The questions you should probably ask before having Medical Procedure

As a young woman in my late 20’s I never thought that someone as young as me would get diagnosed with Breast Cancer. With the diagnosis came several medical and surgical procedures that I had no clue about. Without the time to research what was about to happen I had to think smart about the questions I needed to ask my medical team so that I was clear about what would happen to me during and after certain procedures.

It is a hard reality to grasp when you have just been told devasting news or that you need to have surgery and you are unsure how to process it let alone ask questions that could give you peace of mind. Medical professionals are busy people so naturally they give you the most important details (in a usually short amount of time) and the rest can be explained through a leaflet, a brochure or a pile of small booklets to assist in an already overwhelming situation. If you are lucky there may be a nurse sitting in with you during your consultation that can later relay information in a more clear and concise manner and offer answers to any burning questions you may have thought up.

Some of the questions I see relatively frequently on Facebook private support groups of women in a similar situation as myself include: What do I ask? What do I need to know? and how will all these things effect me?

Here are the things you can do and the questions you should probably ask before a medical procedure….

To start one piece of advice I will give is stay away from Dr Google.
There are so many varied opinions and so much information out there it is easy to get highly overwhelmed, paranoid and stressed. There will be people out there who have first hand experience and your medical team will be able to help you get in contact with them.

I think it is always smart to take someone into consultations with you that can take notes and unlike you may not be such a blubbering mess – I am speaking from experience here – thanks Wifey!

Ask if there are alternative options and ask the consultant to explain the process they will be doing and go through it fully. Ask them to break it down so you know exactly what will happen. For example, my surgeon described my boob as a round cake and drew a diagram of how he would slice it then put it back together. It was easy to understand and I felt at ease knowing what would happen. Ask them to break it down as if they were explaining it to a child.

Ask them to explain the after effects and not just immediate but long term side effects and the healing process.

Ask how long you should rest for and what you are allowed and not allowed to do and what exercises and movement activities you can do to increase mobility.

Ask how long will it take to get back to your normal activities and what ask them to explain support systems are in place to help you get back to normal e.g funded physiotherapy and condition specific rehab centers – yes they are out there!

Ask what the pain will be like afterwards and how best to treat it. Also ask if you will have nerve damage and if feeling will come back or be indefinitely effected. Ask what the wound will look like and if you will have to have drains and what scaring will be like. Asking what they will sew the wound up with and what materials they will use inside your body are also good questions to ask E.g. dissolvable stitches, wire mesh, glue etc

Ask the questions you think are the silliest, simplest and the most obvious – it is their job to reassure you make you feel at ease. Stress slows the recovery and healing time.

Ask them if there is someone you could speak to that has been through the procedure or if anyone has written about it. Blogs are super helpful, more insightful and easier to digest than articles.

Ask them to explain pathology and show you what is happening on scans and images so you can understand visually what is happening and what they will do in the operating room. They maybe able to show you videos or pictures of procedures and explain them. Yes it is better and safer than google! Your situation will be specific to you so you can’t compare to others.

Aim to ask questions in your consultation not on the day of surgery as it may overwhelm you. If you still have questions after you leave the initial consult email or call your nurse or doctor afterwards. Yes they are busy people but they will reply. Some medical professionals will not give out their contact details but if they do, use them. Speak to your GP also they will be there to support you.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the medical professional or the options they are giving you ask for a second opinion – they shouldn’t be offended and will often refer you to someone they know or work with.

Be assertive about your wants and needs. In the end it is your body and you need to trust the person is helping you fix the problem you are faced with.

The medical world should not be seen as a scary place but I know from experience it can be overwhelming especially when you need to make decisions fast. Remember that you are allowed to ask questions and you have control about the decisions that are about you. Don’t forget that.

The content of this post was derived from women who are living with and have survived Breast Cancer. The women who contributed to this post are from New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the USA. Thank you for your input ladies in helping other be more confident in their well being before having a medical procedure.

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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

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