I just knew

Despite her breast cancer diagnosis coming as no surprise, Jo was bed bound for two days, feeling scared and unable to tell anyone but her husband and children. From chemotherapy to pulling through, she bravely shares her story with GYone Health

In June 2017 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I coped by staying in bed and ignoring what was to come – even ignoring the booklets I’d been given on breast cancer. I knew every type was different so what was the point in comparing mine to others? In hindsight they would’ve made my first three months a lot easier. The support groups I originally shyed away from certainly have now.

Eventually I had to get out of bed and face the inevitable – chemotherapy. When it comes to chemo, everyone reacts differently both emotionally and physically. No one can prepare you for what’s to come but, for me, losing my hair was one of the worst parts. I was proud of my waist length locks and it left me feeling unattractive and low. 

As far as chemotherapy side-effects go – they were pretty grim. Constipation, diahorrea, blurry vision, watering eyes, nausea, blisters in my mouth and throat, no feeling in my hands and feet – you name it, I had it. Luckily, though, the staff at Guernsey’s hospital were fantastic, especially when it came to Herceptin injections which meant I needed close monitoring. 

Through all of this and despite the never-ending side-effects of chemo, I kept smiling. I can only put this down to sheer grit and determination. Letting cancer win was not an option.

I was devastated after hearing a mastectomy was the next step. Not only had I lost my hair, I’d be losing my breasts, too. This all happened around Christmas time and I convinced myself surgery would be the end. 

I put all my affairs in order, threw a family Christmas dinner and secured my death notice for release to the press. I spent a lot of time lying in bed alone after my chemo sessions, frightened that I wouldn’t be awake by morning. 

The first few days after the operation were my lowest. I felt repulsive and not half the person I used to be. Everyone was planning their Christmas and I remember thinking ‘look at me, I’m sick and sad and lost. How is this fair?’

The next stop was Southampton for radiotherapy. They were tough times now that I look back but, in the end, life-saving. Everyone has a unique pain threshold but the thing I hated the most was the scans. Luckily, I found comfort in music and humour.

As I had no support from the authorities, my husband worked night shifts – even taking on another job to support us financially. I needed him more than ever so this wasn’t easy and, despite my employer being incredibly supportive, the situation was tough and even paying rent was difficult. 

My other half was eventually signed off with exhaustion, but we’ll never forget the help provided by the Guernsey Society for Cancer Relief. Their kindness was invaluable. 

I found solace in going to work as regularly as possible, it gave me a sense of normality that meant I could be myself and my colleagues lifted my spirits considerably, as did Sharon and Tracey, the nurses on Bulstrode ward at the hospital.

The truth is, I am yet to come to terms with my diagnosis. I still have physical healing to get through before my reconstructive surgery can be completed – after which I’ll move on to re-building myself emotionally. I wish I’d sought emotional support from the beginning, but, then again, everyone handles cancer uniquely – not one person goes through the same experience. 

Most importantly, I have survived. I am still me, despite being battered by this cancerous storm. Life is slowly but surely looking brighter and – soon – this will all be behind me.

The advice I would give to others is to fight with all the strength you can muster. Don’t do what I did and deny the help offered by others, listen carefully to your specialist’s advice and don’t take somebody else’s story as your outcome – everyone is different. 

Most importantly – though – don’t be afraid of selfishness. Be kind to yourself and pamper yourself – this treatment is about you and nobody else.

Cancer hasn’t changed my outlook as such, but I find myself repeating the phrase ‘life is too short’ to friends, family and myself on a daily basis, whether it’s in relation to arguing, apprehension about spending money on something necessary or being fearful of an experience that could turn out be extraordinary. Life isn’t a given and that’s something we should all remember.