In 2001 I created The Vanilla.COMpany, a web-based, socially- conscious business located at www.vanilla.com, My dream was to make a difference for tropical farmers – the majority of whom are women – to create better conditions and opportunities for them and their families. Two years later I was diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer in my liver and told to put my affairs in order. I had no idea at that moment that farmers, their families and their communities would permanently change – perhaps even save – my life.
At the time, I was assisting vanilla farmers however I could, to negotiate an international crisis. Most of the growers were in remote regions in Africa, Asia, Papua New Guinea and Central America, often traveling hours to Internet cafes in search of assistance.
The vanilla industry is small and opaque; until I launched my site, there was nowhere for farmers to turn for information or help. As there was a severe shortage of vanilla and prices were sky-high, I could not afford to buy their vanilla. Instead, I helped them sell their vanilla to big traders, and advised young growers on how to help their communities. Frequently all I could provide was hope.
Now I was suddenly fighting for my life, possibly to die within a year. I was in shock, but somewhere deep inside I felt that I didn't have time for cancer; there was too much to do for tropical farmers also desperate to survive. Via e-mail I contacted the farmers, telling them of my diagnosis and assuring them I would continue to help as long as I could.
Immediately e-mail poured in from around the world, notes and letters filled with love, concern and prayer. In churches, mosques and Hindu temples, entire communities prayed for my life. I was stunned by the overwhelming outpouring of care from people who had never met me, men and women old and young whose lives were marginal at best, selflessly praying for my life.
The love and prayer I received from around the world was – and continues to be – a miracle. Three years ago I qualified for liver resection surgery, rarely possible with breast cancer. I am currently in remission. It has been seven years since my diagnosis, yet farmers continue to pray for me!
This year I will launch a non-profit and foundation for vanilla farmers, providing them with a voice and opportunity. They are my miracle.My Story: Miracles