Hi, my name is Sarah. I am 42 years old, I have a 10-year-old son and I am a regular at Beeston parkrun in Nottingham. I am writing this blog to inspire people to keep active during cancer treatment, because doing so has really helped get me through my own treatment so far.
Late last year I was referred by my doctor for screening, and was told that it was very likely I had breast cancer due to an obvious lump. Physically I felt okay apart from that, but the shock was awful and Christmas was a stressful time spent anxiously waiting for results. In early January I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer, not long before my 42nd birthday. My world fell apart.
The most scary part was having a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread, and I’m thankful every day that it was contained and only in the breast and a couple of lymph nodes.
Throughout this uncertain and stressful period I had kept on running and I know this helped. I have been a keen runner since 2003 and I have always enjoyed parkrun since I started going in 2013. I have used it for my marathon training by running the 4.2 miles there, doing parkrun and then running home, as it really built up my stamina.
But for some reason, in the year leading up to my cancer diagnosis I packed in a lot more races than usual – five half marathons, two marathons four weeks apart, as well as numerous 10ks and of course parkruns. It was as if someone was telling me that I needed to get my body as fit as possible for the future cancer treatment.
After my diagnosis my first comment to my Breast Cancer Nurse was ‘Oh, I’m not going to be able to do the London Marathon in April now!’. That was quickly followed by a much bigger question: ‘Can I still run through chemotherapy?’
Thankfully, the nurse replied that lots of patients do this, and that being fit made me an ideal candidate for the treatment I was about to endure.
So the first thing I did after my cancer diagnosis was confirmed was to go out for a run with my running club and sign up to a 10k race that would take place the day before my chemotherapy started.
The first stage of my cancer treatment was a mastectomy, but I was determined to do parkrun before this and I am so glad I did because it cleared my head. I hated having to wait four weeks until I could run again, so I walked when I could. I did my first post-operation parkrun at the end of February in 29:52 and was so happy with that! I ran all the way too, which was far more important than my time.
My other target was to hit 50 parkruns as soon as possible and to achieve it before finishing my treatment, which I’m proud to say I achieved five days before chemotherapy session number four. As well as raising money for a charity that is very close to my heart, I have now done 15 parkruns, two 10k races and a 5-mile race since being diagnosed. I always feel better for exercising, I just need to make sure I listen to my body and do what I can. And when I can’t run, I volunteer.
The photo at the top of this blog is of me doing my 56th parkrun in total and my first parkrun after finishing my chemo two days before. I was determined to run all the way but I had seriously flushed cheeks from all the steroids so had to run hat free for the first time. I loved it though! I finished in 32:32, my fastest time since early May.
Having cancer has made me more determined than ever to keep active. I had managed to run all the way in most of the parkruns but my body is getting more tired now, so I take a walk break if I have to. This doesn’t matter to me because it’s more about keeping active now that my priorities have changed. It’s not all about times and that’s what I love about parkrun – it’s geared towards all abilities.
parkrun is more than just exercise though. I feel safe there. Everyone is friendly and it’s not competitive. You can walk it, you can run it, or you can run/walk it like I do some of the time. You do it your way. No one cares how fast or slow you are – it’s all for you and it attracts all types of runners and walkers. I love seeing and hearing about people’s different reasons for going along, whether it’s to get back to fitness after having a child, using it to get into running, or just to socialise. You can easily see your progress each week and it’s the perfect time on a Saturday so that you can exercise and have the rest of the day free.
I have had some pretty low moments through treatment, and I still have these, but parkrun gets me out of bed on a Saturday no matter how down I feel. Everyone at my local parkrun is amazing and really supports me but it’s the same wherever you go. If I run on my own I feel a bit vulnerable at the moment so I like to mainly run with my running club or at parkrun.
There is no doubt in my mind that running has lessened the side effects of my cancer treatment. I always said that if I could exercise I could cope with the hair loss (I’ve now been bald for three months!), menopausal effects and other horrible side effects that the treatment throws at me – and there are many. Exercise definitely releases endorphins and no matter how low I feel beforehand I always feel better after a run or a parkrun. It goes to show that mental wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing.
I have 15 sessions of radiotherapy to do, then my focus will be on getting my fitness back, training for the London Marathon in 2018, and reaching my 100 parkrun milestone. 59 done – 41 to go!
Update: October 2017
I’m very pleased to report that I finished active treatment for breast cancer on 7 August 2017.
parkrun is still of vital importance to me, especially now as I’ve been informed that exercise and healthy eating helps reduce the risk of reoccurrence and I’m using it again for my training.
My parkrun total is now 64 and I have completed a couple of races since my last blog. The Castle Rock 10k, Nottingham in 1:04:42. I also did the Robin Hood Half Marathon on 24 September in 2:29:31. Neither of my finish times were anywhere near my best but it doesn’t matter to me. My priority at the moment is to enjoy races and get around in one piece. I am allowing time for my body to recover and enjoying not feeling so out of breath and I am less tired.
I achieved my fastest time at last Saturday’s Beeston parkrun. I absolutely loved it as I’m so used to feeling tired half way around but I felt great. I ran the 4.2 miles there so am getting back to my old self.
My focus is still to reach 100 parkruns and I’ve entered two more half marathons this year. I will then step up my training for the London Marathon 2018.
Treatment has left me with some side effects such as awful hot flushes as I’ll be on an anti-cancer drug for five to 10 years, I have some anxiety however, running massively helps reduce this. I’m also feeling of a bit vulnerable as I faced my own mortality but I’m living life to the full and parkrun and running continues to help with my mental and physical wellbeing. I couldn’t live without it.
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