Heroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they come as a human being with an exceptional will power who refuses to give up. One such extraordinary person was Dieneke Ferguson. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 57, and given just one year to live after chemotherapy failed, Dieneke went on to live till the age of 70 until September 2020 when she drew her last breath.
Born in 1950 in the Netherlands, Dieneke spent most of her life in the UK, especially in east London in the industrial city of Hackney. She studied at Birkbeck, University of London, and had a keen interest in traveling and cooking. Dieneke was the Ceo and co-founder of the non-profit organization called ‘Hidden Art’. Dieneke initially worked in a non-profit organization that helped artists and craftsmen from third world countries to present and sell their work in the international market. From this work experience, she realized that there was a dire need to help local artists and craftspeople to equip them with skills to share their talent and market their products in the local, national as well as in the international market.
So in September 1993, Dieneke, along with David Dewing, the then director of Hackney’s Museum of the Home, set up Hidden Art as a group of 14 designers to collaborate on studio shows – providing hand-drawn maps to aid people to navigate around east London. Originally called The Hackney Contemporaries, the award-winning non-profit organization ‘Hidden Art’, aimed at supporting local design in Hackney. The organization introduced the talent and hard work of British craftsmen to the international market. ‘Transforming passion into products’ was the simple motto of the organization. Hidden Art helped in developing the careers of around 3000 British artists and craftsmen for nearly 35 years.
Fundraising was a skill Dieneke mastered throughout her entrepreneurship career. ‘She had great ability in marketing and communications, and in business development,’ remembers David Dewing, ‘She was adept at making complex funding applications for government and EU grants. She was at the forefront in exploiting computers and the internet, developing her website so that marketing and sales were online when all of this was still in its infancy’ (source – Crafts Council). Deineke was married to Manuel Ruiz-Adame, who was her business partner and a close friend for 45 years. They were later divorced but he remained a very close friend and support system till the end. Even though Hidden Art lost its funding in 2011, Dieneke still kept the website going as a portal to the Hackney design along with a dedicated online shop till her death.
Dieneke was a successful entrepreneur and had a positive impact on the lives of a lot of British artists. But the real reason this charismatic woman won the hearts of millions is because of her inspirational battle against cancer. Dieneke was diagnosed with MGUS (Monoclonal Gammopathy of undetermined significance) and by May 2008, at the age of 57, it had adversely developed into multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow. Within 15 months of her diagnosis, her cancer had progressed to stage three which indicated that the disease had started to spread. She had undergone rounds of chemotherapy without any success. She even had four failed attempts in stem cell harvesting for a stem cell transplant. At the end, when all the conventional methods of treatment failed, Dieneke was given just a year to live. But the strong will power that she had, she refused to bow down to the fatal disease and started an experimental treatment on her own. She came to know through Margaret’s Corner blog that curcumin could potentially not only reduce but keep her cancer at bay and so she started taking high doses of curcumin.
Eight years down the line her cancer had stabilized and due to this miraculous result her case was recorded in the British Medical Journal and was published in April 2017 – “Long Term Stabilisation of Myeloma with Curcumin”. Dieneke said that her treatment was self-funded and that a lot of it was helped through renting her home on Airbnb. Dieneke being an early consumer and adopter of Airbnb and due to her inspirational story, was elected by Airbnb in 2016 to be a part of the Olympic Torch relay in Brazil. Sadly, on the evening of Monday 21, September 2020, she died of ovarian cancer in Homerton Hospital.
Throughout her journey of life, Dieneke touched the lives of many people. She was “a visionary, endlessly resourceful, energetic, powerfully persuasive and eternally optimistic woman”, according to design writer Barbara Chandler, who was a cherished friend of Dieneke for over 30 years. Her story serves as an inspiration to several cancer patients and also a lot of entrepreneurs throughout the world.