Case study - Jane Stewart
“When Mo goes into a race he goes into it telling himself he is going to win.
“And I keep that in mind whenever things are tough.
“I am Mo Farrah.”
Ever since meeting a barn dance more than 52 years ago Jane Stewart and her husband Boyne have been inseparable. Working, living, raising their family, travelling… Everything has been done one way – together. It therefore seems both unfair and unlucky to learn they are both battling cancer together.
Jane from Dollar, Clackmannanshire said:
“We hoped to enjoy our retirement and we put our hearts into enjoying life but that changed in December 2019.”
Boyne, a 76-year-old former management consultant, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and due to COVID he didn’t receive the first of his radiotherapy treatments until July 2020. Jane, a 73-year-old retired academic, would drive her husband to Monklands Hospital for his treatment but during the drives she experienced discomfort.
“I put the pain down to having no access to the loo while waiting at the hospital for Boyne to come out.
“But over time it started waking me at night. It became a very specific, sharp pain in the right side so I knew it was serious.”
She didn’t want to upset Boyne or their children as they were already worried with Boyne’s treatment so she stayed quiet for a time. But around September 2020 the pain became too much. She arranged a phone consultation with her local GP and from there sought private treatment at the Murrayfield Clinic in Edinburgh in the hope of speeding up the process during lockdown. After blood tests and scans Jane was told in mid-October a lump was present in her abdominal wall. The find puzzled specialists but what frustrated the couple more was that lockdown impacted the ability to speak with medical staff.
“We weren’t filled with confidence – this intensified when the radiologist said he hadn’t seen anything like this before.”
Jane underwent an ultrasound-led biopsy in December 2020 and after more tests and more waiting for results it was confirmed there were dead cells in Jane’s abdomen.
“I worried too much time passed to do anything but after the second CT scan I was immediately referred to the sarcoma clinic.”
She underwent a same-day biopsy within 10 minutes of arriving and a week or so later Jane received her diagnosis – peritoneal mesothelioma.
“I don’t remember much. It was all a blur. I was just trying to soak up information rather than process things. The questions and worries came later.”
One of these worries was that medics ruled out surgical treatment. They feared the decortication procedure – which would have stripped out material in Jane’s abdomen to remove cancerous cells – could actually cause them to spread.
“I was physically fit and thought ‘Let’s do this’ so when I was told I wouldn’t get the surgery my heart sank.
“I knew by this point it was a life-saving operation so in the space of a week I felt all hope was gone.
“I was confused and worried and angry and thought ‘Well now what do I do?’”
Jane endured chemotherapy for 18 weeks over the summer of 2021 and during this time Boyne continued the treatment for his prostate cancer. But they supported each other. Each spouse battled their own cancer while trying to care for their other half. Then of course their two children were seeing both parents suffer in front of them. Calling it a ‘stressful time’ doesn’t even come close. Occasionally the stress would get the better of Jane and she’d doubt her treatment.
“One day I spoke to my son because I was worried the chemotherapy wouldn’t work.
“And he said ‘Mum - you are Mo Farrah. When Mo goes into a race he goes into it telling himself he is going to win. So when you go for chemotherapy you go in like Mo.’
“And I keep that in mind whenever things are tough. I am Mo Farrah.”
Around this time Jane’s academic mind kicked in and she researched everything about abdominal peritoneal mesothelioma from medical literature to free online seminars. Any information to help her make informed and empowered choices.
Jane is under the care of Dr Nicola Steele, a specialist based at Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.
“Pretty early on we knew Dr Steele was good – her manner, her knowledge… everything. If she recommended or disapproved of something we knew we could trust her.”
But despite the renewed focus and positivity there was still an issue.
Jane needed help beyond medical treatment.
She needed support.
She needed answers.
She needed to know what her choices were.
About what her life could continue to be.
A key reason behind this uncertainty was Jane believed the rarity of her diagnosis meant there was a lack of expert knowledge compared to the more common pleural mesothelioma found in the lungs. Jane contacted Mesothelioma UK for advice and it was here she learned of Asbestos Action. Jane called the charity immediately. It was a chance phone call that would contribute to a huge turnaround in Jane’s quality of life and state of mind.
“When I called the phone was answered immediately – and it was so good being able to talk on the phone and not have to deal with emails.
“Dianne came to our house and offered insightful practical advice to nearly every part of our life.
“She could answer my questions but also suggest questions I should ask medical staff to get the right answers to the right questions.”
“We live out in the middle of nowhere but there was no issue for Dianne to come out here to our home and help.
“GPs confess to knowing very little about mesothelioma but Asbestos Action has knowledge and expertise to provide fast answers and genuinely caring support.”
Jane and Boyne are now living their lives the way they want. In positivity. Together.
“It has been tough but it reinforces the strength of our marriage.
“Some people who see us give us the ‘concerned head-cock’ followed by the delicate ‘How are you?’ only to be taken aback when we happily proclaim that we’re both good!
“Jane and I are living our pre-diagnosis lives – it’s just that every few months we go for treatment.”
“The pathway can be difficult but I want to be me and get on with being me.
“People need to speak to Asbestos Action as early as possible because the benefits of having Dianne in your corner as early as possible are massive.”