If you’d have told me three years ago that my honeymoon would have been spent trying not to fall off very high crumbling paths with vertical drops either side, I would have probably pointed you in the direction of a beach holiday brochure.
But, having just returned from what I can only describe as the trip of a lifetime trekking the Great Wall of China, I can think of no better way to end a journey that started in a hospital consultation room in January 2014.
I appreciate it’s not every bride’s dream to cover herself in sweat repeatedly, develop dust lines where they would have once been tan and drink in the most breathtaking scenery with a bunch of complete strangers – before to heading off for a night in a twin bed.
But what other bride (and groom for that matter) is the proud owner of two medals (one for the big day and one for the trek), a whole bunch of new friends and a lifetime of happy memories?
As a metaphor for life, you can’t get much better than a giant wall carving its way across the Chinese landscape. Whatever obstacles life chooses to throw at us, we humans always find a way through. And, as anyone who has experienced this majestic pathway in the sky will know, the wall is a reminder that humans don’t just overcome – they do it in style. And by that, I don’t just mean the people who built the wall, but the team of trekkers that took it on in May.
I think a little bit of me (not as a result of the bush toilet mind) will always remain on that wall and with those strangers, who have now become friends – united by our desire to go further, give back and help others do the same.
Life is nothing if it is not filled with happy memories and brilliant people with which to share those memories. I feel grateful to have met them.
People keep saying to me now: ‘what next?’ and ‘how will you cope with normal life once more?’ What those people don’t know is that life after cancer is anything but normal. And, while the last month has been a reminder to me that the world is both full of beautiful people and beautiful things and that, yes, things can go your way once in a while (hobbling to the start line, but still completing a marathon and a trek being a case in point), it doesn’t take much for the shadow of cancer to descend once more.
I had barely scrubbed the dust tan from my legs by the time I was hearing news that an amazing woman who lived with cancer for eight years has left us. This woman was my running inspiration. With her determination and resilience, she made me believe that nothing was impossible. She would talk about having everything to live for even though cancer was trying to take her life away and, since the first day I met her, I willed her to go on living forever.
I know that while she is now out of pain, she will never be far from the thoughts of those who loved and cared for her. And I know, that whatever it is I go on to do, I must honour her memory, make it meaningful and make it a reminder that young women don’t just get breast cancer – they also die too young and too soon.
I have so many messages from her willing me to keep going and just never stop. And, it is those messages that are spurring me into action right now.
When Frankie Seaman (amazing dress designer, professional ice skater, awesome Dancing on Ice star and wife to David Seaman) handed me my satin stretch running dress she made me promise to trash it in style. I think she meant running into crystal clear waters or something a little more romantic. But, I have another idea.
I will trash the dress, but I will do it in the style I have come to know and love. That’s why I will be swimming six miles in the Serpentine this September. Yep, that means training starts this week (and I’ve only just unpacked).
I know it will be hard, but if Laura taught me anything, it is that where there is a will, there is most certainly a way. It gives me a goal. It gives me a reason. Maybe, it might even give me the chance to tip the £30,000 fundraising mark.
I know if my friend were alive right now, she’d be hatching her next plan for CoppaFeel and making sure she never stopped with her dedication to others and desire to raise awareness.
And that is what we must do now.
Laura, this one’s for you…