After receiving her second cancer diagnosis in her mid-40s, Health Minister Jo Churchill decided to plan the worst
After receiving her second cancer diagnosis in her mid-40s, Health Minister Jo Churchill decided to plan the worst.
Not knowing if she would survive, she told her husband Peter when the treatment was to be stopped, planned her funeral and wrote letters that she would give to their four teenage daughters.
Then she told him that if she died, he had to find another woman – not just for him, but for the girls' sake.
"I wanted him if he found someone to love, love them, and move on," she says. & # 39; As I told him: & # 39; You are a worthless guy, there must be a woman around to help these girls choose a wedding dress when I'm not there. & # 39;
& # 39; But he said he would never marry again … he could never face that conversation. & # 39;
Now, 24 years after her diagnosis with thyroid cancer, and a decade since she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Jo, now 55, is still going strong and is cancer-free for most of a decade.
It was her first cancer diagnosis, in 1995, that caused & # 39; a bonfire & # 39; drove her and her into politics to improve treatment for others. In 2015, she was elected Tory MP for Bury St. Edmunds and this summer – after campaigning against cancer and other back-seat health problems – was appointed by Boris Johnson at the Department of Health.
The cancer struck when Jo was just 31. She felt empty and was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid gland. A biopsy revealed a cancerous tumor.
At that time Jo and Peter already had two daughters. He worked for his family's scaffolding business near Grimsby and Jo was the company's financial director.
"It was terrible," she recalls. "I remember going to my doctor and he said the hospital called me back. He told me to prepare.
& # 39; As a cancer patient, it is an emotional tsunami. You do not ask for cancer: it finds you and it is frightening. & # 39;
It was her first cancer diagnosis, in 1995, that caused & # 39; a bonfire & # 39; drove her and her into politics to improve treatment for others. Depicted is Mrs. Churchill with her family
The surgery to remove most of her thyroid was a success. She then had to take thyroxine daily, a synthetic version of the hormone normally produced by the thyroid gland that helps to control metabolism and body temperature, among other things.
When Jo was completely free, the couple decided that they would try a third child, thinking that it could be a boy. It wasn't that.
"I said one more and maybe it would be a boy – and my husband gave me twin girls! We couldn't even place two baby cots in the third bedroom; but we survived, just as every family with four children under five survives. & # 39;
A few years passed and Jo remained healthy. The family moved to Grantham and she studied business administration and psychology and later a master's.
Then, ten years ago, in 2009, the second thunderbolt came when Jo was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I had lost some weight and I had taken a bath or shower and I thought," That feels a bit strange, "Jo recalls.
A scan revealed a tumor in her right breast, close to the chest wall. A "second primary", it was not related to thyroid cancer. This diagnosis was much more difficult, says Jo, especially for her husband.
"Most men like to sort things out, solve problems. If it is a wall that needs to be built, you dig the hole and build the wall. But he felt that he could do nothing to help me. & # 39;
At the time, her daughters were 17, 16 and the twins were 13.
"It sounds harder if your children are one and two, but it wasn't. I remember one of the twins went to the lounge and just sobbed.
& # 39; You are largely crying & # 39; at night itself, and – as a mother – you keep a brave face on it. & # 39;
Jo laughs and laughs easily, but the tears are coming now. "This is hard – I didn't think it would be that hard," she says, remembering this time.
& # 39; As a wife and mother you would do anything to prevent your family from hurting, but not telling the truth does not help me.
"I thought it was important that I was honest. I told my girls I had cancer and I told them I didn't know where we were going.
"I didn't think about being a survivor, I didn't think about life beyond cancer. I thought about tackling every obstacle when I arrived.
"I couldn't tell where I was going. I spoke to my husband about letters I wrote to my children about how I wanted to die. I did not want treatment beyond a certain point if it became part of it. & # 39;
Peter did not want to face the prospect of his wife's death.
& # 39; He always said: don't talk about it, don't talk about it, because it won't happen then & # 39 ;, says Jo. & # 39; But I had to talk about it because I was afraid that I would come to a point where I didn't have the energy or the ability to talk about it. & # 39;
Weeks surgery, but the surgeon did not take enough & # 39; clearance tissue & # 39; around the tumor and had to undergo a second operation.
A few months of radiotherapy followed, with Jo continuing to work. She says she had no choice.
"I have continued to work all the time because you cannot get cancer insurance once you have had cancer. I had to keep working for financial reasons.
"I can't explain how tired I felt. At meals I could fall asleep in the food. & # 39;
Friends gathered and left family meals or cake to help.
A year later, in 2010, Jo thought she was free, but then doctors found pre-cancerous tumors in her left breast and had to undergo another operation.
"By that time I was ready to drive people crazy," she admits.
After such a test, she would have been forgiven for wanting a quiet life. Instead, she decided that she wanted to improve the system she had seen firsthand.
She was angry, she admits, about the cards she had received and began to channel the anger into health campaigns.
After joining a charity for cancer and a local health and welfare board, she wanted to do more.
"I thought," I'll see how you can become one of these MPs, "she says. "The main reason I came to parliament was because of the cancers. I had the all-clear before I was chosen as MP in 2014. "
Now she's in the machine, she has a long task list.
She wants to help use patient data to improve early diagnosis and treatment, with a huge increase in screening to help improve chances of survival.
Screening an entire population is a controversial area in medicine, but Jo emphasizes: "We must always stay one step ahead of this disease."
She says that everyone should check themselves – women's breasts and men's what they euphemistically have their & # 39; friends & # 39; calls.
She also wants more clinical nurse specialists for cancer, who will remember a nurse who "spent the night with her" and "believed me it would be okay."
"I used to look out the window at the seagulls and think: who will take care of my children?
"That nurse did that one special thing and took the time, which is hugely important if you're scared."
JO also wants more radiographers. And she is not afraid to challenge the public to change their diet and lifestyle.
"Obesity is such a precursor to many cancers, and for me it's a big win if we can make people look after their health," she says.
"I would never tell anyone he has no drink. But if you want to give yourself better chances of life, take care of yourself.
"I don't think that's nannying. We're pumping another £ 33.9 billion into the NHS over the next five years, but people have to do their bit. & # 39;
However, the cancer has led to few of her own lifestyle changes.
"I've always tried to stay fit. My oncologists have said: watch your weight, stay healthy and it can mean that cancer will come back by half, & she says.
"I eat most things and I occasionally like a glass of wine, but it's all about moderation."
It is clear that Jo is determined to find the positive points in what has happened to her – after all, some of the patients she met during the treatment are no longer there.
"It gives you some resilience and I am really lucky," she says. "I was twice lucky that I had a strong marriage.
"I have had cancer twice and I have survived it twice. I am perhaps the happiest woman on earth. & # 39;
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