Jo Hinds was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2021, during the pandemic.
After recovering back to full health, she ploughed all her energy into writing a book about her breast cancer diagnosis – Mrs H’s Storm in D Cup. The publication of the book has enabled her to subsequently raise thousands of pounds for four charities, close to her heart, including Prevent Breast Cancer.
Jo has kindly shared her breast cancer journey with us, including all about her book, and why she now supports the vital work of Prevent Breast Cancer.
How did you find out you had breast cancer?
On attending my routine mammogram in January 2021, when we were still in lockdown, I was recalled to go to The Nightingale Centre for further tests. It was a very surreal experience, as you could not take anyone with you. Everyone was behind a mask and social distancing rules were in place. I was given a more in-depth mammogram and also an ultrasound scan and biopsy.
The staff were wonderful and tried to put me at ease but in my gut I knew that the result would be bad news, as I have breast cancer in my family. I had also had thyroid cancer some 15 years previous and so I always believed that I was a ticking time bomb.
Obviously the radiographer did not confirm to me on that day, but I was given an appointment for the next week to see the consultant, when they would have the biopsy results.
This is the only appointment through my whole journey that I was allowed to take my husband to. This in itself set off an alarm bell within me. As I have already said, in my heart I knew what he was going to tell me.
My consultant was Mr Dimopolous, and along with him there was another nurse in the room, which I subsequently was told was a ‘Specialist Breast Nurse’.
He didn’t prolong the agony and confirmed my fears. ‘I’m sorry but it’s not good news – you have breast cancer’. No matter how gently you are told, they are words that you will never forget.
At this point, your world stops. The ‘C’ word is something nobody wants to hear, and your first thoughts tell you that this is the end. Your brain is a powerful machine, and it goes into overdrive.
Mr Dimopolous proceeded to tell me exactly what would happen and when – he was so kind and caring. He drew diagrams to explain what was going on and then went on to say that in a nutshell, there would be surgery, followed by radiotherapy. At that stage there was no indication that I would have to have chemo. I was emotionless as I just needed to process exactly what he was telling me.
The tears did not come until we were alone with the ‘specialist nurse’ and she went into things in more depth. I was told that the ‘blighter’ was only small and that it had been caught early.
That was that – I had it and the only option was to put my trust in the professionals and deal with things as best I could.
Could you share with us a summary of your experience with breast cancer?
Having been diagnosed in 2021, when the country was still in lockdown, I can only say that my whole journey, which ran from January 21 until September 21, was exceptional. Every department and hospital that I encountered along that journey were wonderful and the staff, as you would expect, treated me with care and compassion when needed.
At the time, the media were telling us that hospital appointments were being cancelled left, right and centre and that cancer patients were not being treated. I am not saying that for some people this is what happened, but for me, I cannot fault the system. I missed not one appointment along the way and my treatment flowed as planned, one following the other without fail. I had some kind of an appointment every week on the run up to my surgery.
The exacting question as to what my experience of having breast cancer was, is actually quite easy. After the initial shock, once I was told that ‘they could cure me’, I put my trust in the process. Some days were tougher than others, and I think the fear of the unknown is probably worse than the actual reality of dealing with the different stages as I moved through them. My experience on the whole was really positive. I count myself as ‘lucky’.
What effect did your experience of breast cancer have on your relationships with your friends, family/partner?
I have a really small family but lots of friends. Right at the beginning, I decided to use the power of Facebook to let my wider group of friends know of my situation. I did not do this for any kind of sympathy, but to spread the word that if they received that letter to attend their mammogram, not to put it in the ‘too hard to do drawer’ and that if in any doubt, what is now my mantra – ‘check it out’.
My friends were obviously upset and concerned about me, but I tried my best to let them know that yes, it was not what I would have wished to have to tell them, but that I was going to be ok. I had to be positive, and I wanted them to be too. I have many friends and even though I could not see them face to face, they all checked in with me on a regular basis, and for me this was a great support.
What can I say about my husband? After the initial shock and upset, once we were in possession of all the facts, and what my treatment plan was to be, he looked after me like some precious cargo.
I am lucky, as he would carry me to the ends of the earth, though this was one journey he had not banked on. He took me to every appointment, even though he could not come in with me. That was the hardest part. I will never forget his face on the day he had to drop me off for my surgery.
We are very close anyway but the whole experience made us truly appreciate each other. I am so lucky that I had this support at home, and I am sure that his positivity helped me on the days when I was not so sure.
I was always conscious of the fact that even though I was the patient, it was affecting him also and that he needed some TLC and re-assurance. Being in lockdown was hard on us both, as not being able to physically see our friends and family was hard. Our friends and family were a great support to him.
He was an absolute star, and I cannot thank him enough for what he did for me, unconditionally and with love.
What was the toughest part of your experience with breast cancer?
For me, one of the toughest parts was having to go it alone. I spent hours sat in waiting rooms, with only my thoughts to keep me company. Just to have had somebody to talk to would have made things easier I think.
Right back at my diagnosis, I was told that there was no indication that I would need chemo. However, once the surgery had been done, and successfully, in that they got the ‘blighter’ out, the margin was clear and the lymph nodes taken were also clear, it was decided that some of my cells needed a further test over in the USA. This was to decide whether chemo would be beneficial.
This is another ‘C’ word that I didn’t want to hear. That wait for those results to come back was hard and alas, on the back of this test, it was decided that indeed a course of chemo would be needed, in their words to try and ensure that it would not come back in the future – ‘belt and braces’.
This for me was the hardest part. Surgery is what it is. I coped fine with this as pain is pain and you forget it easily. Chemo was not something that I had banked on. The connotations that this word brought to me were frightening.
To me there was no option. If this was what was required for me, so be it. In a way, the hardest part was being told that I needed it, and getting my head around that, not the actual physicality of having it.
Losing my hair for me was the very worst thing, which makes me sound vain, but for most women our hair is our crowning glory. Indeed, I did lose it, but I found preparation is what helped me through this part of the journey after the initial trauma. Looking in the mirror and seeing a stranger, not recognising myself was heart-breaking.
I set my stall out and made sure that I had some beautiful wigs to wear, and some huge sun hats and silk scarves. As brave as I felt I was being, I could not go without my new headwear. Nobody but my husband saw me without my new best friends.
Did you learn any life lessons/things about yourself?
I learnt that I am stronger than I think I am. That I have resilience that I did not know I had. I learnt that you need to put your trust in professionals unconditionally. I learnt that sometimes I am ok with my own company, though not too much.
Why is Prevent Breast Cancer your chosen charity, and why did we stand out to you?
As far as I know, PBC is the only charity that work towards the sole prevention of this disease, and I think that is really important. It needs to be stopped before it even starts.
Have you been involved in any challenges / events / campaigns / fundraisers for Prevent Breast Cancer?
Right back at the beginning of my journey, when I posted a few blogs onto my social media, they were met with real positivity. I wanted them to be informative to a degree, to update my wider circle of friends of where I was up to, but to keep things as light-hearted as I could. Also, to keep re-iterating my mantra.
The feedback I had was that everyone looked forward to my posts and the consensus was that I should write a book.
Never having done anything like this before, I at first just laughed it off. But as more and more people suggested the same thing, I thought I would give it a go.
And so, Mrs H’s Storm in a D Cup was started. 44,000 words later, it has been published and raised thousands of pounds for four designated charities, of which Prevent Breast Cancer is one of them.
I had a full-on book launch and was delighted that Cristina Chandler, an Ambassador for PBC attended my evening. We have since become friends.
Along the way I have met some wonderful people – we find friends in our life in the most unexpected places.
Do you have any advice or tips for anyone who has been through a similar experience?
We are all different and what works for one person may not work for another, but I found speaking to people – actually friends – who had gone before me to be of great help. For me, their experiences, though all different, were so helpful, and in some instances, prepared me for what was to come.
Thank you to Jo for sharing her experiences with us. We’d also like to say a massive thank you for fundraising for Prevent Breast Cancer, and donating the proceeds from Mrs H’s Storm in a D Cup. You can purchase her book today.