2 years ago
20 June, 2021
“When I started losing my hair through the cancer treatments, it was almost harder than losing my breast,” she adds. “I know some people might think that’s a bit odd, but that’s how it felt for me.”
The reality of Josie’s hair loss hit the family during the third week of her first chemotherapy session. “We’ve always been open with the boys, and they saw how upset Josie was,” says Nick, Josie’s husband. “So we all got together on Monday after that awful weekend and thought: Right, what can we do that’s positive and purposeful?”
The couple’s sons, Harrison (age 6) and Jack (age 9) came up with the idea of shaving their father’s head and face. “I had a lot of hair and a well-groomed beard,” adds Nick.
That was the start of a mood-boosting fundraising event that would result in a ground-breaking amount raised for Breast Cancer UK by February 2021.
The previous September, Josie discovered blood in one of her breasts.
“I went straight to the doctors and was seen at the breast unit in 10 days. They couldn’t find any lumps or detect any with scans. So, my choice was to self-monitor for changes or have milk ducts removed for a biopsy. I couldn’t put my mind at rest without knowing, so I decided to go ahead.”
Nick interjects: “Josie was super fit before her diagnosis, regularly running 5Ks. She had it in her head that when she turned 40 years old, she’d be in the best condition she’s ever been.”
The biopsy results came back in October on Nick’s 40th birthday. (Josie had a big surprise planned, including a castle in Scotland, but everything was cancelled.) The results showed ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which meant the cancer was contained.
Then, Josie found a lump in the lymph node in her armpit and had an MRI to check both breasts. The scans confirmed the lump, and a fine-needle biopsy showed cancer had spread. “Doctors needed to do a CT scan to check if any major organs were affected. That was the hardest wait for us because we had a week with this fear that it had spread further.”
The CT scan showed all of Josie’s major organs were clear, but a small pulmonary nodule was observed in the lung, which will be monitored. A mastectomy and targeted lymph node dissection were scheduled for the beginning of December.
“We got the full results about five days before New Year’s Eve,” says Josie. “They found an 8mm, Grade 3 tumour with vascular invasion. It’s classified as triple-negative, often the most aggressive and invasive form of cancer. They wanted to move quickly with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but I had to wait a while after the surgery, so therapy began in January, with six cycles in total, as different drugs rely on different cycles.”
“We talked to the boys about cancer and hair loss,” says Josie. “As there were so many uncertainties for such a long time, we didn’t tell them anything until the week before my mastectomy. They’ve told a couple of friends, so I know they’ve processed it. I’ve explained that an army inside me attacks things and looks after me, although it’s a bit weak because of all the drugs.”
Nick and the boys figured that shaving his head and beard would make everyone smile: “I think it struck a chord with people because it shows that, as a family, we’re fighting back.”
He put a post on Facebook and set up a Just Giving page. “I thought some friends would probably really enjoy watching the head and beard shave, so we decided to do a live Facebook stream,” he adds.
Then Jack did a video about how important the work of Breast Cancer UK is. “We put it on the Facebook group, and I posted it on mine and Josie’s pages, and we asked for volunteers to join us,” says Nick. “It started with my dad and Josie’s dad, and we ended up with 11 people. We hoped for about £2,000, maybe £2,500. By the end of that day, we were on £4,000, and it exploded from there. We’ve seen donations from America, Hong Kong, Australia, and Ireland.”
Josie recorded the head and beard shaving video, with some memorable moments: “A few days before the live stream, Jack suggested it’d be funny to shave my head in a crazy way first and then stop and take photographs,” explains Nick. “We did a poll on Facebook about the various shaving options. So, at one point on the live video, there’s me with a horrendous Mohawk and this horrible moustache!”
Jack adds that he thought not many people would watch the videos: “I’m surprised at how much we’ve raised and how many supporters we’ve got. When we broke the 10k record, we were just over the moon.”
“And it’s been really positive because we’ve had something other than cancer to focus on,” says Josie. “It’s helped us as a family to give something back in this situation.”
She adds that one of the biggest and hardest factors about the triple-negative diagnosis is the lack of research and treatment options: “They don’t know enough yet. For me, anything that helps with research in this area is vitally important.”
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