A leading businesswoman who survived breast cancer and lost her much-loved mum to the disease is stressing the importance of checking for signs and symptoms during national Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Jo Whiteley, who owns and runs Cumbria Heating Components in Kendal with her brother Rhys Garnett, said everyone should check themselves on a regular basis and if they have any concerns they should see their GP urgently.
Jo’s beloved mum Jen dad Tony Garnett set up the family business at Parkside Road in Kendal more than 40 years ago and there are now branches in Carlisle, Preston, Warrington, Chester and Wrexham.
Jo, 44, and her son Bobby, 12, used the free services of CancerCare North Lancashire and South Cumbria at the Lakes Centre on Blackhall Road in Kendal when they were going through the toughest of times.
In 2017 Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer and just days later Jen was also diagnosed with cancer.
Tragically, Jen died just two weeks after Jo was told all of her cancer had been successfully removed.
Jo said: “Breast cancer is more common than people think. I was only 43 when I was diagnosed and some people get it much younger so it’s important to keep checking yourself. Just keep checking.”
In the UK one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and nine out of ten will survive for five years or more.
One of the key factors in the successful treatment of breast cancer, as in all cancers, is early detection.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual event which takes place in October and is supported by many charities including CancerCare.
Signs and symptoms of breast cancer include a change in size or shape, a lump or area that feels thicker than the rest of the breast, a change in skin texture such as puckering or dimpling (like the skin of an orange) and redness or rash on the skin and/or around the nipple.
Other signs include nipples that have become pulled in or look different, (for example changed their position or shape), liquid that comes from the nipple without squeezing, pain in the breast or armpit that’s there all or almost all of the time and a swelling in the armpit or around the collarbone.
Many symptoms of breast cancer, such as breast pain or a lump may, in fact, be caused by normal breast changes or a non-cancerous breast condition.
However, if you notice a change, it’s important to see your GP as soon as you can even if you feel well. It’s common to have no other symptoms at all.
Jo, who lives in Kendal, practiced law before going into the family business.
She received her breast cancer diagnosis on March 23 of 2017. Her first chemotherapy session was on May 2 and her last session was on August 15. She had her mastectomy and reconstruction on September 24 and had injections up until July of 2018.
Jo said: “I found out on October the 6th of 2017 that they had taken all of the cancer away. My mum died two weeks after that. I think she kept going to make sure I was going to be alright.”
Jen first had cancer when Jo was 18 years old. This meant that Jo was referred to a specialist clinic at Blackpool Victoria Hospital where they suggested she should have a mammogram every year from the age of 40.
When Jo had the fourth of these mammograms in February of 2017, her cancer was picked up.
Jo said: “I remember after my first chemo my son Bobby was 10 years old and my daughter Harrie was only eight.
“Bobby had counselling at CancerCare and it was really helpful for him. He started at secondary school just after my operation and chemo. Then mum died.
“She had been a massive person in his life. It affected him a lot because I had cancer and she had cancer.
“Talking to a counsellor at CancerCare was really helpful to him because he would not talk to me or his dad. He’s enjoying life again now.
“I had counselling at CancerCare and it really helped me.
“CancerCare referred me to a doctor and I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder which was caused by losing my mum.
“My counsellor at CancerCare helped me to grieve for my mum and to look to the future.
“The counselling also helped with my panic attacks. When she was poorly my mum was glad to see that I was getting help from CancerCare.”
Jo also used CancerCare’s online Phoenix Group as a means of support during and after her treatment.
She said: “When I got my cancer, Andrea Partridge from the Phoenix Group was a really good support. She came to see me and messaged me to make sure I was ok.”
Jo said it was important for women to access breast care services: “Having the mammogram saved me.
“If you think something is wrong, I would say go to see your doctor and keep pushing.”
Anyone affected by cancer can contact CancerCare for information about free support services via email at [email protected] or ask for the Therapy Coordination Team on 01524 381 820.
Further information is available at www.cancercare.org.uk
You can also request to join CancerCare’s Phoenix cancer support group on Facebook.