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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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