What would YOU do if you suffered from a fear or phobia? At age 50, inspirational local Janice Downes decided to face her fear of sharks by diving with these giants of the deep. Now, at age 74, Janice has lived a rich and full life, providing many years of service to others. Her story serves to remind us that life is what we make it … through hardship, happiness, gratitude and giving.
What prompted your move to Port Macquarie?
My husband, David, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, so we moved to Port Macquarie in 1996, as we wanted a beautiful place to retire to and live in before he passed away. We moved from Auburn in Sydney.
When my husband was diagnosed, he was given 3 months to live. I told him I’d be his nursing sister and reflexologist, so he’d have no pain and he’d die with dignity.
David was 10 years younger than me, and we had 28 years of the most perfect marriage. Rather than chemotherapy, radiation therapy or cortisone treatment, he decided he wanted a trip around the world. So, I went to the bank and borrowed $20,000 – which I paid back in 18 months – and we took our first trip around the world in 1994.
In fact; we went travelling three times in seven years, to places such as America, Canada, Alaska, England, Switzerland and Nepal. We skied, played tennis and went on elephant safaris …
David passed away in 1999.
What’s your career background?
I am a nursing sister, but I’ve been a reflexologist for 30 years. I trained as a reflexologist, as I’d had many fights with lots of doctors. I saw some doctors treating patients without really listening to them and prescribing medication such as Valium and Mogadon, without understanding what the problem really was.
I heard about reflexology, and I went to TAFE to study the field. I started treating people with headaches, kidney stones and back pain – and they found relief without drugs.
What exactly is reflexology?
Like acupuncture – but without needles – reflexology stimulates the circulation and causes impurities and toxins to go to the kidneys, where they are then flushed away.
Another string to your bow is your love of poetry. Where did this begin?
From my school years, when my teacher recited The Man from Snowy River … you know, when you’re upset and you have a lot of troubles, if you write it down – the troubles are gone.
When I was about to take my husband on our first trip, I woke up at 2am, and all of these words were in my head. I sat up and wrote them out by the light of a torch, and the next morning I read them back. I called this poem Decisions:
Can I afford to take this trip; can I afford to not?
Can’t see around the corners – how much time I’ve got.
I think I’ll jump and take the plunge – do it here and now.
Priorities in life are right; we’ll pay it back somehow.
Too many old folk say, “I wish I’d gone before”,
Now I’ve got the ways and means, but my health is here no more.
You realise that you get one chance, and there’s so much more to see;
And if you weren’t supposed to roam, you’d have roots down, like a tree!
So let your inhibitions go; you must enjoy your life.
Stay cool and calm, don’t boil or fuse; stay away from strife.
Live and love, learn from man, don’t judge and do take care;
Birds of a feather you will find – and you’ll find them EVERYWHERE!
That’s wonderful – like your life’s philosophy. How has your poetry helped others overcome life’s hurdles?
When I go to visit some of my patients, many of them haven’t been able to get out and see a show for months. My poetry can make them laugh, and that’s just amazing.
I sent my poetry into a competition, and I was asked to present it in Washington DC. When I came back to Australia, I decide to write a book. Publishers didn’t seem to be interested in publishing poetry – so I decided to self publish!
I have six books of poetry now, including a book I produced with a lady suffering from Parkinson’s Disease called A Sprinkle of Magic. I’ve also produced a book on reflexology called Take One Step at a Time that wasn’t self published.
When my husband died, it was a very difficult time for me. I really wanted to go with him, but I had my family and my patients to think about.
I started to do volunteer work, trained with Lifeline and became a suicide counsellor.
I went to the 2WAYFM radio station and asked if they could show me how to use a microphone to present my poetry, and they advised me to complete the radio presenter’s course.
In 2002 I did my first radio program, reading 90 minutes of poetry – and the radio station received so many letters and phone calls, I’ve been doing it ever since every Thursday morning. I actually had a man tell me I nearly killed him once, as he was driving along while listening to my program – and he laughed so hard he nearly ran off the road!
I began to visit nursing homes once a month to read an hour’s poetry, and I visit the schools as well. I like to get the children to dress up and act out the roles: I feel that if children are busy being creative, there’s less chance of them becoming involved with drugs and alcohol.
Do you read other people’s poetry for your radio program as well?
Yes. If I need to read a poem about a bushranger, a drover or a shearer, I often walk around town until I hear a really nice male voice, then I approach the man and ask him if he’d mind coming home with me for a couple of hours! I get him to record the poetry reading and put some music and sound effects behind the poem, and then I present it on air.
What are some of the other things you like to do with your ‘spare time’?
I help with St Thomas’ soup kitchen on Wednesdays, and I volunteer at Players Theatre in the wardrobe section and costume hire shop. I was recently awarded a Hastings Heroine’s certificate for volunteer work, which was wonderful.
I’ve also helped people with their own poetry by recording and creating a CD for them at a minimal cost (it costs me $10 to produce a CD copy).
At the age of 50, I decided to face my terror of sharks. I did a course on scuba diving at Forster – and they dropped me in with 15 sharks (Grey Nurse, Port Jackson, Reef Sharks and Wobbegongs). I used an hour’s worth of air within 15 minutes!
I eventually got over my fear. I haven’t been diving for a few months, as I’ve had a back injury.
What’s your life motto?
I’m too blessed to be stressed. I’m a Christian, and everything I do, including my reflexology, I do with God. I’m very lucky, and I enjoy every minute of my life.
Where can people contact you if they’re interested in reflexology, your poetry or your radio program?
My mobile is: 0408 299 205
email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 77 of Port Macquarie Focus