I've told a few of you I'm training for a half marathon, but I don't think I've told many of you why.
13 years ago, as a teenager, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma. 13 years later, I'm running 13 miles for the charity that helped me put my life back together - the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
If you told my 13 year old self that this year she'd be getting married, she'd be living in London, she'd have a job she loved in a Government department, she wouldn't have believed you. But she'd be most surprised to hear that the muscles that felt so scorched by the toxic liquid metal of chemotherapy would one day manage to carry her 13 miles - at pace!
It goes without saying that chemotherapy is a gut-wrenching, gruelling experience. But as hard, for me, was returning to school once my treatment had finished. Plugged in and wired to machines on a hospital ward, I had to find some way to cope; something to fix my sights on, something to occupy the space at the end of my tunnel vision. And that something became my life before cancer. It was the things I missed and hoped to return to. It was football matches, takeaway pizza and surreptitiously passing notes to my friends in classrooms. I assumed that waiting for me at the end of cancer was my life as it was before cancer. When I heard the words “all clear” it was a shock to discover that life was something very different.
It was humiliating not to be able to out-run a single classmate in PE lessons. It was infuriating to hear my classmates' carefree conversations about EastEnders and birthday parties as I dealt with bereavement and thought of the friends I'd shared life with on the paediatric oncology ward who had not survived. And it felt futile to listen to my teachers or prepare for exams when I knew that I could relapse and life could be thrown off course again. School had become quite a lonely, isolating place and the future didn't seem like something that was mine to look forward to anymore.
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust put me in touch with others my age who had gone through the same experience and helped me open up. Spending time with others at different stages in their recovery provided reassurance that what I was feeling was normal, but also restored my sense of possibility; I met young adults who had cancer as teenagers and were now thriving. I was able to be honest about the sense of survivor's guilt I felt. I slowly grew more confident in my physical capability and learnt how to push myself. Most of all, I had fun with peers and stopped carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. The Trust supported me for several years and got me to a place where I managed to take my exams and go to university.
Since 2014, I've sat on the Trust's Board of Trustees and I now get to see their work from a different perspective. When a young person is diagnosed with cancer, life goes on hold just at the time they are starting to form their place in the world. The impact on independence, education, employment, emotional wellbeing and their relationships with friends and family is immense. Many young people are also left living with a range of long-term physical effects. The Trust helps young people rebuild lost confidence and re-engage with life.
Grateful for your support and sponsorship!