Condition: Breast Cancer
Jane and Simon sit in their living room in their cottage in Cawston, North Norfolk. Their surroundings are peaceful. Although the occasional loud noise comes from upstairs where their youngest, Tim, is back from University.
Jane’s breast cancer began with a pain rather than a lump. People told her that because it was pain she probably had no reason to worry. They decided it was best to have it checked anyway and the appointment happened to be on their youngest son Tim’s 17th birthday. At the time, their three children were 21,19 and 17.
“I wasn’t expecting the results that day. I didn’t know they’d be able to tell just by looking. It was horrible finding out on Tim’s birthday. We had to tell him and tried to make the day nice for him, with a special Jaffa Cake birthday cake. I’m glad we did that. But I think it tainted his birthday for the next couple of years.”
That day, Jane also had to tell her daughter (then aged 19) who was at university in Aberystwyth, over the phone. “It was horrible. She was in a room filled with people. I told her to grab a good friend and take the phone somewhere quiet. We were worried about her being so far away from home and being able to cope on her own. Fortunately she had lots of great friends there”.
The treatment began with a lumpectomy, but unfortunately the whole tumour was not removed, so Jane had a mastectomy as well. She was due to have chemotherapy and felt very nervous about it. However, before she started, her daughter Alice accompanied her to Look Good Feel Better at the Big C Centre, Norwich. Jane says, “It was wonderful. It really helped us both. It helped Alice come to terms with it and it helped me as I could speak to lots of women in the same situation. Some had already had chemotherapy and it was good to talk to them about it. The day was filled with laughter. It really helped get me through. Every time I put that make up on afterwards, I’d think about that day and it’d lift me.”
Jane had her first session of chemotherapy the day before their eldest, James, then aged 21, was about to move to Essex to start a job. Unfortunately, she reacted badly to it and was very sick. James’ bedroom was next door to his parents’ so he heard it all. James told his mum, “The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was leave you that morning, knowing you were so sick”.
Jane’s reaction to chemotherapy was so bad that they had to call out of hours doctors for home visits. After one failed attempt with an anti-sickness injection, a doctor (whose wife was also being treated in hospital for cancer) visited them. He administered a stronger anti-sickness injection and stayed with her for around 3 hours during the night.
Both Simon and Jane found much respite in the Norwich Big C Centre once Jane started chemotherapy at the NNUH. Simon says, “It was normal to have cancer in the centre. There was never any worry of having to bring it up; everyone was in the same situation. We used to go to the Centre before chemotherapy appointments, to sit and relax with a cup of tea and a custard cream before going in. We also used the Ask the Pharmacist and Ask the Dietician services (part of the Healthy Matters Programme) when we had questions.”
Being open about her cancer with friends and family was the only option for Jane and she says people found it helpful. “Many people struggle with what to say to you, they don’t want to upset you. But I was always open, told them what symptoms I had and what the treatment was like. Friends told me they really appreciated this as it helped them know what to say – to me and to other friends who were diagnosed after me.”
All together Jane’s treatment consisted of a lumpectomy, mastectomy, 6 sessions of chemotherapy and 3 weeks of radiotherapy. Not only that but she had to have anti-sickness injections as part of her chemotherapy treatment due to her reaction to it. The treatment took almost a year to complete and finished in February 2011. When asked, “What happened next?”, the couple both replied, “We’re enjoying life now”. Jane sold her accountancy business while she was being treated and Simon was working a few hours from home so after the treatment finished, the couple found themselves with the priceless luxury of time.
“We got a caravan and started holidaying. Visiting the children in their various homes around the country, seeing friends, the Peak District, Derbyshire, walking holidays, Cornwall, Devon and our much-loved Christian Festivals such as Green Belt. Next stop, Europe.”
At the time of writing, Jane is due to have her reconstructive surgery very soon. Both Simon and Jane say they feel this is the last hurdle. They can both draw a line under it and move on with the rest of their lives.
Simon has decided to draw a line under it in a very active way. He’s taking part in the Cambridge to Norwich on September 28th and raising money for Big C. He discovered cycling a while ago and jokes about how he’s become MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra). He’s excited by the 80-mile distance and describes himself as having the “cycling bug”. “I’ve cycled around 50 miles now so I’m not far off target. Next year I’ll be going for 100. Our youngest son, Tim, will be riding with me and he’ll have done the Newbury to London bike ride 2 days earlier – again for Big C – through his work at Vodafone. It’ll be nice to ride with him”. Tim also did some fundraising himself through his school when his mum was in the middle of chemotherapy. He did a head shave, bucket collections and more and raised over £1,300 for Big C.
The last few years have certainly been difficult for the Court family. But now they are pulling together despite not all living in Norfolk, to help give back to a cause that helped them through their most difficult days.