Jane Marshall always lived her life with supreme confidence, travelling the world solo, achieving career goals and winning powerlifting awards.
Then, in her late 40s, she began suffering what she describes as “crippling anxiety” so bad she had trouble leaving her house.
Looking back, she now realises her body was “screaming out” to her “something was wrong”.
She thought it may be perimenopause and then menopause.
Jane Marshall always lived her life with supreme confidence. (Instagram)
“I had a lump in my breast and I went to the doctor and they said it was nothing,” Jane, 53, tells 9Honey. “But my instinct was telling me it was something. It was in my right breast, and I know breasts can change in consistency at different times of the month, but this lump felt really solid.
“I had just turned 50 and I was aware I should be getting mammograms and I was entitled to free mammograms at this age, so I thought it was something I should get looked at,” she says.
Jane requested a mammogram, and got a call back “immediately”.
“I went in expecting them to say I had cancer,” she says. “When I got the call back my inner voice’s reaction was, ‘Yeah'”
‘I went in expecting them to say I had cancer.’ (Instagram)
Before her diagnosis Jane had been living life to the fullest. From her days as a teenage political activist to spending a decade working in the tech startup space in London.
At 40 she took a two year career break to travel the world solo including Cambodia and Switzerland. She then landed in Australia where she spent eight years in senior roles at Telstra, before setting up her own consultancy business specialising in innovation.
“I took up powerlifting in my forties and am the proud holder of a handful of Australian records,” she writes in her new book The Naked Truth About Breast Cancer, out now.
“I’d felt my performances going backwards,” she explains to 9Honey. “I was doing all the right training, eating well, it just didn’t make sense. I knew something was wrong. Then all of this anxiety. Plus I was having regular iron infusions and I’d never needed them before.”
‘I’d felt my performances going backwards.’ (Instagram)
The diagnosis made sense, and thrust her into a world she wasn’t familiar with or prepared for, one in which she’d lost control of her body and her health and would have to submit to the care of others to help beat the disease.
“There’s a part of you deep inside that knows your life has changed forever,” she says. “In an instant you exist in a different dimension to everyone else. You can see your old life, everyone is carrying on as normal over there. If feels like a gap opens up between you and the rest of the world in that moment.”
It’s the loneliness of her experience that prompted her to write the book.
Jane has chronicled her health battle in a new book. (Booktopia)
“When I got the breast cancer diagnosis I was told “I’m really sorry you have breast cancer, but it’s a ‘good’ cancer,” she recalls. “They want you to know the survival rate is very high but they don’t tell you about the rollercoaster you are now on and the impact it will have on your life.”
She describes the treatment she underwent to beat the disease as “gruesome”.
“The things you have to do to survive cancer are almost unspeakable,” she says. “After my treatment I experienced Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), anxiety and depression. I have spoken to other women who have been through it as well and that’s why so many don’t talk about it. They do what they have to do to survive but many are traumatised.
Jane preparing for one of three surgeries following her diagnosis. (Instagram)
After the first lump was discovered she underwent surgery to have it removed, which is when it was discovered the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, necessitating another surgery.
“Then after that I had a couple of weeks to rest and then chemo and then a month of radiation,” she says. “I have been prescribed five years of hormone blockers because I have one of the hormonal breast cancers. They are very hard going on a lot of women’s bodies.”
Then the second lump was found at her two year checkup and removed in surgery in February this year.
It has been two-and-a-half years since Jane’s diagnosis.
‘The second lump was found at her two year checkup.’ (Instagram)
“Nothing about me or my life is the same,” she says. “That’s how big a change breast cancer is. It has changed me fundamentally on every level. My relationship to the world has changed, my friends have changed, everything has changed.”
And despite having beaten the disease, she is still struggling to recover her pre-cancer physical health.
“There’s still a lot of things I can’t do,” she says. “I’m still in bed early every night and I’m still recovering from a third surgery on another lump in February this year. It’s deep physical exhaustion. But also you change, because you realise for the first time that there is a finish line to life.
“The things you have to do to survive cancer are almost unspeakable.”
She credits her spiritual practice with helping her endure the past few years, particularly battling cancer while living alone in lockdown during the pandemic.
“I’d have chemo and come back to an empty house and I’d have one of my friends call me the next day in case something awful happened to me in the night.”
Today, she says she is “tired all the time” due to a combination of the cancer, treatments and menopause.
Today, Jane is trying to reclaim the parts of her life that are important to her. (Instagram)
“It’s a lot so it takes a while for the brain to come back online and for the body to come back online,” she says. “I plan to spend winter resting and recovering and I’m hoping by spring I’ll be able to attempt going back to some form of real life again.
“But I’m not the same person anymore,” Jane continues. “I want a different life now and I’m in the process of redesigning it based on who I am now. I can’t go back to stress and rushing around.
“Now I much prefer a slowed down life doing fewer things, but I enjoy them more,” she says.
Jane explains that’s what a health crisis does, it changes not only who you are but how you want to spend the rest of your years.
‘I want a different life now and I’m in the process of redesigning it based on who I am now.’ (Instagram)
“You realise how much of life is out of control and it jolts you awake,” she continues. “You start to ask really big questions. How happy am I? Am I using my life in the right way? Am I a good friend? Am I loving the people around me? Do people love me?
“And the value you put on a lot of things changes, the things you valued before and put your effort into and spend your time and money on don’t matter anymore. It’s clarifying.
“I have never felt more clear on what matters and what doesn’t matter, I’ve never felt more at peace with myself,” Jane says. “But at the same time there is a lot of trauma, grief and sadness. You get dealt this hand and you have two extremes – extreme loss on the one hand, but on the other, so much joy at just being alive, so much love for life. You find yourself in awe of the fact you get to just be here.”
She feels like the experience has made her a better person in many ways.
“You understand how precious it all is and how precious your relationships with people are,” she adds. “I hate the term but there is a gift that comes from big, life-changing illnesses and it is the gift of knowing how magical life is and what really matters.”
Purchase your copy of The Naked Truth About Breast Cancer here.
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