were just starting to feel like the new normal again, my voice became raspy. So much so that I could barely talk at all. Not very appropriate for a fitness instructor. Eventually I got it checked at a specialist. They noticed some bumps so after a biopsy & a few day of waiting, they called me in to tell me “I’m sorry, mate, you’ve got laryngeal cancer.”
This news felt like life was throwing me all the punches at once. I buckled in for another long & challenging ride of recovery, finding a weird balance of following doctor’s orders, getting major surgery, radiotherapy. & engaging with as many other alternative remedies to help heal my body. Recently, 1 year after my initial diagnosis I was given “all clear”, but I’ve heard that before. So, although everyone is happy I’m still anxious that it’ll come back. The next step is to cut my whole voice box out, a ‘tracheostomy’, which has been my greatest fear over this past year.
This journey has made me believe in my own capacity to not only go with the flow (even when its uncomfortable), abut also overcome whatever life throws my way.
My voice is still crackly but thankfully I’m almost finished my studies in remedial massage so I’m going to end up on the other side of all this with a new more suitable career. As I just keep taking baby steps forward, acknowledging my past without allowing it to weigh me down, I’ll be okay. I still have a long, road of recovery ahead both physically & mentally, but I feel like I’m on the right path, I’m alive, & I’ve got a lease on life like no other.” – Jake O’Brien
If you’d like to follow Jake’s journey, feel free to connect with him on Instagram at www.Instagram.com/jakeobrien