After Breast Cancer Diagnosis: An Interview With Jo Taylor
We’re no strangers to stories of resilience, gratitude and giving back.
They cross our desks and fuel our motivation every single day. So we’re dedicating a blog series to it. In each #FindTheGood post, we’ll be shining a light on people set on searching for the positive, providing peer support or practising gratitude – in spite of their cancer.
First up, it’s the inspirational Jo Taylor – the founder of After Breast Cancer Diagnosis.
Read on to discover Jo’s tips for recognising yourself through cancer treatment. Find out what the impact on the world would be if everything she’s fighting for paid off. And get a glimpse into what Jo wishes people would get about her situation – without her having to explain.
You’re a huge advocate of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. It helps you cope with the physical and psychological side effects of treatment. Besides exercise, what are your top tips for staying positive on days that don’t go according to plan?
“I think whether you stay positive or not isn’t the answer to coping and dealing with the issues that arise. Being with friends and other people can help. But above all, be kind to yourself.”
You’re a supporter of the Beauty Despite Cancer online magazine. What’s your top tip for people who want to recognise themselves after a breast cancer diagnosis and through cancer treatment?
I think the ‘Look Good Feel Better‘ (LGFB) sessions are fantastic because they help cancer patients feel much better about themselves. And Jennifer Young at Beauty Despite Cancer has many organic products for cancer patients – including organic makeup. I love feeling like my old self with make up on and hair done. It sounds insular. But if you can get up and feel good about yourself, it makes a difference to your whole persona. Whether you have a good wig, or scarf. Or even if you go bald. Feeling good is important.
My friend Liz O’Riordan is a breast surgeon with breast cancer. We did a blog together for Grazia about fashion and beauty tips for women with breast cancer. And we talked about going through chemo and makeup in that. Liz rocked the bald look with amazing glasses and hats through chemo! Of course, there will be days you don’t feel like getting up or getting dressed. But when you can, do. It helps. Cancer takes your identity away. In one of my first blogs I talked about feeling ‘asexual’. Every time I walked past a mirror I’d take a second look as I didn’t recognise this bald person. I didn’t leave the house without my wig. But you have to do what’s right for you. Anything that makes you feel better about yourself is good. It helps you get through and deal with other things.
“Liz O’Riordan rocked the bald look with amazing glasses and hats through chemo!”
What do you wish people would get about your situation, without you having to explain?
Thanks for sharing that Jo. Is there anything else?
Yes. I wish people would realise my life revolves around this. It’s what I’ve done every 3 weeks for the last 3 years. Sometimes I’m weary with it. Other times I’m grateful I have this option. People often ask when will I finish. The answer is never. When you have secondary cancer you have to control it – so treatment is continuous.
At my hosptial they call it “maintainance treatment”. It sounds a bit like a car. I have regular drugs but sometimes they have to drop chemo back in if the cancer has progressed. For example to my bones, lymph, liver, lungs or brain. These are the more susceptible places for secondary breast cancer. People assume it’s come back in the breast. It doesn’t, unless it’s a local recurrence. A distant recurrence or distant mets (metastatic) is when it’s travelled further than the breast.
People need to understand this. I am always at risk of my breast cancer travelling. This is why I have the treatment – two IV drugs and a tablet once a day – to try to control it from spreading further. Breast cancer patients can never really say they are “cured”. There is always a risk of it coming back. So being vigilant about secondary breast cancer is critical. You don’t want to live in fear. But you don’t also want to ignore signs and symptoms either. Knowledge is power. The better informed you are, the better you can manage your own fears.
This is a lot for anyone to understand. But be understanding of someone’s situation. And support them in whatever way they need. Sometimes that means an ear to listen or a hand to hold.
“Breast cancer patients can never really say they are ‘cured’. There is always a risk of it coming back. So being vigilant about secondary breast cancer is critical”
“I wish people would understand that a cancer patient can look like a normal person! The stereotype of the fatigued emaciated person without hair and unable to eat isn’t always true.”
More than 100,000 people in the UK had to wait more than 2 weeks to see a cancer specialist last year. 25,153 had to wait more than 62 days to start treatment. What’s your reaction to these statistics? And what tips can you share with people to help them cope with the wait between diagnosis and treatment?
“Night time is the most stressful. I find that being busy and going to bed very tired is the best way.”
We’re full of admiration for your transparency, grit and relentless campaigning. If everything you’re fighting for today paid off, what would the impact on the world be?
Thank you! I’m campaigning for secondary breast cancer data and statistics. And I’m meeting someone soon who may hold the key. It would be amazing if the NHS counted recurrences (local and distant). And with the specifics I’ve asked for. It would help with clinical trials, drugs and cures. And knowing what works and what doesn’t. It would give more of a view of what’s happening with secondary breast cancer and the 3 years’ median average. I’m also hoping these analysts can talk to other countries. And show them what they’ve done and how they could replicate it.
If I get funding for my exercise retreat it would help many breast cancer patients to get their lives back. Exercise can have a huge impact. And the reports show it can help reduce incidents of recurrence, too.
My website is unique and there’s nothing so indepth from a patient’s perspective. I share this information to help people. Plain and simple. I hope the message continues to reach and help more of them.
I’m doing a lot of patient advocacy work because I want to share my experience with others. The other week I told my story at a Cancer Research UK event where Sir Harpal Kumar (their CEO) was also speaking. I also created METUP UK. Having seen the fantastic work METUP.org does, I talked Beth Caldwell (one of its founders) about having a UK arm of the US group. They’re committed to changing the landscape of metastatic cancer through action.
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About Jo Taylor
Jo Taylor developed primary breast cancer when she was on maternity leave aged 38. Married with two young children, her son was 2 and her daughter was 5 months old. She launched After Breast Cancer Diagnosis to help breast cancer patients in a similar position. Then developed secondary breast cancer a year later.
Today, Jo campaigns tirelessly for secondary breast cancer data and statistics. She champions the role of exercise in reducing incidents of recurrence. And immerses herself in patient advocacy work and peer support on a daily basis. For more information about abcdiagnosis, click here to visit the website. Follow this link to connect with Jo on Twitter. And tap into her support over on Facebook, here.