October is also known as Pinktober – the month for breast cancer awareness – so what better time than now to share the story from Witta local and breast cancer survivor Jo Cockram.

by Jacqui Hensel

Three years ago after a long drawn-out treatment for breast cancer, Jo Cockram decided to throw the switch and restart her life in Witta. Originally from Melbourne, Jo and her family found paradise waiting for them in a little acreage cottage with views over a lake. 

Moving to the area was a long-held dream that Jo and husband Geoff had thought could wait until they retired. With Jo’s battle in the rearview mirror, they decided that actually, right now was the right time.

“I felt it was important to make this move while our girls were still young enough to appreciate the change in lifestyle.

“In the space of twelve months after I finished my treatment process, we had sold our house in Melbourne and found our lovely country acreage. It all happened so quickly!” Jo reminisces.

“I had a few non-negotiables. I had to have a veggie patch, a chook shed for some chooks and a pool for the girls. I wanted the girls to go to school in our community, so they could make friends locally.

“I lost my mum, grandma and a cousin to breast cancer, as well as losing my Dad to lymphoma last year. So, it was in the back of my mind to do this before something happened to me. 

“However, I have had a very positive outcome from my treatment and I am coming up to five years cancer free and I no longer feel that sense of dread hanging over me,” Jo says with relief in her voice. 

“It was incredibly hard to lose my mum to cancer when I was 28. It has informed my journey with breast cancer in that I was determined to fight it with every tool in the box. I’ve done everything in my power to be here and I wanted to enjoy this new life now rather than when I am 70!” Jo says grittily.

While the climate of the hinterland reminds Jo of Melbourne, in that she sees the seasonal changes and the cool weather, Jo also loves being so close to everything, beaches, city and bushwalks.

“Geoff and I wanted to bring us all back to the simple life and focus on our family. We were very much a part of the city rat race with both of us working full time and the girls in care. It was time for a change. So many of our family and friends have been up to visit us in our piece of paradise. I know they are sick of all my Instagram posts,” Jo laughs.

“Sometimes after school or on weekends we can go for a walk in our beautiful area and talk to cows, alpacas, goats and buffalo. We come home again and go and talk to our chooks. It’s a complete change to everything we have done before. I really feel like a part of the community. I am involved with the girl’s schools and sporting organisations as well a fitness group that keeps me motivated”, explains Jo.

“My journey with breast cancer started when I was about 25 years old and my mum was diagnosed. Mum had a very aggressive form of breast cancer. She got on top of it for a couple of years, but then she passed away when she was 51. 

“My sister and I were watched over continually by mum’s specialist, so when my cancer appeared it was a very early diagnosis. A lot had changed in the treatment process since my mum had cancer so although it was the same type of cancer, I had a much better outcome,” Jo explains. 

“I had such a great treatment team. I had absolute faith in my specialist and what he recommended for me as a plan. He put me onto a multi-disciplinary team. I had breast care nurses, an oncologist, dieticians, exercise physiologist and a psychologist.

“The holistic care team was so important to me. They were on top of everything. The surgery I had to have happened very quickly, but I felt supported the whole way. 

“I’m naturally a pretty positive person and I think that helped when it came time to go through the chemo treatments. I always focused on the next thing and getting it done so I could move forward.

“One thing that helped me a lot was going to Pilates after a treatment session. The effect of exercise after a treatment meant less of a reaction. It was also good for my mental health. 

“There were days where I couldn’t move, I felt so sick. Sometimes a walk to the end of my street was all I could manage. But overall exercise became an important part of my process.

“My family really pulled together for me. Especially my sister. She was amazing and I was so glad to have her beside me through everything. My Dad, who was facing his own battle with cancer, was so supportive. We kept each other’s spirits up,” Jo smiles. 

“There are so many women I have met that have survived breast cancer. I have made friends with an amazing group for breast cancer in Maleny. They meet once a month on the second Wednesday of the month at Flaunt in the Riverside Plaza, and have been a great way for me to meet other survivors. They are a wonderfully supportive group. 

“We have morning tea and catch up with each other. There are sometimes reps from companies that talk about prosthetics and breast care after mastectomies. 

“It’s just a safe place to share experiences and tips. It’s very relaxed and everyone is welcome. It’s good to know that you can be professionally fitted up here in Maleny,” Jo says.

The Mother’s Day Classic is a fun run or walk event that is held nationally to raise money for Breast Cancer. It is something Jo and her sister Andrea do as a way to pay tribute to their mum and other family members. 

“It feels important to give back to the people who supported me on my journey and to acknowledge the successes and the losses.

“I usually do it in Melbourne with my sister, as it’s a great reason to get back down there to see her and my friends. Covid 19 has made travelling a bit hard, so I will go to one near me. They are held all over Australia and there is usually one nearby.”

Location details are on the Mother’s Day Classic website. This year they raised over two million dollars.

With so many people facing cancer, and as someone who can look back on it, Jo advises embracing help and support. Listening to your body, letting it heal.

Accepting your journey both medically and spiritually. Giving yourself permission to enjoy the simple things and don’t sweat what you can’t manage. Most importantly, she believes you need to take the time to slow down and enjoy your life.

“I know now that I will get to see my girls grow up. I will be a part of their lives and those of any grandchildren I’m lucky enough to be blessed with. For a while there I didn’t think that would be possible. But I know now that I will be here,” concludes Jo with a smile.

The Breast Cancer Care Group meets on October 13 at Flaunt. Contact 04092978310 for more information or to go on their email list.