Getting to know Esther
Tell us a bit about yourself
I live a fairly varied life: I teach English as a Foreign Language to mainly youngsters from a range of countries, who stay with me for the duration of their course. When not teaching, I spend much of my time creating textile art and pen-and-paint drawings, the proceeds of which I donate to Medical Detection Dogs – enough to have been asked to name a dog! This year we are also puppy parents for Canine Partners, an organisation that trains dogs to assist mobility impaired people with their everyday life. Our role consists of socialising the dog for a year; basic training like sit, wait, down, give, and of course walking in a civilised manner. I sing in a choral society and write the press releases for both the choir and the Horsham Arts Group. In between, I try to control the jungle that’s the garden.
What is a normal day for you?
Teaching: After walking the dog and breakfast, we have lessons from 9am – 1pm. Then it’s time for lunch, recovery period, excursion with student – cultural, active, shopping, anything to match the student, dinner and then prepare for the next day.
Non-teaching: emails/write articles and general admin, hopefully a bit of art, definitely art in the afternoon, and in between; dog training and walking, shopping, cooking, domestic jobs etc.
If you could choose any profession what would you choose?
I couldn’t decide when I was young, and I still couldn’t now! When I was 18 I started training as a Translator but soon decided I hated it. My Architect dad would have loved me to follow in his footsteps, but I ended up working for a number of airlines at different airports and really liked it as it allowed me to travel. When my children were little I got my degree and trained as an EFL teacher, I also refreshed my interest in textiles, painting and drawing – mainly architectural. I guess I now combine all my life-long interests. Perhaps not something I would or could have planned, but I could not have wished for anything better.
What have you got planned in the next year?
I am not a great planner. I do know however, that I’ve got an exhibition in Horsham in the spring, our puppy will leave for advanced training and then on to work, so we are going to have to think – another puppy, or our own new dog?
Biggest achievement in life to date?
I have a few! I’ve got two amazing kids, both very successful and happy. It’s nearly my 35th wedding anniversary and I’ve raised over £30,000 for charities in the past 10 years.
How would you describe yourself?
Positive, happy, lucky, grateful…
When do you feel most confident?
After a good sleep, when I know what I’m talking about, with a cool head and a warm body.
You & Nicola Jane
How has wearing Nicola Jane lingerie made you feel?
I only discovered Nicola Jane relatively recently and so in the past have had to make do with what’s available in the high street. This is unfortunately fairly uninspiring as the non-wired range is minimal. Until very recently I feared that my implant might have to come out; I need to think of a Plan B! I think there’s just one more check-up ahead of me and although there are some excellent alternatives, I hope that things will remain as they are.
Do you have a favourite Nicola Jane product?
My swimsuit! I love the style and the pattern, it fits like a second skin.
Why did you decide to become a Nicola Jane Inspirational Woman?
At the time I found that talking to women who have had breast cancer very helpful – it gave me energy and hope. Cancer still has a terrible stigma attached to it, even with current treatments. Cancer doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life, it’s just the end of life as you know it. In my new life I am very motivated to promote health and means for early diagnosis of cancer (hence my work for Medical Detection Dogs). Doing unusual things like a photoshoot, gives a clear signal that you can still feel good, look good and enjoy yourself after a cancer diagnosis and after a mastectomy. Posing for Nicola Jane combines all those points – it is an exciting opportunity!
Why do you shop with Nicola Jane?
Although there are bandeau style swimsuits around, they don’t have the fit, the look and the coverage that the Nicola Jane Collection has. They have a fab choice of products and excellent staff who are supportive without being soppy…and if breast cancer scares them, they don’t show it, I guess they’ve heard so many anecdotes.
What do you look for when purchasing a post-surgery bra?
Comfort, defining shape, softness, elegance and good looks.
What type of swimsuit do you find works best with your type of surgery?
Bandeau. Not too high, not too low fitting.
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
2007, although it should have been 2006. I was 47 years old.
What type of surgery did you have?
Bilateral mastectomy – which was partly out of choice. The year’s delay in diagnosis was unbelievable and severely dented my trust in the healthcare system and crucially, in my own treacherous boobs.
Why did you opt for a reconstruction?
It was a bit of a shock when I heard that lymph nodes were affected. It meant more surgery and chemotherapy. I also struggled with the concept of being totally flat. The idea of a reconstruction seemed the best way forward. It is not a decision I have ever regretted, however, there are a few drawbacks.
While I’ve been happy to have a bit of shape - certainly in summer, a reconstruction is not the same as the real thing. It doesn’t look it, and it certainly doesn’t feel it. Implants do not live forever, and having had a rupture scare I am also more aware that there may be negative consequences of reconstructions. And I am concerned about sports where I really need my arm or chest muscles, as it still feels funny.
While it was the right decision at the time, ten years on, would I make the same decision again? Quite probably not.
Can you tell us a bit about how you felt when you first found out? - What was your first thought or worry?
When a 10 minute appointment turns into a 5.5 hour visit to the hospital there is a niggle that not all is well. The week that followed was so stressful that the diagnosis was nearly a relief; the enemy was known and we could start doing something about it.
Who did you turn to when you first found out and who helped you the most throughout?
Timing was tricky; my husband was away the first few days, my son was taking his GCSEs and my daughter was just about to take her first year exams at Medical School. I had a very understanding dog though, and I must have mentioned something to my mum as we spent quite a bit of time on the phone.
I was pleased when my husband got home – he was an incredible support, as were a number of friends here and via email. My children were very positive throughout too.
Was there anything that helped you through your treatment?
A project! Was it chemo that gave me psychedelic visions or was it just my creative side that was bubbling to the surface? Either way, going through all this treatment made me see my body in quite a lot of different ways. Incredibly complex and strong, beautiful but treacherous. Tough and fragile, all at the same time. I could see it as a canvas – which gave me so many ideas to paint. This led to the idea of a calendar. Body painting is not an easy art to master, and so I found the wonderful Carolyn Roper, body-painter extraordinaire, who agreed to help out. I found sponsors, locations, photographers and a printer. As well as myself, I found another eleven willing models to be painted, all people who had had cancer of one type or another. I am grateful to all of them still. I can’t summarise it all in one paragraph, but in reality I spent most of my sleepless nights pondering about it. The project gave me excitement, distraction and a massive aim. Overall it has raised over £25,000 for Cancer Research UK.
Having been through your journey, if your present self could give your past self advice on something you will experience during the time from diagnosis until now what would it be?
Find something that intrigues you or inspires you and follow it. It will motivate you, distract and give you enjoyment.
My trickiest times were two weeks after chemo. I made sure I had audio books to listen to, happy, fluffy books, that you can follow without too much effort.
Do you have an inspirational story to share with other ladies?
A cancer diagnosis and treatment made me feel like a pummelling bag. But time passes and therapies finish. I once read that we all have two lives; the second one starts when you realise you’ve only got one. I’m into my second life now and I must admit it is brighter and I get more out of things. I do lots of things I was once only thinking of – and I love it!
Do you have any post-surgery styling tips?
The mirror can be cruel, but using a bit of make-up and wearing flattering colours does help. Your reflection will look better, you will feel better and this really does lift the spirits.
Any advice for other ladies who have or had breast cancer?
It’s not a great diagnosis, but many women have gone through it before you, and there is now so much knowledge and expertise. Your consultant will have seen so many women before you – s/he will know what they are talking about. Don’t Google too much – it’s too scary and most of it is probably irrelevant. You cannot influence the past, but you can influence your future. Accept help when offered; it will support you and make the helper feel good, too. Find things that make you happy and positive and that give you energy; music, books, activities and friends.