Jess Douglas

Who is Jess Douglas? A life of learning. Chapter 1

20 February 2014

Who is Jess Douglas?
A life of learning.

Chapter 1

dad and meWhen I was young, I recall the thrill of my first bike that was given to me when we lived in Bellerine Street in Geelong. It was at the beginning of my 5th year, and there were no training wheels, just a bike with my dad telling me to pedal as he hold the back of my seat.
And so I pedaled and carried momentum and rode a bike from that day forward.
I won't tell you untruths about my ability to jump gutters and do other daring stunts, rather I will admit that I preferred to find the driveways to ride up or down.

Though I was missing a “dare devil” role model or gene, I had a deep desire to explore the unknown and ride forever (whatever level of forever was suited to my age and weather conditions and time available) and had no problem enjoying my own company.

You may misunderstand my love of cycling for a sporty type, which I was far from. I loved bush walking, I loved playing back yard cricket, I loved swimming in the ocean or jumping in the pool on a hot summers day, I loved catching tadpoles and building cubbies and I wished I was part of the Secret Seven or the Famous Five. But organised sport that had a winner or a loser – bah bow, this was not me. I was so afraid of competition, I thought for some reason that every person that played sport was some sort of elite athlete and I was scared.
So the bike and I got along fine, and I was far from sedentry.

Growing up in a suburb of Geelong called Whittington, there was the Bellerine Rail trail close by although it was not built until I was a bit older. A short ride away there was also the Barwon River and a walking/riding trail that was approx 20km in length. Plus loads of other fun exploration trips to Eastern Beach and Park. Even just the opportunity to ride to the shop to buy milk was a gift to me.
You get the gist, I loved riding my bike. It was my life line, my independence and the tool that gave me a chance to nurture that inner explorer.

Every now and again events occur in your life that perhaps at the time do not seem significant until later and this happened in grade 5 at Geelong East Primary School. We had a bike ed program and part of it was learning how to ride on roads. We had to have those flouro orange flags on our bikes, wear stack hats and ride single file. Awesome!
The culmination of the bike ed program was a 2 day camp to Queenscliff on bike!
The distance from GEPS to Queenscliff is around 32km, so thats a 64km return trip in 2 days.
Yes I recall it being tough, especially on a 3 speed girls bike up some of the hills but after that camp I remember that my little exploration rides got longer.
I was shown what was possible and now I was also confident to ride in traffic and on roads to get places. This opened up a whole new world of riding.
I also got a larger bike, 700cc step through “ladies 3 speed” bike. Now I could go fast!
The 20km rides around the river were the most fun, there were little dirt trails off the main bitumen and I would always go off track in the hope that they would take me for more than 50 meters. I would pack some food in a back pack and some water and be gone all day long.
Then on occasion I would do the Barwon Heads – Ocean Grove – home loop which was around 55km in one hit.

I then started high school in 1985 at Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College, about a 5-6km ride from home. I had to get a pack rack installed on my bike to carry the heavy load of a school bag but on a whole, it was far quicker to ride to school than catch the bus to and from and I could do it at a time that suited me, not the bus timetable.

Like the pivotal moment that helped me realise how to ride longer distances, the next one in 1987 was probably my most signficant.

I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and underwent chemotherapy that went from Easter 1987 to October of the same year.
I lost about 80% of my hair, spent a lot of time vomitting yet managed to keep going with my year 9 studies, turn up to 85% of my school requirements and survived.
I talk percentages as this is what it was all about. The oncologist I saw was positive and provided my 14 year old brain with all sorts of figures.

There was an 80% chance I would come out of this fully recovered.
There was an unknown figure of if I would be able to have children.
Then I was told something like, I might also not live to the normal ripe old age that an average Australian female might without cancer and chemo.

Yet all I heard was that I had a good prognosis of beating cancer and I was switched into winning now.
Not a competitve person at all, but I wanted to live.

It was this year in 1987 that I was about to learn about adversity and about perserverance.
Pushing through the impossible when others would have given up long before.

I recall that I was not happy about being told I would lose hair, that I might vomit and that I would have to go to hospital for IV drips and chemotherapy. Yet something inside my head said, “ok if this is the worst it gets and you live, then just follow the process and you will be ok.”

I handed it over, handed over control and had faith that if I kept positive and believed that I would be ok.

Initially it was all plain sailing, blood tests, chemotherapy, oncologists, overnight hospital stays, loads of vomitting, the loss of hair, cards, flowers, and of course the people around me who were a little afraid of what to say or how to act, including the tears of my own parents.
Yet all I longed for was normality, going to school, creating stuff at home, drawing, cooking, sewing, reading and hanging out with friends.
Life was pretty good, I got to go to Camp Quality, meet new friends, have fun times.

Then the next round of Chemotherapy would come around very quick. I would have one lot and then the very next week the 2nd part, then 2 weeks off.
Eventually my red blood cell count suffered and sometimes I would have to have one lot of chemo one week, wait 2 weeks and go again.

It was at this point with only 2 treatments to go, and everything moving along fine and dandy with my cure, that I hit the wall.

NO MORE NEEDLES, no more blood tests, no more vomitting, no more pain!
Leave me alone, I will get through this on my own, I just cannot do it any longer.

It was at this point that the expert I was seeing in hospital gave me a bit of shock treatment with a simple sentence,
“You have come this far and you are willing to potentially give your life because you don't want to have a needle or vomit or lose your hair? How shallow of you!
What is more important?
Living or the percieved pain you are trying to avoid for the next 2, thats right only 2 treatments?”

It hit me instantly, I was just suffering pain, I was tired of it, and was getting whingy, but I could overcome MY emotions by refocsing on something far more important and that was to live.
I also wanted to know for sure that it was only “2” more treatments to go, but they couldnt promise me this.

When you can't see the end but know it is close, this is when most of us give up.
We feel we have gone on too long and should be able to see the result by now.
We are tired and feel that we have travelled the path for too long and need to rest our weary heads.

It was this precise moment that I learnt the valuable lesson of perserverance.
To not give in when all hope feels lost.
To find hope and energy when you feel you have none to give.
And most of all to let go of emotion that is bogging you down and realise that LIFE is bigger than our pains and that our mindset is what is holding us back.

I then cried.
I felt this weight lift from me, realising that I was resisting success based on what I perceived as hard work.
And so I agreed, Lets KEEP going and I shall vomit, have needles, lose hair and just deal with it!

It is ONLY PAIN...and Pain Only Hurts.

And here I am in 2014, a mother, a wife, a 3 x world championship 24hr mountain biker, a business owner and a big subscriber to 'adversity and sufferance'.

Welcome that which will test you, stretch you, hurt you, grow you, knock you down and deliver a challenge that only you can meet head on.

Face Fear with an inner peace that you are awesome and can achieve anything.

Its most likely apparent to you the reader that the love of being on my own, riding my bike, and the lessons learnt from my year with cancer have helped shape my future and where I head next!

This is Chapter 1 of me – a promise to deliver inspiration and hope to anyone willing to listen
Who is Jess Douglas?
Next chapter ...beyond Cancer. The next 3 years.