Breast Cancer - Cycling
I come from a very theatrical family in Sunny Blackpool, England, my mother was a professional ball room dancer, and my two sisters were professional theatre dancers, and as for my father, well he was a professional footballer, he played for Blackpool and Manchester City back in the 1950’s.
As for me, well I’ve always been very active, I started dance lessons at the age of 4, and never stopped. From the age of 18. I spent many years travelling the world as a professional dancer entertaining people on cruise ships, when I wasn’t dancing I’d either be running around the ship or cycling around the Caribbean Islands.
From a very young age I’ve been fanatical with fitness, from swimming and running most days of the week to being a Les Mills Fitness instructor in my spare time, the cycling came later on in life in my mid 30’s.
Back in 2014 when I was 42 years old, I met my partner Chris (on a bike ride!) from the moment we met we’ve never stopped cycling and doing many crazy events, from road race events world wide, endurance events where we cycled 200 miles in a day, to competing at the velodrome track, to bicycle touring in Europe and Asia, we just never stopped, in fact we’ve only been apart for 2 days!
When I met Chris he had just moved back from Australia, Chris retired young at the age of 36, therefore was able to pursue his passion for cycling and travel, he asked if I would join him to travel the world, which meant giving up my job on the cruise ships, obviously I said YES and the rest is history!
Picture left: 5000km Tour of South East Asia.
Picture : 5000km Tour of Europe
In 2016 we cycled the whole of Southeast Asia, from Thailand to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, it was such an amazing experience living from our bikes and tent, and that was it, I had the bicycle touring bug! and it didn’t end there, a few months later we returned to the UK and cycled from Blackpool to Spain via France..this had become the new me for sure!
Its December 2016, we’d just recently returned from our UK to Spain tour, and planned to cycle up to Scotland for Christmas, we decided to travel back to Southeast Asia in the new year and cycle a one year tour from Vietnam to India via the Himalaya Nepal, so we booked the flights and visa’s, it was so exciting, we were due to fly out on the 1st March 2017
Due to our best friend Pat going through Chemotherapy (at that time) as she had recently been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, it made it all very real, I also came to realise that it can easily happen to anyone, and with my family history of cancer and all the free breast cancer prevention information that is out there, I didn’t hesitate in making an appointment at the family history clinic at the St Marys Hospital in Manchester, this was in December 2016.
We had a very interesting and informative consultation with a wonderfully lady called Alison Clarke who went through all the options and referred me to The Nightingale Centre in Wythenshawe for my very first mammogram on the 9th February 2017, a date I will not forget as its my dads birthday.
So, I went for my first mammogram and examination at The Nightingale Centre, all appeared to go well, no lumps or bumps…just had to wait a week for the results, the waiting for the results never entered my mind, as I was to busy and excited preparing my new touring bike for our world cycling tour that was due to begin on the 1st March 2017.
On the 14th February we were on our way to the Lake District to spend Valentine’s Day with our friend Pat, when Chris received a call from The Nightingale Centre asking me to come back the next day for some more routine tests as they have seen some chalky areas on the mammogram.
Pictured below: Pats Birthday on Valentines Day (14th February 2017)
We arrived the next day at the Nightingale Centre, this visit I had more mammograms, an FNA and a biopsy, all I remember on this day is that I was mentally fine, until when I came out of the FNA, I then burst in to tears in the waiting area as it was all getting very real for me now.
We had to wait a week to get the results, but still I was sure that I was soon to be heading off cycling around the world.
Its results day, Chris was more nervous about this than me, I was still a little bit oblivious about the whole situation (Quote from Chris – My gut feeling from the start of this whole process was that this isn’t going to be good..but whatever the outcome we need to move forward and deal with it, its the only way)
We met with my lovely Consultant James Harvey who gave me the results that I had DCIS (non ductal carcinoma in situ) a pre cancer that was in my right breast. We discussed the way forward, and that was to be surgery, and with my family history I decided to have a double mastectomy (non – reconstructive) so also decided to remove the healthy breast as way of prevention.
All I remember after this meeting was sitting in the car park in shock, but thinking its only DCIS, and its been caught early so after my surgery, just a few weeks recovery time, I can then get back on my bike and start our world cycling tour..
My surgery was to take place on the 27th March (the same day my Mum was to have her triple heart bypass, as she’d had a heart attack on the 10th March..my Birthday!) so we had to cancel our cycling tour, and kissed goodbye to our flights and visas. It was all happening so fast in a very surreal time.
For Chris it became overwhelming, even though he tried to hide the fact, I found myself in the a back of an ambulance in Coniston with Chris having a suspected heart attack and ending up at Barrow A & E, the consultant said it was brought on by stress and worry, his blood pressure was through the roof, thankfully it wasn’t a heart attack.
Pictured Chris in Barrow Hospital
I was trying to get my head around having my boobs cut off, my lovely boobs and how was I going to feel. So this is when we came up with the idea of making a plaster cast of them, I’m glad we did it, although it was a very cold process.
The day of surgery came, it was the first time me and Chris had ever been a part for a night (how romantic) The Surgeon Mr Ashu Gandhi and his team were brilliant as I was so scared going down to theatre, but all went well and I was back home the next day, and on the road to recovery, I believed we will soon be back on them bikes for the 1st of May, this time I am sure of it!
We had to wait two weeks for the pathology results which again I wasn’t worried about, in my mind I’ve had the surgery, so that was the e end of that.
So its two weeks later, results day, we are sat in the waiting room at The Nightingale Centre waiting for James Harvey. I was pleased to see him, and to show him how well the surgery had gone, as being a seamstress I thought they had done a fine job with my stitches, they were not scary in any way, and because I was also recovering really fast I wanted him to tell me I was free to go on my way. BUT that was not to be the case, the results had come back, the double mastectomy was a success, and they had removed the infected area with clear margins, BUT it wasn’t DCIS, they had found 3 cancers, all were HER2 positive (human epidermal growth factor) an aggressive fast growing cancer, also one lymph node had been affected out of the two that they had removed.
For anyone that has been or is going through breast cancer, you will understand this bit (The actual diagnosis was: 9mm grade 3 IDS. ER 6, PR 2, HER-2 3+, Ki67 45%; 2mm grade 2 IDC and 1.2mm grade 2 IDC both ER 0, PR 0, HER-2 3+, Ki67 50%. 1/2 lymph nodes)
All I said was please “don’t tell me I have to have chemo” he looked at me and said “yes ” I said “will all my hair come out?” He replied “yes”
Now I was totally in shock, all I kept saying was “damn…damn” every time James Harvey said any thing, he even said, “yes, damn”
So we discussed the way forward, which was to be six rounds of chemotherapy every three weeks for 6 months, the first 3 cycles were called Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide, the other 3 cycles were Docetaxel/Taxotere, I also had to have a drug called Herceptin, this was to start on cycle 4 of the Chemo, I have to have 18 cycles of this over a one year period, we would also have to later decide on full lymph node clearance, I will also have to take the drug tamoxifen for 10 years.
It was all to start on the 1st May at The Christie Hospital in ManchesterCHEMO!! gosh, me chemo? that only happens in films. First Pat and now me thats crazy. It was all so scary, I felt perfectly healthy and normal and in a few weeks I was going to be made sick, that scared me, it was like waiting to be snatched and torn apart. And I HATE needles, the thought of them makes me feel queasy. The thought of having a cannula inserted into my arm and hand made me feel very sick and I had to control my mind to get over this fear and sickness. Every time I arrived at the doors at the Christie it would over whelm me and I would get very tearful much to Chris’s embarrassment (Quote from Chris “stop getting upset, its not going to help, you should be used to all this by now, everything is going to be ok, think of everyone else around you going through the same thing”)
Picture: The Chemo countdown chalked on our kitchen wall
Pictured above: A typical day on the chemo ward at The Christie Hospital, and ringing the bell on the final 18th cycle
You can watch my ringing the bell video below
The loosing my hair was not a big deal for me, I decided that if it was going to go I would have fun cutting it short, so I had a few different hair styles, Chris had fun in the process, I would just say do what you want, I will have a surprise!
Pictured above: Gabriella’s many hair styles “THAT WAS A SURPRISE"
I never opted for the cold cap, or wore a wig, I was proud to go bald!
Pictured above: Going bald – Chris opted for the wig!
We got through the chemo without any traumas, thanks to the great chemo team and the hot line at The Christies Hospital, and my breast care nurse Sarah Mercer at The Nightingale Centre, and also my DR at Great Eccleston health centre.
Also I wouldn’t of made it without the strength and love of my amazing Chris. He was truly brilliant! even whilst having to deal with his own emotions, he prepared me fresh healthy meals and snacks each day.
Pictured above: Some of the tasty meals made for me
Chris also had to give me my daily injections, and other medication, he kept me motivated, making me get out out the house and exercise, he said you can’t just sit around feeling sorry for yourself, plus the more you do the less tired you get. I layed over 250m2 of turf, wheel barrowed over 40 tonnes of gravel and helped to retile a cow shed roof.
Pictured above: Gabriella laying 250m2 of turf, barrowing 40 tonnes of gravel and retiling a cow shed roof whilst on chemotherapy (& the burning of the bra’s)
We would also spend time up at the old man of Coniston with Pat. We would both laugh together at ourselves as we sat there with shinny bald heads, she called us the chemo sisters, it was just like in the films, but a film I didn’t want to star in. From being able to cycle 200 miles in a day, my typical ride would now only be a hearty 1 mile, but at least I was still cycling. So the hopes of our world cycling tour starting any time soon was gone.
Pictured above: Gabriella on her first bike ride whilst on chemotherapy and with our friend Pat in Coniston whilst she’s also having chemotherapy.
My Chemotherapy finished on the 14th August 2017 and we sadly lost Pat on the 20th August. We truly miss her, we loved her so much, we think about her each day.
Pictured above: Our dear friend Pat – great times!
I had my lymph node clearance surgery on the 13th September, I went home with a drain in for a week, the dreaded drain! I am so squeamish I had to get Chris to empty it each time, going to watch a show at the Theatre at the Blackpool Opera House was fun, as I had to carry my drain around with me in a shopping bag, lucky for me nobody tried to snatch my bag, if they had, wouldn’t they have had a surprise when they looked at the contents!
Pictured above: Gabriella after surgery
So I met again with James Harvey for yet more results, we had bought him a massive box of biscuits and said if its good news you can have them if its bad news Chris will hit you over the head with them, luckily for James Harvey he got away without a bashing, the results came back good, out of all 18 nodes removed, all came back clear.
Chris came up with a great idea, as we needed a break and I still had ten months of Herceptin to go up until June 25th 2018, we asked if it was possible for us to live in Spain and I would fly back every three weeks for my treatment, we got a yes, go live your life so with the great assistance from the hospital we are now in Spain training on our bikes and living from our converted prison van.
Pictured above: Training in the Southern Spain
Pictured above: Our home, the converted prison van
Chris and Gabs World Cycling Tour
So where are we today?
Well after my treatment finished on the 25th June 2018, shortly after on the 9th of July we set off from The Nightingale Centre in Manchester England on our World Cycling Tour.
We are cycling 100,000km through 67 countries, across all 7 continents of the world “including Antartica!” whilst raising awareness and funding for our charity “Prevent Breast Cancer”
After one year and 4 months on the road we are now in our 23rd country China. For more information about our World Cycling Tour and charity please visit our website and social media channels via the link below:
So this is why we started from where we left off, and thats with our world cycling tour and to cycle for the fantastic charity “PREVENT BREAST CANCER” over the last few years, we have met the most amazing people at The Nightingale Centre in Wythenshawe and The Christie Hospital in Manchester, until you are put in the world of cancer you do not realise how much you need all these wonderful people who want to prevent and cure cancer, without these people wanting to care and spend hours finding treatments and without the Prevent Breast Cancer fundraising I would not be here today, I want to give something back to the scientists, volunteers, nurses, surgeons, consultants etc etc..I could go on.
A huge thank you to everyone at the Nightingale Centre in Manchester, The Christies Hospital in Withington, The Wythenshawe Hospital, St Marys Family History Clinic, Prevent Breast Cancer in Wythenshawe, and of course my fabulous fiancée Chris xxx
NOTE! WE ARE 100% SELF FUNDING THE ENTIRETY OF THIS TOUR, THEREFORE ALL DONATIONS GO DIRECTLY TO OUR CHARITY “PREVENT BREAST CANCER”