Breast cancer lesson 168: Why I am about to run for my life – and for charity

One thing you may not know if you haven’t had the pleasure of being prescribed an oestrogen blocking anti-cancer drug is that Tamoxifen, my new friend for the next decade, has a nickname. It’s a bit too ‘rude’ for me to mention it here (you’ll just have to trust me that it isn’t nice), but let’s just say, it’s a nickname that only now I fully understand.

While I will be forever grateful that there exists a drug that can reduce the chance of my cancer coming back (and I really am grateful), I do just wish it could do its stuff without raising my anxiety levels (trust me, this pill can make the washing up seem like an uphill struggle), stealing my sleep and generally ageing me by about forty years. When I heard about people’s experiences of the drug I honestly thought that, after chemo, it couldn’t be that hard. But, faced with taking a potentially mood altering drug for ten years, part of me would rather endure another short-term course of the toxic stuff than have to ‘check in’ with my body every five minutes to make sure it’s in one piece.

Don’t get me wrong. I am still really happy and thankful I have my life. And, if this is what I have to do to prolong it, I will do it. But, I guess Tamoxifen (the effects of which I think are starting to kick in now my body is leaving the effects of chemo and Zoladex behind) is my daily reminder that, far from finishing the fight for my life, I am still very much at the beginning.

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Which brings me to the title of this blog post. When I knew things were about to get tough before chemo, I hit the road with my, then, tatty trainers for the first time in a decade. I hit the road, not because I was a runner, but because I wanted to stay sane and counteract the weight gain. I did it for me (as well as raising money for charity) and I think it is one of the biggest reasons why I started and finished treatment with a smile on my face. Running (or more accurately, jog/walking) saved me this year. And, you know what? I think I need it to save me again.

I confess, I hate the thought of running. I even hate the getting dressed for running part. But, the feeling I get when I arrive back home after a jog through Greenwich Park is a feeling I wouldn’t give up for the world. It was that feeling that got me round the streets of London when I had chemo drugs running through my veins. It was that feeling that made me choose a run over a party at the end of active treatment. And, it is that feeling that I hope will help me over the finish line of my next, and biggest, running challenge to date. On March 1, I will be back on home soil running the Bath Half Marathon.

Whether my legs will go the distance is still a subject hotly contested at my family home in Wiltshire. But, while I can’t predict the future and second guess whether the hip problems that plagued my twenties will return, I know that I will give it my best shot. This time, it’s not about weight management (although I do get to eat more cake). This time it’s all about the mind and showing my body that, however hard it tries to bring me down with its cocktail of drugs, it will never take my spirit and my determination to succeed. However I do it (and it won’t be graceful), I will be crossing the line in March for every person who needs Tamoxifen to keep them alive. It seems a cruel joke that after nine months of active treatment, just when we all want a break, we should be faced with yet another drug-induced challenge. This is one challenge, however, I will overcome.

Of course, I am not just running for me. I am running for amazing charity CoppaFeel. Those of you who have been following the blog will know just how important CoppaFeel is to me. You just need to spend a few moments with twin sisters Kris and Maren (who founded the charity) to know just how special they are. They work so hard, with very few resources, in their fight to wipe out the late detection of breast cancer. Kris is dying. Maren has to watch her sister fight the disease every day. And yet, both are dedicated to making sure other people they don’t even know – or will ever meet – have the chance to enjoy a long and happy future. It seems to me the ultimate selfless act to give your life to helping others when you don’t know how much of it you have left. If that’s not worth a few quid, then I don’t know what is.

As with the last two races, I won’t be heading to the starting line alone. Back in July my wonderful friend Fran stuck by me (when I knew she could run faster) as I completed first the British 10k. She turned out again in September and has been persuaded to join me on this, no doubt, cold wintery day. She believed in me when I thought I had nothing left and, for that, I will be forever grateful. Duncan will be heading out too (we may even get him in a giant boob this time), although we probably won’t see him after the warm up. And, it means the world to me that my amazing school friend Alex will be returning to the course (after tackling it last year of CoppaFeel) to help me round. With that kind of back-up, I just have to hope and pray my legs don’t let the side down.

Running as a non-runner has been an emotional and amazing journey. This time, with winter training, double the distance to run and the same dodgy hips, we need all the support we can get. If you can spare just a few pounds to make that training (followed by mince pie eating) worthwhile, then please head to our Virgin fundraising page. Then all I ask is that you return to this page to post (as a comment) the song you think will motivate me, make me smile and remind me of you. I want to create a playlist of requests that remind me of the people who believe we can get there. I know that will give me the motivation I need to step out over the coming dark months even when the lure of Christmas lights and cooked ham is more appealing.

Together, we can help Kris and Maren make secondary cancer a thing of the past – and show Tamoxifen who’s really the boss of this body!

Thank you.

Together, we can help Kris and Maren make secondary cancer a thing of the past – and show Tamoxifen who’s really the boss of this body!

Thank you.

Breast cancer lesson number 123: Take the first step and see just how far you can go

If you want a reminder of all that is good in the world, then you just need to visit London on a day when the streets are packed with charity runners, not commuters and cars. Yesterday, I, along with Duncan and three friends, took to the city streets to do our bit for Breast Cancer Care. I had convinced myself we’d be touring the landmarks and stretching our legs. In truth, it was a whole lot harder than that.

Having only done the 5k Race for Life many many years ago, I had forgotten just how inspiring and amazing a crowd of runners and spectators can be. Running with my close friend Fran, I was overwhelmed by the kindness of those around us. I thought the spectators would give us a lift (which they did), but I had no idea the runners would be quite so encouraging. We were tapped, squeezed, blessed, thanked, congratulated and applauded. At one point, I was even kissed by a fellow runner, which was slightly disconcerting and astonishing. I thought I was going to trip with the shock of it all and I did well up on more than one occasion.

I am delighted to say that we jog/ran about 9km of the route and walked the other 1km. At times it was exhausting (at 3km I thought I’d never make 7km let alone the full 10km), at times my hips were hurting (thankfully, my body is back to normal today so no harm done) and, at times I felt like the tank was pretty much empty (even though I had had breakfast and a trusty banana). But, just thinking about all the amazing support, friends, and those waking up to face cancer every day, kept me focused and got me over the finish line.

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The moment we crossed the finish line is a moment I will never forget. It wasn’t graceful and I can’t say I had a massive spurt at the end. It was special, however, because it marked the end of a journey that, at times during chemo, I thought I would never complete. It was my mountain and I’d climbed it. It feels amazing to have raised money for a worthwhile cause (between us we’re up to about £3,000 in sponsorship) and achieved something for myself at such a difficult time.

I am glad to report the legs, PICC line and heart are still in tact and the head feels refreshed after all that rain. It was hard. But would I do it again? Absolutely. Just maybe not tomorrow!

To top it off, I got home to find a wonderful friend had sent me a book all about running to inspire me to keep going. It was perfectly timed and is something I will both enjoy reading and treasure forever.

So thank you for your messages of encouragement, your tips, your sponsorship money, your Facebook likes and your unwavering support. Thanks to the amazing small boobs, big smiles team for running a great race and joining me on the course. Thanks to all the kind strangers who gave us a boost with their words of encouragement (and kisses). Thanks to Breast Cancer Care for being a superb motivator. Thanks to my trainers for not giving up even though they’ve seen better days. And thanks to my body for going the distance. There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it (I had my acute oncology card in by back pocket just in case). But, I am so happy I did!

If you’re hesitating over filling out an entry form or worried about whether or not your trainers will make it round a course in one piece, I would urge you to apply for something soon. It was such an amazing discipline and gave me a reason to get out of bed every single day (even when the pain was willing me to stay under the duvet). It has been great for the mind – and the weight management. And, it is the reason I have been smiling for the last 24 hours.

You don’t have to be fast to call yourself a runner. You just have to try and take that first step. Yesterday I was runner among a field of amazing runners. And, all I can think about now is when can I do it all over again?

If you have any suggestions for my next challenge, please let me know. And, if you fancy joining me, you know where I am!

Breast cancer lesson number 122: It’s not the finish that matters. It’s the fact you had the courage to start

I have just been safety-pinning my race number to my running top and arranging meeting times with friends and, I have to confess, I am so excited about tomorrow’s 10k.

Funnily enough, this feeling has little to do with the race itself. Reaching the start line alone will mean more to me than registering a time. That’s because, when I signed up for the race months ago, I never thought I’d make it.

Up until I started training, I had never run more than a 5k. I did the Race for Life many years ago and it was enough to give me the groin strain that eventually landed me on the operating table having major hip surgery in 2007. I think it is fair to say I don’t have runner’s legs (or runner’s anything for that matter). And, I think from the looks given to me by my medical team, trying to develop them when your body is being systematically destroyed and rebuilt with chemo drugs, is a pretty odd thing to do.

For a runner, 10k is a bit of lunchtime exercise. For me, it’s a marathon uphill on cobbles with no trainers. Just training for it, however, has given me strength, confidence, a reason to get out of bed and, most importantly of course, slightly better thighs :-). Running (by which I mean jog/walking, but running sounds better) has been my lifeline and my motivator. It has given me space to think, dedicated me time, the justification to eat a few treats and the energy and strength to kick cancer out of the park. Put simply, running has made me happy.

When I submitted my entry, I remember thinking this run (if I get there) will be a fantastic way to celebrate the end of chemo. I cannot believe this run is tomorrow. Every step will be on step closer to the end of active treatment (which I am hoping will be the end of September). Tomorrow’s finish line isn’t the real aim. It’s the finish line at the end of radiotherapy that I am aiming for. I know running will get me there.

When I stand on the start line tomorrow I won’t just be thinking about how far I have come (both physically and emotionally). Tomorrow, I will be running for my life and for the lives of all those who have been affected by cancer.

Knowing that I will have close friends by my side, who have gone out of their way not just to train, but to raise money too, means everything. And knowing that I have received so much amazing support from friends and family will give me the motivation to put one foot in front of the other, when it gets tough. (For anyone worried about this from a medical perspective, I promise to run my own race and take it steady!) Thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in me, giving me a reason to battle the bone pain, and helping me raise money for such a superb cause.

They say happiness in life comes from achievement with purpose. I think that’s pretty accurate. I would urge anyone trying to get fit – or just get out of bed every day – to set themselves a challenge that means something to them. It could just be a really small thing, but it might be that that small thing makes the biggest difference in your life. Trust me, if I can run around the streets of London with chemo drugs in my body, you can face your fears.

So, whatever it is you are doing at 9.35am tomorrow, spare a thought for Duncan and Rob (who are running through injuries to support the cause), Emily and Fran (who are mothers challenging themselves and helping a friend) and me (the girl with no hair who decided to make every day count not so long ago). I must also mention my physio who is running the race too. I hope we all get to the finish line in one piece, but I am just so happy that we will be standing on the start line together.

Whatever challenge you set, may it be rewarding and life-enhancing. I wish you every success.