Alison Jackson’s Story
This case study is about two sisters, Alison and Jane, and their heartbreakingly similar story.
In 2007 Alison was diagnosed with breast cancer. Although this year sees her 10-year survival milestone, Alison is now reliving her brave ordeal with cancer all over again as her sister Jane, who supported her during her treatment, is going through exactly the same breast cancer journey. The Big C has been there for them both.
Alison told us that she received tremendous support, advice and friendship from the Big C Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital throughout and after her treatment. Alison was just 41 when she found a lump by pure chance at her desk at work. Although she had an aggressive form of cancer, the surgeons were able to easily access the cancer and clear her lymph nodes successfully.
She regained consciousness from her operation the next day on her 42nd birthday. After several rounds of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiation over Christmas, she was over the worst of it. The three things that helped Alison through this time were: The support she received at the Big C, her sister Jane’s support and Alison’s pledge to “trust everything”.
“It felt as though I was on autopilot during the diagnosis. I made a promise to myself and my family that I would trust everything, do as I was told, go through everything that was offered to me and just get on with it. I tried not to think about it too much. It was as though I was on a hamster wheel. It felt very alien, inhabiting this medical world.”
For Alison, her visits to our Big C Centre were “somewhere nice to go amidst the madness”. She had massage treatments and took part in relaxation groups. She remembers the group leader saying: “Alison, this time is just for you; you don’t have to think of anyone else, we’re here for you” – when she heard these words she was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she was brought to tears.
However, similar to many who go through cancer treatments, the hardest part was the aftermath. She didn’t feel strong enough to ask too many questions until after her treatments had ended.
“I didn’t really know what had happened to me, I really did just put my faith in the system. So, after I’d been through all my treatments, I used the library at the Big C Centre to access information to process everything that I had been through. I used it for dietary advice during treatment, to find out about side effects, general information and things about hair loss. Then, during recovery I read a lot about the type of cancer I had, I couldn’t have done this at the time. It was a big help to access all of this information, it was exactly what I needed answers for.”
After so many treatments, Alison considered herself resilient to these hospital visits. So on one occasion she went to the hospital by herself. After her radiology, she left the cancer unit and walked to the car and “fell apart”.
“I didn’t even make it to my car. I literally fell into the door of the Big C Centre, sobbing, I was a wreck. Having the counsellors and support staff at the Big C to discuss how I was feeling was absolutely priceless to me. There isn’t the funding in the NHS to support cancer patients after their treatment. If the Big C wasn’t there, I don’t know what I would have done.”
However, for Alison, the end of her treatments marked the start of personal journey. For her, the aftermath was a very challenging time. With the right support, including counselling, it’s been a 10-year process for Alison.
“You have to rebuild your entire life again for yourself. Surviving cancer changes you forever. It’s very nerve-wracking, I still feel anxious about it returning. I haven’t bounced back to how I was by any stretch of the imagination but I’ve found coping strategies. For me, running has been my crutch.”
She took up running as part of her recovery plan after her treatments had finished. Running has been a truly remarkable thing for Alison. Cancer was her “wake up call” and running is not only a healthy way to stay fit but it allows her to trust she’s OK again.
“I’ve always called it “the Jane Tomlinson effect” as she was inspirational and sadly died of the disease whilst I was undergoing treatment. I still feel worried about the cancer returning but for me, running has helped build my trust with my body, it’s my way to keep fit. If I can run for an hour it helps me trust I’m staying healthy”.
Her older sister, Jane who was her chief carer and accompanied her to the Big C, is now currently going through a similar diagnosis and treatment to Alison.
To mark Alison’s 10-year survival anniversary and to support her sister through her current treatments and recovery, she has recently decided to take part in Run Norwich’s 10k challenge.
“This is to support my sister and to say a big thank you to the Big C for everything they do for cancer patients in Norfolk and Suffolk and for funding research invaluable to all cancer patients. I’m so happy to be running for the Big C, it makes me feel especially good knowing that the money is being invested locally. This one’s for you Jane.“