On September 30 last year an oncologist, one of five Jon Olphert had seen, delivered the verdict that he had days, at best weeks, to live.

A fortnight ago he crossed the Rotorua marathon's finish line in 6 hours 1 minute.

Friends and colleagues aren't calling him the 'comeback kid' for nothing, since his 'death by cancer' was decreed inevitable, Jon's recovery's taken on Lazarus-like quality.

When his imminent death sentence was delivered a stomach tumour had ravaged his body for five months, his reactions to chemo and radio therapies were too hideous for treatment to continue, yet by early December he was outpacing his daughter on long Redwood Forest walks.


For his remarkable turnaround Jon gives the bulk of the credit to Fay, his wife of 36 years.

A woman not to be trifled with at the best of times, it was the formidable Fay who refused to accept her husband's life span was teetering on the brink of termination.

From the outset she, and this is her word, 'hounded' the medical professionals, never taking 'no' for an answer. If they were too busy to see her man she demanded they make time, if an operation couldn't be fitted into already-full surgical lists, she insisted a space be found. Invariably it was.

From the day a scan confirmed what had been diagnosed twice as reflux was in reality a malignant carcinoma, she rebuffed claims Jon's condition was incurable, turning to Dr Google, clicking on every alternative treatment the search engine threw up.

The result's been a gruelling diet of kefir, a fermented Middle Eastern milk drink, bolstered by berries and powders, kale, barley grass and other ingredients so rare she's imported them from far and wide.

The resulting potion tastes so disgusting Jon calls it "Fay's muck". Then there are the assorted seeds, powders and selenium drops she's fed him morning, noon and night. At one stage he was ingesting 60 apricot kernels a day, the recommended level's 20, together with 10,000 units of vitamin C.

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"I accept there are a lot of people who say it's a lot of whacky rot, I can understand their reluctance to give it a go but we've proved the importance of alternative medicines can't be over-emphasised," is the dictum of this convert to the 'go natural' school of thought.

Fay's dietary regime apart, a major fillip in the quest for a stay of Jon's execution came the day a surgeon Fay talked her way into seeing gave them renewed hope.

By then Jon had had enough, he didn't want a bar of another medical opinion. "I said 'what's the point?' but our son, Michael, said 'mum's gone to a lot of trouble to get him to see you so I said okay'. He's eternally thankful he did, the surgeon scorned the "go home and die" diagnosis.

"He said he [the oncologist] isn't God, he's taken away your hope."

With Fay's encouragement Jon's hope returned. Within weeks Hospice nurses caring for him packed up their specialist equipment, departing the Olpherts' home for others whose needs were greater.

When Jon had been at his lowest ebb London-based daughter, Jane, made a surprise visit home. She'd only been back in the UK days when the summons came to return.

Her brother emphasised time was of the essence, her celebrant father's dying wish was to officiate at her marriage to South African partner Graydon Pieterse.

Packing a hastily-bought wedding dress along with two black funeral outfits, she wrote her father's eulogy on the plane.

Three days after the couple's arrival Jon married them on Pukehina beach. He was so ill others supported him as they made their vows, his feet so swollen his shoes wouldn't fit.

Within a week of the wedding his stomach became hideously distended, he struggled to get out of bed. Fay insisted it be drained, doctors resisted but caved in to her determination, removing 14 half litres of fluid; subsequently another two were taken from a lung.

With the healing process kick-started the Olpherts had a future to plan.

Jane's original intention was to marry in Koh Samui, Thailand, this year; the venue reservation hasn't gone to waste.

In July the Olpherts, Graydon's parents, who couldn't make it from Durban in time to their son's "quickie" New Zealand wedding, and a handful of close friends will gather to witness a monk bless the couple's union, then Fay and Jon are off on an extensive cruise.

All this in less than a year and there's more on the good news front.

Having accepted his legal career was over Jon reluctantly sold his practice, he's now so well he's working several hours a day as a consultant to the new owners.

One thing about his illness that's annoyed him most is the lack of support offered to those euphemistically told 'to get your affairs in order'.

"I would like to have had someone to talk to, Hospice is fabulous, family and friends are fantastic but there's no independent support mechanism there when it's most needed."

Does he consider himself cured? "The medical diagnosis is I'm in remission, I certainly feel cured, I believe I've many years in front of me yet."


Born: Wellington, 1947
Education: Kelburn Primary, Scots College, Wanganui Collegiate, Victoria University
Family: Wife Fay, son Michael, daughter Jane, one granddaughter
Interests: Family, gardening, golf, walking, tramping, reading "Robert Ludlum and historical books", people, Rotary (ill-health forced resignation)
Earlier life: Cook Strait ferry steward, Contiki tour driver/courier through Europe, Russia and Scandinavia, London department store lift driver - "ladies' lingerie first floor".
On the marathon: "I'm glad I've knocked the bastard off."
On cancer: "It can be beaten if you believe in yourself, prayer and the power of positive thinking, boosted by natural treatments."
Personal Philosophy: "Do unto others as you'd have them do to you, we live in a very selfish world."