West End trumpet player and singer Georgina Jackson has refused to let breast cancer stall her career. The courageous jazz artist was diagnosed in 2009 and had a lumpectomy in July of that year at Mount Vernon Cancer Care in Northwood.
“I was 36 and I always thought breast cancer happens to older people,“ Georgina recalls. “I was going to see an osteopath in Bushey because I had back problems, which made me more aware of my body, I suppose. Then one night, I was taking my bra off and felt a lump, so I went to see my GP at Manor View Health Centre in Bushey and they took it seriously. I had an appointment in half an hour of turning up and was referred straight away even though my family had no history of cancer.
“I’m so grateful to live here as St Albans City Hospital and Mount Vernon have the best facilities for cancer treatment.“
Georgina grew up in Wigan and moved to Bushey after finding work at jazz clubs in London. She has lived in Oxhey Hall for six years and has been resident vocalist with the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra for the past four years. Georgina was halfway through recording her second album when she was diagnosed.
“I started recording it in April 2009 and had a day at Abbey Road Studios. I used inheritance money from my granddad, who was a massive big band fan. I wanted to go all-out and I did a gig to pre-launch the album – then the day after that I found out I had breast cancer.
“I was meant to be going on a European tour with Seal at the time, and I did a few dates then came home in September 2009. I then had chemotherapy for four months while I was working in the West End on The Rat Pack.“
Playing trumpet on stage in such a high profile show, Georgina opted to have scalp cooling treatment to help prevent hair loss during her cancer treatment. The process works by reducing the blood supply to the hair follicles, which is where the hair grows. As a result, less of the chemotherapy reaches the follicles and so hair is less likely to fall out.
“I didn’t lose all my hair. Mount Vernon had quite a new machine called a cold cap that froze my head to -20ºC. I sat with a big helmet on for three hours – it was really painful but it meant I kept 60 per cent of my hair.“
As a session musician, Georgina is much in demand. She performed as often as possible while undergoing treatment but some days were hard to cope with.
“When you’re self-employed you have to carry on – you don’t get paid otherwise,“ she says pragmatically. “I found singing very therapeutic but obviously I spent a lot of days lying on the couch as I couldn’t get up.
“For a while your head isn’t anywhere else except on cancer and there’s nothing else you can think about for quite a while, which is why I shelved the album. I was also worried how my voice might react to all the treatment as radiotherapy can affect your lungs, but luckily there’s been no change at all.
“Then there were times where I’d feel okay and singing was such a boost as for a couple of hours you’re not a cancer patient any more.“
Now in remission, Georgina finished recording her album Watch What Happens in March and released a breathy version of Irving Berlin’s Change Partners shortly afterwards. It entered the jazz charts at number 7 and climbed to number 1, knocking Nina Simone off the top spot. The album was released earlier this month.
Georgina will be performing at Friday Night Is Music Night on Thursday, June 28 at 8pm at The Colosseum, Rickmansworth Road, Watford. Watch What Happens is out now. Details: 0845 075 3993