Real Life

X Factor's Johnny Ruffo talks about his brain cancer journey

'If she never took me to hospital, I would've died in my sleep.'

By Brittany Smith

Former Dancing With the Stars and X Factor contestant Johnny Ruffo burst onto our screens seven years ago and went on to launch a pop career and appear in Home and Away.

Life was good for the WA heartthrob until one day last year when his life changed forever.

Here, Johnny, 30, tells us about facing his biggest battle…

A stabbing pain shot through my skull, pounding and pulsing with every breath I took.

Sinking into the couch, I rubbed my temples and closed my eyes.

"This headache has gotten so much worse," I groaned to my girlfriend of three years, Tahnee, 23.

"Just take it easy," she pleaded.

I'd been suffering headaches on and off for a few weeks but this one was a shocker.

It was more like a migraine than a simple headache and meds weren't helping at all.

The pain was a bloody nuisance but I knew I had to push past it.

Headaches were just one of those annoying facts of life.

A few hours later, Tahnee was cooking dinner and I heard her call out to me from the kitchen but when I went to reply, a jumble of words poured out my mouth.

None of it made sense, my tongue and lips wouldn't move the right way.

My girlfriend Tahnee has been a pillar of strength.
My girlfriend Tahnee has been a pillar of strength.

When Tahnee heard my jibberish she ran into the lounge room, her eyes wide with shock.

"Get in the car," she ordered. "I'm taking you to the hospital."

The trip was a painful blur while I sat cradling my head.

It felt like my head was on fire.

Docs put me on an IV drip but it did nothing.

Within minutes, I was vomiting and then everything went black.

When I groggily blinked open my eyes I was in a hospital bed and a nurse was next to me.

"You've had a major operation," he explained gently. "We found a seven-centimetre tumour in your right frontal lobe."

My mouth dropped open.

Want to learn more about Johnny's incredible story? Click HERE!

Johnny got his start on the X Factor Australia.
Johnny got his start on the X Factor Australia.

A seven- centimetre tumour in my brain? That was the size of my fist!

"Holy hell," I muttered.

I was so drowsy from the anaesthetic I couldn't help but laugh as the nurse explained that the tumour was malignant stage three oligodendroglioma.

Everything was so hazy, I didn't know what to do.

It was 3am but I rang Tahnee.

She answered right away.

"Oh my god," she exclaimed. "You're awake!"

It was Tuesday, two days after Tahnee had rushed me to hospital.

I'd slipped into a coma while docs ran tests then performed the emergency op. As soon as she was next to me, I felt better.

In bed recovering after my brain tumour operation.
In bed recovering after my brain tumour operation.

Because my family lived in Perth, she'd had to sign the forms giving docs permission to operate.

"There was a 10 per cent chance the surgery would kill you," she choked, wiping away tears.

My stomach sank. She'd been under so much pressure but she'd made the right decision.

The surgery was risky but without it I would've died.

That morning, I was given more shocking news.

The tumour had been growing in my brain from anywhere between two to 10 years.

If Tahnee hadn't taken me to hospital on Sunday afternoon, I would've gone to sleep that night, suffered a brain aneurysm and never woken up.

It was hard to digest but I still had a big battle on my hands.

There was a chance the surgery could have killed me.
There was a chance the surgery could have killed me.

Docs had managed to remove 95 per cent of the tumour but to kill the rest I had to undergo six weeks of daily radiation, then 12 months of chemotherapy.

Since cancer didn't wait for anyone, I wouldn't even get a break over Christmas.

It was a long process but I was willing to do anything to get better.

And with Tahnee by my side, I knew I'd be okay.

Treatment was draining, not just physically but mentally as well.

Nausea racked my body and even when I wasn't in hospital I was exhausted.

I had chemo over five days followed by 23 days of recovery so, when December came, I was able to travel to Byron Bay with Tahnee and spend the Chrissy holidays with her family.

I couldn't believe how much my life had changed so quickly.

For three years, I'd had a ball performing for Australia in Carols in the Domain in Sydney and just two years earlier, I'd even released a cover of one of my favourite festive songs White Christmas. I couldn't do any of that now.

But I had a blast staying with Tahnee's family, reliving the magic of Santa Claus and Rudolph with three of her nieces.

When they got Santa photos taken, I jumped in with them, grinning giddily.

Santa photos with my nieces took my mind of chemotherapy.
Santa photos with my nieces took my mind of chemotherapy.

"I'm the biggest kid," I joked as Santa chuckled.

With the lights sparkling on the tree and the lounge room floor covered in brightly-wrapped presents, I nearly forgot all about my cancer.

"Merry Christmas!" Tahnee beamed, as we watched the kids tear into their deliveries from Santa.

The holidays were just the ticket to help take my mind off chemo.

I never worried about dying – that was pointless.

I didn't have any control over what would happen but the unknown scared me.

I tried to push it to the back of my mind but sometimes it was hard to avoid those thoughts.

Being surrounded by so much joy helped erase any fear I felt.

Finally, in October, I finished all my rounds of chemo and was officially in remission.

I'm still having MRI scans done every three months to check the cancer hasn't returned but I'm positive about the future.

I want to help raise awareness about this horrible disease.
I want to help raise awareness about this horrible disease.

I've since teamed up with Cure Brain Cancer Foundation as an ambassador for the National Walk4BrainCancer.

Survival rates for this type of illness are low and they've barely improved in the past 30 years.

I want to help raise awareness to make sure this horrible disease stops killing people.

This Christmas, Tahnee and I are visiting her family then heading over to Perth to spend time with mine.

Throughout this whole battle, Tahnee's been my angel.

Without her insisting I go to hospital that day, I could've gone to sleep and never woken up.

Now I am enjoying the holidays with my family and I feel better than ever.I've been given a Christmas miracle and I'll never take that for granted.

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