The big names coming to small town’s festival
DANCER, DRAMA teacher, B&B landlady, school dinner lady and one-time magician’s assistant Jane Hoggar was determined to laugh in the face of cancer. As she went through the gruelling, bewildering, scary process of diagnosis and treatment she focused on finding fun in serious situations.
Now she has written the book she wanted to read. It began as a blog, written day-by-day as she negotiated the difficult, and not obviously hilarious, events and decisions around breast cancer treatments, outcomes and side-effects. Chemo Summer, illustrated by her artist daughter, Holly Bishop, tells the story of her diagnosis, care and cure.
Jane had long feared breast cancer as both her mother and grandmother were treated for, and survived, the disease. She had already asked doctors to check out several potential lumps, over the years, when she noticed what she describes as a “saggy breast.”
“It was actually an appointment for my husband, for a knee problem,” says Jane. “On the way out I said, ‘Could you just have a quick look at my tits!?’ One was saggy and one was perky, so I thought it wasn’t just going south because of my age!”
That was three years ago. Since then 51-year-old Jane has had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy – and turned the blog which helped her get through it all into her first book. “When I was diagnosed, I was very shocked, obviously,” says Jane. “You immediately fear the worst. It’s a natural human reaction. I wasn’t scared of dying, but the thought of my children having to cope with me dying was too much to bear.”
The blog began as a way to update concerned friends and family. “I was getting exhausted, ringing everyone to talk through what was happening each day. With this they could simply log in and read,” said Jane. “I started enjoying writing it, finding anecdotes, ticking the days off as I went through chemotherapy.”
Jane and her maths professor husband, Steve Bishop, recently returned to East Anglia, where they both grew up. “We found a house we fell in love with on Harleston High Street,” said Jane. She is about to start children’s dance classes in the town and says: “I didn’t realise how much I would love coming home.”
Her own dance career began with ballet school. Too tall for a career in ballet she became a Bluebell Girl in Paris. “It was amazing! We were treated like celebrities around the world,” says Jane. “I did can-can shows in France and Italy and got myself into a bit of trouble in Japan, and had to escape from a spa hotel in the mountains in the laundry van! When you are a dancer you can’t pick and choose,” she says. “If you want to work on stage you have got to roll up your sleeves and take what’s offered. I’ve worked as a magician’s assistant. I always just about managed to get out of the apparatus in one piece, but laddered my tights every time! You have to be flexible, not just physically, but in your attitude too.”
She was living in London, and auditioning for West End shows, when she met her husband-to-be.
Many years later she and Steve found themselves sitting, side-by-side in front of a mirror, about to choose a wig for Jane.
“I had always wondered what I would look like bald. I was hoping it might be like Sinead O’Connor but it was more like Kojak!” says Jane.
It is just one of the many anecdotes which brings laughter to Chemo Summer.
“I needed a book that would cheer me up and make me realise that there are lots of people going through the same and that they don’t necessarily die, very few people die,” says Jane. “It’s not all bad news. Breast cancer, if it’s caught early, they can help you. I don’t have cancer now.” She hopes the book will help other people through cancer and take the fear out of talking about cancer.
She also believes it could save lives. When a friend admitted missing a mammogram appointment Jane encouraged her to rebook and an early cancer was detected in time for it to be treated. “That’s a good example of why we must talk about it,” she said, “although my husband did ask me to stop checking myself for lumps in restaurants!” Chemo Summer costs £7.99 and can be ordered through bookshops or online.