As Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end, The Ensign reporter Sandy Eggleston talks to Jane Allen about her journey with the disease. Mrs Allen is heavily involved with many groups in the community, including the Gore A&P Show, Gore Pony Club and Pukerau School.
Gore woman Jane Allen likens being diagnosed with breast cancer to “winning a competition that you didn’t actually enter.”
However, unlike winning a competition there was nothing good about the prize, or the surprise, Mrs Allen said.
“It wasn’t a good shock – was a bad shock.”
In August 2012, Mrs Allen received the all-clear after a routine mammogram, but about a year later while working with some young ponies as her arm brushed against her breast she thought she felt a lump.
At the time she was working at Pukerau School.
When she mentioned the matter to principal Colleen Watt, Mrs Watt advised her to go to the doctor.
“I wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t said that to me.”
Her doctor referred her to surgeon Paul Sampson at Southland Hospital.
She was sent for a mammogram and biopsy and staff could see a lump under her arm.
“By that time I felt like the lump had grown, but you couldn’t quantify it.”
When the results came back the diagnosis was advanced aggressive late stage 3 breast cancer.
She was told if it had spread throughout her body,there would have been no point operating.
At the time she thought, ” I haven’t got time to die. I’ve got too much to do.”
The lump had grown from fingernail size to golf ball size in about six weeks and was now in the lymph glands.
Her left breast and 29 lymph nodes were removed just before Christmas.
“Sampson said ‘I’ve got everything a scalpel can get’.
Six of the nodes were cancerous.
In the new year she had chemotherapy followed by radiation.
“I lost me appetite for chocolate, which was a real disaster.”
During chemotherapy her hair started to fall out, so she had her head shaved at the hairdresser and wore a wig home.
At home she sat down on a chair and her dog jumped up on her knee.
When she spoke the dog was startled and started barking.
“He was horrified.
“He knew it was my voice, but he couldn’t see it was me.”
She took the wig off and never wore it again, preferring to wear a hat.
Her horses also knew something was not right.
“They were compassionate and they weren’t pushy.”
She kept working at Pukerau School four mornings a week.
“That was my motivation to get out of bed.”
Her oncologist told her by having all the treatment available she had given herself the best chance of surviving.
She was very impressed with the care she had received during her treatment.
Connecting with others who had been through a similar experience was an important part of her recovery.
Many people who had cancer wanted life to return to what it had been before their illness, but that was not possible.
“You don’t have the same physical resilience.
It was important “to be accepting of the new you rather than pining for something that may not be.”
Supporting others as they faced a battle with cancer was one of the positives to come from the situation.
“I consider that’s a privilege through this journey to be able to do that.”
She had faced many hard times in her life and coping with them had strengthened her resilience, which in turn had helped her to deal with the cancer.
“I think if you can openly talk about [a tough situation], you learn something from it, grow from it and you learn for it not to take control and eat you.”
She continued to live each day as if it was her last, which had always been her philosophy.
“I am really mindful there is a monkey on my shoulder and it could be back tomorrow, but I don’t let that stop me from living.