It’s still pretty painful for me to remember the weeks after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt lost and broken, but my family were amazing. Like clockwork, they stepped in to drive me to medical appointments, cook for me, make me laugh or just be there if I fell apart.
I was also humbled and moved by the huge number of people who contacted me, many of whom have had or have cancer. People I knew and people I didn’t know. They gave me health tips and referred me to books, websites, diets, and therapies. I tried lots of things, even if occasionally I was told or read somewhere else that what I was trying was the worst thing possible!
However, there were some real lessons I learned, and regardless of what was a terrible time early on, positive things have come out of my breast cancer.
A big thing I’ve learned is to look after myself better. I think a lot of people don’t invest enough in their mental and physical health. Women especially often tend to look after others first, then think about themselves if they’re lucky.
When I was younger I watched my mum work several jobs to support my family, always putting the needs of my brother, sister and I ahead of her own.
I know some of that is just part of being a mum. However, I think now that if many mums took the same care with their own health as they do with their children, they’d be a lot healthier.
Simple lessons I’ve learned are to drink more water, eat at least five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day, eat less meat and more super-foods like berries and nuts, cut back on caffeine and alcohol and sleep more.
I also urge women not to put off that mammogram. We lose so many beautiful Kiwi women and some men to this disease. Investing in that half an hour could literally save your life.
Also, if you feel unwell don’t wait until things are really bad before you get checked out. We are fortunate to have such capable and sensitive medical professionals in New Zealand. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then you’re probably right.
I’m now back at work as a cabinet minister and MP for Auckland Central. My life will be busy but I’m determined to stick to my new, healthier life.
While I will still wear heels, I’ll more often be found wandering the Beehive in my comfy sneakers and ugg boots! If people say “do you want a wine?” I plan to pour myself a soda water and lime. And if someone says “come for a run” and I’m feeling tired, I might ask them to come for a walk instead.
Last year taught me that sometimes, life knocks us down when we least expect it. But it also taught me to make time to invest in my health, and focus on the things that matter.