Author: Jo St.L.

Beyond Her Footsteps

Beyond Her Footsteps

This is Melissa.

She changed my life.

In my book I wrote a chapter about how she did this – how she recovered from a devastating cancer, and set about teaching some of the lifestyle changes that she believes are responsible for her continued good health. Melissa radiates health, and a wonderful, peaceful energy that envelops all of us lucky enough to know her. If you would like to read the chapter, click this link to Melissa’s website . 

Melissa is my yoga teacher. For several years I was content to follow where she led, in the hope and belief that if I did this, I too could have that glowing health and a profound sense of wellbeing.

At the beginning of this year I decided that this was going to be the year I achieved a Radical Remission. I read everything I could find on the subject. Once dismissed by the medical profession as inexplicable, these remissions are now being studied, and evidence is accumulating to support the idea that how we choose to live can not only help prevent illness, but can help us halt, or even reverse, life-threatening illness. In very extreme cases, lifestyle changes can bring a person back from the brink of death.

What became increasingly clear from my reading was that the path is different for everyone. So I no longer follow slavishly in Melissa’s footsteps hoping for a miracle to manifest. I am now carving out my own path. Her yoga classes are a part of my path, and I am working on also developing a consistent home practice. That’s a hard one, because consistency is not one of my strengths.

What Melissa did, I now realise, is find the path that was right for her. She had guidance, but her path is her own. My path is also my own. Yoga, writing, learning to deal with difficulties instead of doing my ostrich impersonation – all these things are a part of a path that will eventually be uniquely mine.

I haven’t yet achieved my Radical Remission. I absolutely believe that cancer entered my life in order to teach me a lesson. It has taught me many things, but clearly I have more to discover. My belief is that when I have learned all her lessons, cancer will leave. It won’t be dramatic. She will quietly slip out the back door, and after a while I will slowly start to notice her absence.

Following in Melissa’s footsteps began a process of conscious living, listening to my inner wisdom, and being kind to myself when I stumble. That last one is a first for me.

As I said, Melissa changed my life.





Two days ago the Royal Hobart Hospital called me in to say they’d arranged an emergency admission for me. Apparently I had a potentially life-threatening infection. Within 24 hours ‘potentially life-threatening’ was downgraded to ‘mild’, but clearly the Universe was at work for me.

Friday turned out to be Canteen’s Bandanna Day. As the team came through the oncology ward distributing bandannas, I said,  just on the off- chance, that I’d been thinking of contacting them, as I’d written a book about living with cancer that apparently resonated with young people.

And here’s the serendipitous thing: unknown to me, the woman I was speaking to was Sandi Doherty, Canteen’s State Manager. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘That’s such a great coincidence. We’re in the process of setting up a Canteen library.

How awesome, if my book should be included in that library!

Another Beautiful Review

Another Beautiful Review

Book Review of The Light in the Darkness: Musings on Living with Cancer

An 11-year itch was all it took to permanently alter Jo St. Leon’s life. After years of being dismissed as a hypochondriac, she was forced to change doctors in order to finally find someone who would listen. Her questions revealed a devastating truth: She had a hard-to-diagnose, rare blood cancer and a life expectancy of only four years.

Armed with answers, she strove to find peace with her diagnosis while struggling with the depression, anxiety, and alienation that accompanied it. She examined her plight, imprisoned in a state of mental solitude, until she discovered the therapeutic benefits of writing down her experiences and emotions. Sharing this uncensored expression of her true self with the world empowered her to see the love and acceptance of her friends, a revelation that changed her entire perspective.

With a newly bestowed sense of inner peace, Jo St. Leon continued writing. In this book, she shares her wisdom from lessons learned, her advice in moving forward, and her endless encouragement to eschew self-hatred and blame and to embrace life, love, and joy. Her journey is one of both devastation and resilience, of finding a Light in the Darkness.
Jo St. Leon looks back on her journey with an uplifting spirit of positivity, highlighting the moments in which her heart was buoyed by the kindness and warmth of others. This book is like an evening stroll through the neighborhood of her life, where she pauses to introduce doctors and friends she’s known for years, those critical individuals who eagerly step forward to share their knowledge and experiences through yoga, magnetic healing, or a listening ear.

The Light in the Darkness is a touching tribute to the emotional trauma shared by many and understood by few. Now, a year beyond her predicted death, a breathing medical miracle, she shares the story of her illness, her encounters, and her newfound joy in life. She offers up her insight in the hopes that others won’t feel so lonely as they navigate the pain and fear of their own diagnosis. – Review by Book Excellence (

A beautiful review

A beautiful review

So many thanks to Peter Donnelly for this beautiful review! 🙏🙏🙏

Book Launch: The Light in the Darkness: Musings on Living with Cancer by Jo St Leon
Smolt Kitchen, Hill St, West Hobart
1 November 2021

The Tasmanian community has known Jo St Leon for some 15 years as a distinguished viola player performing with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and previously as a member of the Elanee Ensemble and the Diemen Quartet. Jo has also taught at the Tasmanian Conservatorium of Music. Recently, she has been developing her skills as a writer. This book is the product of life reassessments Jo has made in the wake of recent serious illness.

A diagnosis of the rare blood cancer Sézary syndrome in 2016 altered Jo’s life forever. She used the period of her treatment and recovery to develop and refine her creative writing skills. It became a means of working through the life changes and priorities brought about from having cancer.

To her surprise, the initial essay – The Diagnosis – won a major literary prize and encouraged her to proceed with a collection of reflections on living with this condition. The occasion of the book’s launch was a happy and congenial one wittily introduced by fellow musician and violist Will Newbery. Friends, fellow musicians and cancer support folk were among the guests.

The book itself is designed to be an aid to anyone dealing with the life challenges occasioned by experiencing serious health issues. Jo’s writing is totally honest and engaging. Acknowledging her initial numbness, her fears and dark moments through to her courageous confrontation and acceptance of life’s new realities, Jo’s humour, inner strength and love of life permeate these pages. This is a wonderful read and should not be missed by anyone seeking insight into sorting out the important things in life!

Peter Donnelly

Fat, thin, fat, thin…oh bugger it…just me

Fat, thin, fat, thin…oh bugger it…just me

As The Light in the Darkness begins distribution I am, with some relief, beginning to turn my attention to other subjects. Specifically, I am starting to look at what it means to live large in a skinny world. This is a bit of a crossover piece, in that there are some cancer reflections embedded in there; it’s hard to escape.


A version of this appeared in Elephant Journal, but with all mention of my father and my family omitted. This was necessary, but I feel no such constraint here. My father is an integral part of the story, and the meaning behind it.

Jo, Jo,

Round as an O

Where does all

The porridge go?

 This cruel, taunting little rhyme was coined by my father when I was just four years old. Yes, only four! It became part of our very dysfunctional family culture. My father would trot it out whenever he found a new audience, always with the same self-satisfied, smug little smirk. And each time, I died a little. But aged four, what could I do?

What I actually did was embark on a lifetime of binge eating, yo-yo dieting, insecurity and self-hatred. His crappy, malicious little rhyme was prophetic, and I have spent a lifetime fulfilling it.

Over the years I have tried everything: Eat Fat, Grow Thin, Atkins, meal replacements, juice fasts, a breakfast diet…need I go on? I also discovered Geneen Roth, author of Breaking Free from Emotional Eating and many other books delving ever more deeply into the psychology of food and eating. I soaked all this up, but somehow embraced the freedom without ever quite reaching the breaking free point.

In Women, Food and God, Roth wrote:

“When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you.”

(from Women, Food and God, p.82)

That was me. As a teenager, I was terrified of meeting new people; I thought they wouldn’t like me because my legs were fat. My only criterion for buying clothes was that they shouldn’t show the bulges, they should hide my shape, indeed hide my Self, and somehow make me acceptable.

Impossible much?

I look at pictures of my younger self now and realise that I wasn’t actually fat at all. If only I’d known. If only someone had reassured me that I didn’t need to change to be loveable. Or even just accepted. But no-one did, so I just carried on eating and dieting, eating and dieting, trying to fulfil my father’s sh*tty little rhyme.

Imagine my joy when, upon receiving my cancer diagnosis, I was given a drug that would likely cause weight loss. One of the potential side-effects was anorexia. My much younger half-sister died of anorexia (yes, we shared the same father), so I knew this was no small thing. But it would be years, I reasoned, before I needed to worry about it. And my life expectancy was only four years, so go figure.

As I watched the kilos fall off I felt proud. Imagine! I had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, yet I was still obsessing over this profoundly unimportant transformation. I shrank from a size 20 to a size 14. Despite the fact that it was none of my own doing, that I undertook no heroic feats of self-denial, the pride persisted. What a distortion of right priorities!

Then, about six months after I was supposed to have died, this miracle drug stopped working. Over the course of a few weeks, my skin started peeling off in strips, I was the colour of a tomato, and my lips became so dry I couldn’t form my words. I worried that the weight loss might stop.

My new drug made me miraculously well, with abundant energy and glowing, smooth, healthy skin. But it also restored my appetite.

I ate as if to fill myself up before the world ran out of food. I ate to make up for five years of being unable to eat more than a few mouthfuls. I ate good food and junk food. I loved it. I hated it. I couldn’t stop.

As I watched the kilo is pile back on, I felt profound shame. Whenever I saw people I felt the need to explain the fat away. Explain that it was the drug, not me. Explain that the disapprobation I expected to feel from them was undeserved.

But of course there was no disapprobation. What people saw was a woman who looked healthier than she had for years. A woman who was carving out a new career in journalism, aged 62. A woman who was publishing her first book. What I saw was  a woman who yet again had failed life’s greatest challenge. The kilos were back. Once again, I was a fat woman.

How crazy. How ridiculous. How very, very sad.

This is where the voice of reason finally asserts itself. Maybe for the first time ever. I am living on a dying planet in a global pandemic, and I have an incurable cancer. So food is a weighty issue (pun intended)—the health of myself, my world and my planet depends upon it.

Today, I eat according to the dictates of my conscience. My food choices are informed by animal welfare, food miles, emissions and nutrition—in no particular order. This feels as if I am finally establishing some dominion over my life. Through my small contribution to the health of the planet, and my larger contribution to the health of my body, I am beginning to feel worthy. And—effortlessly—I don’t overeat.

 Geneen Roth wrote:

“You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and   fearing yourself.”

(from Women, Food and God, p.84).

So thanks Dad, but sod your f***ing stupid little rhyme. It can’t hurt me any more. I hope that wherever you are now, you are looking down and feeling some remorse for your thoughtless words.

And I hope that someone, somewhere, will read my words and put the legacy of their own unkind  little rhyme behind them, without needing to spend 62 years working it out.