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!
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.

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 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.

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.
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.
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.


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