A WOMAN was working out when she suddenly felt a pain in her chest – now doctors have given her three years to live.
Jessica Slee, 35, was with her personal trainer when she felt a dull pain in her chest while doing a sit-up.
At first, the Aussie mum-of-two thought it was a "pulled muscle" but tests later revealed a devastating diagnosis.
Jess had an inoperable cancer which had spread across her body and become fatal.
The shock prognosis in 2014 uprooted the 35-year-old's life, which she says she now wants to spend with her two young ones and husband.
"I have reached the point where I understand what is happening to me," she told 7 News.
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"But I don’t want this to happen to anyone else."
Jess was exercising with her trainer when she tried to do a sit-up with a twist while holding a weight.
But mid-way through, she felt a pain across her midline, just below her sternum.
"It was a normal exercise but a different movement for me," she explained.
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When the pain didn't go away, Jess, who is a nurse, booked herself into a doctor's appointment.
The doctor she saw was visiting from the UK and studying to be a surgeon and failed to find a reason for her discomfort.
"He said, 'What you are telling me just doesn’t make sense, you are healthy and young'," Jess said, who was then sent for an abdominal scan.
The scan showed something in her chest cavity and it needed a further look at.
"No one thought it was bad," she said recounting the mood before she received the life-changing news.
Results found Jess has a sarcoma – a type of bone cancer.
She immediately phoned a colleague who told her it was bad news.
"He just said, ‘Jess that’s not normal, this is serious’," she said.
She and fiancé Kieran started to worry but that faded when the biopsy came back revealing the growth was a benign tumour.
She was advised to have surgery because the growth was close to her heart and had the tumour sent off for testing.
"They cut a few bits and just popped it (the tumour) out," she said.
"But they believed it didn’t look like it should have, so they sent it off for diagnostics."
Five weeks later, Jess received a call.
"My doctor asked me where I was and if there were people around me," she said.
"I told him I was at work and he said he doesn’t like doing this over the phone but he had to."
Doctors diagnosed the young mum with Sclerosing Epithelioid Fibrosarcoma and High Grade Osteosarcoma – a hybrid subtype cancer.
The disease is so rare that Jess is just one in 20 people in the world to have it and the only known person in Australia.
With her wedding just weeks away, Jess packed her belongings and moved back to her family home in Adelaide to get chemotherapy and five weeks later, walked down the aisle.
"I just kept thinking if I didn’t marry him then would I ever get the chance to?" she said.
"I was absolutely exhausted but I don’t regret getting married at all."
Treatment paid off. Her cancer was receding and the couple were told in 2016 that they could start trying for kids.
The couple welcomed two children: a boy, Declan, born in 2017 and a baby girl Maddison a year later.
But in 2019 – just when Jess felt the worst of the cancer was behind her – she was told her tumour had returned.
"I knew the statistics of what happens when it recurs. They are very poor," she said.
"My doctor just said, ‘It’s up to the universe now’. They couldn’t do anything.
"My husband and I couldn’t even talk – our hearts were in our boots."
Jess went for surgery in a desperate attempt to remove the cancer and that saw doctors create an incision stretching from her heck down to her pubic bone in an op that lasted nine hours.
My doctor asked me where I was and if there were people around me
Surgeons removed part of her sternum and diaphragm and reconstructed her chest wall.
Despite the heroic attempt to remove the cancer, Jess was told in December 2020 that it had spread through her chest, abdomen, and right behind her heart and had become incurable.
"I was told if chemo does nothing I would have 12 months to live," Jess said.
"If it stabilised the cancer, I would have 12-18 months.
"If it shrunk it, I would have 18 months to three years."
But after three round of excruciating rounds of chemo and no changes, the mum-of-two called it quits.
She started losing her hair, which upset her little daughter, who was no longer able to brush her mum's hair or play salon.
Jess has now chosen to focus on the quality of time she had left.
"It’s all about my quality not quantity of life now," she said.
The family held a fundraiser and used the money to buy a campervan so they could create memories together.
"There is something about being told you are going to die that has changed my life for the better," Jess said.
"Now, when I get an opportunity, I do it, and my husband and kids are the ones benefiting – the adventures and vacations."
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She continued: "If I could have done that sit-up, the tumour would have never been found. If I didn’t have that doctor, it would have never been found.
"If you have something that is bothering you, just get it checked out. Don’t put it off."
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