We first met you when you attended mums and Bubs Pilates in 2021 with Felix..
What made you join mums and Bubs?
Felix was my third boy and a very big baby- 5.3kgs at birth! I joined pilates because I wasn’t yet strong enough for the gym and needed a gentle but effective form of exercise to work on regaining my core muscles. I also loved that I could bring Felix with me. We were pretty new to Wollongong and I was able to meet some really nice mums with similar aged babies.
Tell us about what has happened since then?
After getting my second Pfizer vaccine in September 2021 I started to feel a little off. Thinking that I was having a possible vaccine reaction I went to the doctor who sent me for some tests. She was shocked to see that my blood work was seriously awry and sent me straight to ED where I had 4 blood transfusions while they figured out what was going on. They suspected internal bleeding and after being rushed into surgery, they removed a large tumour from my small intestine. That explained the bleeding but the doctors still weren’t sure what was wrong. After two weeks in hospital and a lot of tests I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive gestational cancer called Choriocarcinoma. It was quite advanced, stage 4, and had spread to my lungs, liver, stomach and of course small bowel. Interestingly as Felix was born at home, I still had his placenta in my freezer which the hospital promptly sent to pathology! I learned I urgently needed to start chemotherapy to have the best chance at surviving. The hardest part of all this was being away from Felix, who was only 11 months old at the time, and being told I would have to suddenly wean him. He was such a vigorous little nurseling, my heart broke for him not only being separated from his mum but his precious booby milk too! I underwent three months of very strong chemo therapy involving weeks spent lying in a hospital bed for five hour chemo infusions. Those were tough weeks but with a lot of help from my in-laws (my family is in Canada), and friends near and far we got through it. My step-mum Susan managed to make it out to Australia after the borders opened to help during my last chemo round in December 2021 which was really special. I was supposed to have six rounds of chemotherapy but fortunately I was in remission after only three. I started pilates in March 2022, three months after finishing chemo. I was still so weak even putting my legs into table top position felt strenuous! Now I am almost at the level of the rest of the class, my hair is finally growing back, and with the help of pilates I am recovering really well from the ordeal.
WOW that must have been tough!! You should be so proud of yourself :)
You wouldn't even know it when Jess attends classes now.
Jess attends our dynamic class for advanced members and nails it!
She is so strong and determined.. and she can definitely hold table top now - So inspiring!
How many time a week are you attending Pilates Haus?
I try to go to at least 4 reformer classes and 1 yoga class a week. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband who wrangles our 3 boys in the morning before work so I can attend early classes!
What’s your favourite class to attend?
My favourite class is Shannon’s Tuesday morning Open Pilates class. He has such a calming manner, even though we are working (really) hard I feel like it’s a very relaxing class!
What changes have you noticed since attending Pilates regularly? Both physically and mentally?
The first big change I noticed was my energy levels really improved. Instead of crashing on the couch at 6pm I had the energy to read to the kids, help with their bath and finish the housework. I also noticed my strength improved a lot- I was suddenly able to lift my two older boys (aged 4 & 7) which they loved. I have been an athlete and fitness enthusiast my whole life and I was really low in confidence after gaining weight and losing a lot of muscle tone during all those months in a hospital bed. I still have a long way to go but seeing my body going back to something I recognise has made a big difference in my confidence and overall mood.
Having a baby and going through your cancer treatment! Most people couldn't imagine how hard that must have been for you.
What advice would you give anyone in a similar situation?
Firstly I would say don’t ignore pain and/or unexplained symptoms just because you are busy and focussed on your baby. I had been having some abdominal pain and shortness of breath for a few months before ending up in hospital. As a mum it’s so natural to prioritise the baby and others in the family, but our health is important too! Unfortunately cancer is all too common in women of all ages. If you’re in a similar situation my advice would be to give yourself a lot of grace. You’re going to need a lot of help, both with caring for your baby and with recovering from surgeries, treatments and the side effects of all the drugs you have to take. It’s ok to be sad about the loss of time with your baby, not being able to breastfeed and in some cases losing your hair. Accept offers of help (always!) and prioritise your energy for the most important things.
Any other tips for our post cancer treatment friends thinking of trying Pilates?
I believe pilates has been the most important and effective part of my recovery from the gruelling cancer treatment regime I endured. It is important to start slowly (like really slowly) and to not be intimidated by the amazing physiques around you. The instructors are so knowledgeable about different modifications to try. Build up frequency before intensity to make sure you don’t overdo it and strain yourself. The classes are so enjoyable and I’ve had such good results in terms of my strength and appearance that staying motivated to come to class is easy. My only regret is not starting sooner!
Thank you for sharing your story Jess, you are an inspiration to us all! xx