Facing the reality of cancer
Jenny Hood retired teacher aged 73, defines the expression of a ‘Good Samaritan’. Throughout her life she has given her time to helping others, whether it is teaching children to express themselves through drama, being a founder of a local mental health drop-in centre and charity or nursing her father and husband through cancer. But just 10 months ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself.
I caught up with Jenny last week, when she told me her story. But this wasn’t before showing me her collection of knitted baby grows, blankets and bobble hats she had been packaging up to send to children in Sierra Leone for Christmas.
Jenny was first diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015. “I had an odd sensation and pain in my right nipple; it was like a wire being pulled through my flesh. It only lasted a few days, but because it was such a different type of pain from any I have ever felt before, I thought I’d better get it checked out,” explained Jenny.
The Doctor examined Jenny, but he couldn’t find any of the usual symptoms for breast cancer. Just to be safe, he decided to send her for a mammogram. “If it wasn’t for his precaution, my story might have been very different” said Jenny.
The results of the mammogram concluded she had cancer in her left breast. “This seemed so strange,” exclaimed Jenny “as the pain had been in my right breast”.
At the end of January she was sent for a lumpectomy. “I was so impressed by how fast the process was, within less than a month from my first doctor’s appointment I had already been operated on”.
The next challenge Jenny had to face was radiotherapy. After a necessary three month wait, the intense treatment began – five days a week for six weeks, Jenny would go for a half hour session. “I’ll never forget trying to stay so still,” said Jenny “and it may sound silly, but it exhausted me.”
“It has taken me some time to recover, and I feel my energy levels are generally much less now, but maybe that’s just old age catching up with me” laughed Jenny.
On the 25th May 2016, Jenny received a letter to say her treatment was complete and all that was required moving forward was a yearly mammogram to monitor the disease progression.
As far as is possible all seems well and after losing both her father and husband to cancer, she is grateful to have benefited from modern day’s treatment. However, “knowing my husband’s secondary cancer came back two years later, does play on my mind,” contemplated Jenny.
Time has moved on significantly since the loss of her loved ones, and so too has scientific knowledge and the improvements to diagnosing and treating cancer. “There was little hope for effective treatment of oesophageal cancer when my husband was suffering.” Now between 30 and 40 out of 100 people (30 to 40%) with localised oesophageal cancer can have treatment to try to cure it¹.
“The research, developments and progression for cancer treatment, which have been achieved over the years, is phenomenal and we have some very skilled scientists and researchers to thank for this. It certainly gives me hope for a cancer free future,” explained Jenny.
I finished by asking Jenny, if there was one thing that she could change about the whole of the diagnosis and treatment process what would it be?
“I didn’t realise that once you reach 70 you no longer get invited for mammograms as part of the national screening programme, but instead you can request one through your doctor at any time. I’d like to make more people aware of that. But more than anything I would love there to be something as simple as a blood test to diagnose or monitor breast cancer, something to replace the invasive and painful mammograms, as I’m not looking forward to having one of them every year from now on,” responded Jenny.
Jenny’s story didn’t take long to reach the 100’s of people that she has taught and helped through her lifetime. Through social media they all came together and raised over £2000 for Cancer Research Wales. “I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support I was shown, and it made me want to make more people aware of the importance of early diagnosis,” said Jenny.
“Facing the reality of cancer takes you on an emotional journey as well as physical one. But the earlier you get diagnosed the better, so if you think something isn’t right, don’t put it off, visit your doctor and get it checked out,” urged Jenny.
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2 Elevated Levels of Serum Tumor Markers CEA and CA15-3 Are Prognostic Parameters for Different Molecular Subtypes of Breast Cancer Y Shao et al. PLoS One. 2015; 10(7).