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What a difference a year made

Wednesday 30 January, 2019

Jess and Russ

Jessica and Russ met through their cycling group.

2016 held plenty of excitement for Russ and Jessica – the birth of their son, a new home and even their wedding – but it was overshadowed by some unimaginable news.

At 39, Jessica met her husband Russ through their cycling community. After a couple of years together, the pair found out they were expecting.

“As soon as we found out we were going to have a child we thought we needed a bit more space, and went from a two bedroom unit in Sandringham to nearly an acre in Mt Eliza with a garden, beautiful pool and big house.

“Russ decided we should get married when I was seven months pregnant. That was another big surprise, the proposal,” said Jessica.

Jess and Jack

Jessica with her two-year-old son, Jack.

Russ and Jessica had their hands full - settling into their new home and preparing for the wedding - when they were faced with a shock that would change their lives forever.

“He was an elite athlete, about to go to the world championships cycling, and I was about to have a baby. That’s when we found out, it was quite a shock,” said Jessica.

Russ struggled with intense headaches and small seizures. After consulting a few doctors, it was assumed to be caused by stress.

“Then he started losing his sense of direction and couldn’t navigate even to the shops from our house. That’s when I realised there was something seriously wrong,” said Jessica.

Just four days before their wedding, Russ was diagnosed with brain cancer and they were told he had two months to live. Russ just didn’t want to know.

At the time, Jessica was seven months pregnant. The news came as a complete shock to the happy, healthy couple.

“I was uncontrollably upset obviously, because we were about to have a baby as well as planning our new life down here,” Jessica said.

Russ ended up living for five months and was there to meet his newborn son.

Russ and Jack

Russ was able to spend a few precious months with his newborn son, Jack.

“At least he saw Jack be born and had a few months with him, but the last few months were horrible.”

Jessica had two people to care for in Russ’ final months – especially with brain cancer having such a severe impact on her husband’s mind.

“I had a newborn and a husband that - it was almost like he had dementia.”

Jessica reflected on what having that limited time together has meant for her family.

Jess and Jack out walking

Jessica and her son Jack love exploring the outdoors together.

“It was just a shock I think – the realisation that we had a very short period of time together.”

In an inspiring effort to make the most of their situation, Jessica and two-year-old Jack are focusing on their positive memories, and all that they have to be grateful for.

“I made a time capsule of the first year of Jack’s life and everything he went through. My brother actually did some video interviews with Russ – asking him questions on his life.

“I’ve got a lot of video of them together, and a lot of photos,” said Jessica.

“Normally rushing around, you don’t appreciate those little moments. Now I’m trying to teach that to my son; just really focussing on now and what we have, rather than always planning for the future and letting little things bother you - which they don’t anymore.”

“Often I just go, ‘did I really go through that?’ It was so intense, and I look at photos and think ‘gosh that was only recent’. I don’t think I could have packed any more in.”

Nearly two years later, Jessica read about our Walking Stars event and called on her friends to support each other in the 21km challenge.

“One of my girlfriends, who also lost her husband to cancer, I called her and said ‘do you want to do this with me?’ and she said yes.

Jess at Walking Stars with Jack and friends

Jessica participated in the Walking Stars half-marathon fundraising event last year, with friends Amanda Basa (middle) and Missy Saleeba (right).

“There are three of us doing it together which will be great. The more I read around it, it just sounded like a great idea – something that was sort of fun and non-competitive, but something that was still going to be really challenging,” said Jessica.

Although she wasn’t always comfortable sharing her story, Jessica encourages those supporting a good cause to put it out there.

“I’ve tended to keep it to myself, because when I was in the middle of it I didn’t want to really talk about it, I was just trying to get through,” she said.

“I think sharing my story was the most important thing to help my fundraising. Once I did this, think the support just came.”

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