My Story - Jo King

About Me

I am a prize winning and published Wildlife Photographer with a passion for Bird Photography.  My home is in Devon, UK, alongside the RSPB nature reserve on the Exe Estuary which is a SSSI, SPA and Ramsar protected site for wildfowl and wading birds.   I am also a short distance from Dartmoor National Park.  This  means I have access to miles of beautiful coast and country landscape which provides varied habitats for all types of wild birds.

I am also an RSPB and BTO volunteer which mostly involves bird surveys and photogaphic support.   

One of my photographs of a Dormouse taken on the RSPB Exe Estuary Reserves was the first Dormouse sighting on the reserves and has appeared in several local and national publications. I have also been awarded first prize in the RSPB 2019 'Inspiring Nature' Calendar competition.                 

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My Story

“In 2013 my world turned upside down when my husband was diagnosed with Advanced Kidney Cancer which had spread to his lungs and lymph nodes. Despite his appearance of being very fit and healthy, his prognosis was poor and we were told there was ‘no cure’. I turned to Google, trawling hundreds of sites, downloading dozens of scientific papers and reports on research trials. One treatment did actually have the word ‘cure’ in some reports and in others it was dismissed as risky and unsuitable for many, with a low response rate. But I was not about to dismiss it. It was an Immunotherapy Treatment called High Dose Interleukin 2 and there seemed to be only one Cancer Hospital in the UK carrying out the treatment on the NHS under the care of Professor Hawkins, a Kidney Cancer specialist. This was the Christie NHS Trust in Manchester.

I printed the details and gave them to my GP who said ‘Anything you do is futile Jo’. A further year passed and the Cancer spread further. The drugs which were intended to prevent further growth had stopped working and his Oncology team prescribed another similar drug – this appeared to be the last option. I made more fuss about the Immunotherapy Treatment, but again was ignored. So I wrote to Professor Hawkins directly and he replied!

The next few months saw my husband undergo tests to establish his suitability for the treatment and to our delight, but with some apprehension, he was accepted for the treatment. We sold our beloved ‘self build’ home in Mid Devon – a large barn conversion in a remote setting which had now become a burden.

We moved to a smaller new house next to the RSPB Exminster Marshes reserve within the Exe Estuary SSSI, SPA and Ramsar protected site for Wetland birds. I had always enjoyed Bird Watching but had never taken more than snaps with my ipad.

In November 2014, armed with just a pair of binoculars I joined an RSPB walk on Exminster Marshes, intent on getting to know my new environment.Within 5 minutes of starting the walk I was totally blown away. I felt like I’d walked through the back of the wardrobe into a magical world – one I never knew existed and it was right on my doorstep. The first image I saw was a Teal, a colourful small duck with a chestnut and teal green head; and distinctive yellow triangle to the side of its tail. Then there were Widgeons in their hundreds; whistling excitedly from the pools and lagoons around us. Elegant Lapwings were scattered over the tussocky grasslands of the marshes and Godwits, Redshanks and Dunlins, to name but a few, were huddled in tight flocks resting from a night’s feeding out on the Estuary during low tide. The eerie, yet addictive call of the Curlew confirmed this was somewhere I would always want to return to. It was absolutely their home, but they were allowing me to look through the windows and witness their unique behaviour; to watch them feed, sleep and fight for survival.

When I left the marshes at the end of that memorable day I couldn’t wait to tell my family and friends about my new neighbours. But no words could convey the beauty and wonder of what I’d witnessed. I needed to capture the moments; tell their stories and share my memories. I wanted a good camera but hated the thought of carrying a bulky DSLR around with me.

My husband persuaded me to buy the Canon 100D kit – the smallest and lightest Canon DSLR which included two lenses, a 50mm and a 300mm zoom. Over the next year, this camera became my life saver. As my husband underwent a gruelling year of treatment in Manchester, I stayed near the hospital in my Campervan and spent every spare moment, when not at the hospital, out with my camera photographing birds. It was like therapy – a drug I couldn’t get enough of. When I looked through the viewfinder into the world of birds, all other troubles faded into mist.

So here I am a few years later, a little wiser and totally addicted. I’ve upgraded my kit and am now the proud owner of a Canon 7D Mark II and the impressive 100-400mm F4-5.6L IS USM Mark II lens.  

Without my bird photography I am not sure how I would have survived the rollercoaster of emotions which the last three years have thrown at me. It has been my silent companion in difficult times and allowed me to capture memories, witness incredible secrets and share stories as I choose.

But do you know the absolute best of it all? My husband has been cured of Kidney Cancer!!! Yes, you heard me right –10  clear scans now! The treatment worked – the body’s immune system woke up and killed the cancer naturally. All side effects have reversed and no further drugs or treatment are required. It’s as though he were never sick and is back to the man he was 7  years ago.

Whatever life throws at you, try not to give up hope and if you’re down on your knees – maybe take up Bird Photography? It saved me, while Professor Robert Hawkins saved my husband.

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