When Jessica Walton got in the shower one morning last December, she had no idea she was about to make a life-changing discovery.
The 38-year-old teacher and mum-of-one noticed a change in her breast around the nipple. After several tests, she was told she had breast cancer.
‘It’s about being aware of your body and not being ashamed to question if you think something isn’t quite right’
It’s something that is impossible to comprehend – being told the news that you have such a serious disease.
But Jess, from Ham Lane in Gosport, remains positive as she fights cancer. She has a five-year-old son, Noah, to think about and she is staying strong for him.
‘Just before Christmas I noticed a change in my breast around the nipple,’ she says.
‘I noticed it had retracted and I knew it was a change to look for. I went to my GP and he referred me to the breast clinic at the QA Hospital.’
Jess, a teacher at Meoncross School in Stubbington, had a scan and a biopsy and was then given the bad news. She had invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common form of breast cancer.
Jess decided to have a mastectomy followed by a breast reconstruction.
‘I was under the breast care team and the plastic surgery team, who were both just amazing,’ she says.
‘When you’re going through this I don’t think words can even express your gratitude for these people and the advice and treatment that they give you.
‘They must see hundreds of people all the time, but you are treated on a personal basis.’
After the operation, Jess had a six-week recovery period.
‘We moved back to my parents for a month for extra support,’ she adds.
‘They helped with taking Noah to school. They live in Alverstoke and my sister lives nearby as well. I don’t know how people do this on their own.’
She adds: ‘I had no idea about any of this stuff. To become increasingly knowledgeable about it has helped me to find out about my specific type of cancer and the drugs I will be taking.
‘It has helped me to remain positive about it and be able to move forward with it and take each day as it comes.
‘I am happy for people to ask why I am having treatment because the more people that I can raise awareness for, the better.
‘I have got Noah to live for and to get through it for.’
Jess has had a whirlwind few months after getting into a new relationship last year. She met 40-year-old Ian Upstone last August.
‘It’s been a rollercoaster for us,’ she says.
‘From August to Christmas there was this honeymoon period and in January I was hit with this, so that’s been a bit of an eye-opener.’
Jess is now going through chemotherapy at the QA and says she can’t fault the care she has received so far in her treatment.
‘The staff there are ridiculously amazing,’ she says.
‘They are compassionate, knowledgeable and friendly. I got there and I just cried. They take you as you, and that makes a huge difference to the experience of going through treatment.
‘Nursing staff do their job because they are compassionate, caring people and they want to help others, but this team are just phenomenal.
‘I couldn’t fault a single person at QA.’
The chemotherapy has left Jess feeling very nauseous and very tired.
‘I have just had to adjust my lifestyle into accepting that when my body says I need to rest, I rest.
‘I haven’t worked since February. I didn’t feel I could continue and I didn’t feel it was fair on the children.
‘Teaching is a job where you have to be 100 per cent on the ball. The school has been very supportive towards me. I have been in contact with them on a monthly basis.’
The school organised a concert and raised £300 for The Wessex Haven – a breast cancer charity which provides support to sufferers, including Jess. It has a base in Titchfield.
‘It puts it into perspective that you must be a really liked member of staff for people to donate like that,’ she adds.
The Haven offers a wealth of services for breast cancer sufferers including nutritional advice, acupuncture, reflexology and counselling.
Now Jess is hoping other women will become more aware of any changes in their body.
‘It’s about being aware of your body and not being ashamed to question if you think something isn’t quite right,’ she adds.
‘If I had brushed it off for a bit longer or hadn’t gone to the doctor, it might have been very different.
‘A lot of people think it’s just a lump you need to look out for, but it’s not. It’s so simple – check yourself every month.’
Jess says having Noah around has kept her strong. She has found a way to explain to him what’s happening – writing him a story about what she has been going through.
She says: ‘I have tried to involve him in the experience so we are going through it as a family.’
A group of four adults and two children stepped up and offered to get their heads shaved in Jess’s honour.
The group met up at The Wessex Haven in Titchfield and raised around £600 for the charity.
Jess says it was hard for her when her hair started to fall out - so she decided to shave it off.
‘I did have a cry, but it’s evidence that the drugs are doing what they are supposed to be doing.’ she says.
‘I am so touched that other people could make that commitment. It’s something that they have challenged themselves to do.
‘To know that they are doing it to support me - well I don’t think words are enough. I was so deeply touched that they could make that commitment to someone they don’t know that well.’