Sarah Mawhinney tells us how parkrun helped her through cancer diagnosis and treatment.
I did my first parkrun a few years ago at our home event in Shrewsbury. I thought it was brilliant but at that time the 5k distance was not my idea of fun! I was much more comfortable completing longer distances at a steady pace and was competing regularly in triathlons up to Ironman distance.
Every now and again I would go back and complete another parkrun but I was really only an occasional parkrunner until later in 2018. At that point I decided that parkrun would be a great help as part of my training towards other events I had coming up, including The London Marathon, which I ran in April 2019.
In July 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a total shock but I knew that the only way I could stay sane through all the potential treatment was to keep as active as possible and keep running if I could. I was also aware that staying fit could help me cope with my recovery.
I am a very fit and active person and had no inkling anything was wrong, so receiving my cancer diagnosis was quite overwhelming. parkrun was a perfect distraction from the mental stress of coming to terms with the diagnosis, helping to clear my head in those first few difficult weeks.
At this point, before my surgery, I had told very few people so it was great to venture down to parkrun, do the event and just feel normal for a while among people who knew nothing about what lay ahead for me.
After my surgery I was told not to run for six weeks, which was frustrating, so I did lots of walking, including walking a couple of parkruns. This gave me another perspective on how amazing parkrun is! There is as much respect and encouragement for the walkers. parkrun is the ultimate inclusive event.
I then had to go through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I continued to go to parkrun nearly every Saturday throughout my treatment. As the chemotherapy treatments went on I got slower and slower but it was so lovely going down to our beautiful park each Saturday, doing the event, surrounded by the wonderful parkrun community and friends. Each time it gave me such a great morale boost and sense of achievement and definitely helped to keep me sane during that very stressful time.
It was also an effective indicator of how my recovery was going after each chemo cycle. In fact, I can honestly say that I am more proud of my post chemo parkruns than of many of my other race finishes.
At no time during my chemotherapy did I have any hospital admissions due to infection and my blood count recovered well each time. I truly believe that staying fit played a big part in this and parkrun helped me stay both physically and mentally well. I really hope that in some small way I can inspire others to join the parkrun community and make activity part of their daily lives.
Now we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic which is a very strange and surreal time. Just before the country went into lockdown and parkrun had to stop, my husband and I travelled to Pembrokeshire for my birthday. We went along to join in the local Colby parkrun. After all the months of cancer treatment I couldn’t have wished to do anything better on my birthday!
Hopefully we will all be back at parkrun and among the amazing parkrun community soon, when it safe to do so, but in the meantime I am continuing to stay active and feeling very thankful that I completed my treatment just before the pandemic struck.
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