Below Jillian shares with us in her own words, her inspirational journey through a diagnosis of osteosarcoma.
My journey started when I was 17 years old and my left knee kept giving way. I eventually went to the doctor who told me my growth plates were sealing together. After it had been continuing for over 6 months a lump appeared. I revisited the doctors who then thought I had torn a muscle and sent me for an X-ray. This showed that I had a tumour in my femur and the orthopaedic consultant at my local hospital told me that I would probably need an amputation, but that he would refer me to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham to see the bone cancer specialists.
Being 17 meant I felt quite invincible, I knew this was going to be much worse for everyone around me, especially my parents and brothers, rather than myself. I had also recently started a new job who luckily said they would both support me and hold my position until my return.
I had numerous scans locally and then went into the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital between Christmas and New Year, met the team of fantastic doctors and nurses and had my biopsy, to determine the type and severity of the tumour. It was soon after that I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and was given a date to return in January to start my chemotherapy.
I returned on the 6th January 1987 and unfortunately, as I lay on my bed that evening, my leg broke as the tumour had eaten through the bone. This meant that I was bedbound and in traction for 10 weeks. I had my first 6 rounds of chemotherapy, which was designed to try and shrink the tumour prior to my operation scheduled for March. Although the chemo had awful side effects, it worked really well and the tumour did shrink.
10th March 1987 was operation day and when my consultant, Mr Sneath asked me if I could feel him touching my toes, I knew that the operation had been a success and I still had my leg, replacing the bone with lots of metal.
Lots of physio, dedicated staff and determination soon saw me walking again and I eventually got to go home in-between treatments.
I continued to have a further 14 rounds of chemotherapy after the operation, which is designed to kill any cells that may still be present in the body. Despite this being a toxic treatment, I can’t complain. It saved my life, as well as having many laughs with the friends I’d made in the hospital at the time. During treatment, we used to place bets on who would be sick first!
I’m so lucky to be alive and still have my leg. It’s all thanks to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, Birmingham and their amazing team, Mr Sneath, Rob Grimer, Simon Carter, Dr. Spooner, lynne Russell and now Mr Parry and all the fantastic nurses, I can’t thank them enough for making my journey so memorable for the best of reasons. I still attend every two years for check-ups, but for mechanical purposes, and have to have surgery to tighten and replace bits every so often which is very much like having an MOT.
Although my journey was long, it brought me plenty of fun-filled memories; particularly ones involving my wig. I was a natural red head, and back in those days the NHS provided let’s just say ‘interesting’ styled ginger wigs. The nurses use to put it on in the night and go up to the canteen with it on, we had so much fun with it. On another occasion I was out in the car with my brother and we had a ‘blow out’ on the motorway driving up to Leeds. When we got out the car a gust of wind took my wig off, so my brother had to run down the motorway chasing a ball of ginger hair. After which I went out to go buy a half-decent one however again this one was not to last long as I singed it when I opened the oven door. After that I decided to go au-natural.
I have to say that what was a very tricky time in my life, I actually had lots of laughs and made some memories that I will treasure always.
I now work at my local hospice as a health care assistant, where my mum received amazing care. I am also a fundraiser with 4 friends called ‘What Women Want’.
However, my biggest achievement is that despite all the gruelling treatment, I have got 4 gorgeous children (well my eldest is 30 and youngest 18 so not technically children anymore), who, together with my Husband make me thankful every day.
I am 33 years on from my initial diagnosis and realise I am one of the lucky ones, but my advice to others would be to listen to your own body and the experts, talk about how you’re feeling and live life in the now. None of us can truly control what is going to happen in the future, but we can enjoy today. Raising awareness is so important as symptoms can be put down to lots of other things and early diagnosis is the key to being cured.