FOR 15 years Jo Green had cancer, but she didn’t know.

She was a picture of health, with a career in the fitness industry and spent most of her time working-out or teaching classes, and rarely got a cold, let alone flu or a virus.

But, there was one problem that kept surfacing – Jo had been back and forth to doctors and the hospital for what she was told was IBS [Irritable Bowel Syndrome], with symptoms that would come and go, including pain, diarrhoea, tiredness and bloating.

Eventually the 37-year-old was diagnosed with multiple neuroendocrine tumours, known as NETs, a rare, incurable slow-growing form of cancer that affects the release of hormones into the bloodstream.

“Being told I had cancer was a total shock to me,” she says. “For as long as I can remember I’ve had IBS. Looking back, I never felt like any particular ‘diet’ solved my problems.

“I’d been going to my GP for ten years and had been seen at the hospital for my strange flushing. My ‘IBS’ wasn’t constant and did not seem to follow a pattern, but it steadily got worse.

“I was always reassured that there was nothing wrong with me.”

Once Jo’s cancer was diagnosed, the next few weeks were a blur of scans and tests to ascertain what stage the cancer was at.

“Those weeks went very slowly. I suspected that it was already advanced, given that I’d been having symptoms for years, but the rarity of my cancer meant my treatment plan was being discussed in meetings, and I had to wait to find out what options I would be offered.”

A few weeks after her initial diagnosis, and still unsure of her situation, Jo ran the Great South Run and raised £1,000 for Macmillan.

She set herself a target to run it the following year in a similar time.

Jo was referred to Southampton General Hospital and under the care of consultant surgeon, Mr Neil Pearce, she was told that she would need surgery to remove the tumour, but she would never be cured and her condition could only be managed, hopefully for decades.

“Initially I was shocked that my life was never going to return to normal, quickly followed by relief that I was still going to be here in 12 months time.

“I slept for the first time in weeks.

“The next day it dawned on me that I might not grow old.”

It took eight hours for the surgeon to remove Jo’s tumour, which was more extensive than scans had initially shown, and the surgery ‘knocked her for six’.

“I cannot describe how it felt to enter the hospital feeling fit and well, to then wake up after surgery in a high dependency unit attached to numerous tubes and feeling more poorly and weak than I ever have in my life!”

Despite the gruelling surgery, and what she describes as ‘physically the hardest days of her life’, Jo’s fitness served her well and she was able to go home just nine days later.

Ten months on, Jo ran the Great South Run again – faster than the year before – and along with 18 friends raised £8,000 for Southampton based charity, Planets, which is dedicated to defeating pancreas and liver cancers and NETS.

And now, although Jo has six-monthly checks to monitor her cancer, she is determined to live day-by-day, and ensure she is fit and healthy for any future surgery she may need.

“You never think you will hear the words ‘you have cancer’,” she says. “And it’s tough to wake up in the morning with that knowledge.

“I appreciate life and health and the people around me more than ever, and my illness has given me a different perspective on life. I still have cancer, but the reality is that I am now safer than I’ve been in all the years I have been suffering.”

Jo and her friends

Since her diagnosis, Jo and her friends have raised over £40,000 for Planets – to raise awareness and give something back to the team that looked after her so well.

“I feel lucky to have been referred to such an amazing team of nurses, doctors and surgeons,” she explains.

“Medical science is improving all the time and I’m grateful that I’ve been given the time to take advantage of any developments made by my surgeon and his team.”

If you want to donate to PLANETS, visit: justgiving.com/ Joanne-Green5.