Getting Inspired & Finding a Happy Place‏

Hello wonderful people in my life,

It’s been over a month since I last wrote and a lot has happened. I finished my four weeks of Radiation treatment, had some friends visit me in London and spent two weeks gallivanting around Europe! What fun times it has been. I feel like I am getting fitter and some kind of normaility is coming back to me – it’s a new kind of normal I am feeling better than I have in a really long time. It’s really nice to see my hair growing a lot faster than I expected and to look back at the photo’s that were taken towards the end of last year when I was completely bald. The photo’s of me with really long hair from when I was travelling a year ago are really surreal to see and it kind of upset’s me a bit. I’m not the same person, but I feel like I have changed in a good way. Time heals.

 
The last month has put a lot of things into perspective for me.  Life is only as interesting as you make it and we are all on our own adventure. While we are constantly influenced by other’s especially with the assistance of social media we can either take inspiration and make it our own or sit back and enjoy the show. We all make our own path in life and I am trying to figure out what difference I want to make in order to help others. After this whole cancer experience I am seriously considering yet another career change, one that will still hopefully involve education and teaching. We will see what happens when I get back to New Zealand (yes I am coming home, my visa expires in November). I just know that awareness around breast cancer for young people needs to be pushed and society’s view around cancer needs to be changed. If anything has to come out of my experience it needs to be the promotion of awareness. It really bothers me that a good portion of society believe Cancer = Death and that only old people get cancer. “Wow, but you are so young!” is probably my least favourite quote and there are a few!  Every time someone messages me and tells me that they got a check up while at the doctor, went and has some tests done, investigated their family history or did a boob check in the shower it makes my day. Listen to your body! If in doubt get it checked out. Currently very inspired to do something about this Big C!
 
Its been a busy month but I feel like I have managed to get through it relatively unscathed. I finished Radiation a couple of weeks ago in the first week of April. I’m  was pretty tired going into my trip and my boob was pretty sore and red. Believe it or not radiation is tiring. Every week day for four weeks I left school and made my wherever I was in London to University College Hospital at Warren Street. Its was all pretty straight forward and I generally did not have to wait for too long before my treatment was administered. The treatment took about 15 minutes maximum including the time to get me into position. The radiation has stopped my armpit hair growing so I have half fur, half no fur. Haha it’s pretty odd! My legs were super fluffy and I let Kate wax them for me. That was an hilarious Saturday night! My nails are not doing so well. So as I mentioned in my last update I lost all my fingernails and toe nails. A lot of people don’t realise that Chemotherapy drugs specifically attack the fast-growing cells in your body which include not only your hair but your nails too. Your fingernails grow a lot faster than your toenails so you kind of need to be a bit more patient with their recovery. My fingernails are doing OK although it seems as if I have got a severe nail biting habit. While they are making progress they are incredibly weak and are constantly peeling. Annoying!
 
The last week of radiation was called the “Boost” week of the treatment. The first three weeks involved radiation to the whole breast – so I had radiation to both sides of the breast. During the process my breast has been pretty sore and really red but it has not been as bad as I expected. I have had to moisturise alot with Aqueous cream but it seems to cool the skin which is good. I think I have been pretty lucky with not having too many side effects as the condition of the skin can become dry and crack open in a worst case scenario which can lead to pain and infection.  My skin from the center of my chest, almost up to my collarbone and across the base of my armpit to where the back of my arm lines up with my side was pretty red. I’ll have to from now on  make sure that I wear really high SPF anytime I am in the sun in that area in particular for the rest of my life. Another one of those small price to pay situations. The nipple peeled a little bit so it was just like getting deep sunburn. Two weeks on it feels pretty good and the scar tissue where the tumor was removed has calmed down again and is softening so I am really happy about that. My left boob now just appears to be really tanned!
 
The boost involved putting a special attachment onto the scanner machine that helps the radiation be concentrated in a small more focused area – in my case the area where the tumor was removed. When the whole breast was being treated I didn’t have anything on my skin but during the boost a large square of silicone was laid over the area that was treated. The purpose of the silicone is to emulate the body’s tissue and brings the treatment field closer to the surface of the skin. So the boost is not as deep into my breast as the first three weeks of radiation. I am glad its all done. Will have an appointment in four or so weeks time to see if its all worked. Feeling confident.
 
Image

Radiation – The machine is worth over 1 Million GBP. Fancy! April, 2014

Along with radiation I have managed to work everyday through treatment so pretty happy about that. I did have a bit of a cold but it seems to have gone thank goodness.  I had a dry cough for about a week which is meant to be a side effect of the radiotherapy as a small percentage of the lung is caught in the treatment field. Radioactive lung! Its been busy in London as usual and its getting into the countdown for some of the girls as their visas are coming to an end. We of course are making the most of the time we have left.
 
I have had visits from both Christiane and SJ which have been lovely. Made it to the Tate Britain Museum for on of their late nights which was cool. I’ve ticked off the Royal Albert Hall and saw the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra perform the music to Pirates of the Caribbean.  The Royal Albert Hall is such a stunning building. 
 

A couple of weeks back I watched a documentary about a young woman who was diagnosed late with breast cancer at age 23. Now age 28, Kris Hellenga is the founder and CEO of the breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! http://www.coppafeel.org –  which promotes awareness and breast self checking in young woman. Kris is living with Stage 4 Breast Cancer which means that her condition can only be treated never cured. I was lucky enough to meet her at a CoppaFeel! lecture which I attended with Vivienne my breast care nurse. Along with Kris telling her story we were privileged to hear Sarah Outen speak. Sarah is an adventure racer who is currently in the middle of a round the world trip from London to London that can only be completed on bike, kayak and rowing boat – http://www.sarahouten.com. Sarah’s talk had strong messages about positive energy and giving things a go no matter how challenging things seem – if you don’t try you will never know if it would have worked out or not. Sarah also talked about having purpose and creating goals that stretch you as a person because if you don’t challenge yourself who will?. I am hoping to do some work with CoppaFeel! before I leave the UK. The charity has women who have had breast cancer going into schools to spread awareness to young people about the disease and it’s warning signs. Will hopefully be setting up a meeting with their education team in the next week or so.

 
Image

Kris Hallenga and I. CoppaFeel! Lecture, April, 2014

I just got back to London after spending just under two weeks in Prague, Munich and the French Alps Skiing. It has been one of the best holidays I have had to date so yes thank you Catherine! I think a lot of the time when you go away you have a better time based on who you go with and who you meet. We started in Prague and had a good look around. Did the token Free Walking Tour and got the general information overload. We had heard good things about the pub crawl so decided it would be a good thing to go along on. Now I am not typically a big drinker but we really got into the flow of it that night. I won’t go into too much detail but both Catherine and I were pretty munted the next day. Next was Munich. We had to bus from Prague which took around 5 hours. To be fair there is not much to see in Munich but we did make it to the Hofbrauhaus (Beer Halls) which is where giant steins of beer are served as well as traditional German food. It’s so funny to see people in their national costume (something along the lines of leater shorts and braces with waistcoasts). Of course I can’t forget to mention the German men with giant moustaches! It was great to catch up with my friend Gul there too – we met in Sydney when I started my OE. Seems like forever ago! We did a tour and took a train 2 hours out of Munich to Fussen where Neuschwanstien Castle is. The weather was absolutely stunning, as was the scenery. After Munich we had a full day of travelling ahead of us. A train for seven hours then a bus for four. We started in Germany, changed trains in Zurich, Switzerland changed to a bus in Geneva to get to Tignes.
 
Image

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria Germany. April, 2014

Image

Prague Castle, Prague Czech Republic. April, 2014

Tignes is a ski resort in the South East of France in the French Alps. We had ski amazing days making our way across three different area’s including Val Claret, Le Lac and Val d’Isere. The snow in the morning was amazing but by afternoon on the lower slopes it was really soft and lumpy which made it hard on the legs getting home. There is around 300km of piste to explore so this place makes the ski fields at home seem tiny. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and the photo’s just don’t do it justice. Our last day the weather closed in a bit but the snow was still good and with less people on the slopes we made the most of it. This was the first time I had skiied in 11 years so I was a bit apprehensive to start with but got more confident as the week went on. Also didn’t fall over once so was pretty pleased with that result! This is where I found my happy place. Skiing I think for me is an activity where you have to concentrate quite hard on what you are doing and it for me is incredibly relaxing. Being on a chair life is so quiet and peaceful (and for most of the time was’nt too cold!). Absolute bliss. My shins were not happy with me for the first couple of days. Still can’t believe my legs were not and still have not been sore. Must have been all that committed stretching and cold water on the legs in the shower at the end of each day! Amazing week. So many laughs and another happy place found.
 
Image

Skiing at Tignes, France. April, 2014

Things to look forward to in the next few weeks……Off to the Lake District in a couple of weeks with the girls. Off to ride Camels in Morocco with Catherine at the end of May.

Tomorrow I have another Echocardiogram (Heart Scan) and Herceptin (Breast Cancer Drug) so another day off for me! Then I am sure reality will slap me back in the face on Wednesday when I have to go back to work after two and a half weeks off. Noooooo! I have to have regular heart scans due to the drugs that I am having. If my heart is not up to having the drugs then I will not be allowed to have treatment until my heart heals a bit. It hasn’t happened yet and hopefully won’t but the Oncologist’s are very careful. Speaking of Oncologist’s, the one who has been looking after me has recently left the Whittington Hospital so I will have a new one soon. Just want to give a massive shout out and thanks to Dr Tim Crook for looking after me. When you go through something like Cancer having someone as experienced and helpful as Dr Crook is both reasuring and refreshing. The way he explained things in plain English for me was helpful no end and just the amount of positive affirmations and support was awesome. Of course everyone loves a doctor who encourages one to consume chocolate biscuits at an appointment. I’ll miss you Dr Crook all the best for your new adventure in fighting against cancer!

Image

Dr Crook and I. Whittington Hospital, London. March 2014

Planning Summer is currently on the agenda at the moment. So far the plan is to do Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Spain. More information closer to the time! But very excited about spending time with Emily and Frank in Glasgow (and their wedding in mid August), Jacque in Edinburgh and Sarah in Italy. Of course I am looking forward to going to the Commonwealth Games too so anyone who is also going please get in touch. Love my catch ups in other countries!

I hope this update finds you all well after a lovely Easter break and not finding the first day back at work too difficult.

Lots of Love,

Jess xxx