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I was diagnosed with stage 1B1, grade 3 cervical cancer in September 2015 following a routine cervical screening. I had never experienced an abnormal result before and had no symptoms to indicate anything was wrong. Thankfully due to attending my screening on time, the cancer had been caught in fairly early stages and within a month of being diagnosed I was recovering from having a radical hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (that's ovaries and fallopian tubes in normal speak!) and pelvic lymph node dissection. I am a glass half full, ever the optimist type of girl, but even after hearing I needed no further treatment other than close monitoring, I just couldn't work out why I wasn't getting quite as elated as the friends and family surrounding me. Thankfully that's when I found Jo's.
The online Forum and fantastic London support group reassured me that I wasn’t 'losing the plot', the Helpline provided a listening ear when I just wanted to tell someone that I was struggling to get my head round my diagnosis, the recovery after a huge operation and not to mention an early menopause whilst pretending to the outside world that everything in planet Mandy was tickety boo! And then there was the best bit for me 'Let’s Meet 2016' hosted by Jo’s for women just like me. I arrived thinking that after 12 months I really should be over this cancer thing by now and then met other women who were 2,3,5,8 + years down the line, who referred to me as the 'newbie' and who totally 'got me'. I can honestly say it was a lightbulb moment for me and everything clicked into place in that one day. Sounds a bit dramatic but it was totally true! After filling out the survey at the end the day, I ticked the volunteer box and thought "I’m ready".
I have always considered myself to be a warm, friendly, good listener and thought the Helpline was a perfect chance for me to give something back to Jo's. It was a way of turning my experience into something positive and hopefully helping other women in a similar situation and to provide a listening ear that was so invaluable to me when no one else quite understood.
I passed the initial screening and was lucky enough to be taken to the volunteers training weekend where I had the pleasure of meeting all the other lovely more experienced Helpliners. It was tough, challenging, scary at times (no one likes role play!!) but the team at Jo's were supportive all the way and the training provided was fantastic. After a test call to check I was ready and plenty of support along the way, in December 2016 I took my first call. The calls are varied, some more emotionally challenging than others but every caller is grateful for someone to listen to them and that's the most rewarding thing for both parties. My favourite (silent fist pump!) moment was when a lady called who was petrified of going for her screening as she had an awful experience six years previous and hadn't returned since. After much listening, empathy and suggestions she ended the call by saying she was going to call the doctors practice straight away and book in for her screening. It is great to be able to make a difference, however small.
Once I realised how rewarding volunteering on the Helpline could be, coupled with my new found passion for getting women to attend regular screening, I found myself volunteering for Jo's in other areas. A recent stint as a media volunteer, the forthcoming Be Cervix Savvy Roadshow and rallying my fellow choir buddies to walk with me at Steps for Jo's London 2017. Volunteering for Jo's has been and will continue to be for a long time, a cathartic and rewarding experience. To be able to be part of a fantastic charity and to help other women on the various stages of their journey has been invaluable.
If you'd like to volunteer your time to support Jo's, find out what opportunities are available.