So, no matter where you are in life, cancer is unexpected and it changes everything. I was very very busy living my life: I had a full-time job that I liked, I was doing my very best as a single mum to a brilliant 9-year-old boy and I was mad about running. For 2019 I had a full schedule of running and obstacle races lined up. I had just become a qualified running lead and was a committed member of a local running club. So, thankfully before cancer, my fitness base was good. Then out of the blue I felt lumps in my right breast and it was confirmed to be primary HER2+ve breast cancer. On diagnosis the first two statements I made were, “But I have a nine year old son” followed by, “I am fit and healthy, how can I be ill?”. I even told my friend “I don’t have time to be ill, I’ve got too much stuff to do”.
When treatment started, I asked if I could still do some form of exercise or running – I was probably naively underestimating the impact of treatment. I was reassured that if I listened to my body and felt ok, it was fine to run (my mum looked at me like – are you joking?). It wasn’t just the physical aspects I was thinking about – I knew that getting out and running made me happy and gave me positive mental boosts. Taking part in races or setting myself fitness goals gave me a sense of achievement. I was worried I’d lose all the positive attributes that living an active life brings. In fact, running was to be my ally.
To start off my treatment I had a lumpectomy with breast reconstruction. I spent the first three weeks post-op taking daily, brisk walks. And then I went for a 3-mile run. I was a bit apprehensive at first but I felt good during and after, so I continued running regularly up until my chemotherapy started. The thought of having chemotherapy terrified me, the side effects were horrible but manageable and I think part of it is that my fitness built up some kind of resilience to help deal with the side effects. Throughout chemo I ran on, average, around twice a week, between 2.5 – 4 miles. Sometimes it felt like I was running an uphill marathon as I had zero energy and sometimes, I felt completely exhilarated.
I’ve continued running through radiotherapy even though sometimes the fatigue is quite consuming. I’m in bed by 8.30 most nights but I am looking to slowly build-up my mileage. For me it’s about a balance of activity and rest. I am aware when I’m doing too much.
I am due to start Tamoxifen shortly, which will bring a new set of side effects to deal with. But the plan is to continue running and I’ve signed up for Race for life 10K in a few weeks.
I have also continued to go to work throughout treatment, working on good days and resting around treatment days. I think running and working has acted as a distraction and kept me engaged with normal life. I also wanted to remain strong for my son – although he sees me running, he’s also seen my tears. Happily, my son now cycles with me while I run, so it’s something we can do together.
I understand it can be hard to think about fitness when you are faced with cancer, and motivation may be low but it really does help with managing treatment side effects. In my opinion (and I know it’s different for everyone as cancers are complicated) a fitness programme should be prescribed as part of treatment. Since I’ve been having treatment, the ‘5K your way move against cancer’ have grown. These are groups of cancer patients (current or prior) who get together at Park Runs and either walk or run 5K. I’ve found this to be massively helpful and supportive.
Although I have breast cancer, and it’s completely life changing, fortunately for me it hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes. I feel blessed that it is treatable and that is why I am determined to keep strong and keep running. I said from the start that I wasn’t too bothered about losing my hair because it will grow back. I just wanted to feel as well as possible throughout.
I have set myself a new goal – Brighton marathon April 2020, health willing of course.