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
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