Dawn’s Story

“At age 44 I was diagnosed with stage 3b bowel cancer.
Without chemo my oncologist gave me 10% chance of survival. With chemo, a 30% chance.

I had no prior symptoms and no family history but following three days of debilitating pain and four hospital visits, a CT scan found my fist size tumour and I had 15 minutes notice of my emergency surgery to remove three feet of my colon and 32 lymph nodes. I woke with a colostomy bag and after a week in Rotorua hospital, I was air ambulanced back to Christchurch hospital for another week before I was released. Chemo started three weeks later.
In my journey through the challenges of bowel cancer, I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for life’s precious moments. Three years ago, the diagnosis could have defined me, but instead, it ignited a fire within me to live life to its fullest. My wonderful surgeon, Dr Frank Frizzell and his team have backed me as a survivor from the start! He told me to go live the hell out of life. So I am.

As a chef, I’ve always found joy in creating culinary delights that bring people together. Despite the hurdles of my health journey, I continue to infuse passion and flavour, sharing my love for food and spreading positivity one meal at a time. My role as Head of Food Development for 20 cafes in the Coffee Culture franchise keeps me busy but basically, I’m paid to eat cake!

Beyond the kitchen, my heart finds solace and purpose in caring for animals at my 32-acre foster farm. Each day, I’m reminded of the healing power of compassion as I provide a loving sanctuary for rescued animals, advocating for their welfare and happiness.

I stay active and eat well. Especially concentrating on great gut health.

I bike and hike but my latest obsession is pickleball. (Like little tennis)

Recently, I had the honour of winning a bronze medal in the women’s doubles A grade pickleball tournament in Canterbury. A testament that you can be resilience and have determination to thrive despite adversity. Following on from that win, I’m playing in another tournament in Auckland at the moment . I never thought this would be possible just a couple of years ago as I battled through treatment and numerous surgeries and procedures.

Through my journey, I’ve come to realize that every challenge is an opportunity for growth and every setback is a chance to rise stronger. I am Dawn Ballagh, not just a survivor, but a living testament to the power of resilience, the beauty of life beyond adversity, and the limitless possibilities that await when we choose to embrace each moment with gratitude and courage.

You can do this.

Feel free to follow my journey on instagram @travellin_gourmet. “