Back in 2017, Joanna Marshall took part in our HeadHigh campaign for lung cancer awareness month. Joanna was a huge advocate for us and for the disease itself. She wanted people to understand what having lung cancer actually means and who it can affect to prevent others from going through it.
Sadly, Joanna passed away in July 2018 but when we asked for people to share their experience for our Still Here campaign, her husband Rupert raised his hand to continue Jo’s legacy.
“Jo was diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2015. Before her diagnosis, she’d been to the GP a few times about a persistent cough but, because she was so young (she was 36 at the time) a non-smoker and because we had young children who are little petri dishes of disease , the GPs didn’t think it was anything too concerning and that it would pass.
However, by the time her third and final visit she’d coughed blood and that was when they started to do further investigation.
The eventual diagnosis was a real hammer blow for us all. She was basically told she had months to live and that she needed to tie up her affairs. It was like being sucked into a black hole.
Learning to live with lung cancer
But Jo was a real fighter and, after the initial punch of the diagnosis, she collected herself and started to work out she could fight this disease and live with it. She saw a specialist down in Edinburgh who was absolutely wonderful, who gave her hope as well.
The most important thing for her was to maintain our family life, a normal life. She wanted to keep on going to work. Work was so important to her and to keep that kind of air of normalcy helped her cope with the situation. After all, life carries on, and this is something that she wanted to imbue with her children, as well as to me and her family. You don’t stop for this disease; you keep on going and that is how you fight it. and I think she just embodied that brilliantly.
Jo died in July 2018, three years after the initial diagnosis and for most of those three years, she kept her life as she wanted to keep it.
She did some wonderful things. She went on holiday with her brothers and her mother to Denmark, for her mother’s 60th birthday. She wrote a lot of stuff for the kids and really tried to squeeze out the most she could in those last few months she had.
She made some photo albums which I gave to them on the anniversary of her death just to remind them of her. They’re half finished. The first half shows their lives with her and it’s a really good memory for them but then the other half is empty, waiting for them to fill it.
It’s been incredibly hard for us all. The kids have understandably really struggled and missed their mum They have questioned about ‘When’s mum coming back?’ ‘Is there any way we can bring mum back?’ ‘Can we make a time machine and go any change anything?’
They’re desperate to see their mum again, but they understand as well that they can’t so they try and keep her memory alive. They’ve managed to keep going and be happy within themselves.
Looking after them as a single parent is quite odd. Jo was adamant that I was to die before she did. It was something we always joked about after the diagnosis. ‘It’s just not fair,’ she’d say. ‘Women are supposed to outlive their husbands!’
I miss her every day. I think about her a lot. But we keep going, and there is a lot of good within the world because of what she did for us and what she’s left behind.
Jo’s legacy lives on
That’s why I wanted to be part of the Still Here campaign. I think it speaks to what Jo would have wanted. She campaigned so much. It was so important for her to help people understand what lung cancer means so nobody would have to go through what she has had to go through and what her kids and family have had to go through as well. For me, that is something I think is really important to keep her legacy alive.
In the lead up to the diagnosis, we had so much going on in our lives. We had a young family. There was a two and a half year old and a five year old to look after. Our life was just a bustle of getting from one thing to the next, going to work, dealing with things. Looking back now, I regret not being a bit more forceful with the GPs, considering that perhaps something was more seriously wrong with her or trying to push for more tests.
So with that in mind, I hope people see our story and benefit from it. I hope that anyone who has a cough or other potential symptoms sees this and goes and gets tested because the earlier that you’re engaged in this, the earlier you are part of it, you can start treatment earlier and hopefully that means you have a much better chance of survival, and you won’t have to experience the pain and the suffering that we have had to go through.
My other hope is that we can invent time machines and that we can go back and bring back the loved ones that we’ve lost…”