May 24, 2023
Jill Rackham’s journey as a poet started with insomnia. During treatment for breast cancer, the mum of two from Sheffield found herself unable to sleep with thoughts whirring through her mind in the small hours. She turned to writing her thoughts down in the form of poetry and she found it to be so therapeutic that she continued to write more poems, eventually publishing her own book of poetry examining her diagnosis, treatment and recovery from cancer.
Rewind to October 2020 and Jill, then aged 43, found a lump near her collarbone. “I didn’t think too much of it as it was near my collarbone but after a couple of weeks, I made an appointment at the GP who referred me for further tests”, said Jill. “Unfortunately, after a mammogram, ultrasound, breast MRI scan and multiple biopsies I was diagnosed with Multifocal Estrogen Positive Breast Cancer.”
“It was a huge shock but I focused on the fact that it could hopefully be treated and I tried to learn as much as I could about this type of cancer. Initially they thought I had two tumours but later a third was also found. My doctor suggested that the first step should be a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, which I had in November 2020. It was all made so much harder by happening during Covid restrictions, which meant I was alone for much of my treatment.”
The surgery went well and Jill’s diagnosis met the criteria for her to have an Oncotype DX test. This test determines the degree of chemotherapy and/or hormone treatment required. Chemotherapy was advised against due to providing a less than 1% benefit in this case. Instead, Jill was advised have a monthly injection to switch her ovaries off as well as medication to block any other oestrogen in her body attaching to any cells. Her hormone therapy will continue for ten years after the initial treatment.
“I thought everything was okay once I’d had the surgery and felt lucky that I hadn’t had to have chemo.” However further testing revealed that Jill had the BRCA1 gene, meaning she had a higher genetic risk of getting certain types of cancer. This further bombshell meant Jill had have her remaining breast removed plus her ovaries, which of course catapulted her into menopause overnight.
“It was a lot to deal with on top of the side effects from my treatment. I was advised to have a different medication, once my ovaries were removed, to ensure my adrenal glands or fat cells wouldn’t even produce oestrogen. The effects of having zero oestrogen – less oestrogen than if I’d gone through a natural menopause- have taken some getting used to. A sudden total loss of oestrogen puts me at risk of osteoporosis too, so I have regular bone infusions to help combat this.”
During her treatment, one of Jill’s teen sons struggled with his mum being so ill and Jill felt he would benefit from some extra support. “He’d had a hard year during 2020 as schools were closed due to Covid and his social life was hugely impacted. I’d been given some information about Cavendish and I got in touch to see whether my son could get any support with anxiety. I was assessed and my son started some virtual counselling, which he got on really well with.”
“My assessor at Cavendish suggested that I should also get some support and so I did some body-based therapy with Annette. It really helped me to manage stressful situations and calmed my overworked nerves. I also did the amazing online relaxation class – I really looked forward to that each week – plus I did a virtual nutrition course too.”
Jill’s son had further counselling to help him deal with the bad news about the. BRCA1 gene and the further surgery Jill went through, especially as this time one of the further surgeries needed had complications.
“What I love about Cavendish is how I know we can dip back in for further support. A lot of people think that when the cancer is gone you are better again. But they don’t realise that you and your family are living daily with the long term mental and physical effects of your treatment.”
“The counselling at Cavendish was the best thing for my son, he’s doing well now and is enjoying his college course. I also got lots of ongoing benefits from my time at Cavendish – I still use the tools I learned to help with my sleep and to deal with anxiety when I get my regular scans.”
Jill found writing really helped her to process her feelings during her treatment and recovery. Her book of poems is available to buy, with all funds split between Cavendish Cancer Care, Breast Cancer Now and Weston Park Hospitals Charity.
You can buy a copy for £5 at The Tim Pryor Centre, the home of Cavendish Cancer Care, or online at https://jsrackham.com/poems/