Cancer is a subject close to our hearts here at Run Mummy Run. This blog post is part of our series about running and cancer. Louise Vernon explains to us how cancer helped her find running and improved her body image.
This photograph with my children was taken just a few months before my cancer diagnosis at the age of 34. I weighed over 13.5 stone and had a BMI of around 33.
I had a busy life. I had two small children, worked full-time in a pre-school and was studying for a University course in the evenings. I never ate fruit and vegetables and I definitely didn’t exercise! I never really gave my health a second thought until I got my cancer diagnosis just a few days before my 35th birthday.
I found a lump completely out the blue. Within a couple of weeks I had been diagnosed with Stage 3 (the most aggressive type) Triple Negative (not hormone related) breast cancer.
The plan was to have eight rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery, followed by radiotherapy. This is the standard treatment for aggressive breast cancer. Things didn’t go to plan.
Halfway through treatment I was scanned to see how it was going. Unfortunately, the chemo hadn’t worked and my tumour had grown a little larger.
My world fell apart. My diagnosis had been bad enough, but going through half of the treatment for nothing was soul destroying. I was put on a stronger chemo for two more rounds, sadly again to no effect.
It was decided that I should have an emergency mastectomy. The wait for my surgery was awful. I was terrified of picking up an infection and my surgery being cancelled.
The afternoon before my operation one of my children was sent home from school with a sickness bug. I couldn’t even say goodbye properly. I was quickly shipped off to my mum’s house.
Fortunately the operation was a success. Just a couple of weeks later however, I ended up in intensive care with sepsis from an infection in my Hickman Line (a line for your chemo permanently attached to your chest).
I was told afterwards that if I’d been on chemo at the time of the infection I may not have made it!
After four rounds of chemo out of a planned six and two blood transfusions, it was clear that my body wasn’t coping, so it was stopped.
I had three weeks of radiotherapy and finished my treatment in September 2011, ten months after my journey began.
My wake-up call
My cancer diagnosis was a wake-up call. I didn’t know if I’d live but knew that I needed to give myself a fighting chance of surviving. I immediately changed my attitude to food.
While on chemo I cut out alcohol, started eating fresh fruit and veg and dramatically cut down on junk food.
Once my treatment was complete I decided that I needed to think about exercise too. I wasn’t trying to be super-fit but wanted to make small changes. I started cycling or swimming once or twice a week and started to walk a lot more.
My body image
My weight gradually dropped to just under ten stone. I felt amazing! However, each time I went to the hospital for check ups they would ask me if I wanted reconstructive surgery or if I wanted my other breast taken away?
The thought of either filled me with dread. I never wanted to set foot in a hospital again. As my scar healed I actually became quite proud of it. It reminded me of what I’d beaten.
Before cancer, I was a size 18/20 and didn’t have a great body image. After cancer, although I only have one breast, I am down to a size 12/14 and feeling really good about myself.
Letting my hair grow back naturally was another choice I made. I’d always dyed my hair before illness, and now I am very grey. Having been bald for six months has made me realise that it’s my hair and my choice. Sometimes people question why I don’t dye it. I just respondm ‘Why should I’?
Changing other’s lives
I wanted to help others so I got involved with a local charity, the Tamworth Wellbeing and Cancer Support Centre. I walked a couple of fun runs to raise money for them, never dreaming that one day I would run them!
Last year was a big year for me. In November, I turned 40 and reached five years since my diagnosis. I marked this anniversary by embarking on a series of 40 challenges before my birthday to raise money and awareness for the charity.
I raised almost £1600 and generated huge amounts of publicity. I got the all clear just after my birthday and began thinking about what to do next. I signed up for the Birmingham 10k planning to walk it fast.
I started walking the two miles to work and back every day. I got some new trainers which crippled me, which is when I discovered that running hurt my feet less and so it began!
Mid-January I started part running part hobbling to work determined to break in my new trainers. By the end of the month, I was running the down hills. I ran my first full mile in early February.
From there it just snowballed. I completed my first parkrun in March managing the whole distance in a respectable 34 minutes. Then with the help of a runner friend I began to train properly for the Birmingham 10k.
I was loving running and loving life. I started to notice I was becoming more toned and people were commenting on how fit I was looking.
I started wearing vests and shorts to run. My lack of boob was never a problem (other than trying to find a suitable bra to run in that would hold a prosthesis).
In May I ran the Birmingham 10k in a credible 1:09.21. The rush I got from completing that race was amazing. In just five months I’d gone from being a non-runner to completing a 10k race – running the whole course!
I am now a regular at parkrun and have entered more 10ks and even Birmingham Half Marathon. I will complete it a month after I celebrate 5 years since the end of treatment.
This isn’t the end though. I have plans to enter the Birmingham marathon next year! I’m a local girl and would love to be able to run in the first local marathon for many years.
I had cancer and beat it at a young age. I’m not ashamed by my scars or the fact that I have one boob. In fact I like to shout it from the rooftops! I see lots of women battling their own demons in their running posts on Facebook. I’m hoping I can inspire a few. If I can make one person believe in themselves then what I have been through is worth it.
Cancer changed my whole outlook on life. I am comfortable with who I am and won’t let society dictate what I should look like. I’m now fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. I look in the mirror and I’m happy at what I see, scars and all.