The Story of a Breast Cancer Survivor

October has long been known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month with the Sky Tower lit up in pink, pink ribbon pins being sold on the sidewalks and Pink Ribbon Breakies in full force! It is super important for all girls, ladies and women of New Zealand, no matter what stage of life you are, to think about your breast health and implement some of the simple tips below into your daily life to make sure your boobies are in tip top shape. We caught up with the amazing Jess Weller of the Weller Network, a breast cancer survivor, to share her story with us and provide some helpful tips…

 

jess-weller

Please tell us a little bit about your health journey…

I had always been pretty fit and healthy – I ate well, didn’t drink too much and tried my best to look after my mental and emotional wellbeing. So as you can imagine was pretty shocked when I was diagnosed with an uncommon form of aggressive breast cancer at age 27 back in 2013 while on my OE in London. With no family history and no idea I could get breast cancer at such a young age I decided it was important to make some massive lifestyle changes – some of which took a wee while to do. When you get diagnosed with a life threatening illness you see the world with different eyes. I did so much research and had many conversations with other young women regarding the food we eat and what we put on our skin. I guess one of the significant moments in terms of my health journey was the decision to give up alcohol. There is such a massive drinking culture in New Zealand and there is a lot of peer pressure and questioning when someone decides not to drink. I always use it as an opportunity to have a healthy conversation.

What initial symptoms did you experience that alarmed you?

The initial symptom I experienced was pain, constant pain that wouldn’t go away. It was just before my period and my breasts were so sore I could barely touch them. I thought initially that it was just a normal body change but the pain didn’t go away and I started noticing other things that were not normal with my boobs. I was in the shower and I was looking down at my breasts which is something I never did. The right one looked normal, but the left one the entire surface of the skin was covered in veins so much so that the skin looked transparent. When I squeezed the right one gently it was soft and squishy but the left felt like it had a giant ball of gristle trapped inside – it was a 3cm tumor already at stage 3 and was super aggressive. It wasn’t a lump to me because I thought a lump was meant to be like a pea or a marble on the surface of the skin but this was on the inside. 

 

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How has your journey influenced how you treat your health day-to-day?

I lived pretty normally during treatment but was probably a bit naughty and had a few too many treats because I just wanted to ‘live’. After I had finished treatment and got back to New Zealand I decided to give up alcohol and have not had a drink since New Years Eve 2015.  I eat organic fruit and vege where I can, as well as limit my dairy and meat intake. I don’t wear much make up and I now use ‘Ecostore’ products for my body and hair and clothes. I also use chemical-free deodorants and organic feminine hygiene products where possible.  I do yoga where I can and walk a bit. However, radiation has left me feeling pretty fatigued so motivation for exercise can sometimes be hard to find. 

Why is breast cancer awareness month so important for all NZ females?

I think Breast Cancer Awareness Month is so important because it is a time where the conversation about breast cancer is out there and we can talk about it more than we normally would. Most of us will know someone that has been affected at some points in our lives. Everyday of the year is breast cancer awareness for those of us that have had the disease and we want to ensure you don’t have to go through what we did. I think the education around how to be proactive about your health is so important and that’s why knowing your normal is key – weather it’s your boobs or your body as a whole. Even though everything is “Pink” and fun during the month of October, it is a very far removed reality from the actual disease and that is why I started The WELLer Network; so we can work together to support the healthy conversations that save lives.

A message for young females…

Unfortunately the reality is that breast cancer is a disease that does not discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are, what colour your skin is or what you are doing in your life, and it seems that your age doesn’t really matter either. Of the 3000 women diagnosed in New Zealand annually, most are around or over the age of 50, however 350 of us are under the screening age and there is no one out there teaching us how to be breast aware or encouraging us to self-examine our breasts – so we are in a massive gap. We are not in the screening programs because when you are young your breast tissue is too dense for the screening to be able to see any abnormalities, so often the ultrasound will be used first to determine what is going on.  95% of all breast cancers occur by chance and are not connected to family history or genetic links so really we are all at risk. Breast cancer should not be considered as an old ladies disease and the issues that women with post-menopausal breast cancer face are much more complex. If it can happen to me it can happen to you.

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Top Tips to Healthy Breasts

~ Limit your alcohol intake

~ Exercise regularly and keep active

~ Maintain a healthy diet and body weight by eating well

~ Investigate and understand your family history of breast cancer and cancer in general

~ Reduce and manage your stress levels

~ Be conscious of what you put onto your skin

~ Be sure to get enough rest and sleep

~ Surround yourself with positive and supportive people

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What to Look Out For

~ Know what normal looks and feels like for you so you are able to identify changes

~ Have your breasts checked once a month (self-checking is great!)

~ Be aware of the whole breast tissue area – this is from your collarbone, down to the base of your sternum and out into your armpits

 

weller-network nz breast cancer support

 

Share this article with all the important ladies in your life as a heartfelt reminder and if you have any further tips on how YOU take care of your breasts please comment below xo

Photo credit: Tatiana Harper Photography 
Connect with Jess & The Weller Network on Facebook here.