Me, Myself and Cancer

Last week, for the first time in three months, I pulled on my running shoes and went out. Just after a fourth unscheduled bout of surgery and for the first time since my mastectomy, I was able to run*, and with that, I was able to temporarily forget the last three months.

I was slow – a mile took me two minutes longer than it had before surgery.  It was hard. I walked a lot and gave up after two miles. My legs aren’t as strong as they were, my chest tired easily, my boob ached and felt heavy and alien. But I did it. And I never thought I would enjoy running as much as I enjoyed that one. I’ve never appreciated my body’s ability to do it more. The feeling of doing something just for me, not for the medical team taking care of me, for the first time in three months, was the best kind of freedom. I used to hate running, but with swimming off the cards during my treatment (sob), it’s been the thing I’ve craved – for the moments of clarity that exercise offers you like nothing else.

They say that the relationship you have with yourself is the most important of all and I never feel that more than when I’m running. I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with myself (and I know I’ve said this before) but cancer has taught me a lot of things. Even though I don’t recognise the person, bald headed, scarred, mismatched and bleary eyed, looking back at me in the mirror, I recognise a strength in myself I never knew before.

Cancer has forced me to examine the relationship I have with myself more keenly than I ever have before. Dealing with cancer isn’t just about dealing with the gruelling physical effects – the nausea, the sore mouth, the lack of appetite, the exhaustion. It’s about dealing with the bleak thoughts when there’s no-one around. It’s being blindsided by living with the fear of reoccurrences and secondaries for the rest of your life when you’re tucking into a delicious spaghetti bolognese. It’s not being overwhelmed by what the future holds, and what your treatment plan holds, and rolling with it when you’re bowled another surgical curve ball and end up spending five nights in hospital. It’s laughing when your surgeon shouts “SOMEONE GET THIS GIRL A SANDWICH” after you’ve been nil by mouth for six hours and your surgery has had to be cancelled because your white blood count is in the toilet. It’s ignoring the voice that says “is it really worth all this?”

It’s getting reacquainted with your body when it has betrayed you, and learning to trust it again. It’s about finding self confidence in the face of something utterly shit when you’ve struggled to be self confident before. It’s standing in front of the mirror and still being able to see yourself despite the unfamiliarity of the reflection you see before you. It’s watching your hair come out in clumps and crying in the shower. It’s getting used to feeling the wind on your head and having to think about putting on a cap cos your brain feels frosty.

It’s learning new limits and not being hard on yourself when being hard on yourself is all you’ve ever known. It’s knowing that you can’t push through the exhaustion this time and that’s OK. It’s telling yourself that a messy kitchen does not matter. It’s knowing that this is not forever. God – it’s talking about cancer and yourself all the bloody time and being tired, oh so tired, of it. It’s wishing cancer could be removed from your vocabulary just for 24 hours.

It’s dealing with the demons that are telling you you’re making a fuss – that you should have battened down the hatches and sat this out without talking about it. That you shouldn’t have posted the picture of your bald head, all insta’d up, cos people might think you’re just looking for attention. It’s reminding yourself that something good has to come from this. It’s not underestimating the restorative powers of 10 mins of Headspace, a few shoddy yoga poses and Beyonce.

It’s having the worst day of your life, feeling more ill than you ever have before. And waking up every day and still wanting to fight.

But it’s not bravery. Bravery takes a choice. This is just life. It’s not a case of asking myself why me, it’s “why not me?” and getting the bloody hell on with it.

*Important reminder – I’m actually a terrible runner. I kind of hate it 90% of the time and I very much doubt I’ll ever run much further than 10km. I only do it because it’s good for me. And it gives me a break from the constant wirretting in my brain. But I’d always choose to swim instead if I could.

NB – dealing with cancer is also not really caring as much as you should that the featured image of this post isn’t the right size but also not having the energy to fix it. Similarly, it’s knowing that this blog post is a real stream of consciousness that is probably really poorly written and difficult to understand but, six days post chemo, it’s just embracing it and sending a big SOZ to you guys for reading it.

Cancer Research Winter Run – Conquer The Cold

A few weeks ago, I was rudely awakened by my alarm ringing out at 7am on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t going off by mistake either, and as much as I would have liked to have turned it off, turned it over and gone back to sleep, I dragged my sorry backside out of bed. The reason I was leaving my lovely, cosy flat early on a Sunday morning in favour of heading out into the three degree weather was to run my very first 10km.

Let’s just take a second to recap on my running “career”. I was a horrendous runner in school. My anti establishment father used to write me notes to excuse me from taking part in cross country, having sympathetically watched me fear that portion of my education more than any other. I was one of those people who believed I just couldn’t run. I’d tried it and I had decided it wasn’t for me. But then I decided to do that ridiculous 25at25 thing and the gauntlet was laid for me to start running. On Boxing Day 2013, I left Mum and Dad’s and embarked on Couch to 5k. It was miserable. I didn’t enjoy it. Fast forward to October 2015, when I’d found some kind of solace in running and had officially left my 25at25 year behind, I signed up for the Cancer Research 10km before I knew what had happened.

Queue a whole bunch of soul searching, running home on a route that is 75% uphill, doubting myself, nerves and attempting to convince myself that I could do it. February 1st rolled around and I found myself stood alongside 11,000 other runners and Big Ben, ready to Conquer to Cold and run that 10km.

The Cancer Research Winter Run was, dare I say it, pretty fun. With my number pinned to my chest I queued from Horse Guard’s Parade, down onto the river front, and began the race at about 10.10am with Westminster behind me and the sun on my face. The route, which scaled the length of the river down to the Tower of London, looped back around and up to St Paul’s then finished up back where we started was glorious – and to my utter delight, pretty much completely flat. Supported by polar bears and cheerleaders and guaranteed snow on at least two parts of the race, you could feel the atmosphere – especially when the crowd was asked who had been directly affected by cancer, and who was still undergoing treatment. There was one person in my wave who was still undergoing treatment and it was the thought of them and all the people battling cancer and in recovery that pushed me on when I thought my legs wouldn’t carry me any further.

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I finished the race in 1 hour 7 minutes and 33 seconds. I’d been aiming for 1 hour 10, so when I crossed the finish line a little tearfully at 11.18am, I knew I’d beaten the time I had set myself and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. It is a long time since I felt that proud of myself.

Running has definitely become a big part of my life now (yeah, I don’t know who I am anymore either). Though I can’t see myself running a marathon anytime soon, I reckon I could take on a half next year. Since that Boxing Day in 2013 though, I’ve definitely become one of those people who likes fitness stuff – fashion and gadgets mainly. My Nike running tights make me feel like an absolute badass as well as keeping me safe on dark, winter runs while my Nike Aeroloft Running Vest keeps the wind off my chest and makes sure I keep warm on those miserable rainy, windy runs in the depths of January.

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My new favourite running companion though cropped up on my desk at work the day after the Cancer Research Winter Run. I only wish it had arrived a day or so earlier, because I am ultimately impressed. I’m talking about Runphones. I’m absolutely convinced that this simple little headband can make a massive difference to anyone who leads an active lifestyle.

It might look simple, but actually this little band is home to a couple of wireless speakers that play music straight into your earholes from your phone via a Bluetooth connection. Yeah, I know, sometimes technology blows my mind too.

I hadn’t realised how restricted i was by headphones when I was running until I was completely wireless. Suddenly it was easier to turn my head to check for traffic when I was crossing the road, my headphones weren’t falling out of my ears as I was lolloping along. It was utterly fuss free and ultra safe. Runphones enable you to hear music at a volume that’s still motivational without blocking out the sounds of traffic and what’s more, the speakers are removable and the headband is washable. No gross sweaty bugs lying around near your face. The wireless Runphones I’ve got retail at £69.99 and are available direct from Runphones.

I never thought I would be so impressed with a piece of equipment designed for runners. Namely because I never thought I’d be a runner. Turns out I kind of am.

Here’s a picture of me looking squinty with a polar bear to prove that I am still the same person I was 15 months ago, just a fitter one wearing a medal around her neck.

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If you want to donate to Cancer Research, you can text BEAT to 70200

Runphones sent me their wireless headphones to trial but I really am genuinely impressed with them. So much so my parents just bought themselves a set each. If that’s not an accolade, I don’t know what is.