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Cancer patient urges public not to delay seeking help

Jo Burgess and her children

A patient from Appleby has urged others not to delay seeking treatment after she discovered a lump in her breast in March this year.

Following health problems earlier this year with her young family, Jo Burgess from Appleby faced her own health worries with a Cancer and Covid diagnosis.

In March while examining herself she found a lump in her breast. She tells us her story and how she braved and lived through the situation.

“I tried to stay calm but did a thorough check and found a second in my arm pit. I knew that meant it could be cancer that had spread. I spent most of that night sitting on the sofa downstairs going through worst case scenarios. I also knew that I had checked my breasts in the last 4 months and there had been no lump there previously. By the Monday I had persuaded myself that I had overreacted thinking it must be swollen glands and I did not want to disturb the GP with the rising concerns around Covid. My amazing husband was insistent, so I was seen by the GP who immediately referred me to Carlisle. Then lockdown hit and I got Covid! Fortunately for both me and my husband it was relatively mild.

“I had an appointment at the Breast clinic on April 3rd and had an Ultrasound, Mammogram and Biopsy. The doctor prepared me that it did not look good which I was incredibly grateful for. On the 14th April I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes, it is HER2 Positive, so I started with Chemotherapy before my operation. I was to have a CT to see if it had spread further and this could take two weeks. Within 48 hours I’d had the scan and, on the 21st April, I got the results that it hadn’t spread further – this was the biggest relief and had been the real fear.

“I had my hair cut on 15th May before my hair started to fall out. I wanted to be prepared and get ‘ahead’ of it. It also gave me a sense of control. I posted a picture of myself of Facebook and asked that instead of donations people take the time to check themselves instead.

“My first Chemotherapy session was on Monday 18th May, just over two months from finding the lump to getting Chemotherapy. This was a very tough time, having four rounds of aggressive treatment every three weeks, including injections to help boost my immune system which I really dreaded as they caused bad side effects.  – I would plan how I would reward myself after the injection.

“All the staff in Reiver House at the Cumberland Infirmary are amazing; I genuinely enjoyed my time there. We laughed, sang, they gave me tea and biscuits. Paula called me before my very first session and was there when I had my last. It was strange, and a little sad, not to be able to hug them when I finished and only see them with masks, but they did so well to keep the unit safe and secure.

“To have my Chemotherapy I had a peripherally inserted central-line catheter in my arm which required weekly cleaning and care which I received at Penrith hospital from Robin and Emma. This was one of the highlights of my week, we’d have a good chat, they’d clean my PICC, we’d have a laugh and off I would go!

“Life carried on through my Chemotherapy. I tended to have one bad week, one improving week and one good week with every cycle though each time it took a little but longer to recover.

“Lockdown finished and the kids went back to school. I was grateful for lockdown, it had given our family time to process the diagnosis, my husband was furloughed and we all spent so much time in the garden together. We told the kids using a book called ‘Mummy’s Lump’ which the Breast Care team had given me, it was brilliant for both ages and gave them a better understanding of what was going to happen. They are both extremely disappointed that my hair has not fallen out completely!

“I had my last Chemotherapy on 13th October – 7 months since I found the lump. I’ve just had another MRI to see exactly what is there and am meeting the Surgeon on in November to find out about my surgery which will hopefully be before the end of November so I can recover over Christmas. There will be more treatment in the New Year but that will depend on the type of surgery I have.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff who looked after me throughout the diagnosis, treatment and follow up, including Dr Haidar my oncologist, Dr Michalakis my surgeon and Helen Joyce my breast care nurse. Also to the Trust for coordinating the treatment so promptly on top of the Covid-19 Pandemic in the hospital. Most of all I would advise anyone in a similar position not to delay going to the GP; the outcome is better when you are seen sooner.”

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