ONE WARRIOR with Jeraldine Cooper
This story is beautiful!!!
If you're needing a little bit of inspiration and a reminder on how wonderful life really is, this story is for you. Jeraldine's story is about growth and transformation. There are so many pearls of wisdom and reminders to slow down and appreciate the lovely parts of life that we often let fly by.
I hope you take the time out of your busy day to sit down and read every word of this warrior's story.
My name is Jeraldine. I've been married to Jason for 21 years, we have three beautiful children – Sarah (17), Jacob (15) and Olivia (11) and I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 14th February 2019, my 45th Birthday.
In December 2018, I rolled over in bed one morning and happened to feel my right breast and there it was, a small hard lump. I can’t even remember what the date was (which is unlike me but it shows how insignificant I thought it was) but we were going on a much anticipated family holiday to Thailand only days later. I just assumed the lump would be a cyst and honestly did not even give it another thought (I had the most wonderful holiday) … until late January 2019. I did not feel or look sick or tired and there were no other obvious changes. I had none of the risk factors other than the fact I had been on the contraceptive pill at various stages throughout my life. I had never been a breast checker always thinking I wouldn’t really know what I was looking for.
I noticed the lump was still there in late January 2019 and so began my roller coaster ride – Drs appointments and scans then right side mastectomy and immediate reconstruction, Chemotherapy, Radiotherapy, left side prophylactic mastectomy and immediate reconstruction, exchange to implants and ongoing hormone therapy. My breast surgeon was initially confident I had DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) but pathology results following my first mastectomy confirmed my diagnosis as multifocal invasive carcinoma, with high grade DCIS (11cm in total), stage 2, grade 3, ER positive, PR positive, HER-2 negative. I am still haunted by the fact I did not go to the Dr as soon as I discovered the lump, despite my specialists all telling me the delay would not have made a difference to my diagnosis and treatment. I think I need to let that one go!
I wish I had known about free mammograms from the age of 40. I am a worrier and know I would have done this if I had known about it. I would encourage every woman to start having a mammogram from the age of 40. As I tell those close to me, it is so much better to find any changes early!
Whilst I would never wish to go through this, I do believe I have been given a gift – the gift of new life and a new perspective. As a side note, I had a dream a few years ago where I was lying in a field of sunflowers and I was dying. Throughout my breast cancer “journey” I see Sunflowers everywhere - I have been bombarded by them. Initially, I was fearful whenever I saw them but now they signify my new life and I regularly buy them to brighten up my home.
I have viewed every stage and treatment since diagnosis as a new experience and a chance for learning, growth and enrichment. I have learnt so much about myself and others and where to focus my time and energy.
It is true that people will surprise you – I have not been able to count on some of my oldest friends (some have even dropped out of my life completely) yet there have been others I had only just met and even others I still have never met, who have gone above and beyond with support – both physical and emotional. I had some “friends” say to me they didn’t know what to do to help me and people say they didn’t know what to say to me. In response to both of these comments I say “Just do something – anything” and “Just say something”.
I also remind them, “I was you until this happened to me. I was that person who didn’t know what to say but I am here to tell you please say something. I am still me at the core so please don’t forget that and don’t treat me as a different person”. A text message or small gesture can go such a long way – just to know somebody had thought about me made a huge difference and brought so much joy.
For most of my life, I have had long hair, always too scared to cut it short. I did try to hang onto my hair and chose to wear a cold cap during my chemo sessions. A few days after my second round of chemo, I washed my hair and there was just no coming back from the matted mess it became. I had been given details of a hairdresser who would shave it when it came to the time and so I rang and they squeezed me in that afternoon.
Thinking back on it now, I honestly do not know why I went to the hairdresser and didn’t get my husband to do it at home. It didn’t even enter my mind! I would say this trip to the hairdresser was the hardest and most traumatic thing I have ever done.
What was I thinking going to a very busy hairdresser in the middle of a Saturday afternoon? I closed my eyes for the entire appointment and could only imagine I was somewhere else. I couldn’t bear the looks of those around me as they watched my head shave unfold. I had brought my beautiful Bravery scarf with me to the appointment and quickly wrapped my shaved head in it. I went from feeling absolutely devastated to feeling exhilarated and free and so empowered as I walked out of that salon. My hair has gone through so many stages since that day but I no longer focus on it. Rumi’s words became my mantra – “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within”.
Rumi’s words became my mantra – “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within”.
Several things stand out as helping me survive last year. I walked every day during my treatment (and continue to do so) – mostly along Melbourne’s beautiful bay. I gain so much joy from being in nature and have taken many beautiful photos on these walks (which I have now compiled into a photo book). I have learned to be truly present and use all of my senses on these walks, sometimes just standing and listening to the waves or the birds or my own breath. I have literally stopped to smell the roses (well, all flowers) on most of my walks.
Within days of my diagnosis, I had made contact with Melbourne Integrative Oncology Group (MIOG). I describe Naturopath Tanya as my glue and my “go to” during this process, always easing my anxiety and supporting me through each stage of treatment with specifically targeted complimentary medicine and her well-researched knowledge.
Yoga has been my life saver. It has enabled me to maintain my fitness - at a gentle pace, increase my flexibility, stretch out radiation tightness and ground me through mindfulness, focus on the present moment and meditation. The kindness and generosity of so many beautiful people around me meant that our kids were able to live life as close to normal as possible, my husband was able to be with me whenever I needed him and I was able to spend the time I required to recover.
Having faced my mortality, I now just want to live and experience as much as I can. COVID and Melbourne’s very lengthy lockdown has really tested me and it has been another year of learning and practising patience. On the positive side, though, I have been able to have so much time with my family and particularly my older teenagers who I would ordinarily not see much as they go about their busy lives.
I am reminded daily that I am a SURVIVOR as I wear a beautiful Survivor bangle, gifted to me by a friend who has also been through breast cancer and who received a bangle herself from a friend of hers who too had breast cancer. I feel a sense of peace and reassurance whenever I look at or touch the bangle. It reminds me of what I have been through and where I am now! Although I still have a long way to go to recover emotionally and I still suffer from “chemo brain”, I am certain breast cancer does not define me but rather has given me many new and unique experiences, an abundance of learnings and a clear knowledge of what is important and matters to me!