Former Midlothian Council leader Cath Johnstone talks about her battle with cancer

Cath Johnstone (left) from Newtongrange who survived breast cancer thanks to early detection, and her sister Margaret Kelly.
Cath Johnstone (left) from Newtongrange who survived breast cancer thanks to early detection, and her sister Margaret Kelly.

Former Midlothian Council leader Cath Johnstone has spoken about how she survived breast cancer thanks to early detection.

Cath (60) from Newtongrange, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018, after visiting her GP with concerns about an inverted nipple.

Speaking, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, about how her condition strengthened the bond with her sister Margaret Kelly, she said: “I had my first dose of chemotherapy on December 19 but decided I still wanted to spend Christmas in my house.

“My sister made all the food and it was my job to set the table. The whole family were coming so it was a big table - it took me four hours!

“I was exhausted and had to go for a lie down between courses, but I loved having my family around me.

“Chemotherapy made me really poorly sometimes but I was determined to go for a walk round the block every single day, regardless of the weather, to make sure I got exercise and fresh air.

“I’ve been very lucky to have friends and family close by to feed me, keep my house clean and support me. My best friend came to visit every week when I was unwell - she put the kettle on, made me dinner then left with the dirty dishes.

“I celebrated my 60th birthday in June this year and had a ball celebrating all night.

“I’m so grateful to still be here and to spend time with my three grandchildren – they all try and help in their own way, holding my hands when we’re out walking.

“I’m still tired and the radiotherapy caused some tightening to my skin but I’m doing a gradual return to work and I still walk round the block every day.”

Cath’s experience has made her fully aware of the importance of getting checked out early. She said:“For your own piece of mind, get yourself checked out if you’re worried, and trust the doctors. My mum always told me ‘don’t be feert’ and I still try to live by that.”

People are being encouraged to support the Detect Cancer Early campaign by using #MySurvivor to share what a loved one’s cancer survival has meant to them, to help tackle fear of the disease and encourage people to visit their GP practice or attend screenings.

Cath’s sister Margaret (58)from Blantyre, expressed how much it means to still have her older sister in her life, in a bid to encourage people to act if they have a potential symptom or are invited for screening.

Speaking of the day her sister was diagnosed and what followed, Margaret (58), said: “I went with Cath to her first hospital appointment and when the nurses told us there were concerns, I just knew. I was devastated. Cath and I lost both our parents to cancer but there had been no breast cancer in the family so I felt really angry – it was so unfair.

“After her operation, I drove her home and I remember the road seemed so bumpy. I tried to avoid every pothole - I just wanted to wrap her up in cotton wool.

“My sister has always been the one to see the positive side of things and even going through chemotherapy she managed to stay positive – I’m so proud of her.

“I have worked in the NHS for 40 years, but I didn’t fully appreciate how difficult chemotherapy can be for patients until my sister went through it.

“Cath has always been an active person and it came as a shock to her that she had no energy. I would visit as much as I could and we spoke on the phone every day. She’s a brilliant crocheter so that kept her going. It was so good to see her get better – every step for Cath was a huge milestone for me too.”

Speaking of her gratitude at still having her sister in her life, Margaret said: “Cath’s survival means everything to me. She is a beautiful person. Whilst we got on well as children, when you get older you realise you still need your big sister.

“We need each other. I would have been so angry and lost if she hadn’t made it. I’m so grateful that Cath’s cancer was caught early and I would advise anyone who’s worried about a symptom to see their GP and get it checked out. Don’t be scared – do it for the people in your life who need you.”