‘My friendship put me on the road to cancer recovery’

Cancer survivor Jill Cow (dark hair) with her friend Cat Hanson who supported her through cancer get training for Pretty Muddy. 
Picture: 
Lesley Martin
Cancer survivor Jill Cow (dark hair) with her friend Cat Hanson who supported her through cancer get training for Pretty Muddy. Picture: Lesley Martin
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JILL Cow walked through the doors of the Western General Hospital in the summer of 2013 eager to start her career as an occupational therapist.

However, less than six months later she returned as a patient to undergo chemotherapy having been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of just 22.

The “surreal” diagnosis was devastating, but Jill, now 26, was supported throughout her treatment, which included chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a stem cell transplant, by her best friend and fellow occupational therapist Kathryn Hanson.

Now, three years since their friendship was formed, the pair are preparing to take on the ‘Pretty Muddy’ challenge in September, a women-only obstacle course at the Royal Highland Centre to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Jill, from Haddington said: “Being told I had cancer was frightening but also actually a bit surreal. I just felt very distant from what was happening. It was almost as though the consultant was talking about someone else.”

“But having Kathryn around at that time was just amazing, she really helped to keep me talking throughout the whole time I was in hospital. She came round every day, even if it was just for five or ten minutes, it was enough for me to know there was a friendly face there. She made it all feel a little less intense.”

“I can’t really explain what made us become friends to be honest, I think we just have similar personalities, a similar sense of humour, we just became close from nothing really.”

This time, the radiotherapy proved to be so severe, Jill was required to wear a specially moulded mask to protect her face from the rays and needed a stem cell transplant at the end of the treatment.

The friends had intended to run the Race for Life 10K before the illness struck again and Kathryn is now adamant they will brave the obstacles of the Pretty Muddy challenge to celebrate Jill’s “incredible” transformation.

Kathryn who lives in Corstorphine, visited Jill every day. “It was a strange thing to be there at work but also to be there as Jill’s friend – I’m so glad I was,” she said.

“I saw Jill through all stages of her treatment and we held a party for her when she reached the end of her chemo.

“Looking at her now compared to when she was at her worst, it is just incredible to see how well she’s doing.”

Jill admitted there were moments where she didn’t expect to make it through the relentless treatment.

But now, she’s determined to “grab every opportunity” and “live life to the full”.

She added: “Since treatment ended, I’m keeping well and my energy levels are improving all the time. I lost my hair through treatment and that’s grown back slowly.”

“Now my goals are very simple – grasp every opportunity life presents, not put anything off and try to live as healthy a life as I can.