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.

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 –

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!

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 – – 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! 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!

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