Jessica Weller – Guest Speaker

No one ever expects to get a life-threatening illness at 27, especially not while living on the other side of the world on their OE. Living the kiwi traveller’s dream in London and working as a teacher, four months into a two-year visa was a doctor said the words I would never forget – “I’m sorry to tell you the test results have come back showing cancer”. After cancer treatment, extensive travel around Europe, a Tedx Talk and a return to New Zealand to set up a not for profit to share a lived experience to educate young kiwis and encourage them to build better healthier relationships with their bodies – This is Jess Weller’s story. Jess Weller is a breast cancer survivor, a ted talker and the founder of The WELLer Network – a health awareness and disease prevention movement that supports healthy conversations that could save your life.

“Hi, my name is Jess Weller. I am originally from Ohakune, I was born in Wanganui. I am a small town girl with a world travellers mindset, learning and sharing knowledge is at my core. After the completion of a fashion degree, I wanted to apply my skills to something that gave back and became a teacher at age 25. I was teaching for two years and always had a strong desire to travel. I moved to London to live the Kiwi travellers dream in 2013.

Four months into a two-year visa I was diagnosed with an uncommon form of aggressive Breast Cancer. I decided to stay in the UK and undertook cancer treatment including fertility preservation, chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, radiation and a targeted therapy called Herceptin due to the aggressive nature of the cancer I had. The treatment took 15 months, pretty much my whole OE. I worked full time as a teacher and still managed to travel extensively across Europe.

The more I learnt about the disease, the more I became concerned about how many young women actually knew about it.  With every connection to other young women who had no idea it could happen to them I started to ask myself – Why I did not know about this disease? Why has no one ever told me about this? Why are so many others getting diagnosed too?

With no family history or genetic involvement, I could see gaps in regards to the lack of information and education regarding the early detection of the disease – especially for young women. I discovered that Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women both in New Zealand and in women worldwide. I got involved in education and advocacy and I volunteered my time to a charity called Coppafeel. I spoke in schools and workplaces across London and the UK spreading the self-checking message. This lead to a Tedx Talk at London’s Squaremile and media attention in New Zealand in both the Sunday Star Times and on Stuff.co.nz. I came back to New Zealand with a desire to give back and have been working towards building my profile as a public speaker and a health advocate as well as starting a charity to help with contributing to the solution of this global problem from a Kiwi perspective.

I am the founder of The WELLer Network which is a registered charitable trust in New Zealand (CC53701). While our core vision begins with the sharing of a lived experience of health issues and or a life-threatening illness our ambition is to increase knowledge and awareness regarding the prevention and awareness of disease and illness in our communities. With the increase in mental, emotional and physical health issues that seem to be plaguing our people we want to come up with simple solutions to assist the resolution of complex health problems in order to help support and encourage healthy conversations that can save lives.

There is so much to be said about learning from someone “who has been there” and from a person “who gets it”. What we offer is a space to ask questions and for whoever connects with us can learn from a place of understanding and experience. We do not want to reinvent the wheel and are very aware that there are many organisations and initiatives out there doing great work. We want to be a group of people that are able to network and connect and share information, knowledge and experience to ensure that people get the help and support they need as quickly as possible. We speak in schools, universities, workplaces and at events and have built education programs that engage young people. Our main focus is on building resilience and we aim to give young people the tools they need to advocate for and to make better choices for their own health.

Mar 16 Attended YSC Summit in Oakland, California, USA

Aug 16 Registered The WELLer Network with the NZ Charities Commission

Feb – Jun 16 Build a breast health education program for the NZBCF. Spoke in 34 schools across Auckland to Year 12 and 13’s. Connected with over 7500 students in year level assemblies and health curriculum classes.

Dec 15 – Feb 16 Participant of “Live the Dream” Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator in which The WELLer Network was built

Dec 15 Attended Australasian Oncology Summit and Congress

Apr 15 Attended Cancer Con in Denver, Colorado, USA

Mar 15 Attended YSC Summit in Houston, Texas, USA

Jan – Feb 15 Raised over $10K to travel to global events and conferences to build Cancer Education for young New Zealander’s

Nov 14 Tedx Talk at London’s Squaremile – “How Cancer Gave me Purpose”

Nov 14 Attended European Oncology Summit BCY2 in Dublin, Ireland

Oct 14 Full page spread in the labour weekend edition of the Sunday Star Times and featured story on Stuff.co.nz – Travelling the world with Mr Lumpy

Oct 14 Finished Treatment

May 14 Started volunteering for Coppafeel Made blog public on http://www.jessweller.com (over 15,000 organic hits since)

Jun 13 Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

There are some incredible young New Zealanders who have been through a lived experience of cancer or other illnesses and are utilising their story to educate the public and who support others in a similar predicament. I am always meeting people who are willing to share their stories and have a massive desire to educate and help others. These are some of the inspirational women working in my field both in New Zealand and internationally. Amber Arkell – Breast Cancer Survivor Jess Quinn – Child Cancer Survivor Caitlin Du Preez – Holistic Doctor who had a rare illness which lead her to be blind for two years Leeanne Prichard – Brain Tumor Survivor

“Life is an extraordinary adventure, or nothing” – Helen Keller

“We all have a story to share and in doing so we have the ability to change the thinking of others” – Jessica Weller, Tedx Square Mile “How Cancer Gave me Purpose”

Photo by Georgia Schofield

There are so many incredible women out there. Someone who is really at the forefront of mind currently is Tarryn Brumfitt – the founder of Body Image Movement and the director of the documentary EMBRACE. She is Australian and is incredible! I feel like the work she does is very similar in context to what I want to do and achieve. Tarryn is simply having a conversation and is being vulnerable about her experience with the dissatisfaction of her body image. The conversation Tarryn has started has created a massive global movement to encourage people to love their body. Amazing human, powerful messages. Knowing and loving your body is such a powerful relationship to nurture. I am learning to do this with my body and 100% resonate with the work Tarryn is doing and the messages she is bringing to the world.

My dream is to see more people become awake to the capabilities of their minds and bodies, to recognise that there needs to be a relationship between the two. To know when to stop and recharge, to rest. To know when to seek help and to be able to self-advocate. To communicate and to forgive. To reduce the burden of illness and disease in our young people. We walk around with this incredible, resilient and powerful vessel yet we do not know how to treat it as well as we should. We also do not know how to harness its greatness. We do not have the ability to listen to our body, because we are not taught how and we are always caught in a rush – to earn more, to be first, to impress – all at the risk of sacrificing our health. We often neglect our bodies in ways that are incredibly harmful. Not eating the right food, expecting too much of ourselves and of others, not getting enough sleep and not building a relationship with our minds. There is no one teaching us at a young age how to manage and reduce the stress in our lives. Based on my experience I believe that compacted stress ultimately leads to dis-ease in the body – this is a big part of the healthy conversation The WELLer Network has already started and we are so excited about the future of the health for all of those we will connect with.

Know what normal looks and feels like for you, so you can identify what isn’t.”

Photo by Georgia Schofield

You can find Jess on Facebook and Instagram and on her Blog

Jess has a prize pack thanks to contributors; Bon Organic Tampons, Wendyl’s Deodorant and At One Konjac Sponges. These are products we promote to encourage people that we do need to be conscious of what we put into and onto our bodies. Head on over to my Facebook page for details.