Today I had coffee and manoushi with a dear friend. It was my privilege to sit and listen to her story. I learnt some valuable life lessons from her. I also learnt what manoushi was. Let me tell you about Jennifer.
When she was 16, Jennifer and one of her sisters left their family in Taiwan to finish school and study in Australia. They came from a loving family of ‘medicos’ and after such a huge life change, their bond became strong and everlasting.
Jennifer is now married with two beautiful girls and a husband. The path to this point hasn’t been easy but to look at Jennifer, you would NEVER know what she has been through. THAT is what makes her beautiful.
During her pregnancy with her second daughter, Jennifer had some bleeding from the breast.
While you might think this is pretty anomalous, I can’t begin to tell you about all the weird, wonderful and alien-like stuff that your body goes through while you’re growing a baby! With crazy hormones and associated changes, the bleeding seemed to be ‘just another thing’.
Several courses of antibiotics and countless rolls of bandages didn’t improve the bleed. Pregnancy had driven the growth wild. Without these hormones exacerbating the bleeding, Jennifer’s prognosis could have been dire. So through being pregnant she was ‘saved’.
When she was giving birth, the bleeding worsened and while her divine daughter was welcomed to the world, so too was the thought that something sinister was evolving in Jennifer’s body. If it wasn’t for this blessed little girl, Jennifer’s complication may have worsened.
It is for this reason Jennifer thinks of her divine daughter as her ‘blessing from the sky’, her ‘shining star’. Ironically, she is growing into an emotionally eloquent and highly intuitive cherub who’s always looking out for her mum. She’s now 6 !
Jennifer had had no other symptoms or pain, had grown up eating healthily, was young and like many of us believed she was doing ‘all the right things’. But life can be crap.
A biopsy was done, with no anaesthetic mind you. Let’s just cringe for a couple of moments……
This was followed by a CT (CAT) scan and a doctor’s appointment for the results.
BAM ! These thing only happen to OTHER people!!
‘Red lights everywhere’ led to a very quick decision by Jennifer to undergo a double mastectomy. With a 1 in 3 chance of developing breast cancer, she wanted to be there for her girls. For her husband. For her family.
Her choices had been to undergo a double mastectomy, followed by reconstruction and prevent the chance of future malignancy OR have annual checkups and scans forever living with the thought of ‘what if’. To her, the decision was easy.
She wasn’t ready to take any risks in this quick fix, gimmicky, mindfulness-trend-filled world. Contrary to what might be expected from a Taiwanese family, Chinese medicinal treatments were not even considered.
The world just needed to keep Jen IN it. For her girls. For her husband and for her family. She was and IS too valuable to lose. I hope you’ll meet her one day- and you’ll see what I mean.
Jennifer’s breast surgeon became her confidant. He made her feel safe and able. She could DO this. He assured her that after the surgery, she would be referred to another surgeon in his team for breast reconstruction. So after the initial major surgery for the mastectomy, she had to wait to ‘go under’ again for recon.
When I asked Jennifer what helped get her through the ordeal she was quick to answer. She was ‘very grateful’ for all the support she received.
This came from many people.
Her surgeons-who really did care and had genuine bed side manners.
The anaesthetists who gently stroked her shoulder.
The nurses who explained the procedure and offered reassurance.
Her husband who cried in the middle of the night. And his mates- heavy duty martial artists on the outside but who prayed for her, sending their heart felt prayers to Buddha. And her family and friends who…well…are genuine friends who love her to bits.
Her eldest daughter has been a great sister, ‘giving extra hugs and cuddles’ to the youngest while mum couldn’t carry or move sufficiently after the operations.
Her friends made time to visit and cook for her.
She quoted, ‘I found it calming to pray at my parents’ house when my mind was going crazy and all over the place.’
So this is what it came down to.
Not money. Not things. Not ‘likes’ or ‘followers’ or clothes or cars. Not which school she’d been to or where she lived or how she looked.
After many months of recovery, in all its pain, its ups and downs and later- its jokes about boobs, Jen was back on track! She’d had good days and bad days.
As a mum, it’s hard to let go of the reins sometimes. It’s hard to just stop and heal, letting the world spin how it may.
You want to be there for everything.
You want to provide a safe haven for your children and teach them how to be. You want to protect them and nurture them but it’s so hard to do when you are not in a good place yourself- be it physical or mental.
So for Jen, it was a lesson in itself to let those around her share the load.
She got the all clear from her surgeon and although she would actually feel sad to not see him any more-where she felt safe and reassured, she gained a new outlook on life and all it had to offer.
Still today, she walks through each day with a new zest for the moment.
She has a renewed sense of gratitude for family and friends and a thirst for enjoying all the little moments.
She has learnt that fractured sibling relationships can be restored when you least expect it. I know this because she explained how one of her sisters, would help/order Jennifer, with two drains, severed muscle and bandaging, to shower each day. It was her way of showing Jen she cared. Where they used to bicker, they now relied on each other.
Jennifer said ‘we don’t all show love in the same way’ .
‘ I learnt not to judge people so quickly. ‘
‘ I try to be more positive ‘.
‘ Everyone is different and they show love in different ways’.
Hear hear Jen !
When I asked Jennifer what advice she might give to someone else going through a similar situation she said,
‘Be brave and stay positive. Your family and friends need you. You will have your ups and downs .Talk to people who support you. It helps. If you think people aren’t thinking about you- they are. They are just busy so don’t judge them too quickly. Everyone has their life to live.’
After our chat, Jennifer contacted me after some reflection time. She said during her ‘bad days’ she battled with self pity and sadness. It was hard to try and be positive and strong ALL the time. But it wasn’t ever for long and being surrounded by loved ones made such a huge difference.
‘I was fortunate to have come this far.’
” In the words of Forrest Gump. LIFE REALLY IS LIKE A BOX OF CHOCOLATES ! ”
Thank you Jennifer. Thank you for telling your story. Thank you for sharing the lessons you learnt, the ups and downs and for staying in this beautiful world.
Your family is lucky to have you and your girls are blessed to have such a strong, happy and beautiful soul for their mum.
May your days and moments be enjoyed and cherished for ever more.
I hope someone, somewhere, learns just something from your openness and honesty and that we can practice ‘living’ instead of just ‘being’.
The world deserves kind, loyal and caring friends like you.
…..and thank you for introducing me to manoushi @SAHA cafe….it was Y.U.M !
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