NZ is where MY heart is

Hello wonderful people in my life,

I am sure every time I write an update I am amazed at how fast the time has passed since the last one. This last month is no exception and as usual I have managed to cram a lot in!

Hope you are all well and wherever you may be in the world looking forward to the festive season.

The aftermath of my Tedx talk was pretty amazing and like all of you I am on the edge of my seat waiting for the video to be released. I am not sure what exactly is going on and why it is taking so long but I know it will be released soon so will post it up as soon as I have the links. Such an amazing experience and still buzzing from being on such an awesome platform to deliver such an important message. Pretty excited to see what other speaking opportunities come from my talk once it is released.

Surgery went well and results came back all clear. I had the cyst removed on Thursday 27th of November and the results came back clear. It was so odd having surgery and being awake in the room I never get to see because I always get put to sleep before I go through those “double doors”. Such an interesting experience to be awake!

Had to get a cyst removed, almost fell off the bed! November, 2014

Had to get a cyst removed, almost fell off the bed! November, 2014

Leaving London was something I was rather anxious about. I guess because it was in so many ways my haven, the place I felt looked after and safe. I knew where to go and who to see if I needed to and I was always taken seriously. It was like leaving opened me up to uncertainty and that worried me. I think too when you have been in a place that has looked after you so well it’s hard to leave. London defiantly has a part of my heart and I know that one day I will be back there for a visit.

It was so great to have my leaving drinks at Be At One – an awesome cocktail bar and say goodbye to everyone that came along and made my London experience what it was. Thanks to those of you who were able to come along.

With Charlotte, Sarah and JT. Last weekend in London. November, 2014

With Charlotte, Sarah and JT. Last weekend in London. November, 2014

The day before I left I spent some time at London Oratory and was able to see my students who I taught last year. It was really nice to see them all and I think they were pretty happy to see me. So nice to say goodbye after having to leave them this time last year.

Working with NHS England was a fantastic experience. Such a wonderful group of people. The event Future of Health went really well and it was amazing to be around people who have experienced long term health conditions and want to make a change for those in the same predicament in the future. There are a lot of fantastic things happening in the UK in regards to patient centered care and improving systems of care for people like myself who may need on going support and medical attention. It was great the last weekend I was in London to be involved with Macmillian’s Capital C programme that had around 40 cancer sufferers and survivors of all ages come together to discuss how cancer services in London could be improved for the future. Macmillian is the biggest cancer support charity in the UK so this was something great to be involved in and the start of something really great for the people in that city. Macmilllian is trying to focus resources on regional access rather than doing more things that cover the whole of the UK / nationwide.

Discussing how to better improve cancer services in London. November, 2014

Discussing how to better improve cancer services in London. November, 2014

Thanks so much to Matt and Megan for having me stay with them in what was also their last couple of weeks in London. Was so wonderful to spend time with friends from home and meet their gorgeous boy Tristan. Super cute!

New York was the first stop on my journey back to New Zealand where I stayed with my Irish lovely Jewels in Brooklyn. I lived with Jewels in Auckland back in 2009 so we go way back! Did plenty of sightseeing and ticked off Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, took the Staten Island Ferry and checked out Lady Liberty and had great views of Manhattan from the ferry. Made it to the Broadway Show Avenue Q which was hilarious, keen to see it again one day as I was asleep a good portion of the second half! The time difference killed me! The World Trade Centre Memorial was beautiful and the Freedom Tower is a poignant example of strength and resilience of the American people. Brooklyn Bridge at night was incredible and the lights of Manhattan were stunning. Walking down 5th Avenue was pretty surreal as I have seen it in movies so much. So iconic! Was pretty cool to wander though Central Park too – it is so huge! After meeting the team of YSC – Young Survival Coalition in Dublin at the Breast Cancer in Young Women Conference I was able to visit there offices in New York. Was great to see Megan and meet up with some other members of their team. I feel like it’s really important for me to make connections with other organisations in different countries so Kiwi’s can benefit from the information that is out there about Breast Cancer. Awesome to reconnect with Kathryn (a fellow Breast cancer survivor) after also meeting in Dublin. New York in the rain and missioning it around China Town and SOHO to find souvenirs, thanks for your help!

Checking out NYC gems. December, 2014

Checking out NYC gems. December, 2014

On the Brooklyn Bridge with the lights of Manhattan behind us. December, 2014

With Jewels on the Brooklyn Bridge with the lights of Manhattan behind us. December, 2014

Took a trip out to New Jersey to catch up with Rowan and Linda who I house and dog sat for in Sydney on my way to the UK so it seemed fitting to see them on my way back. Was great to catch up with them and meet there little boy Peter. Was cool to see surburban America and even got to see some awesome houses covered in Xmas lights.

Washington DC can be explained as a giant museum. So much history and plenty to see and do. Was wonderful to see Maria and Peter who I travelled South East Asia with at Xmas and New Years 2011/2012. The monuments and memorials were so majestic and amazing, so much history. The Lincoln Memorial and the World War Two Memorial were incredible. Really enjoyed the views from a top the Washington Monument and even got to see the Pentagon – yes total highlight thank you X Men and Men In Black for that. The White House is beautiful but i was under whelmed by it’s size. Very small! Looks gigantic on TV! Haha. When I was leaving DC it was starting to snow so I think I left at the right time. Was a bit worried however as a giant storm happened to be brewing on the west coast of the US and lots of flights were cancelled. Got there in the end though!

Amazing views of Washington DC from atop the Washington Monument. Lincoln and WW2 Memorials. December, 2014

Amazing views of Washington DC from atop the Washington Monument. Lincoln and WW2 Memorials. December, 2014

Checking out the Lincoln Memorial with my wonderful hosts Maria and Peter. December, 2014

Checking out the Lincoln Memorial with my wonderful hosts Maria and Peter. December, 2014

San Francisco was the best place to end my two year overseas experience. The rain happened to clear and I got three great days of fabulous weather. It is such an easy city to wander around and there is so much to see and do. Chinatown is amazing and has so many shops, did wish I had a bigger bag to bring everyone back a waving cat. Alcatraz was interesting and the audio guide tour of the Cell Block was fascinating. If you ever get the opportunity to go it is a great experience and everything is well preserved and looked after. The views of the city from the ferry of the city and the rest of the bay are beautiful. Didn’t get enough time at Muir Woods – the Redwood forest that is home to some rather tall trees and Saulsilito due to issues with the company that was running the tour I was on but would defiantly recommend going there if you were to ever visit San Fransisco. The Golden Gate Bridge was epic and feels as if it holds the tow sides of the bay together. Height Ashbury is a very eclectic area much like Camden Town in London and the old victorian houses are absolutely stunning the famous Painted Ladies no exception. Even made it out to the University of California campus at Berkeley. The campus is really traditional and so well looked after and even though we only got to see it at night the study halls were full of students studying for their final exams. You could hear a pin drop. Was so wonderful to catch up with with RJ who is a good friend of Elle and Rob’s who is a San Fran local and drove me around the city at night. Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner, wandering around Pier 39 and seeing the famous seals, driving down Lombard street the world’s crookedest street and checking out the Palace of Fine Art’s. It was great to hang out with a fellow Kiwi Maxine on the last day of my OE. So thanks to Maxine for showing me around. Such an awesome day. It is really important for me to speak to and meet people from organisation’s that are promoting awareness and advocating for Breast Cancer. I was lucky enough to meet up with Shaney Jo Darden from Keep A Breast, an awareness charity based in LA. We caught up for breakfast the day I left San Fran. It is always amazing to meet passionate people who want to make a difference and Shaney has been doing it for the past 15 years. Inspired!

Stunning views! December, 2014

Stunning views! December, 2014

The flight home was pretty straightforward. Flew from San Fran to LA, then LA to Nadi, Fiji then to Auckland. Was interesting getting home to pouring rain and grey skies! Felt like I was still in London. Was so great getting straight back into things. I didn’t realise I was truly at home until I drove into the city last Thursday. It’s so nice to know where you are going, see people that you have not seen for two years and things just click back into place like you last saw each other yesterday. I think the one thing I was most worried about leaving London was that I was going back into the unknown. London was like a safe haven and a security blanket. I knew where I had to go, what to do if something happened and that I would be taken seriously very quickly if something was wrong. I think I was incredibly fourtunate and lucky to have had the care and support I had in London and it was all down to the people who were in my medical team. So amazing to know such remarkable healthcare professionals. Thank you so much Dr Peng Tan, Vivienne Maidens, Dr Tim Crook, Dr Ros Crooks, Lucy Mavriano and my wonderful chemo nurses Nse, Pat, Renata and Helen. So blessed. I went to the doctor the day after I got home so waiting to be referred to an oncologist here in Auckland in order to get into the NZ system. It is so good to be back! Thanks also to everyone who I have seen since I arrived home, all those who came to my welcome home get together and a massive thanks to Maya, Violet and Jules for picking me up from the airport and having me to stay with them while I get my life back in order. Can’t believe it is two years since I left New Zealand, it is like I have lived a life time in such a short amount of time. It has just gone a year since I completed chemo and I just had my first haircut in 16 months. Pretty glad to be back to blonde. I think I fully took my hair for granted and the feeling of someone washing your hair and the clean feeling of “new fur”. So good. Can’t believe how fast a year has gone. Very glad to be in a warmer climate with hair on my head!

Welcome home dinner with Debbie, Bridget, Zoe and Claire. December, 2014

Welcome home dinner with Debbie, Bridget, Zoe and Claire. December, 2014

Rocking the chemo curls and mullet. 1 year of growth. December 20th, 2014

Rocking the chemo curls and mullet. 1 year of growth. December 20th, 2014

First haircut in 16 months. Back to the blonde! December, 2014

First haircut in 16 months. Back to the blonde! December, 2014

Oh New Zealand how I have missed you. Fresh air, stunning scenery, amazing tasting food, no limescale in my cup of tea, people saying hello on the street and drivers who acknowledge you with a friendly wave when you give way. We have such a slice of paradise here in this beautiful country and not being here for two years has made me really realise how lucky we are.

Heading home for Xmas down to the batch at Turakina so looking forward to seeing the family and spending a bit of time with no reception. New Years will be fun and will be great to see hang out with some of the lovelies from London – Haley, Heather, Katrina and really looking forward to seeing Kate (Wifey) after her gigantic trip through Canada, Central and South America which started back in September.

I am really looking forward to the new year. I think 2015 has some amazing things lined up for me so can’t wait to see what is in store for me. There are a couple of things in the pipeline but I am going to keep them on the down low until the new year so watch this space! More trips and more life saving and boob work is coming! Pumped.

On that note I best stop typing. I am trying to be as brief as possible and hopefully from now on life will be a bit calmer in regards to travel and sightseeing so I will have a bit less to write about. I am really looking forward to having more rest in my life and taking things a bit more quietly. Glad to be home and can’t wait to catch up with those of you in New Zealand or those of you soon to visit.

Wow what a year. Wishing you all a very Merry Xmas and a wonderful New Year. Remember to look after each other and show gratitude to those around you. This time of year for me is about showing appreciation to the people who mean the most to you in life. It doesn’t take much to have an attitude of gratitude and it can really spark a light in someone you really care for.

Thank you all so much for your kind words of support, love and advice throughout this year. I feel so rich to have you all in my world. Be well and sending you all my love for the festive season and best wishes for the year to come, I know it is going to be the best yet.

Love you all,

Jess x

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World Famous in NZ!

Hello wonderful people in my life,

Wow! This last couple of weeks have just been amazingly incredible.
So many awesome things are happening and day by day I am wishing I had more hours to get things done!

I was so happy with the article that came out three weekends ago in the Sunday Star Times in New Zealand. I never expected to get such a massive amount of space. Stoked beyond words. Loved seeing my hairless egg head on the home page on http://www.stuff.co.nz and being the lead story for a couple of hours was just fantastic. Thanks everyone for you messages of love and support as well as all the share and likes on Facebook and Twitter. http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/10663744/Around-the-world-with-Mr-Lumpy

I made the NZ papers on Labour Weekend. Stoked to get a full page spread :)

I made the NZ papers on Labour Weekend. Stoked to get a full page spread 🙂

My blog hits are on the up and it was exciting to see the stats over the last couple of weeks with both the article and Tedx. Working on getting the story more wide spread so watch this space.

My Tedx speech went really well and just wanted to say a massive thanks to Zehra, Jayesh, Kiri, Rob and Francie for their listening ears and feedback in the lead up to the event. I’m so glad that it all fell into place. 10 minutes is such a long time and it is a lot to memorise and it was a pretty big ask but I nailed it. The video will be out in a couple of weeks so will keep you all posted. The atmosphere was epic and when I spoke you could hear a pin drop. Unreal. Thanks to Megan, Gemma, Jess, Sarah and Vivienne for supporting me on the day. The other speakers were absolutely phenomenal and I got so much out of being there as well as speaking. Amazing humans.

At TedxSquareMile. Saturday 8th November, 2014. With my support crew - Gemma, Sarah, Viv and Z #amazinghumans

At TedxSquareMile. Saturday 8th November, 2014. With my support crew – Gemma, Sarah, Viv and Z #amazinghumans

Haha because I rehearsed it so much now everytime I walk to and from work or get into the shower my brain switches to “Say the speech” mode…..now there is no pressure I clearly know it by heart! Typical!

London catch ups have been great. Yum dinners with Gerda and Gemma. Brunch with Sarah, Ally, Michelle, Alyssa and Natasha. Celebrating Jackie’s upcoming wedding with some wonderful afternoon painting pottery and Spanish tapas. So delightful to see Megan and finally meet little Tristan. Was also fab this weekend to catch up with Jess and Sam who I went to fashion school with in Wellington – figured out that we have all know each other for 10 years! Time flies. Got to meet up with the lovely ladies at the NZ Business Women’s Network that is based here in London and was set up by Bronwen Horton 8 years ago. I did a talk for them at Sacred Cafe in Oxford Circus a couple of weeks back and am looking forward to the event at NZ House this week coming!

London catch up's with the uni girls. Jess and Sam. November, 2014

London catch up’s with the uni girls. Jess and Sam. November, 2014

Last week I am headed over to Dublin to attend BCY2 Breast Cancer in Young Women conference. It was really interesting to see some of the research and data that is due to come out in the next couple of months and what things are being put in place to better support young woman with breast cancer. Was very interesting to see oncologists, radiologists and surgeons debate and speak about it too. Loved it when people stood up with controversial things to say! Meet some lovely ladies from YSC Young Survival Coilition which is a NGO based in New York. Looking forward to meeting up with them again soon. Was great to be in Dublin again but alas didn’t really have time to have a decent wander and look around. Hopefully another time.

BCY2 in Dublin, Ireland. November 2014

BCY2 in Dublin, Ireland

This week I was off to Ireland again. This time to Northern Ireland to Belfast with Coppafeel to do some more Boob chat. We got to speak to a few people which was as always exciting. We were staying in the Titanic Quarter so it was pretty amazing to be surrounded by so much history and see where the great ship was made. We also got to have a look around the Titanic Museum which was awesome. The building is the height of the actual ship. Such a great exhibition to check out if you do ever make it to Belfast. Was pretty hideous weather though and I think we brought it back with us to London.

That was my hoorah with Coppafeel this week so just want to say a massive thank you to Sophie for all her hard work and dedication to those of us that are on the Boobette programme. Your support, attitude and dedication to the cause make life so fulfilling for all of us involved. Such an amazing organisation and can’t really put into words how the team have helped me with my current focus. More amazing humans!

At the Titanic Quarter on Boob business. With Sally, Diane, Meghan and Sophie. November, 2014

At the Titanic Quarter on Boob business. With Sally, Diane, Meghan and Sophie. November, 2014

Before October was up I had my last injection of Herceptin. Can’t believe how long it took to get through that. 15 months and 18 injections I am all done with that part my cancer treatment. It was glad to find out in the research for the article that was on Stuff that they are trialing Subcutaneous Herceptin in New Zealand. It is so much faster than getting it via a canulla or a port so hopefully this method is more accessible soon for women back home.

Last round of Herceptin - 31/10/14. With my amazing Chemo Nurses - Helen, Renata and Nse

Last round of Herceptin – 31/10/14. With my amazing Chemo Nurses – Helen, Renata and Nse

I am very happy to announce that my genetic test results came back clear. I am not a carrier of the BRCA breast cancer genes. Its such wonderful news however in saying that its pretty clear from my perspective that with no real family history and no genetic reasoning I still managed to get hit with the breast cancer stick. I think its really important to again highlight the fact this disease doesn’t discriminate and we all need to be more mindful and aware of what’s going on in our bodies. I’m not only referring to breast cancer either there are so many other illnesses and diseases to be mindful of. If you do however have any family history in any illness it is in some ways “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t” ignorance is certainly not bliss with this disease so please don’t be scared and chat to your GP.

Adding to that about a month ago I found a small lump on the same side as my original cancer. Just out from my sentinel node scar there was a hard pea sized lump that was a bit itchy. When it didn’t go away after a week I ended up getting it checked out. It turned out to be what is called a sebaceous cyst – fatty tissue and the results came back inconclusive. As you can imagine I had to go through the whole process all over again which was’nt fun, but I was pushed through the system really quickly and was given peace of mind quite fast. The cyst was in the skin layers so I was’nt able to have a core biopsy rather a fine needle aspiration to get some tissue samples. this was only done due to my history as the scan did not show up anything suspicious. Even though it’s nothing my surgeon still wants to remove it as these cysts can be prone to infection especially with the amount of surgical procedures and radiation I have had in the area. So there will be one more sexy hospital gown photo in a couple of weeks haha.

Well I am now on the final countdown of my time here in London. Can’t believe in two weeks I will be leaving this city and heading back to New Zealand via the USA. London has been an amazing home to me the past 21 months and as I prepare to leave I reflect on a time that has gone so fast but has certainly been the most challenging of my life. When happiness was my best friend and the nightmare of getting cancer decided to come into my world I did not know that I would find such a bright light at the end of that dark tunnel. London in so many ways has saved my life and put me on an amazing path to change not only my own life but the lives of others. I still did what I came here for and then some, as I leave I know this is a place I will come back to – not to live, but to visit for sure – I am still planning on meeting the Queen so Buckingham Palace would be the place for that of course.

I leave London on the 2nd of December and fly to New York. Where I will catch up with my lovely Irish friend Jewels who I lived with in Auckland a few years back. looking forward to seeing as many sights as possible. Then it will be onto Washington DC to see Maria and Peter who I met back in 2011 when Leah and I did our trip to South East Asia. Then across to San Francisco before going through LA and arriving back in New Zealand on the 17th of December just in time for Xmas.

Looking forward to summer and catching up with everyone on the other side!

Jess xxx

Awesome happenings!

Hey wonderful people in my life,

Hope this mini update finds you all well.

Wanted to share some cool happenings that have been going on!

My speech for Tedx is now finalised and I am practising and listening to myself several times a day.
I have just started talking at myself in front of the mirror haha.
Slightly awkward but so good for remembering what I should be saying.

Very excited and only have two weeks until the actual talk!

I am really enjoying my new job at NHS England.
Am getting to work with some awesome people who are decision makers in the organisation so that has been great and a bit of an eye opener.
Got to see the CEO speak this afternoon so that was brilliant.
Such an awesome speech regarding the current changes within NHS England.

I have recently written a blog post for the event I am working on so please check it out. It is all about my patient experience – http://www.futureofhealth.co.uk/blogs

Here is an interview I did a couple of weeks back in lead up to my Tedx Talk. Thought you might like a listen 🙂

I also recently did a blog for Tedx. Click the link then scroll down to the 8th of October to read my post: http://www.tedxsquaremile.com/blog

In other good news my blog ‘My Travelling Life’ which is on WordPress and can be located by going to http://www.jessweller.com was recently shared on an list website called Listly.
I am currently at number 143 on this list of ‘Best Breast Cancer Blogs’ which is just awesome and my blog hits have skyrocketed this week. I have had over 2100 views in total since starting it last July and have had over 1000 hits since making it public around June this year. Spreading awareness.

In even better news…..I will be in the news in New Zealand on Sunday.
Make sure you get a copy of the Sunday Star Times and keep an eye out on http://www.stuff.co.nz because my face will be there somewhere! Please do put me on your fridge haha.

Wishing you all a happy weekend 🙂

Jess x

So many opportunities!

Hello wonderful people in my life,

How does this time of month come around so quickly?! How did I manage to do so much in such a small amount of time?! How busy are the next couple of months going to be?! CRAZY!
It is getting cold quite rapidly here in London and it’s been really rainy. I pulled my beanie out this week! Brrrrrrr!
September came and went. Kate left me and is going through Canada, the USA and Central / South America before heading back to NZ. I got to cast a special vote in the NZ Elections my first visit to the NZ embassy here in London.

See you in NZ Wifey! x

See you in NZ Wifey! x

Off to NZ House in London to vote in this years elections

Off to NZ House in London to vote in this years elections

The afterglow of traveling over summer lasted ages. I think it was due to the fact I discovered my fitness was coming back and my fuel tank was filling back up. It’s also been great that I’ve been house-sitting and without the financial pressure of paying rent I have been able to rest a lot and work less. I think since the beginning of September I have worked five and a half days. I just don’t want to be a teacher right now. Not here in London anyway. Looking back at this year it would be a fair observation to say that I have struggled with fatigue. I think I had more energy going through treatment and at the moment it is a case of taking it day by day and not running my energy stores to far down. Getting there slowly.

A couple of months back I sent my CV out to about 10 cancer charities to see if I could get any kind of paid work or some kind of volunteering. Most of them replied and it was cool to get offered more volunteer based work about London. What eventually came out of it though was a role with NHS England. So I have a two month contract that takes me right up to the end of my visa. I am working on an event called Future of Health which aims to better support people with long term conditions. My role involves liaising with patients with long term conditions to get them involved and be the connection between them and the conference team. I have just done a blog for this site to so if you want a read do click the blog tab – http://www.futureofhealth.co.uk

I have been doing a lot more volunteer work for Coppafeel! and that’s been so enjoyable. Helped out at an event a couple of weekends ago that was about a campaign called What Normal Feels Like. We had a pop up shop in Brick Lane / Shoreditch that was set up as a gallery. The campaign was a team effort between photographer Rankin and Coppafeel in which healthy bare breasts were for the first time ever displayed on billboards around the UK. When we talk about our boobs we don’t think about how they feel, we talk about the size and shape so this campaign was all about getting us better acquainted with a different vocabulary when we do have boob chat and thinking more about the way they feel the big question being what does normal feel like for you? Talking to people on the street was interesting and like any thing not many people want to stop to listen to what you have to say. I think I definitely changed the thinking in some people and that was why I was there. Thanks to Sarah and Bridget for popping in!
http://coppafeel.org/what-we-do/whatnormalfeelslike

With Sarah and Bridget at #whatnormalfeelslike popup in Bricklane. London, September 2014.

With Sarah and Bridget at #whatnormalfeelslikepopup in Bricklane. London, September 2014.

One young lady walked passed when it was pretty quiet. She was on her phone and when she spoke to me I noticed she was from New Zealand – strong accent. We had a quick chat about visa’s and she was also on a two year to work live and travel. I told her about the campaign and when I didn’t spark much interest I asked if she was in a hurry she answered yes. I asked her how old she was. 27. Last year I was 27 when I had been here for four months like you living the dream and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. With every new person I tell there is a different reaction but the most of those who listen take something away and I know I have made them really think about their bodies. That young lady said “You just made me stop and think”. It was a moment of appreciation when tears began to well in her eyes and she said I have to give you a hug. I nearly lost it too because I know I had brought breast awareness to the forefront of her mind. It’s such a soul satisfaction to pass on the knowledge I have about this disease. Looking forward to a few more talks in the coming weeks and heading to Belfast, Ireland to do some talks as Coppafeel! is expanding and making their move to the Emerald Isle. Looking forward to be apart of that!

As most of you are probably aware I have been asked to do a TED Talk. TED (Technology, Education and Design) is a platform for public speaking and sharing ideas. TED’s slogan “Ideas worth spreading” is something many inspiring people aim to do and with a massive internet following and many talks having millions of views its a huge once in a life time opportunity to have been offered. I think we all have a story to share and when I talk about my experience in regards to breast cancer awareness I know one day I am going to save someone’s life and that gives me a powerful sence of purpose. I know I may have already done this several times. Looking after your boobs is certainly an idea worth spreading. Check put my recent blog post for my talk on the TEDx website – http://www.tedxsquaremile.com/blog – you may need to scroll down a bit. I also have a profile on the website too it you are yet to check it out! http://www.tedxsquaremile.com/speakers. For those of you unable to attend the talk will be posted online so I will make sure I keep you all updated as to when it is released.

I still can’t believe we did it! Almost two weeks ago Sarah, Kirsten, Emily and myself did the Cancer Research UK Shine Marathon Walk in aide of research for Breast Cancer and we even managed to do the whole walk wearing giant boob costumes! It took us a very long 11 hours! We started at 10:15pm on Saturday night and finished around 9am on Sunday morning. I don’t think I have ever done something so difficult in my life. 42km or 26.6miles is a really long way. I feel like I had literally walked my feet off by the time we crossed the finish line. The last couple of hours we walked past so many people limping, walking in jandals/flip flops and their socks. The finish line was basically a room filled with broken humans. By the time we managed to get home it was straight into a cold water bath, shower and then into bed in which we passed out and fell into a 7 hour coma. Upon reflection it was a mammoth feat to achieve and it was a lot of fun. Would I do it again? Probably not and still do not understand how people run that distance?! Ridiculous. Big thanks to the girls for doing it with me!!! Always wonderful to see Emily who came down from Glasgow and Kristen who travelled from Cambridge. My fundraising page is currently still open if you wish to support an amazing cause please do donate!
http://www.justgiving.com/wellerjess2014

At the start line! Shine Marathon. London, September, 2014

At the start line! Shine Marathon. London, September, 2014

At the half way point...the realisation that you have to walk the amount you just walked again. Pain! With Emily, Sarah and Kirsten. September, 2014

At the half way point…the realisation that you have to walk the amount you just walked again. Pain! With Emily, Sarah and Kirsten. September, 2014

Nap time and still at least 2 hours from the finish line. MORE PAIN. Shine Marathon, London, September 2014

Nap time and still at least 2 hours from the finish line. MORE PAIN. Shine Marathon, London, September 2014

Last week I had my fifth and final surgery in my cancer journey (hopefully the last one) to remove my Portocath. It was another easy straightforward procedure and apart from feeling a bit drunk from the anesthetic afterwards I have been feeling pretty well. Here is a pic of me and my magician surgeon Mr Tan. Glad that its out but I do have to admit that I am glad I had it in for my treatment. Just before I went into theater I had four medical professionals trying to find veins in my arms so that I could be put to sleep. My veins seems to run away when they know needles are going to be involved. Going through that with chemo and Herceptin would have been horrfic. Only one round of Herceptin left then I am all done. Hard to believe that I started this journey almost 18 months ago. I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. So surreal.

This surgical magician did four of the five surgeries i have had since I started my cancer journey.

This surgical magician did four of the five surgeries I have had since I started my cancer journey.

Got to have a silly photo in my hospital gown! Port Surgery October, 2014

Got to have a silly photo in my hospital gown! Port Surgery October, 2014

It’s been great catching up with people who are visiting London. April and Andy were over from NZ and we had a great time lunching at Shepherds Bush, wandering through Hyde Park then stuffing our faces with ice cream at the Fortnum and Mason parlour. Such an amazing London institution and a must see if you are ever in town. So close to Buckingham Palace. Had a lovely rainy Saturday morning catch up with Kyle and Jess at Borough Market. Awesome catch up’s with Ed in London too. Trying to tick off some more musicals! Saw a show called Forbidden Broadway which is basically a spoof of all the musicals that feature on the West End / Broadway. Defiantly worth a look if you have seen a lot of musicals! Gave the Book of Morman lottery a go but to no avail. Wonderful to see Lauren who I met in Rome for brunch today and looking forward to seeing Rob tonight. I love being popular! and LOVE London catch up’s!

Love my London catch up's. With Andy and April in Hyde Park. September, 2014

Love my London catch up’s. With Andy and April in Hyde Park. September, 2014

So October will be a busy month leading up to an even busier month in November. With the BCY2 Breast cancer in Young Women Conference in Dublin, my TED Talk, I am off to Belfast to do talks with Coppafeel! All in between working and hospital appointments. Fun and exciting times are ahead.

Hope this finds you all well,

Jess xxx

That was SUMMER!

Hello wonderful people in my life,

Wow what a month it has been. It always seems to go really fast and when I find myself starting to type I am overwhelmed by what I have achieved since I last wrote to you all. It makes me so happy to be able to tell you all what I have been up too and what path I am currently on and what opportunities are presenting themselves. I know these emails can be and generally are quite long so I am trying to make them a bit shorter!

I have seen a lot in the past month and have really enjoyed seeing new places, experiencing culture and making new friends all while trying to get a decent fix of sunshine which was lacking in both Ireland and Scotland. Glad I got some in Italy! What a relief!

Ireland is a beautiful country. It’s rolling green hills, lakes and coastlines had me in awe for nine days. We started our trip in Dublin and this time I was with Ally and Michelle – two lovelies that I had met in London. There friend Alyssa also joined who they meet in Scotland while enjoying Hogmany back at New Years. We spent 9 days tripping around the countryside and covered Dublin, Cork, Kilarney, The Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Annascoul, Galway, Belfast and Derry. Highlights of the trip were definitely the Cliffs of Moher and The Giants Causeway. I found the culture of Ireland very happy. The music and dance was awesome. Such a wonderful atmosphere. It was interesting to learn more about the divisions between Catholics and Protestants and come to the realisation of how bad the conflict was not that long ago. Its incredibly confronting to see murals telling the story of those who’s lives had been lost due to the divisions that are born from such different religions and the hate that has been fuelled over generations. Again something you don’t realise until you visit a place like Belfast and Derry.

Pulling a pint at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

Pulling a pint at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.

My birthday was great fun! Can’t believe it was almost four weeks ago. Thanks to all of you who sent messages of good wishes I had a brilliant day being a tourist in London. Haley, Kate and I made it up the Shard (London’s tallest building) for brunch. We ticked off the Emirates Airline and checked out the O2 before heading to Stratford Westfield for some birthday gelato and shopping. Caught up with Sharon who was over from NZ so that was a great birthday treat. Kate baked a delicious black forest cheese cake which was amazing! Another fab day out in London.

Scotland was fantastic. I made my way there after stopping off in Sheffield to catch up with Zoe while she was in the UK. Glasgow wasmy first stop for the Commonwealth Games. I spent the last (very rainy) weekend of the Games with Frank and Emily. I lived with these two in Auckland back in 2009. Emily and I made it to see the Squash which was held in an arena with amazing atmosphere. The calibre of the matches was awesome and we watched some great doubles and mixed doubles. Was really cool to see Joelle and Marty win their quarter final and catch up with Barb and Bob briefly. Looking forward to seeing you both back in Auckland at some point. Glasgow didn’t really turn on the weather but it was delightful to wander around the city, check out some local bars and wander the tombs of the Necropolis. So stunning with epic views of the city and the Cathedral.

At the Squash at the Commonwealth Games. August, 2014.

At the Squash at the Commonwealth Games. August, 2014.

Exploring the Glasgow Necropolis. Glasgow Scotland, 2014.

Exploring the Glasgow Necropolis. Glasgow Scotland, 2014.

After Glasgow it was onto Edinburgh to start a five day tour. There were 20 of us on the bus all from different parts of the globe. Of course the token Kiwis and Aussies, along with Germans, a couple of Dutch, Americans, Thai, Taiwanese and a girl from China. Pretty eclectic bunch. We drove from Edinburgh to Inverness with a stop at a whiskey distillery before a swim in Loch Ness. Oh my gosh it was so freezing that when I got out I felt a rush of heat as my blood was clearly rushing about my body to keep me warm. Pretty facinating! Had to be done! I was the first one in haha. I don’t think too many people were keen but I made the decision pretty fast. Another one of those one in a life time opportunities. After Inverness it was onto the Isle of Skye where we went to a Highland Games in Portree and saw some commonwealth athletes in action in kilts of course. The scenery was stunning. We drove down to Oban where we danced at a Caledh a traditional Scottish dance which was fun and imvolved getting stood on a few times. Down through Fort William and Sterling to see the William Wallace memorial and the battlefields of Bannockburn. So much history. Edinburgh was a highlight got to catch up with Jacque and did a little bit of city wandering. With the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival on it was a pretty good place to be! The fringe is an arts festival which takes out the month of August each year. It is know as a stage for comedians, musicians and actors to display there talents hoping to make it big. There are so many free events so its great if you just want to see some talent without a giant price tag it works for everyone. I was lucky enough to get tickets to the world famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I think that of all the shows I have seen in the past two year that it was defiantly one of the best. A music and dancing skeptical, fused with the sound of Bagpipes and so much military precision. Just a marvel to see. Wonderful to see Jacque and have a good catch up.

Checking out the Glenfinnian Viaduct. Where the Hogwarts Express goes! Scotland, August, 2014.

Checking out the Glenfinnian Viaduct. Where the Hogwarts Express goes! Scotland, August, 2014.

It was great to attend my first English / Scottish wedding in Worthing. Emily and Frank have been such amazing friends to me over the past year and it was so amazing to be apart of their big day. I lived with them in Auckland back in 2009 and we have been good friends since.

Token selfie before Frank and Em's wedding. Worthing, England. August, 2014.

Token selfie before Frank and Em’s wedding. Worthing, England. August, 2014.

My second trip to Italy was a highlight of my summer mainly because of of the sunshine. I had such a blast in Ireland and Scotland but there was a definate lack of sunshine! Steeping off the plane after landing in Rome the rush of heat in the air was awesome! Rome was a great city to explore. The hostel I stayed at there were so many other travelling by themselves so we all congregated and I ended up hanging out with some really cool people over the three days I was in the city. Exploring the city was incredible. There is so much to see and do in Rome and being in a city that is so historical was fantastic. St Peters Basilica and the Vatican City were amazing. The Sistine Chapel was magnificent even though there were way to many people squashed in a reasonably large room looking at the ceiling. The Roman Imperial Forum with ruins dating back to before Christ and the impressiveness of the Colouseum make you feel like you should be dressed in a toga. The fountains that adorn the city were so grand in scale and were beautifully lit up and were someone ethereal at night. The food was fabulous. Pasta, pizza, gelato and tasting local wine. Just fantastic.

Jump shots at the Coloseum! Rome, Italy. August, 2014.

Jump shots at the Coloseum! Rome, Italy. August, 2014.

I caught a train and headed north from Rome to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre can be translated to “5 Villages”. These five villages have been established on the coast nestled amongst cliffs. You can train between them or you can walk along a beautiful coastal track. We stayed in Riomaggorie and walked the track between Monterosso and Vernassa. Then walked from Vernazza to Corniglia. I spent three wonderful days there with Sarah, Ally and Kirsten. It was so awesome to swim in the ocean for the first time in ages and it was a lot warmer than Lochness! We tried a lot of amazing italian food and celebrated Sarah’s birthday with incredible sea views and a romantic sunset. So relaxing and the perfect end to a great summer holiday.

Beautiful birthday sunset for Sarah. Vernazza, Cinque Terre. Italy. August, 2014.

Beautiful birthday sunset for Sarah. Vernazza, Cinque Terre. Italy. August, 2014.

Exploring Cinque Terre. Vernazza in the background with Kirsten, Sarah and Ally. Italy, August, 2014.

Exploring Cinque Terre. Vernazza in the background with Kirsten, Sarah and Ally. Italy, August, 2014.

When I was in Rome I noticed that I was not as tired as I had been on other trips. I am finally feeling like i’m getting my fitness back. Walking around for hours on end is becoming easier and I feel like I have more energy. It’s a breakthrough because I have felt so flat for awhile. Just as well because I will be doing a full marathon at the end of this month. I did the half last year the day after my 4th round of chemo. The Shine night time marathon is in aid of Cancer Research UK and in my case spreading awareness for breast cancer. I am feeling pretty lucky that I have managed to con three other amazing people to join me on a 42km walk! Emily, Kirsten and Sarah it’s going to be such a wonderful evening. It will definitely be full of banter and the attention we get should be up there as we will be sporting boob costumes thanks to Coppafeel! Can’t wait. Thanks to all of you have donated so far. Here is the link to my fundraising page https://www.justgiving.com/wellerjess2014 should you wish to make a donation. Need to do more walks and take advantage of the nice weather that is still here in London. My hair is growing back pretty fast too. It is starting to have a bit of a mind of it’s own and morning hair is defiantly out of control!

Over the next couple of months I will be doing more volunteering for Coppafeel! and I am looking forward to attending so Breast Cancer events. I have recently been awarded a registration, travel and accomodation grant from the European School of Oncology to attend a Breast Cancer in Young Women Conference in Dublin in November. I’ll be attending as a Patient Advocate and Educator which I am so excited about. There are so many amazing things going on over on this side of the world and I want to get as much information and build up as many resources as I can to take back to New Zealand. Breast Cancer Care which is one of the bigger breast cancer charities here in the UK holds weekend events that are specifically for young women who have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the last three years. The event runs awesome work shops and seminars with all accommodation and food provided to all attendees. I will be going to one in Bristol in November. Excited!

I go back to work tomorrow so enjoying the last day of couch time! Looking forward to a big training walk this arvo too. I am now living in South London in Clapham. Housesitting and looking after two very cute cats. Will be here till mid November. So glad to not be paying any rent!

I hope this update finds you all well, sending warm fuzzies from London.

Love Jess xxx

Being Grateful

Hello wonderful people in my life,

Oh my goodness I am now sure where the last month has disappeared to. Every time I go to write an update I really need to think hard about what I have been up to. With Summer here and just a few days away to six weeks off things have been so busy. I’m feeling ok but still trying to figure out my tiredness and finding it hard to rest even though I should be. So much happening! Glad to report that the weather in London is pretty warm and I am even sitting here typing in the evening with an open window. Not really working this week as schools are starting to close for the year so taking advantage of catching up on sleep and life admin.

The blog / update is going well and since I made it public it has had over 1000 hits in the last year and I have had 200 hits in the last couple of weeks. Pretty pleased with that. Its pretty much the update I send out to all my friends and family (nearest and dearest) so to those of you reading hello and welcome. Please share 🙂

As per usual I have my regular three weekly hospital appointment days. On Monday I had my second dose of subcutaneous Herceptin. What this involves is the drug being injected into the thigh muscle instead of being administered through the vein (intravenously) or through the portocath.  It only takes 5 minutes to administrator as intravenous takes up to 90 minutes depending how fast the machine is set. It was pretty easy but it does hurt a little in the area where it was being injected. Afterwards I feel a little bit tired but the second time was better than the first. I also had an Echocardiogram (3 monthly heart scan) and everything is looking fine and dandy.

A couple of weeks back I had to have a mammogram which came back completely clear. Yeay!!! and a CT scan. I’ve been having headaches for the past couple of months. They are the kinds of head aches that are just a niggle and not enough to need to have paracetamol. Its definitely a tension and stress related blah. The results of the CT were normal except for a cyst on my right ovary that has randomly decided to pop up. I’ve been told that it’s pretty normal and that there is no cause to be concerned but I am having to have a pelvic scan just to get a better picture of what it is. Cysts on the ovaries are fairly common but because of my current medical history doing another scan is standard practice if not for anything but piece of mind. Considering I never knew it was there and have not had any pain it reminds me that our bodies are constantly naughty and do things without our knowledge. I am not a paranoid person but there is no way that your mind doesn’t click into what the hell is that? why is it there? and what can I do to make sure it’s ‘nothing’?. So there will be another scan for that in a few weeks time.

I’ve recently sent of forms to have genetic screening done for any breast cancer related genes. So that was interesting having to ask about family history. I will have the tests in September so I guess watch this space and touch wood for no dodgy genes!

Doing volunteer work for breast cancer charity Coppafeel has helped me get invloved in some interesting projects. My first talk which was around six weeks ago was held at JCI the Junior Division of the London Chamber of Commerce.  I have since been back to JCI to attend a public speaking workshop. I had the opportunity to get up and speak and talked about my cancer journey off the cuff for around five minutes or so. It felt like a long time! I talked about the paths we have in front of us in life and how sometimes those paths are put in place to challenge us and are often scattered with a variety of different hurdles we have to work our way through, over or around. I talked about the people we have in our lives that nurture and encourage,  those that push us to make us more resilient even though it seems impossible at the time and those that make life harder than it needs to be. Most of us overcome challenges in life and reflect on the learning experience to become better individuals to benefit both ourselves and people around us.

The point I was trying to make was that everything works out in the end but sometimes you have to get off the established path to find your own way otherwise you could get stuck – and banging your head against a brick wall always gets painful eventually. Challenges again are something we can all take learning from. In my life the hardest, most interesting and unpredictable path has been my journey through breast cancer. The tone of the room changed completely when I dropped that bomb and I had people sitting in front of me completely shocked. I lost it for a little bit and got upset which was so weird because I talk about it so easily and so often. It was feeling the change of tone in the room and the reaction from people that set me off. I swear i could have cut the air with a knife. One guy sitting at the back did not remove his hands from his mouth for the rest of my speech.

I think that telling people over the phone when I was first diagnosed was a god send. Telling people to their face is literally heart breaking. To those of you that received the news this way I am sure you can resonate. I was still happy with what I had delivered considering I was not prepared at all. The feedback was so constructive so got a good warm fuzzy out of that one.

I have done more volunteer talks with Coppafeel. I spent a whole day at a school in Milton Keynes which is about 30minutes on a fast train outside of London. I did six back to back sessions with small groups of year 10 students who are around age 14 years old. I do not think I have ever had students so quiet in my presence since I have been in the UK. It is incredible how you can engage people with story that shows someone who has a completely normal life be turned on it’s head in an instant. Doing these talks – telling young people about my story, how I was effected and explaining how I got through it is something that I get so much out if it is unreal. I got so much great feedback and lovely comments. One young man said to me – “Thank you so much for coming to tell us your story. I have had family very close to me that have gone through cancer and for you to share your story really helps me understand more about cancer”. Some girls also said to me that they had previously had someone come and see them at school about being breast aware but because they did not share a story and just told them to check themselves there was not real relation to actually having to be more body conscious. A young girl said to me that hearing my  story made her think more about what can happen and she would be more aware from now on. Considering I spoke to around 100 students that day I am hoping I made an impact and have helped to spread more awareness. I was so exhausted and my throat was so sore after talking so much! I was buzzing for hours after. It is such a great feeling to know I am making some kind of difference.

At Walton High, Milton Keynes. Talking Boobs with Year 10 students. July 2014

At Walton High, Milton Keynes. Talking Boobs with Year 10 students. July 2014

I’ve started attending meetings for Toastmasters which has been really interesting. I went to an Early Bird Speakers meeting last week at 7am in Holborn which is in central London. The meeting was at the Freemasons Old England Lodge which is just stunning inside. Its all about improving your communication, leadership and public speaking skills.Its pretty fascinating and the whole meeting is very formally run with every section timed down to the last second. Its so strange to stand up and speak and there is a light box in front of you. When you start talking it isn’t on then it flicks to green. Then it goes orange. That means you need to start on your conclusion. The red light comes on and that means time is pretty much up. If you are still speaking 20 seconds after the red light a bell is dinged. Another 10 seconds and you are clapped off the stage and all the awkward turtles appear! Haha the last meeting I went too this happened to a lady who was giving one of the main speakers feedback.  So hilarious but so cruel.I had to get up and speak for two minutes, off the cuff and had to answer a question – What do you love about yourself? I laughed and started with the line “I don’t want to come across arrogant”. I basically talked about the fact that I love that I enjoy a challenge and I try my best to give everything I am presented a go. I also talked about how Kiwi’s and Aussies are resilient and change is something we all like to challenge ourselves with. That’s why we are all in London experiencing life outside of our comfort zone. I spoke for a minute which was probably not quite long enough. The feedback I got for this was to err and umm less and pause more often. I went to another one this evening actually that was a lot more laid back and relaxed. Less formal than the early morning one I attended. Again I did another two minute impromptu speech and the question posed was “What is a good habit you would like to start or a bad habit you would like to stop”. I spoke about my bad habit of selective hearing and how I’ll try and multi task buy trying to listen to a conversation and doing something else like fiddling on my phone or in the case of this story watching TV. Everyone will be having a conversation then five minutes later after the conversation has ended I’ll pipe up with the same conversation as before. Jess were you not listening like five minutes ago?! Nah. Then follows me getting stick and loosing the plot in a fit of laughter. It’s typically called conversation theft haha. This time I spoke for just over two minutes and got feedback for excellent structure. Winning.

There have been so many outings and I have had some great catch up’s with good friends in London. CoppaFeel are always putting on amazing events and Kate and I made it along to Festifeel which was a music festival day in aide of the charity. Such a great way to create awareness abd have fun all on one day! Kate, Sarah and Catherine took me out for a lovely afternoon High Tea in at The Pelham Hotel in South Kensington a couple of weeks back which was just delightful. I was in a food coma for a long time afterwards. So many delicious cakes and wonderful tea. It was great to catch up recently with Megan and Jackie who are childhood friends from home both living in London.  The last time we caught up was when Mum was over last year so we had plenty to catch up on mainly Jackie being recently engaged and Megan pregnant with her first baby so happy times and a delicious dinner in China Town not far from Leicester Square. Had a past housemate and good friend from Auckland come and stay with us in the last week of our flat. Was great to catch up with Kat and will hopefully catch up again at the end of this month before she heads back to NZ. Have also been back to London Oratory in the last couple of weeks and caught up with the Art team for Sonia’s farewell. So great to see people I have not seen since I left the school in December.

Kate and I at Festifeel. June 2014

Kate and I at Festifeel. June 2014

Delicious times with my London Lovelies - Catherine, Sarah and Kate.

Delicious times with my London Lovelies – Catherine, Sarah and Kate.

Was fascinating to attend the New Designers exhibition at the Business Centre in Angel with Jess and Sarah earlier this month. The exhibition displayed the cream of the crop from all the final year graduates from most of the design schools around the UK. Was so incredible to see and think back to when we were at uni. Haha feeling old! 7 years ago. Catherine and I manged to get ourselves into Wimbledon and see some tennis so that was a bit of a highlight especially after queuing for 6 hours last year! Great to bump into Michelle there too who I met in Australia while on a boat tour in the Whitsundays and last caught up when I was in Amsterdam – small world. Have also made it along to Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank of the Thames to see Julius Caesar. The atmosphere inside the Globe was incredible. Such a great part of history and yet another thing ticked of my long list of London activities.  Seven of us managed to co-ordinate and have a weekend away down in Brighton which was lovely. The weather was not really on our side but had a great time away with Sarah, Cat, Imogen, Kate, Alice, Ally and Sarah.

Finally made it to the historical Wimbledon! July, 2014

Finally made it to the historical Wimbledon! July, 2014

We moved out of our flat at the weekend and I am back to living out of a bag and will be dossing throughout the summer and have some house sitting arranged from the end of August until mid November in South London close to Clapham Common. I swear that every time I move out of a house I will never do it again but it seems like I just can’t help myself. Such a mission! Will miss our little house, our daily kitchen table deep and meaningful conversations and uncontrollable laughing fits. The shared meals especially rice paper roll nights. Thanks for being such wondrous flatmates Imogen, Catherine and James. It’s been an absolute pleasure.Looking forward to Summer and will be off to Ireland on Friday night with Ally and Michelle so looking forward to spending 9 days in what I have heard is a visually stunning country. Defiantly up for some great craic with the Irish! Will be back in London for my birthday for three days then off to Sheffield to see my dearest friend Zoe. Then onto Glasgow to spend some time with Emily and Frank as well as check out the Squash at the Commonwealth Games. Doing a tour of Scotland for 4 days heading up to the Isle of Skye then looking to enjoy a weekend in Edinburgh with Jacque while the Fringe Festival just happens to be on. As I don’t want to make anyone to jealous i’ll save the other half of my summer travels till the next update.So I have decided to give up drinking. It’s kind of strange but alcohol makes me feel a bit funky. I am guessing that because I have had so much toxic stuff through my system that my body just has no interest in it what so ever. I think that that bender Cat and I had in Prague probably didn’t help haha. Certainly feeling better for not drinking.

In the last update that I sent I was not feeling the greatest so I decided to start writing a gratitude diary. I had an interesting discussion a few weeks back with a friend of mine Zehra about gratitude and being thankful in life. Every night before I go to bed I write three awesome things that happened that day and then three reasons why I am grateful. Most of the time as a society we often focus on the bad things that happen and often forget to reflect upon the good. Even if you have a “bad” day there will be good things you can take away from the day.  It can be as little as someone saying good morning to you on the way to work, a compliment from a work colleague about the shirt you are wearing or someone making dinner for you after a long day. Being grateful for clean water out of the tap, the warmth of a day and a really good nights sleep are all small things we probably never think about but do we take them for granted? This gratitude diary has really lifted my spirits and made me feel a lot better. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to have all of you in my life. I am grateful to be able to share my story to make a difference in other people’s lives.

I have had some very interesting conversations with different people over my cancer journey and I am glad to say that my eyes have been opened to some interesting and incredibly inspiring things. Most of the time we are so unconscious to what is going on around us. We are all so focused on work and life that we forget about the small things that keep us balanced and ultimately keep our happiness afloat. We are so plugged into to the media I honestly think it takes over our lives in some ways. I have even recently tried switching off my mobile data during the day so I am not so exposed to it while I am meant to be focusing on my work. This also comes down to my concentration for things and why i am trying to switch off from the digital world. I try really hard not to read papers – so hard on the tube when everyone has there nose in one and it’s so hard not to read over people’s shoulder rude I know.

I’m pretty happy to report that my hair is getting longer too. Getting up to 7 months growth and it’s well over an inch in places. One thing I am not happy about are the amount of grey hairs that have decided to sprout. Before I had cancer I am adamant that I did not have any. Boo. I am not sure if I had said this before but I miss my hair and not having it has knocked my confidence. I love my new hair but I do miss my long golden mane and some days I really wish I could get satisfaction from brushing it, tying it up or running my hands through the length. Before this whole journey I used to think I wish I looked better. You always want what you can’t have but I can tell you from experience be grateful with what you have and just try to improve it the best way you can.

Coming up to 7 months growth....Grow FUR! GROW

Coming up to 7 months growth….Grow FUR! GROW

Things to look forward to…….Catching up with the lovely Haley today and later in the week with the rest of the crew. Off to the musical Once tonight for Kate’s birthday with the girls. Maybe more Earlybird Toastmasters! and this weekend I head away to Ireland. Good times.

Sending you all love and hugs….

Jess xxx

One Year Gone: The Year that Changed my Life‏

Hello wonderful people in my life,

I hope this latest update finds you all well. I am feeling wayyyy better than I was when I sent the last one. A lot of good things are happening and I am glad to say that sunshine is making me feel a lot better.
 
Wow how crazy is it that sunlight can literally light up your life. After getting back from Morocco I literally felt like a different person. I think that while I was away with an amazing group of people,  I laughed a lot and forgot about the reality of my life. Travelling for me is becoming such an escape and I have realised why I love it so much – it is my happy place and yes I am a total addict!
 
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Silhouettes in the Sahara. Morocco, Africa. May 2014.
 
My last update was one that I was not happy with. I really felt bad sending it because I didn’t want any of you to think I am not coping. I was just stuck in a real rut and I was incredibly frustrated with my life at that point in time. It is so weird how silly things can get us down especially money and work related stress. It often feels as though if one thing goes wrong, along comes another problem, then another sometimes it just feels like your life is like a set of domino’s and you have no control over them and once one goes down they all go.

I went through a bit of a patch where I did not want to go to work because I am going through the “I do not want to be a teacher anymore” stage. Teaching in London is hard and I just do not feel like I am making the difference that I need to here. Working day to day as a contractor is not the greatest and due to it coming to the end of the academic year work is becoming increasingly hard to get some days. It has picked up since Easter thank goodness and I have had a few more bookings. I have some agencies offering me longer term positions and I am going to have a go at getting back into Art. We will see how that goes. It’s also more difficult to build relationships with students who have so many different teachers teaching them. I can totally understand the frustration from their point of view and the lack of consistency would drive me nuts too. This week a student said to me “You’re a supply teacher, not a teacher. That’s why we don’t respect you the same”. So the respect will never really be there as a teacher you more or less have to earn it. I can appreciate that in some ways but really I should get some form of respect but I don’t get any and nor do I demand it. Yet the students come into the classroom don’t listen, mouth off at each other, disobey everything that is asked of them – if they are quiet enough to listen to any kind of instruction. They throw equipment they are given around the class or break and rip resources and then expect to get more which will never happen as they abuse the privilege by destroying school property and resources are pulled back and put away for classes that treat them with you guessed it respect. But it’s ok because they are entitled to a free education. They also complain about the inconsistency of teachers but it is because they are generally awful and the teachers they have do not want to go back. I have pulled a couple of students aside this week and repeatedly said “I became a teacher to help people and I am here to help you should you want my help. But I cannot teach if you and the rest of your peers do not want to learn”. Most of the job here is behavior management and if you can do some form of activity then you are successful.  This week it’s bee Year 7, 8, 9 and 10’s – 11, 12, 13 and 14 year olds. It is heartbreaking to try and do something you care so much about and the students don’t even give you a chance to do it. Lesson learned – the grass is not always greener! Terry I miss my old job!

Recently I have been trying to rest a lot more due to the reason that I have been pretty exhausted. However mental health days are expensive and a day off is not ideal most of the time. During the day I feel quite fatigued that motivation to do much is pretty slim and that is not great while you are in the classroom. It has improved this week though so happy about that. Must be those high school kids keeping me on my toes! Luckily I have good people around me and Imogen is great at giving me a good mental slap. It’s kind of strange at the moment because for so long my life has consisted of hurdles that are laid out in front of me. After I finally make it to one and jump over it I am aiming for the next one. Now that treatment is not as intense the hurdles are a lot easier to get to and get over. A few weeks back at a support group I attend of women going through breast cancer we had someone speak to us about Survivorship. One of the key messages I got from the presentation is that while we are so focused on the goals in front of us life still charges ahead no matter what we are doing. So when that focus ends or thing let up and become easier we can be put in a vulnerable position of not knowing where we are, what we are doing and how to get back on the right track. Its like everything stops and you ask yourself what next? The real question is how do you turn it around by reflecting on the experience that’s put you in that mind set. If you get in a rut, explore some options, set some short term goals – achievable things and don’t put to much pressure on yourself. Practice what you preach Jessica.

I can’t believe it but this week 10th of June marks one year since I was diagnosed. I decided that I would celebrate the year with a little “Cancerversary” pot luck dinner which was awesome so thanks everyone who was able to make it. Loved my boob cake! Thanks Catherine.

 
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Happy Cancerversary! Tuesday 10th of June, 2014. Amazing cake made by my wonderful flatmate Catherine.
Here is a link to a “Flipagram” video which is a mash of a few of my fave pics from the past year since I was diagnosed http://flipagram.com/f/DXdsQZfZW2. It is not in order but is pretty cool and you can see how much I have changed physically.
 
It is hard to comprehend what has happened in the last year and what I have been through. Sometimes its so surreal and it’s all gone pretty fast. All the appointments, days off, procedures and treatments – it’s literally been like a full time job having Cancer. Add it to having a normal life and you are so incredibly busy. I think five months ago I put a post up on Facebook about being in the UK for a year and the post said that this was the best / worst year of my life. I am kinda looking back now and thinking that it is getting closer to being the best year I have lived. The learning I have been through is staggering and I am alive what could be better than that? 🙂

I have had up over 100 medical appointments over the past year. That includes fertility appointments and egg harvesting surgery, clinical appointments with consultant surgeons, surgeons and oncologists, surgeries for sentinal node biopsy and port insertion as well as the lumpectomy to remove the tumor. All the radiology appointments for MRI, ultra sound, mammograms, CT scans, bone scans, echocardiograms (heart scans), radio active dye injection and scan, the multiple blood tests I needed to have before every round of chemo, the eight rounds of chemotherapy I had, my current every three weekly Herceptin appointments, psychologist appointments, radiotherapy appointment and the twenty sessions of radiotherapy I had. Throw in a couple of GP appointments for good measure and there you have my cancer experience. Crazy. I’m pretty surprised too that I have managed to consistently keep a good record of it all. Once again writing about it has been awesome, helpful and so good for my head space.

 
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I posted these images on Facebook just after I sent the last update. From Left to right – When I started Chemo 26th July, 2013. When I finished Chemo 20th December, 2013. Five months after finishing Chemo 20th May, 2014.
I have been reflecting a lot lately on my experiences and I have been looking at a few of my photos and looking back at some of my journal entries. It is funny that it brings up so many memories that are a mix of good and as always not so good but nothing bad. I count myself really lucky for the “Cancer Experience” that I have had. I think I have said this before and just want to clarify that I am not glad I got cancer but it has made me appreciate life so much more than I did. This whole experience is making me want to help others who are going through it too.
Last week I did my first presentation as a Boobette for UK Breast Cancer Awareness Charity Coppafeel! The talk went really well and once I started I didn’t feel too nervous. I read off my notes a bit to much initially and there are a few things I need to cut out so the talk doesn’t go on too long but I feel like I did a pretty good job for my first go. The people there could’nt believe it was my first time. There were some really nice people there – only 15 or so and some of them spoke to me after and asked heaps of questions. From this one talk I have made a couple of contacts that have got me excited for what the future holds. More coming soon. Watch this space.
 
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First “Boobette” presentation for UK Breast Cancer Charity Coppafeel!
JCI – Junior Chamber International, London. Thursday 5th of June, 2014.

I have just applied to attend a Breast Cancer in Young Women’s Conference that will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel in November so will hopefully know if I can go by the end of July. Just waiting to see if I can get a travel and accomodation grant for wanting to be a patient advocate and awareness educator. Fingers Crossed! Would be an amazing oppourtunity.

 
Morocco was the last big trip I did. Catherine and I went for 7 days and had an amazing time. We started in Marrakesh and experienced the Market Place which is pretty mental. There were about 26 of us in the tour group which was made up of mostly girls from Australia and New Zealand so that was really great. We went from Marrakesh to Ourzazate and then transferred to 4×4’s to head into the desert. The Sahara is absolutely stunning. Haha so much sand! Camel riding was pretty hilarious but pretty hard on the bum and the next day was pretty hard on the back and inner thighs. After being in the desert most of us were struck down with gastro so it wasn’t very pleasant. I think my stomach is still recovering. We stayed in Adadir which we didn’t see much of due to not feeling well. Essoueria was nice but super windy. Got a couple of bargains here in the markets.  Similar stuff to Marrakesh but alot cheaper. Between Agadir and Essoueria is the area where Argon trees are grown. This is the tree that grows argon berries to make argon and morrocan oil which is used for skin and hair products. Apparently it grows nowhere else in the world. The funniest thing is that goats love these berries and climb the trees to eat them. We managed to see this happening. So hilarious! Morocco was lovely and hot.
 
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Camel Love. Morocco, Africa. May, 2014

I have five rounds of Herceptin to go. Counting down! It is great news actually as I will be receiving the drug Subcutaneously. Basically this means I will get a smaller dose of the drug to what I normally get which will be injected into the fat in the thigh instead of being drip fed through my portacath (intravenously). The treatment time can take up to 90 minutes and this new method takes no more than 5 minutes. Subcutaneous Herceptin only came out in the UK back in September 2013 after a lengthy trail and has slowly made it’s way into hospitals. It defiantly is not available in New Zealand yet but I hope this is something that is being looked into soon. Cutting the treatment time down allows people to live an easier life and that is crucial to healing and getting better.

Had a wonderful weekend last weekend with the lovely Bridget in London. We had out fix of tourism checking out Tower Bridge, climbing The Monument and going to the Design Museum with Sarah. Also, managed to get to Brick Lane for some International Food Court action which is always a winner.

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A top The Monument. London, England. June, 2014.

This weekend is a busy one. Heading along to a Coppafeel! training day so will get to meet all the other lovely ladies who are giving talks around the UK. Most of them too are breast cancer survivors or have been closely affected by the disease in one way or another. Will be great to meet some people around my age that have had breast cancer. Then I am heading out to the country not far from Windsor to do some babysitting. Oh the bank account will be pleased!

My hair and nails are coming along pretty nicely. Getting my legs waxed a few weeks ago turned out to be the best idea ever! The hair has pretty much not grown back so well pleased about that. I think that the hair on my head is way thicker than it was before and may even be getting a bit of a wave through it. Still positive it is not going to curl but with me anything could happen so hope not. My nails are still peeling a bit but are looking more and more normal each week. My Big toe toenails though now just look like I have cut them really short. Will defiantly be getting a paint job done for summer holidays. Yeay!!!

To those in New Zealand reading this I hope it is not to cold for you just yet. I am typing this on a Friday night and it is 9:30pm and still light outside. Love it. Better than darkness at 4pm. Blahhhh yuck!

Sending you all love and hugs,

Jess x

Searching for a New Path

Hello wonderful people in my life, 
 
I hope this update finds you all well. If im completely honest I have not been feeling the greatest. Please be aware this latest update will be a bit of a winge fest. The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a struggle. There are so many contributing factors. Post holiday blues. Oh my take me back to that happy place. I think we can all resonate with this one. I am sure we have all had that moment where you have had to go back to reality? – work, life, bills and it’s just too hard! With my unpredictable work schedule and varied cancer based appointments I have not worked as much as one would have liked. The agencies have been super quiet so its been a bit stressful trying to get work. I have worked through three different teaching agencies recently and have had to do some high school relief/supply which is like glorified babysitting and not that enjoyable. One of the agencies also hasn’t paid me correctly so currently trying to sort that out. You know how it is, drama’s one does not need.
 
I have been going through a brain overload phase where I can’t stop thinking about what I want to do career wise. I am not really enjoying what im doing and I always thought that I would never say that I’d work just for the money but it seems that is happening. Means to an end really. Supply teaching is OK if you keep getting called back to the same school but building relationships over the course of one lesson or a day isn’t easy. In high school it’s near impossible. Teenagers!
 
A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting with the Health and Education Manager at the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel! which went really well. I am looking forward to doing work with them in the upcoming months. I have been looking for work in the charity sector but it is hard to find anything that is paid or doesn’t require business and administration based experience. A big part of me wishes that I could work as a volunteer fulltime but it isn’t realistic especially living in London. I need to observe people presenting for the charity before I can present so looking forward to seeing how different individuals tell the story of their cancer journey. I’ve been thinking about what I might say and how I can engage, encourage awareness and promote the organisation I am representing. It makes me reflect on the path I’ve been on and the journey I have had. The things I have learnt about Cancer and about myself. It makes me think about how incredibly resilient the human body is and how the mind along with positive affirmations can heal you from the inside out. It also makes me realise how important support networks are to the healing process and how they can really pull you through. Its so weird and surreal to look back and see how much I’ve changed not just physically but mentally too. I’m also trying to establish contacts for when I get back to New Zealand to potentially get work in the Cancer sector. Things are looking positive so I guess watch this space.
 
As a 28 year old (gah almost 29!) I look upon my life and realise how much I have achieved and what experiences I have had. I reminice about the people I have met and how they have impacted my life and I think how lucky I am to be back into the light after a year of medical darkness. I still can’t believe that I’ve had cancer and survived it. Considering I was fit and healthy before I was diagnosed it just proves that you never know what might happen in your life and alter the path you are on at that point in time. I hope with all my soul that the cancer never comes back and the preventative steps I have taken work bit there is no real guarantee. It’s never at the forefront of my mind but in a lapse of happiness I am reminded that it’s been there once what’s stopping it from returning. Surgery, radiotheraphy and herceptin are all preventative methods to stop the cancer returning. In the next couple of months I have to have another Echo, a Mammogram and another CT scan along with the three weekly round of Herceptin…..sometimes it feels never ending.

Chemotherapy has a different range of side effects to radiotherapy and the fatigue is so different. I think it has hit me a bit recently and some days I am much more tired than I am on others even if I feel like I have slept well. It almost feels like constant tiredness and I feel like a bottle of fizzy that’s been shaken up. After a while when the bottle is opened the force of the gas isn’t so quick to go every where but seaps out all over the place. Its such a “blah” feeling – I kind of compare it to a hangover. I have been told that it can take up to two years to feel completly normal so I guess it will be up and down for a while yet. Glad that the weather is improving! I need sunshine to improve my mood.

Since I got back from my big trip in to Prague, Munich and France life has been pretty quiet. The ANZAC dawn service at Hyde Park was a bit of a highlight and getting up at 330am to catch the bus was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Getting out of London for the long bank holiday weekend was really great. Kate, Sarah, Catherine, Natasha and I hired a car and spent three nights in Grasmere, Cumbria which is about a five hour drive north of London in the Lake District of England. We had some great laughs and spent a good portion of time taking silly photo’s which was pretty entertaining. We did a lot of driving around and made it to Beatrix Potter’s home which was lovely. The weather was a bit grey and rainy but we managed to get one large walk in. We have another week of school holidays coming up so Catherine and I are heading to Morocco for 8 days which will no doubt be fantastic. After we get back from that I will be in save mode for summer and getting organised to move out of our flat.

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Natasha, Kate, Catherine, Sarah and I – Lake District, Cumbria. England. May 2014.


So not that much to report really. Just a bit of a winge to let you know that indeed while I have remained positive through this experience I am still human. Positive things are happening and I do feel good about the future it’s just creating the steps in order to get there. Looking forward to it no doubt.

Can’t believe it’s almost been a year since this Cancer journey started. Pretty proud of myself for what I have achieved.

Love Jess xxx

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.
 
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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.

 
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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.
 
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Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria Germany. April, 2014

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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.
 
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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!

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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

Fighting Fit! Getting back to normality…….

Hello wonderful people in my life, 

 
I hope this update finds you all well and in no doubt in the middle of the change in the seasons. Its getting warmer here in London and the days are longer. Glad it not dark at 4pm anymore! Can’t believe we haven’t had snow here this winter. I think I was looking forward to it for some odd reason probably just another excuse to stay in bed!
 
Paris was wonderful. I went by myself and managed to cram a lot into the five and a half days I was there. I stayed within walking distance of the main train station Gaur du Nord so it was easy to get on the Metro and cruise around. I did so much walking which was great because it made me realise how I am healing and that my fitness is coming back. Compared to the trip to Portugal only two months prior my legs were much more co-operative.  
 
Paris is such a big city and there is so much to see and do. Unfortunately unlike London everything you go to costs. Everywhere has some kind of entry fee. When it comes down to it I thought to myself “Am I ever going to visit this place again?” Probably not. I did three walking tours (like I did in Berlin in April last year) as I feel they are the best way to learn all about the culture and history of the city. I did the token Free City Walking tour, the Montmarte by night Walking tour and did one around the elaborate gardens of Versailles.  Stunning. Inside the palace was even more impressive than I could have ever imagined. Climbed several stairs to see the city views of Paris from the top of Notre Dam, Arc du Triomphe and of course the Eiffel Tower. Went underground to the Catacombs and wandered around The Lourve. Got to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and wandered through Napoleon’s Apartments. Interesting fact for you all if you didn’t already know was the Lourve was originally a palace. Its massive!
 
While I was in Paris I caught up with the lovely Alice and Damien. We had dinner at a cheerful French restaurant and I feel like we got a real Parisian experience.  The waiter we had was hilarious! 
 
Speaking of food…..I tried snails. They were chewy! Kind of reminded me of eating mussels. Crepes (correctly pronounced Crap) were delicious and I was obsessed with Nutella and almonds as my filling. Yummmm!  Plenty of croissants for breakfast at the hostel which were nice but after two days I couldn’t handle how rich they were. French onion soup was a winner as was a Croquet Monsoir which is basically a glorified version of a ham and cheese toasty. 
 
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At the Eiffel Tower, February 2014.
 
Getting back to reality was a bit of a shock to the system. I had to have three days off work due to cancer related appointments which was not helpful at all. The first Monday back was taken up with an Echocardiogram (Heart scan) which was done by a very good looking locum – hence the “Hot Doctor ALERT” status update on facebook. Then I had to see my oncologist.  The results for my Echo were not the standard “great” so that was disheartening. A side effect of having chemotherapy and Herceptin is not uncommon for the heart muscle to be effected. My left ventricle has decreased by about 15%. I’m currently on blood pressure medication to build it back up and will be on it until either my next scan in three months or once I have completed my course of Herceptin.
 
For the bone scan I had to have a canulla put in my hand to have radioactive fluid injected into my system which takes about four hours to soak into my bones. This is so the scanner would get a better picture of my skeleton. I left the canulla in my hand so that later in the day when I had the CT scan the radiologist would be able to inject a special contrast dye. Having this contraption stuck to the top of my hand was annoying from the get go. As soon as I got into the lift I smashed the tap against a lady’s handbag and well that hurt ALOT. I wasn’t sure if I had knocked the needle out so had to get the line reflushed with saline to make sure the canulla was still working.  
 
I had to go to the chemotherapy suite to get my Herceptin treatment but they wouldn’t treat me as they were not sure of any allergic reactions that may occur with Herceptin and the radioactive solution or with the contrast for the CT scan. So frustrating. Another day off work.  
 
The bone scan was easy. I had to lie perfectly still for around 30 minutes. The CT was a different story. I needed to have contrast put through the canulla. Basically without contrast the CT will not be able to take a good picture so I had to have it. I’m not sure if it was because I’d had it in most of the day or because I had knocked it but when the radiologist flushed the canulla with saline it was so painful I almost couldn’t bare it. So a line was put into the crook of my left arm. They started with a saline flush which hurt but wasn’t as bad as my hand. When the contrast went in and it really really hurt. I’m pretty tolerant of being poked and prodded and stabbed but this was the worst pain I’ve had throughout this whole process. The reason for the pain was that the needle had popped through the vein and the contrast had gone into the tissue in my arm which cause a massive amount of swelling. Only 5mls had gone in. I had to have the contrast put through again for the CT to work. They went through my hand. Frustrated.
 
This was not a good day. So many things to get done and way to much rushing around. Worst day in a long time.
 
I decided to go to school the next day without my wig on. It was such a weird feeling and still kind of is. It’s still a little bit cold in London so I wear a hat when I am outside. The first time I take my hat off in a classroom I get comments including “Look she’s bald!” and the assuming questions of “Do you have Cancer?”. So for those who have asked  I am now rocking the very short/bald do. I was so over wearing a wig and they were both starting to look incredibly manky and just horrid. What I really struggled with was the questioning looks and the equation that unfortunately is short hair = cancer. I have not felt this self conscious about something for ages. I am fine at home but out in public its a bit difficult. At least now I have a good 1cm of thick coverage so pretty stoked with the growth so far. My legs are back to their normal hairyness! Reminds me of uni days where the girls would threaten to hold me down and wax me against my will. Glad its growing back at full strength in any case. I feel a bit more used to it after having it out for the last two weeks. Kids are so inquisitive. “miss, I have noticed that your hair is all gone. Why don’t you have any hair?”. The most hilarious question so far seems to be “Miss, Are you a girl or a boy?”. Hmmm so only boys have short hair. It is clearly an odd thing for kids to see.
 
My fingernails have started falling off. Its not as bad as you would expect as the new nail has grown underneath the old nail. I have only had four come off so far but they will all come off eventually. I pulled off all my toe nails and the underneath layer of nail is pretty soft so felt a bit strange putting socks on and getting into bed the first night I took them off. I am putting almond oil on my nails every night to repair, moisturise and strengthen the new nail. Hopefully they will grow back quickly as they feel very weird at the moment!
 
Two weeks ago I had to have an appointment with Professor Tobias at University College Hospital in regards to my radiation treatment. The consultation went really well except for one thing. I was informed that I would have to have four consecutive weeks of radiotherapy, not the three that I had originally been told by the surgical team at the Whittington. I had worked out that I would have plenty of time between starting Radiotherapy and Easter so I booked a massive trip. Now I could have a clash. Felt a bit silly but managed to work everything out and start the radiotherapy earlier than originally planned. Unfortunately this meant only working two days that week so feeling pretty broke at the moment. 
 
To get ready for Radiation I had to have another CT scan without contrast thank goodness. This CT is used to get imagery of my breast and line my body up with the machine that will be give me the required dose of radiation to kill off any cancerous cells that are remaining. The scan is done with me laying on my back with my arms above my head with a bunch of wires around my breast that are taped down so the area of treatment can be clearly seen in the images taken. There are green beams of light that come out of the scanner and project onto my body. Measurements are taken so the area that will be treated is lined up with the machine. Numbers that correspond to the machine are read out by the radiographers each time I am treated and I am lined up so the correct area is radiated. I am drawn on with marker pen at three points. In the centre of my chest and on both sides of my rib cage below my armpit. The green beams are lined up to these marks and I am told to lay perfectly still while I am moved slightly to get me perfectly in place. After the scan the radiologist’s mark my skin permanently in the three places where the pen marks are. I guess now I can say I have tattoo’s. 
 
This week I started radiation. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work and get late afternoon appointments so I go to the hospital straight after school and I seem to be in and out within 20 minutes. It’s the same deal each time. I go in take my top layer of clothing off. I lay on a bed that can been moved up and down and from side to side to get the correct placement. I have to have my arms above my head the whole time and I am moved into place. There are always two radiologists in the room reading out to each other my measurements. They draw on my with pen where my permanent marks are. The three marks on my chest are then lined up with the green light beams that come out of the walls above me, to either side of me and in front of me. A ruler projects onto my chest from the machine also. I am left in the room by myself for no more than 5 minutes and maybe slightly longer on some days if images need to be taken of my breast.  The scanner first moves so its on my right hand side above me at an angle scanning the right side of my left breast. A light box on the wall flicks on when the treatment starts saying in big red letters RADIATION ON. It flicks off and the scanner moves to my left side just below my peripheral vision and then it starts again targeting the left side of my left breast. Pretty glad to bring my arms down once it’s all done. Jelly arms. The feeling I get afterwards is a wee bit hot or warm but noting to noticeable. It’s painless although the site where the tumor was cut out had softened before I started radiation and has now hardened up again. I am not supposed to wear any deoderant on the left side and I am meant to use soap that will not irritate the skin. It seems to be not to bad so far so hopefully it stays that way.

One week down and three to go. The first three weeks are to treat the whole breast, where the final and fourth week is to treat the area where the actual tumor was removed from. It is so nice to be in and out of the hospital with no fuss. To be honest I am getting a bit over having to have Herceptin but it is necessary as a preventative to stop and cancerous cells reproducing. I think I still have about nine rounds of that left. Slow going.

Just to add a little bit of first hand information about my surgery from Dom the med student who has been shadowing me throughout my treatment process…

My name’s Dom and I’m a medical student in London. I’ve been tasked by Jess to write up a bit of detail from her operation for everyone’s informed pleasure, as I had the good fortune to be present in the theatre at the time.

A little bit of background quickly. Everyone in my year gets paired up with a patient at some stage through their treatment process. We’re supposed to follow their progress and talk things through with them throughout their treatment. I don’t think I could have got much luckier than landing Jess. Just a small word on her, because I’m sure everyone knows this already, but I’ve been to a number of her meetings, was with her before, during and after her operation and had some good talks with her about everything. I don’t think I could picture anyone having a more positive outlook on things than Jess. Her matter of fact view about life and the way she takes everything in her stride never fails to amaze me, and she is a wonderful example to how everyone should live their lives.

Right, enough eulogising and on to some detail. Jess had initially asked me to take photos during the operation, and I managed to get one, although before I knew it I was being asked to scrub up by her surgeon Mr Tan and there I was, giving him a helping hand. I’m not sure how much gruesome detail people want here, but if it’s minimal that you’re after, maybe stop reading now! The obvious aim of the surgery was to remove both the lumps and any surrounding breast tissue so that they could obtain what are referred to as ‘clear margins’, meaning all the edges around the area removed are completely free of any further malignant cells. The initial incision was made around the nipple, approximately half the way round, with a scalpel. Interestingly this was the only time a blade was used. Mr Tan then needed to separate Jess’ skin from the underlying breast tissue and he did this using what I can only describe as an electric pen. A small metal tip on the end has a current running through it and this essentially burns through any tissue it comes in contact with, having the added advantage of cauterising the bloods vessels as it cuts through and so minimising any bleeding that would otherwise occur with a simple scalpel. Mr Tan continued with this ingenious piece of kit until he reached the two marking wires that Jess had previously had inserted to mark the location of the two lumps. From there, it was simply a case of removing adequate tissue at these locations to hopefully ensure clear margins on each side. This was double checked with a quick X-ray of the tissue to confirm that more tissue didn’t need to be removed. This is where my involvement really started. Mr Tan asked if I could stitch up the incision. Not to panic Jess (she already knows) but it was my first involvement in surgery and I feel honoured that it was on someone who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know. I placed approximately 15 stitches around the nipple, and that was operation over.

I hope those who might want to know a bit more detail find this interesting. I am just grateful to both Mr Tan and Jess herself for allowing me the chance to be there and offer a helping hand.

As usual I have been busy about London. Catherine and I made it to the Punch Drunk production of “The Drowned Man”. It is a very interesting piece of theatre where the audience follows the actors around a studio that is made up of many rooms across several levels of a building. Matilda the stage musical was INCREDIBLE. Another weeknight of fun in London. Last week a big group of us did a London Underground Treasure Hunt which was great fun. We had a sheet of clues and had to travel all around the central city rail network and then take pictures of the clues when we discovered them. There were three teams made up of our crew and we managed to get placed at 5th, 6th and 22nd out of 27 teams that participated. This weekend the weather was so lovely so Kate, Sarah Catherine and myself made the trip out to Hampton Court Palace to get some culture. This palace was where King Henry VIII lived so it full of amazing history. The gardens were stunning to especially with all the daffodils that are out. Today the weather was even warmer. A group of us dressed up as Where’s Wally and walked 5kms around Victoria Park in East London to support the National Literacy Trust. Such a beautiful day!

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Amongst the Daffodils at Hampton Court Palace and the front of the palace itself. Three months post chemo.

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The National Literacy Trust “Where’s Wally” Fun Walk at Victoria Park, London – Sunday 16th March, 2014

With Sarah, Kirsten, Me, Imogen, Kate and Catherine.

Kirsten and I at the start line.

I have been trying to write this email over the past week or so and it has been a bit of a chore. The last few weeks have not been the greatest but I hope with the weather getting nicer that things will improve. To those of you who have emailed, messaged and sent me treats thank you so much. Tina the book, bracelet and card you sent was just wonderful, thank you.

I have my good days and my bad but at the moment most of them are good. It feels good to know that I am on the road to recovery and that I feel fitter every day. It is so weird having hair! I was so bald for what seemed like forever. I am glad that my body is healing and I am getting back to normal – whatever that is meant to be! I feel truly blessed everyday to be here and have such great people around me and in my life. I hope you all value what you have. Try not to take it for granted.

Love and hugs,

Jess xxxx