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Breast cancer lesson 185: Why we must be grateful for every glimpse of sunshine

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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…

Breast cancer lesson 183: Life after cancer is about making every day count

It’s not every day you call up the mother of the bride to tell her that you’re getting married in trainers – and that she needs some too!

After waiting 13 years for a proposal, I don’t think my parents ever expected my partner and I to get married.

So imagine their surprise when I announced that not only would there actually be a wedding, but that they’d have to get up at 6am to be there – on the Cutty Sark, dressed to watch a marathon, that we would be running.

Three years ago, when Duncan proposed, I had visions of a Cotswolds country garden wedding with edible centrepieces and vases of alliums.

I didn’t own trainers.

Having had my pelvis rebuilt in 2007 and pinned with metal, I ‘d never experienced the feeling of being alive (and completely shattered) at the end of a run.

But, being diagnosed with breast cancer, just three weeks after getting engaged (not to mention being told by your oncologist that you are likely to gain three stone during chemo) did a lot to change that picture.

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I chose to run during treatment because I wanted to show my body that it can take a lot of things – forcing me to learn to walk again in my 20s and stealing my boob in my 30s – but that it couldn’t define me. I chose running because I knew it would be hard. I chose running because I needed to find a reason to get out of bed and feel the sun on my face. I chose running because I wanted to feel alive at a time when my body had other ideas.

With my nurse mum as carer, Duncan could be my running partner (by which I mean running in the same races miles ahead of me). It kept us going when circumstances could have so easily ripped us apart. Running changed the course of my days and, in so doing, changed my life.

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This is a hard post to write at a time when I can put on my trainers but I can’t move forward. But, while I am injured right now and in the hands of surgeons and physios as they try to diagnose my pain, it is the dream of a cold day in April and the London Marathon that keeps me going.

When you’ve fought for your life, it’s hard to plan too far ahead and rest your happiness on one day in the future. So, when we started talking about our wedding earlier this year, I knew there was only one way to do it. There wouldn’t be an aisle. There wouldn’t be a first dance. There wouldn’t be a day in the Cotswolds.

Our wedding had to be a chance to give back, volunteer, thank those who have supported us and to remind the world that life may be hard but, by focusing on the little – and often beautiful – details of life, you can make every day count.

That’s why the ceremony is happening at 7.30am and the honeymoon will be spent on the Great Wall of China.

I know wedding planning is supposed to be stressful, but I thought that by cutting out the favours and the sit-down meal and focusing on charity it would be a little less involved.

Not so. With road closures, a running wedding dress being designed by the incredibly kind and brilliant Frankie Seaman (Professional Ice Skater from Dancing On Ice), a hen 10k run and a gel bouquet all part of proceedings, I know this will be an experience we will never forget.

I know a hip full of metal, superglued stomach and tummy-fat filled right breast (from mastectomy surgery), oh, and asthma, do not the best running companions make. I know that my next run could be my last (I haven’t ruled out walking it if I am not able to run again). I have been told – on more than one occasion – to find another hobby before I break myself completely (and I will if you let me run one more marathon).

But, when I’m running, I have everything to smile about and I certainly didn’t beat a life-threatening illness just to play it safe.

Our wedding isn’t just a celebration of love and life. It’s a chance for us to thank the people who helped us find our way back to happiness both during and after treatment.

We also want it to serve as a reminder to everyone going through difficult times – whether it be serious illness, or loss, financial difficulties or the daily problems of life – that there is a way to move forward.

If you’re reading this, you’re already on the journey with us. Welcome to the team!

If you’d like to support us please visit: bit.ly/2eSLaed

I will be also writing about the big day and beyond on my blog thisdayforward.org and via Twitter @Jackie8.

Breast cancer lesson 178: Now is the only moment you know that you have

The present moment is a powerful place. It’s just such a shame that we’re often too caught up in the promise of tomorrow or the lessons of yesterday to really wake up to that fact.
Last year, however, when it became virtually impossible to plan anything other than a hospital appointment, the present – with its beautiful little details – became my colourful companion. The present was the only place that mattered and it was a place I didn’t was to forget when the busyness of life took hold once more.
That’s why I started a course on mindfulness in January and why I have just written a blog about the experience for one of my clients on the subject as a way of reflecting on its lessons. My working life is not something that has featured on this blog for many reasons, but this is something I wanted to share.
Here’s the intro:
Two years ago I made a big mistake. I assumed that the sign of a good employee was long hours and an unhealthy attachment to the flashing light on the Blackberry. I interpreted cancelling my social life and Pilates classes as commitment to my craft. Skipping lunch was about staying focused, and missing birthday dinners signalled a determination to succeed. I was so busy working throughout each day that I had forgotten what it was to enjoy that time. And then, on 17 January 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer – at the age of 32.
And here’s the link to read my 10 mindfulness tips for making you better at business. Hope you like it.