Inspiring People - Jackie Woodroffe

Summer 2015/16, Living Well Magazine

Recently our Communications Manager had the honour of meeting Jackie Woodroffe, one of The Gawler Cancer Foundation’s first cancer program participants. 

In 1983 Jackie Woodroffe was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Despite having regular check-ups, I suddenly found this lump. The medico said, oh, no, it’ll be nothing… But what really happened was that every time there were tests done, they said ‘oh it’s just a bit worse than we thought’.”

Jackie was offered three choices by her surgeon: remove just the lump itself, have a mastectomy or have a biopsy. She opted for removing just the lump.

After the operation, the diagnosis was confirmed and nearly half of 13 lymph nodes were affected. “So we started these terrible procedures of radiotherapy and then chemotherapy, isotope implants. It was nine months of hell.”

“After all that treatment, I found that – in the end – the story was still not good… despite all along people saying ‘you’ll be alright in the end’, well, no, I had secondaries from the breast cancer. And that meant that, at that point, there was nothing that could be done, other than palliative care.”  Jackie was told she had between six months and five years to live.

“It was at that time I decided to look into the Gawler Cancer Foundation, which people had been telling me about. In late 1983, I undertook the foundation’s ‘Living with Cancer’ program.”

“If you’re going to follow this type of path, like I did, you must do it properly,” says Jackie, who along with the other lifestyle changes she made in her life, is committed to a vegetarian diet.  “You can’t say to yourself, I won’t do it today, but I’ll do it tomorrow. Or that just a little bit of salt or cream won’t matter… no, if you’re going to do it, do it properly and thoroughly. That way, you will get the most self-satisfaction – which is really important.”

“My husband’s job involved lots of functions, and I thought after the program – oh no. I can’t eat anything or drink anything! But I was amazed at how quickly I adapted. The diet that I followed was picked up by a number of people in my life. They didn’t have cancer but they decided it was a useful way to go. In fact, one of my friends from my college days still follows my diet – and perhaps is even more rigid about it than I am!

Jackie has some further advice for people who have been recently diagnosed with cancer…

“If you are suddenly faced with a damning prognosis such as I was, do not give up. Fight it. I think one of the first things you must do is understand what is happening to your body. Ask the doctors about it, ask them questions and talk to other people and get ideas about the best way..

“I think it’s different for everyone…. There’s a path there, but you have to determine what it is for yourself. It’s not the same as what I did, or what somebody else did… it’s what suits you.

“You might find that some of your friends will abandon you… But you will find friends who will stay with you forever. Be wary with your family, because your children may suffer more than they appear to – and they will need support, no matter what age they are.”

“One of the problems with the [medical] treatment is that once it’s done, you are left extremely weak. And you will probably never be as physically strong again. But if you take physical exercise – I walk and walk kilometres every day. That gives me great strength. And when I finally retired, I worked in the garden quite a bit, and I got stronger from that. But I don’t think you can expect to be quite as physically strong as you were before the treatment if you’ve had lots of chemotherapy.”

On reflection, Jackie says that gaining an understanding of the cancer and how she could take control of it, and her life, has been instrumental in her recovery.

“I am very thankful to the Gawler Foundation and all the support from everyone throughout my life who encouraged me to stay with it.”