HER world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer earlier this year.
After being forced to give up work to undergo treatment, young mum-of-two Jill Hazzard grew concerned about how she would conjure up the money to afford her rent – and fund her children’s everyday needs.
But this week, at least some of her worries were washed away when her kind-hearted best friend secretly set up a fundraising website in her honour – and raised almost £5000 in just 24 hours.
Jill, from Tranent, said she was “overwhelmed” by the generosity shown by hundreds of contributors since Lisa Gray created the page.
And she said she was determined to beat the disease, told how her doctor had initially dismissed her concerns and revealed that being diagnosed had cost her a dream job at one of the Capital’s biggest department stores.
Speaking to the Evening News from her home in East Lothian, Jill said her friend’s efforts had been completely unexpected.
She said: “I had absolutely no idea the JustGiving page had been set up.
“At first when I saw it, I thought I was going to kill Lisa, I was so embarrassed.
“But it wasn’t long before happiness took over and I was overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity.
“I am so thankful because I had been worrying how I was going to survive.”
Jill, 33, was diagnosed with bowel cancer earlier this year after months of extreme stomach pain and diarrhoea.
She initially visited her GP in January, where she was told “not to worry” as she was “too young to have cancer”.
But after she was signed off work for four weeks in April, she had no doubts that something was seriously wrong with her.
Jill, who previously worked at the Lancome make-up counter at Debenhams in Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith, said: “In a way I’m glad my symptoms continued to get worse because it encouraged me to visit the doctor.
“I was back and forth, back and forth, until they finally discovered what was wrong.
“I knew something wasn’t right when my toilet pattern completely changed, and I had diarrhoea all the time.
“Things got so bad I had to be signed off work for four weeks.
“I remember one night I was in excruciating pain, and my daughter had to call the doctor for me.
“It was a locum doctor I saw that night and she felt an abscess of some sort and sent me to the hospital.”
Jill, who received her diagnosis on May 18, added: “At first I thought I had irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s, but as time went on, and the pain got worse, I knew it was something more serious.
“The doctors told me not to worry because I was too young to have cancer, but I’m glad I was persistent now, and I hope my story will encourage others to do the same.
“I just had a feeling something wasn’t right.”
Just a week before Jill received her diagnosis, she had handed in her notice to Lancome to pursue her dream career as a make-up artist, working with Dior at Jenners in Princes Street.
But due to illness, she was never able to take her place behind the counter and had to turn down the job, as well as losing out on sick pay from her previous employer.
Jill – who branded her two children, Rebecca, 15, and Rory, 11, “her world” – has spent the last six weeks undergoing a gruelling course of radiotherapy.
At the same time, she has been taking chemotherapy tablets, in the hope that her tumour will be shrunk small enough to allow surgeons to attempt its removal later this year.
Jill said: “Everyone keeps telling me I’m an inspiration and praising me for how strong I’ve been.
“When you have two children, there’s no other option – I don’t want to show them my weakness.
“I’m just waiting for a scan now to determine what happens next.
“It’s been difficult because just last year I went on a make-up artistry course, which was something I’d wanted to do for a long time.
“Just when I’d plucked up the courage to do it and got my life on track, this happened.
“I’m trying my best to stay positive, for myself and my children.”
Former Ross High School pupil Jill and Lisa, 35 – who set up the fundraising page – have been friends for more than 20 years.
Lisa, who is also from Tranent, told the News it was difficult enough to watch one of her closest friends undergo cancer treatment without seeing her having to cope with financial struggles too.
Lisa said: “Jill was so distressed. She would tell me she was fine, but I knew she wasn’t. I could help her with a lot of things, but one thing I couldn’t give her by myself was money, and that’s when I came up with the idea of the JustGiving page.
“She was worrying about how she was going to pay her rent, how she would pay for the kids’ lunches at school, and how she would cope at Christmas this year with no income.
“It’s sad really that she is left in this position after her life was fully on track and things were on the up.”
Lisa originally set up the page on Tuesday evening with the hope of raising £500 over the course of 30 days.
But when she checked to see if anyone had donated on Wednesday night, she was astounded to find that the total was just short of ten times her original modest target.
Lisa added: “I’m so overwhelmed with how much has been raised so far – I still can’t believe it.
“I would love to thank everyone that has donated personally, but I know that is impossible.
“We are all just trying to help Jill through this difficult time.”
In the UK, around 41,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year.
It affects both men and women but, if diagnosed early, more than 90 per cent of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully.
Jill said: “I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to my page.
“I can’t thank people enough.
“I also wanted to tell my story to raise awareness that anyone at any age can get bowel cancer.
“If you feel like something is wrong be persistent and don’t let your doctor fob you off.”
A leading charity supporting patients with bowel cancer warned that anyone, regardless of age, who thinks they have the symptoms should immediately get checked out by their doctor.
Charlotte Dawson, head of nursing at Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “Although it is predominantly people over 50 who are diagnosed with bowel cancer, it can affect anyone at any age.
“It’s difficult to tell the difference between symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or stress-related bowel conditions and bowel cancer without proper investigation, so if your GP diagnoses your symptoms as stress-induced but they continue for three weeks or more, go back and ask for a referral for further tests.
“It’s important to find out if it could be something more serious.
“The earlier bowel cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat, so if the doctor doesn’t initially refer you, be persistent – it could save your life.”
To donate to Jill’s fund, visit: http://bit.ly/2biHzmb