Los­ing 30kg led Cath Jones to find a lump in her breast – and de­feat can­cer.

Inspired by her best friend Claire, Cath Jones, 42, lost 30kg so she could look and feel great. But the de­ci­sion helped her de­tect a lump in her breast – just in time

Friday - - Contents - Cath lives with her hus­band Dave in Caer­philly, Wales

Snug­gling deeper into my hoodie, I linked arms with my best friend Claire Mills for ex­tra warmth. Claire looked at me and I grinned – we both knew ex­actly what the other was think­ing.

‘Hot cho­co­late?’ she asked, shiv­er­ing. It was the mid­dle of win­ter and freez­ing. ‘Need you ask?’ I laughed.

We were ‘rugby wives’ – our hus­bands played rugby to­gether at week­ends in our home town of Llan­drindod Wells, Wales, while we hud­dled on the side­lines. The first time I’d seen Claire, she was sit­ting in the rugby club with the big­gest, warmest smile on her face. We were both teach­ers, and even though she was eight years younger than me, we soon be­came insep­a­ra­ble.

We also shared a worry – our bat­tle with our weight. We both were about 176cm tall. While Claire weighed 121kg, I was 101kg.

‘I don’t want to be fat at 40,’ I would say, and Claire would agree we needed to get healthy. ‘Let’s join a slim­ming club to­gether,’ she sug­gested. ‘Safety in num­bers.’

We started go­ing to the weigh-ins, and would lose a few ki­los. But a hol­i­day or a work com­mit­ment would crop up and so would the ex­cuses. We’d soon gain all the weight we’d lost.

I’d start my day by skip­ping break­fast, re­ly­ing on cof­fee and cig­a­rettes. I’d have a cheese baguette for lunch, some crisps and some cho­co­late, then for din­ner, a huge por­tion of pasta with gar­lic bread. I’d snack on sweets and cho­co­late all day. It wasn’t ex­actly a recipe for weight loss. Over the years I tried ev­ery diet go­ing, my weight go­ing up and down as much as Claire’s.

In 2009, my hus­band Dave, 47, and I moved to Caer­philly, about 90 min­utes’

away, which meant Claire and I saw each other less. How­ever, we kept in con­stant touch through texts and Face­book. Then, in the sum­mer of 2012, a year af­ter I had last seen her, she posted a pic­ture of her­self on Face­book.

She looked phe­nom­e­nal. I had no idea she’d been los­ing weight and here she was, look­ing the best I’d ever seen her. ‘You look fan­tas­tic,’ I mes­saged her. ‘How have you lost so much weight? You’ve kept this quiet.’ We’d tried and failed to lose weight to­gether so many times, I couldn’t wait to hear her se­cret.

‘I didn’t want to let any­one know I was di­et­ing un­til I knew it had worked,’ Claire said. She ex­plained that she’d gone on the Cam­bridge Weight Plan, a low-calo­rie diet made up of soups, shakes and por­ridge.

She’d gone from 121kg and a UK size 26, to 60kg and a UK size eight. I couldn’t wait to see her.

A few months later, Claire and I met up for a shop­ping trip half­way be­tween our homes. I spent the en­tire day grilling her on what her diet in­volved and whether I could do it. She didn’t just look dif­fer­ent, she seemed dif­fer­ent too – she was ra­di­ant and more pos­i­tive. Hap­pier. ‘I’ll sup­port you, you can do it,’ she urged. I knew it would be hard be­cause it was so strict, but with Claire as my in­spi­ra­tion, I’d never felt so de­ter­mined.

So I started Claire’s diet. For 12 weeks, I lived off the huge range of Cam­bridge prod­ucts, start­ing the day with por­ridge, then hav­ing a shake in the af­ter­noon, then a soup for din­ner. The first three days were the hard­est, but when­ever I felt like giv­ing up, Claire was on the phone, cheer­ing me on.

‘When you get to day four, you’ll have so much energy you won’t know what to do with it,’ she said. Then she’d call me back later to make sure I was still on track. She gave me so much en­cour­age­ment and she was right, by day four I felt amaz­ing. Af­ter a week, I’d lost 5kg and had all the in­cen­tive I needed to keep go­ing.

I never felt like cheat­ing or giv­ing up and to steer clear of temp­ta­tion, I made a de­ci­sion not to so­cialise for the first 12 weeks. In just three months, I lost 31kg and was down to a size 12.

The to­tal re­moval of con­ven­tional food was what worked for me. There was no grey area, no slip­ping into old ways. Just a struc­tured plan. That and the pic­tures of Claire at a size 26 be­fore and size eight now.

The weight loss gave me so much energy, I was thriv­ing. ‘You just can’t sit still!’, Dave would say as I bounced around. There was a small wall at the end of our gar­den and when I walked the dogs, in­stead of go­ing around it I’d jump over it. To me that il­lus­trated just how much I’d changed.

I thought life couldn’t get much bet­ter, and it was all down to Claire.

And that’s when I felt it. A lump, on the side of my right breast. It was De­cem­ber 2012 and I was in the bath. I’m a nat­u­rally calm per­son, so I didn’t panic, but I had a sink­ing feel­ing some­thing bad was hap­pen­ing. It was hard, and felt huge to me.

I showed it to Dave, who agreed I had to see the doc­tor. I promptly made an ap­point­ment for two days later. I kept think­ing about the lump that night, but as­sured my­self that it would be noth­ing to worry about.

I went to see the doc­tor alone. Although Dave in­sisted he wanted to come along, I told him not to worry. ‘It’s noth­ing. I’ll give you a call if there’s any­thing wrong,’ I told him.

The GP did a thor­ough phys­i­cal check-up and told me it was noth­ing. ‘It’s a harm­less lump that will dis­ap­pear,’ she said.

I went home but at the back of my mind I was not con­vinced. I tried to ig­nore the lump, but in a cou­ple of days it be­came ten­der to the touch. A week later, I could vis­i­bly see the lump.

I went back to the doc­tor and told her the changes I had no­ticed. Again she checked it and said I had noth­ing to worry. ‘You will be fine in a few days,’ she said.

Another week passed, and it was now the size of a wal­nut. At my desk at work, I could feel it press­ing against my arm when I typed. In bed, I woke up in pain ev­ery time my arm pressed against the lump.

Sure that the lump was not some­thing to be ig­nored, I de­cided to see a dif­fer­ent doc­tor, and was given a re­fer­ral to a breast can­cer spe­cial­ist cen­tre in Llan­dough.

Only Dave knew about what I was go­ing through. I didn’t want to worry Claire or any­one else un­til we had the facts.

On the day of the ap­point­ment, Dave ac­com­pa­nied me to the cen­tre, where I un­der­went a phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, then an ul­tra­sound and biopsy.

By the end of the nearly two-hour pro­ce­dure, I was very ner­vous. Deep down I felt things weren’t right, and I braced my­self for bad news.

‘Don’t worry,’ Dave said, squeez­ing my hand and hug­ging me. ‘You will be fine. It’s just a few tests.’ When the doc­tor came in with the ul­tra­sound re­ports, I took a deep breath.

‘You need to pre­pare your­self for bad news,’ he said, look­ing at me. ‘Some of the things I’ve seen on the scan are not

I went for a check-up, but the DOC­TOR said it was NOTH­ING. I tried to IG­NORE the lump, but soon it be­came TEN­DER to the touch. A week later, I could clearly SEE it. Two weeks later, it was the size of a WAL­NUT

too good. But we can’t be sure un­til the biopsy re­sults are in, which could take a week.’From his tone I knew he’d clearly seen some­thing that wor­ried him.

I tried not to worry as I waited for news but it was im­pos­si­ble. A week later the spe­cial­ist called us back in to the hos­pi­tal.

‘The re­ports are back,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it’s stage three breast can­cer.’

My con­sul­tant gave it to me straight. ‘It’s a grade 4 triple neg­a­tive tu­mour, fast grow­ing, un­re­spon­sive to hor­mone treat­ment, but sta­tis­ti­cally good at re­spond­ing to chemo­ther­apy.’

My eyes welled up. ‘Tell me what I need to do,’ I said. I tried to be brave, but it was a strug­gle. Hold­ing Dave’s hand tightly, I tried not to break down. Dave was silent as he hugged me.

‘You need to have an op­er­a­tion to re­move the tu­mour and lymph nodes,’ the doc­tor said. ‘We also need to start chemo straight away.’

Dave looked pale and trau­ma­tised, and I knew he was try­ing to stay calm. Be­fore we left, I had to ask some­thing. ‘If I hadn’t got to you this quickly, would the out­come be dif­fer­ent?’ I asked.

‘The can­cer is ad­vanced and ag­gres­sive – I can’t say how long you’ve had it,’ the doc­tor said. ‘But I can say that if we don’t act now, it’ll spread to your lymph nodes. Within six months, you could lose the bat­tle.’

Driv­ing back, Dave and I were silent, both des­per­ately try­ing to come to terms with all the emo­tions over­whelm­ing us. The first thing I did as soon as I reached home was send a text to Claire.

‘Don’t panic,’ I typed, ‘but I’ve just had some bad news. I’ve been di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer. I wouldn’t have known I had can­cer if I hadn’t felt the lump, I wouldn’t have felt the lump if I hadn’t lost weight. I wouldn’t have lost weight with­out you. I just needed you to know that you saved my life.’

Claire texted back straight away, telling me she couldn’t call be­cause she was cry­ing too much. ‘Any­thing you need, I’m here,’ she said. And she was. She called, she sent texts, Face­book mes­sages, emails. Be­fore ev­ery chemo ses­sion, my phone would beep with a lit­tle mes­sage of love from Claire. We met up twice dur­ing my chemo and chat­ted end­lessly about how our weight loss had saved my life. My surgery was fixed for a month later to re­move the tu­mour and lymph nodes.

‘You are go­ing to be fine,’ Dave said, clutch­ing my hand be­fore I was wheeled into the op. I nod­ded silently. I was in pain when I awoke, but it was bear­able. I didn’t care about that, I just needed to know they had got ev­ery bit of the can­cer.

The next day the doc­tor told us that the surgery had been a suc­cess. ‘The can­cer has been erad­i­cated,’ he said with a smile. But as an ex­tra pre­cau­tion, I had chemo­ther­apy from March to Au­gust 2013 to zap any rogue can­cer cells. And af­ter that, I signed up to a clin­i­cal trial for ra­dio­ther­apy, a five-day tre­ble dose that aimed to tar­get the tu­mour site and en­sure I re­mained can­cer­free for good.

Ra­dio­ther­apy was like ly­ing in an MRI ma­chine. Pain­less but un­com­fort­able. The worst part was how fa­tigued it left me – I was wiped out, but I was will­ing to un­dergo any­thing. I knew it had to be done and I didn’t want to de­lay it.

It was the af­ter-ef­fects of chemo that I strug­gled to ac­cept, par­tic­u­larly when I started los­ing my hair. I didn’t like feel­ing out of con­trol. The thought of wear­ing a wig that could blow off in a gust of wind while I was out­doors ter­ri­fied me, so I de­cided I’d go bald. The first week af­ter I had chemo, I looked in the mir­ror search­ing for signs that the first clumps of hair were fall­ing out. And the mo­ment I no­ticed it was, I shaved my head. Once I did it I felt fab­u­lous, like I’d taken charge. I wouldn’t al­low can­cer to get the bet­ter of me.

‘What I’ll save on hair­dressers, I’ll spend on false eye­lashes!’ I joked to Dave and Claire. Hu­mour and Claire’s reg­u­lar calls and mes­sages were the only things that helped Dave and me through the dark­est times. My hus­band was ex­tremely sup­port­ive. We’d have ‘spray tan Thurs­days’, where he’d use the skills he’d picked up spray-paint­ing lor­ries in his younger years to give me a fake tan to look health­ier.

‘Light brown looks great on you,’ he’d say with a laugh, as he ap­plied yet another coat.

My treat­ment for can­cer ended on Au­gust 15, 2013, and I knew I had to look af­ter my health. I had quit my 20-a-day smok­ing habit and started a dog-walk­ing busi­ness so I could ex­er­cise ev­ery day. Spend­ing my day in boots out­doors makes me feel lucky to be alive.

I’m now a size 10, weigh 65kg and I easily main­tain my weight loss. I have a mea­sured por­tion of por­ridge with a banana for break­fast, a pitta with salad for lunch and a baked potato with tuna salad for din­ner.

In Jan­uary this year, two years since my di­ag­no­sis, I be­came a Cam­bridge Weight Plan con­sul­tant. The diet plan had been such an in­te­gral part of turn­ing my life around, I wanted to help oth­ers do the same.

I con­stantly ad­vise women to check their breasts. Don’t put your­self in a po­si­tion, like I did, where you can’t even feel a lump un­der the layer of fat. Our bod­ies have ways of try­ing to talk to us. Make sure you can lis­ten.

If your doc­tor tells you that you’re fine, but you have a feel­ing that you’re not, per­se­vere. Doc­tors can be wrong and we know our bod­ies bet­ter than any­one.

I don’t just feel good now. I feel per­fect. That might sound smug, but I’m healthy, full of energy, and I don’t get stressed. If I hadn’t found that lump, I wouldn’t be here to­day. I owe Claire my life.

I con­stantly AD­VISE WOMEN to not put them­selves in a PO­SI­TION like I did, where you can’t even FEEL a LUMP un­der the LAYER of FAT. Our BOD­IES have ways of try­ing to TALK to us. Make sure you CAN LIS­TEN

Be­fore I took ac­tion, I tipped the scales at 101kg. If not for Claire’s en­cour­age­ment, I would never have un­der­gone this mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion

I started a dog-walk­ing busi­ness to keep ac­tive so I would never risk my life again

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