Meeting Kaz Weatherley, you quickly get the feeling she has that ‘just do it’ philosophy on life. Once she sets herself a new challenge, she jumps right in, and if there are barriers in her way, she’ll knock them down or find a way around them.
It’s this zest for fun, fulfilment and following her purpose that has led her into some pretty cool experiences – in her 20s she guided tour groups in Europe and travelled the world; later she worked as a radio announcer on the Bay’s Classic Hits. She runs World Vision community concerts to fundraise for an African village, and she is now mum to three young children while running her business as a reflexologist in Tauranga. In her ‘spare’ time, she’s a volunteer ambulance officer for St John’s.
But she concedes we do sometimes encounter unexpected experiences, and when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, her upbeat attitude was a trusty support. She had to find a way through this new challenge by focusing on the positives of her situation and looking ahead toward her plans and goals.
It was April, and Kaz had just completed her first half marathon in Rotorua. She was fit and healthy and stoked to feel so good at the finish line. It was odd then that she suddenly began to put on ‘belly’ weight and struggled to run 3km just two weeks after the event. Perhaps this was her body in recovery mode, she thought. One week later, when running a few hundred meters had left her breathless and in pain, she decided to see her doctor.
An ovarian cyst had grown very large, very quickly. It had to come out but wasn’t necessarily a cause for concern, especially as a CT scan had come back clear of cancer. In the worst case scenario, her surgeon would do a complete hysterectomy. Kaz went into surgery aware this was a possibility, but, based on all the results, felt it was unlikely.
Later that night, not long out of recovery and feeling drugged and drowsy after complications with high blood pressure, Kaz found out her entire uterus, as well as her ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix, had been removed, but all she heard was one word – cancer. It wasn’t until she woke the next morning that she was able to confirm and process the news.
“I was a little shocked about the hysterectomy because I wasn’t expecting that. One of the scariest moments was when I sat up for the first time after two days lying flat. All my organs moved and it felt like everything was about to fall out. Luckily that only happened once.”
Despite being a large 2.6kg oblong-shaped tumour it was still low grade – unusual for ovarian cancers which are often only discovered at an advanced stage –and the surgeon had removed it intact. Apart from a longer hospital stay and medication to stabilise her blood pressure and fight an infection, Kaz didn’t require further treatment.
It was a scary time though, she says, particularly for her children, and her recovery was slow and painful. She also had to get used to the changes brought on by surgery-induced menopause.
“The symptoms started immediately and were horrific. At first I didn’t want to take HRT but after a few weeks of feeling absolutely terrible with nausea and mood swings, the surgeon talked me through the pros and cons. I took two pills and wondered why I had waited so long; I felt normal again.”
Fulfilling her purpose
During her cancer diagnosis and while recovering from surgery, Kaz was able to complete her training in reflexology, and set up her business, Feet First Tauranga, at the end of 2014. She treats clients for a range of ailments, particularly back and neck complaints, headaches, and digestion, respiratory, sleeping and hormonal issues.
Last year she decided to renew her love for running and redo the Rotorua half marathon – this time without the grim aftermath. It spurred her to sign up for the half in Auckland which encourages participants to align with a charity and raise money. She chose St John and, unexpectedly, found her next big challenge – she wanted to become a trained volunteer ambulance officer. She now fits in two or three shifts a fortnight.
“I absolutely love going out in the ambulance and it’s a great feeling being able to help people. I also love the varied work as you never know what you’re going to. It’s something that I really want to do so, as a family, we make it work somehow.”
Even though Kaz has always chosen the ‘live life to the fullest’ approach, she says her experience with cancer and her St John’s work has ramped that up tenfold.
“Lots of us get stuck in our everyday routine and don’t look too much beyond that because we put up too many barriers, like work or money. You do have to find a way around those things but you also have to live life and do things that make you happy, because you just don’t know what’s around the corner.”
What is ovarian cancer?
There are three types of ovarian cancer: the common epithelial type (90% of cases) that arises from the cells on the outside of the ovary; the germ cell type that arises from the cells which produce eggs; and the rare stromal type arising from supporting tissues within the ovary.
There are often no obvious signs of ovarian cancer however, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- abdominal bloating
- difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- frequent or urgent urination
- back, abdominal or pelvic pain
- menstrual irregularities
- pain during sexual intercourse
- unexpected weight loss or gain
Causes of ovarian cancer
Some factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include:
- ageing (risk increases for women over 50)
- family history
- changes in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2
- being of Northern European or Northern or Ashkenazi Jewish descent
- early onset of periods (before 12 years) and late menopause
- first child after 30
- never taking oral contraceptives
- using oestrogen only hormone replacement therapy or fertility treatment
If you are experiencing possible symptoms of ovarian cancer your doctor may suggest several tests or scans to look for cysts, tumours or other changes.
For more information visit www.cancernz.org.nz or call 0800 CANCER | 0800 226 237