Beck was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just a week after completing a half-marathon. For her, attending parkrun makes a huge difference to her outlook and mental health, and it gives her an all important hour in the week to forget that she has cancer.
As someone who has never smoked, she wants to break the stigma around lung cancer.
It’s easy to have a picture in your head of an old person with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, choking and coughing and struggling to breathe because of a self-inflicted disease. But for many of us who live with lung cancer, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer when I was 47. I have never smoked and had completed the half-marathon at the Canberra Running Festival the previous weekend. I was feeling great!
It sounds strange when I say it, but I was actually incredibly lucky to be diagnosed. My doctor referred me for a routine sinus scan, which accidentally showed part of my left lung. This scan showed a tumour, and more scans revealed two further tumours in my bones.
At that time, parkrun was a major part of my life. I had been the Event Director at Mt Ainslie parkrun, and loved the running and volunteering almost as much as the socialising! parkrun helped my mental health, it helped me through a rough patch in my marriage before my partner and I separated, and it connected me with people I never would have met otherwise.
Fortunately I was able to continue parkrunning through the first year of my chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatment, which was a three-week cycle. On the first week I was generally too ill to go to parkrun, but on the other weeks I was good to go!
Stage four cancer means there is no cure – at least not at the moment – so I have to manage my condition and continue my treatments. Earlier this year, scans showed the cancer has gone to my brain, so I have had radiation treatment and much stronger chemotherapy. I lost my hair, felt rotten, and looked a lot more like what people think of as a ‘traditional’ cancer patient. For the best part of eight months I couldn’t go to parkrun and I really missed the social aspect more than anything.
Last weekend however, I was finally able to return to parkrun. I’m not allowed to drive so a friend gave me a lift, and I tail walked with another volunteer. It was amazing how quickly I started to feel better, like somebody had given me a magic potion to drink. parkrun helps me destress, it gives me focus and it’s great for my physical and mental health. It also gives me an hour in the week when I completely forget I have cancer – I honestly don’t think about it during parkrun.
I know that there are many people out there with cancer, and many more who live with people who do. From my experience, my advice is to try to be ‘a little bit active often’ during the week and tailor your parkrun participation to how you’re feeling. If you’re up for walking or running, great, but don’t forget how good volunteering feels too. I was worried I might have to drop out of being tail walker at the last moment, so I made sure I was in a role where there were other volunteers. The same goes for barcode scanning, for example, because lots of people can jump in and help if need be.
Living with cancer can be intense, so any chance to forget about it and do an activity that people who aren’t sick are doing, makes a massive difference to my outlook and my mental health. It should be on prescription for every health professional.
As part of the parkwalk campaign this October, we are introducing a brand new volunteer role – the parkwalker! It has been created to demonstrate that walking at parkrun is both encouraged and valued. Why “parkwalker”? Inclusivity and participation, rather than speed, has been a key principle of parkrun since day one….
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