Jo Ostermeyer On Beating Breast Cancer And How It Changed Her Life

Meet Jo: 6’0” chartered accountant, ass kicker of breast cancer and all-round inspirational female. Hers is an incredible story…

It’s incredible how three little words can completely change your life. No, not those three little ones, sadly, but these – “you have cancer”. What?! How can I have cancer? I was 34, a never-smoker, active, healthy eater and it was Christmas Eve of all days but that’s what the test results showed. Stage 3, grade 3 carcinoma of the right breast, to be precise. Happy Christmas!

I knew of nobody within my family and friends circle who had breast cancer. In fact, the only point of reference I had was one of my teenage idols, Kylie Minogue. I mean, who of us girls in the late 80s didn’t want to be Charlene in Neighbours? I remember she was mid-tour when she was diagnosed but underwent her treatment and as soon as she was fit enough, she completed her Showgirl tour. What a spectacular way to stick two fingers up to this evil disease and that’s what I needed to do. Once I’d stopped crying, though.

I didn’t want to know my prognosis. I didn’t need to stress over what the survival rates were (although, breast cancer has one of the best). I just needed address my treatment plan one step at a time. First things first, and just six days after diagnosis, a right-side mastectomy and lymph node clearance. It took me about six weeks before I could look at my one-sided, scarred chest meaning I would gaze up to the ceiling in the shower or whilst getting dressed. And then you look through your wardrobe. V neck, low cut, strapless – well I couldn’t go wearing any of those without people seeing I had a pretend boob. But as the scar healed, a little bit of confidence crept back.

Oh, but then came the other c-word, chemo. Mentally you play a little games of word association. Chemotherapy; bald head; sickness; needles; fear. I had six cycles, once every three weeks, wired to a drip for a couple of hours each time. Yes, I lost my hair, pretty much every single one on my body in the space of about two weeks and it was really painful, my whole head felt bruised. But a few more weeks later you realise your head starts to feel like a kiwi fruit as it comes back and never did I ever think I would be thrilled to see the return of my nasal hair! Cancer sure does odd things to you.

I now have a collection of scars on my body. I have what looks like a smile from hip to hip. I don’t care, though. I’m actually very proud of them. They show I have the upper hand.

Once that was completed it was a course of twenty radiotherapy sessions over four weeks and a further drip-based treatment over the course of a year. But once that was all completed came what I had been focusing on, my reconstruction. As it happens, gaining weight from the steroids to aid chemo meant I was a perfect candidate to have a tummy tuck with the removed tissue and skin being relocated to the flat side of my chest to create my new breast. She is called Bridgit, by the way. And all those low cut, v necks could come back out of hiding.

I now have a collection of scars on my body. I have what looks like a smile from hip to hip and Bridgit has her fair share, too. I don’t care, though. I’m actually very proud of them. They show I have the upper hand. Strangely, I would say I have more body confidence now that I did before my unwanted Christmas gift. I would never have dreamt of appearing in a lingerie campaign but now I have, scars and all. Nothing like going to your local, large shopping centre and seeing life-size posters of yourself in some beautiful underwear in one of the shop entrances and your Facebook and Instagram timelines like a very bizarre game of Where’s Wally as your friends post selfies of themselves next to your poster – brilliant!

One of the hardest questions to answer is why? Why me? I can’t recall how many times I asked myself this. Truth is, there is no rational explanation. So to make some sense of why did I have to go through this, I now volunteer as a speaker sharing my story. If I can help those currently living this nightmare or even maybe prompt someone to go get that worrying symptom checked, then my own experience has meant something. And if an opportunity comes your way to do something fantastic, if it’s feasible, then do it. I’m never going to jump out of an aeroplane for fun but seeing more of the world, seeing my favourite bands and artists live or simply making great memories with those close to me, these are the best medicine.