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Personal cancer story

Jo Cockwill

I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer when I was 55 and went through a mastectomy and chemotherapy as part of my treatment. My mother, her two sisters and my grandmother also had breast cancer. I was gene tested but the doctors didn't find the mutation that could have led to my diagnosis.

Jo Cockwill

While I was going through my treatment, I called Cancer Council's information and support phone number, 13 11 20, a couple of times with questions and other concerns about my treatment.

It was during one of those calls that I found out about Cancer Connect, Cancer Council's peer support program where they match cancer survivors with those who have recently been diagnosed and are going through a similar experience.

I felt very lucky during my own cancer treatment, because I had a lot of people around me to talk to. However, I met a lot of other people with cancer who didn't have that sort of support. I decided that after finishing my own treatment I wanted to do something to give back.

It was two years after my treatment that I got back in touch with Cancer Council and started the process of becoming a Cancer Connect volunteer.

Cancer Council provides specialised training to its volunteers. Before my training, I also received a call from someone at Cancer Connect who explained the process and had a bit of a chat with me about the service and the role I would fulfil.

The training was fantastic and involved a lot of group work, one-on-one training and working with others to make sure we all understood how best to communicate with people who had been diagnosed with cancer and help make sure they were relaxed speaking to us on the phone. I found the training really useful – it helps make sure you know how to relate and communicate with the people who use the service, including listening to whatever it is that they want to share with you.

When I make these calls, I usually plan with the person I am speaking to what times would best suit them and when they want to talk. Sometimes I will have one conversation with a person, sometimes there will be several over a number of weeks.

The biggest part of what I do is just providing an ear for people to be heard and to answer questions. It works really well because volunteers are matched as closely as possible, so that you talk to someone who has gone through the same treatment and often has exactly the same cancer as yourself.

Often the people I talk to feel like they can ask me questions that they aren't comfortable asking of anyone else. I'm often asked questions that start with "I know this is a silly question but..." Most of the time, I am able to answer from my personal experience and it can give them support from a different perspective, often one a lot closer to their own.

As a Cancer Connect volunteer you almost end up being a bit like the light at the end of the tunnel – when people are going through cancer treatment, it can be a pretty daunting experience. As a Cancer Connect volunteer, you can relate to what others are going through and be there for them in that way.

I feel so privileged to hear people's stories and experiences. They are all really lovely, friendly people and it feels really special that I am able to give something back as well.

When I was going through treatment, I found it especially helpful to talk to someone who had actually gone through what I had gone through. People who haven't gone through cancer sometimes don't quite get the intricacies of the sort of thoughts and fears that you have when undergoing treatment and this can make you feel alone. I think the absolute joy about Cancer Connect is realising that there are others out there who have gone through the same thing.

The whole Cancer Connect experience has been amazingly positive and I would absolutely recommend other people volunteer if they can. I am sure I get just as much from the whole experience as the people on the other end of the phone do.

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer