After struggling with the mental health aspect of breast cancer, Jo found support from women who had been through the same thing on our Forum.
Since my mother died I've been vigilant about checking
I was diagnosed three years ago, aged 46. My cancer was found by accident, I was very lucky.
I had lost my mum to breast cancer 15 years ago, and since then have been extremely vigilant about checking for any signs or symptoms. One day I felt a pain in my ribs, so I poked and prodded around and found a lump under my breast. I went straight to the doctors and was referred for a mammogram, but the scan didn't find anything, so I had further scans. It turned out to be a fatty lump, but by complete chance the scan also showed a dark area on the top of my breast.
It was breast cancer, but not where I had been looking.
I immediately thought I was going to die
At the time I was devastated, but I felt as though my mum had given me a guiding hand. Something led me to find something, which led to the doctors to find something completely elsewhere.
I know I'm very lucky that it was found so early, although it took a long time to feel this. My immediate thought was, 'I'm going to die,' because my mum did. Even though I knew my circumstances were completely different, I couldn't rationalise it.
It was so much harder mentally than physically
Mentally, I was floored. I didn't have to go through chemo, but had radiotherapy and surgery. I just couldn't deal with what was happening. I've always been strong – the go-to person in our massive family. Everyone comes to me to sort their problems out. Suddenly it was me, and I didn't know who to go to. It was soul-destroying.
I just thought that once you have breast cancer, you die. I didn't know any different.
My anxiety stopped me from seeing a future
At the time I couldn't look ahead. I just thought, 'That's it. My life is over.' I had gone from worrying about small things like losing weight or dusting the telly to being diagnosed with breast cancer 24 hours later. My family, my home, my friends – I lost the ability to care for anything. It got me so low, I just wanted it to stop.
Talking is vital
The more people I spoke to, the more I started to come to terms with it, but it took about six months to feel like 'me' again.
I have a wonderful husband who was incredible, and we've always been able to talk openly in the 27 years we've been together. I would wake him in the middle of the night having a panic attack, and he'd get up and hold me or take me out for a walk.
It's hard to 'know' unless you've experienced it
My husband couldn't have done more, but he never knew what it was like to think, 'I'm going to die.' It's one thing to say 'I know,' but you don't unless you've been there. Although cancer affects family and friends in other ways, it was still me that it was happening to.
I found people who understood
Talking to people on the Forum who knew what I meant was a huge help. I suddenly found a place where I didn't have to explain anything. They just knew, as they had been through the same thing.
When I was waiting for my results I was in total panic. The doctors were expecting it to by fine so had organised a phone call, but then rang and said I would have to come in the following Monday to collect them.
My nurse had recommended the Forum and I registered straight away. On the first day a woman messaged me, who had been in my position a few years before. She knew exactly how I felt, and now had moved on past her treatment and was looking forwards again.
My family and those amazing women on the Forum were what got me through the darkest of times.
I want to give back the support I gained
After a while I thought it was time for me to move on from the Forum and draw a line under it. But I would sit there in the evening and wonder what was going on there. Then I found I could help people by sharing my experience and supporting them as they went through the terrifying wait for results, or the shock of being diagnosed.
I feel I'm a better person now
It's still hard to explain to those who haven't been through it themselves. But I feel I'm a better person now – I don't worry about the dust on the telly or the wall that needs painting.
Three years ago I didn't even think I would see another year go by, but now I'm turning 50, I have a five-month-old granddaughter and my youngest son is getting married in the summer. My world is filled with new life again.
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