body after breast cancer

Breast cancer lesson number 179: Remember how far you’ve come, not just how far you have to go

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Walking a path in a tiny park by my house might seem an odd subject to break my blogging silence.

But, as I jogged the 209 (ish) steps from one side of the park to the other on my way swimming at the weekend, I was reminded of the fact that in June 2014, this narrow path was not just my route on the way to somewhere else.

It was my route to my first ever 10k.

When you’re training on chemo, 209-step bursts are more than enough. Little did I think, however, as I plodded up and down the path in an attempt to jog continuously for about 10 minutes, that I would be signed up for a marathon just one year on. If that’s not progress, then I don’t know what is!

Yes, that’s right. One whole marathon. One whole 26.2 miles around the streets of London. And I’ll be running it in a Breast Cancer Care vest.

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Those of you who have followed my running journey (from the GB 10k in July last year to the Bath Half in March) will know that, for me, running will always be as challenging as it is fulfilling. I am not a natural runner. I have a hip full of metal from major pelvis surgery in my twenties and I still set out for every session wondering if this will be the day when I won’t be able to walk back through the door at the end of it. Chemotherapy drugs tested my ability to train and improve (I ran my first 10k with my acute oncology card in my back pocket). And my hip continues to test me every day.

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A year ago I thought a 10k would be my marathon. Now, I am starting to realise, while incredibly difficult and draining, my biggest running challenge is yet to come.

My biggest fear, however, is not the race itself. No, my biggest fear, is not making the starting line. I know the training will test me. What I don’t know, as I stroll back from my latest 10k run thankfully without pain, is just how much. (Yes, as an aside, an evening 10k after work in Canary Wharf, which demonstrates just how much my life has changed.)

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If the x-ray I saw on Monday is anything to go by, my hip is happier than ever. The right hip is stable and the left side is strong and pretty bionic. I thought it would be a bit weird to snap the consultant’s screen, so below is an example of what is going on beneath the compression tights in a bit of my body that thinks Breast cancer slightly stole its thunder last year. Of course, I didn’t exactly mention the words London and marathon, but that’s because no is no longer an option. It’s now all about how.

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Why London, why now? I know there will only be one marathon in my life, so it has to be the one that pretty much starts in my back garden and the one that trapped me in my flat for eight years when I lived at the 16-mile mark (I am hoping that I might miss hitting the wall as I will be spotting all my old haunts). London is the greatest city in the world and it will be a real privilege to run (or jog/walk) alongside thousands of amazing and humbling people.

This blog post, however, isn’t really a blog about running. It’s about progress.

I think we all get so wrapped up in what we can do right now, that we forget how much we have achieved – and how hard we’ve worked to get to where we are.

In the same way, we often think a challenge now, will still be a challenge tomorrow.

Progress doesn’t have to big. It can be getting out of bed and opening the curtains after surgery. It can be tasting your first slice of bread after chemo has handed back your tastebuds. It can be running for the bus without needing to catch your breath or keeping a promise. It can be leaving work on time or tucking your children into bed. It can be remembering to say thank you to the people who have touched your life.

Progress doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It just has to be celebrated, every day with a grateful heart.

So hear’s to a little thing called progress. Last year I never thought I would be able to complete a 10k. One year on, I am already excited about returning to the same course where it all began. This time I will be aiming for a PB, not to avoid the hospital A&E department.

The next nine months is about getting to the marathon starting line. If I get there, I know the cause and the crowd will help me every step of the way.

If you are interested in finding out whether or not I make the start – let alone the finish -you can follow my running adventure (races, training, marathon tips, inspirational runners and runs around the world while travelling) at makearunofit.wordpress.com.

My new blog is my way of moving forward.

This blog, however, will always be a reminder of just how far I’ve come.

If you would like to sponsor me to help me reach my whopping charity target, please head to my charity page. Thank you so much for your support. It means the world to me.

Breast cancer lesson number 81: The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything

Jogging (with a bit of walking) as I was around Greenwich Park this morning, I was reminded of a little bit of good that has come from the bad that is a cancer diagnosis.

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I may be missing a few lymph nodes, but in extracting them all down my right side, they also did me a rather nice favour. They took my sweat glands too. That means no matter how hot I get (admittedly there wasn’t a huge amount of sweating going on this morning), I will always feel as fresh as a daisy – albeit only on the right. And, before you ask, the left side doesn’t compensate by giving me a good drenching!

Ok, so it might not be a fair trade when you think of the destruction caused by the cancer itself. But, you won’t hear me complaining. In fact, there are quite a few things I like about my post-cancer body. So much so that I feel part of me should feel quite grateful.

While I may have to live with a hip-to-hip scar across my stomach, the flat result really is the tummy of my dreams (and the scar is shaped like a smile rather than a straight line). Now I just have to keep it that way!

The hair loss may be temporarily (although if my armpit gets a blasting from the radiotherapy that could spell an end to right side armpit growth too), but it certainly is low maintenance. The thought of having no leg hair (the last to go I hear even though I wish it were the first) is actually quite exciting and the only bits I don’t want to part with (now the hair is a distant memory) are my eyebrows and my eyelashes.

And, dare I say it, my man-made boob is pretty realistic. The only problem is, it is already growing (even though the rest of my body isn’t particularly), so I may have to have weigh up my options with the surgeon if little becomes large over the coming months. The natural left one just can’t keep up.

Most importantly, however, I have a newfound respect for my body and the bits that do (and don’t) work. In the park today I jogged further than I have in a decade and it felt good. Even something as insignificant as painting your nails feels like a treat, now I set aside time for it (and don’t apply it while trying to multitask and end up taking it all off again).

This period has taught me that if you want to help others and give back to the world, you must first help yourself.

I know cancer has the power to challenge my life again in the future. That’s why I’m going to give my body the time it deserves now, so it will always have the energy to fight back.