Breast Cancer at age 45, never what I expected as a reasonably fit but slightly overweight GP. We had always been taught that it is a disease of older women. This was eleven years ago. There was talk about goji berries, broccoli and healthy eating but nothing about exercise. Through chemo I walked (at a sedentary pace) though nobody really wanted to let me. Then after a mastectomy I went back to doing weights (against all medical advice) and only suffered minor lymphoedema after a freak accident with a runaway marquee.
Three years after my cancer parkrun came to Bedford. The small amounts of running I had done since schooldays (as a junior doctor with no hand eye co-ordination going off on my own was the only way to keep fit) increased. I made new friends, entered a few races and generally enjoyed myself.
Six years after cancer I finally got the prophylactic second mastectomy and reconstruction I wanted . My new B cups (formerly E) made running easier and the peak of my running career was The London Marathon in 2016. My time, though not equivalent to Paula Radcliffe pleased me, and I know that without having had cancer I would never have achieved this.
But then, it all started to go wrong. Menopause hit, with a vengeance. In 2017 I guide ran the London Marathon and my new overheating, sleepless body didn’t like it. I was left with a leg injury that no doctor or physio could quite fathom. Every time I ran more than a minute there was pain and I limped for days. Then I found an unusual side effect of physio, the physios husband recruited me as a Run Director for Bedford parkrun and I discovered the joys and encouragements of volunteering.
Now, having been fortunate to be able to afford gym membership I have discovered the benefits of core strength and if I can get to the gym twice a week I can run, well sort of. This time last year an inspiring couple from Bedford also started a “Jeffing” group. Named after Jeff Galloway it is systematic walking and running and allows building up of distance without stressing the body so much. My preferred ratio is 1 min walk, 30 seconds run and I have just managed a half marathon (over 100 running reps) by this method only five minutes slower than my half marathons of a few years ago.
Through these last five years I have been gradually been realising the importance of exercise (well movement actually) for all of us. The NHS has put out activity guidelines which, even this weekend, have been updated. My GP practice has become a parkrun practice, encouraging staff and patients to participate in parkrun whilst emphasising than there is no need to run as walking and volunteering both have great benefits to health. It is interesting to note how the average time to do a parkrun has increased substantially since the movement started more than 14 years ago due to the increased number of walkers and beginner runners eg Couch to Five K. The next RCGP movement initiative is to introduce Active Practices.
For me, though having cancer initially was horrifying, I have been able to benefit my own body and encourage others through the traumas, both patients and friends. I acknowledge I am fortunate that my cancer has not come back or metastasised so I am now as fit as I have ever been (though obviously slower) and able to encourage trainee doctors and GPs with my story.
But it doesn’t end there. Just over a year ago another initiative started, 5K Your Way. This is a self help group for those with or affected by cancer. It runs alongside parkrun on the last Saturday of every month (though not yet at every parkrun). The idea is that movement is important for those who are undertaking cancer treatment, though it clearly needs to be individualised. I am now an ambassador for 5K Your Way at Bedford parkrun and have thoroughly enjoyed meeting new people and walking 5K with them, followed by coffee and cake at Pavillion in the Park afterwards.
So eleven years after breast cancer, and having just jeffed a half marathon in aid of the new young charity 5K Your Way, I can now say that I enjoy the mental, physical and social benefits of exercise, rather than it just being a half-hearted attempt to get rid of my post baby weight (she was 21 yesterday and I was able to enjoythe cake).