Foreword: When Helen agreed to write a blog post for me, I was elated. When I opened up my e-mail and started to read this post, I felt overwhelmed with admiration for her sense of humor and zest for life. Talking about life with Cancer is tough, but Helen has the ability to be not only relatable but funny and upbeat at the same time. I hope that not only you enjoy reading this post, but that you also take a moment to appreciate the little things in life and follow Helen (Links below). xo
How to enjoy running again after surgery for cancer…
I absolutely love running, well, jogging is probably a better pace for me these days, but who’s counting the seconds? I used to, I used to push as hard as I could through every niggle and injury. Having only really taken up running in my late teens, I had a fair bit of catching up to do with those young whippersnappers who are naturals. Once described as a hippo in ballet shoes, grace is not something I am blessed with, I even wreck my trainers at a frightening rate because I am so heavy-footed! If only it was due to my speed!
Shortly after my passion was ignited this happened:
Cancer seems to be a dirty word, something we whisper or worse still, avoid altogether. But for my family and I, it is very much every day, “normal” way of life. I was diagnosed many moons ago, aged 20 with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma. Bridget Brady writing for Endocrine Web states, it is the most common type of thyroid cancer, with 70% to 80% of those diagnosed having papillary thyroid cancer. It is also one of the most treatable cancers to have. Rather frustratingly for me, the little sucker decided to find other places to occupy, like my lymph nodes and lungs.
So now I am a statistic. According to Cancer Research UK one of 363,484 people diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK alone.
No longer a person, just a number on a spreadsheet. When you’re diagnosed it is the only thing you can see, feel, or think. I can still remember the day we were told as if it was yesterday, from where I was standing to the air ambulance landing as I tried to feebly call my besties. One of whom was mid celebrating her birthday. A sure-fire way to ruin someone’s day that’s for sure.
It was the last day I was just a student dreading the hardest lecture and looking forward to the weekly “Pounded” at The Guild. It feels as though your very own future is pulled right from under your feet. Life becomes a journey of what if’s and maybe’s. Less than ideal for someone like me who likes to have a black and a white. But, I am now au fait with living in the grey.
Over the last 15 years, I have had a total of 9 operations and 8 lots of radioactive iodine to get rid of my unwelcome parasite, all in the hope to get rid of it. My last operation was in July of this year, and unfortunately, I have suffered some nerve damage to my left arm that may be here to stay. But a successful excavation of another 24 nodules makes it all worthwhile I suppose. I am a known pain in the ass, I think my frenemy has joined in and become equally as stubborn, so live with it I do.
And what a life I have lived! I am married, we have twins who are almost 10 and our BossBaby who is 7, years, not months, but she’s my baby and definitely the boss! I have traveled, graduated, attempted to snowboard and ran a half marathon. Not bad for someone who hadn’t all that many weeks to live when I was first diagnosed. Mainly because my heart was unable to beat properly. Since the tumour in my chest was removed 14 years ago, it can now beat freely. Although, my heart is most definitely a part of me, and can be a little over-enthusiastic. Now it hasn’t got something wrapped around it, my heart rate can often be in the 100’s. Right now, I am sat waffling away to you lovely folk and it is a whopping 107.
Exercise & I.
Exercise and I are pretty good mates, but we certainly have a love-hate relationship. Especially when it comes to running. There are days I am simply too tired to contemplate life, let alone lacing my trainers. Given my current nerve damage, even tying a bow in my laces can be a challenge some days. But, my love for running keeps me motivated, the promise of some fabulous endorphins pumping through my veins. I am still slow, and as far away as my shoulder is to the tarmac, the impact of my feet hitting the road can be excruciating. As a result, I am taking the advice of Jennifer Van Allen from Runners World “At first, stick with short, easy runs, and take walk breaks.” It is indeed a great way to build your stamina back up.
With my continuing battle with that thing known as The Big C, I have some coping strategies to try to keep me on an even keel:
I don’t run outside when it is very cold or very wet…
This for me, is a recipe for disaster. I struggle with chest infections and due to my shine-a-light shite immune system, it doesn’t take much to push my little white blood cells over the edge.
Not berate myself too much…
There are days when my little old broken body says no. And sadly, as I continue to age, this is happening more and more often. But when I can, I run. When I can’t, I cuss and go off to do some strength training if I am in the gym, or accept I need to walk home and try to shrug off my frustration.
Breaking myself to get to the end never works. If I listed all my ailments, you’d still be reading them in 2025 so I will only put you through a few…
– As I have already
moaned mentioned, I have no Thyroid, and whilst I take medication to replace the hormones my body can’t produce, there are some days the ol’ body doesn’t play ball.
– I broke my own left foot. Twice. I am exceptionally accident-prone, and neither breakage comes with a great story.
– I have degenerative bone issues in my left knee.
– Not to mention the nerve damage I have also already moaned about.
Bored yet? I know I am. I wish none of the above was my legacy, but as these are the cards I’ve been dealt with, I have to ease off on the speed and zest I try to run at both in trainers and in life! My now 10-minute mile is longer than it once was, but it is a mile none the less. Never belittle your achievements, a mile is a mile regardless of time.
Appreciating “Me Time”…
Since discovering running around age 18 (I was allergic to exercise before that!), I have used it as an escapism, seeing many a country on foot over the last few decades. It was my go to thing to do when shit got real, even when I was diagnosed aged 20, running was still a big part of my life. Entirely selfish, it is time I can spend with myself and my thoughts. I usually run to music, and this year I have started using audiobooks as motivation too, it has really broadened my horizon. I get to catch up on books I would never ordinarily have the time to read, and learn new things on the go! Whether you walk, run, gym or procrastinate, music and books are good for the soul!
The big scale debate…
I can gain and lose half a stone almost overnight. As a result of the medication I am on, irregular periods, and a whole truckload of mismatched hormones, I despise weighing myself. There is even a protocol I follow before psyching myself up to step on the soul-destroying square. First thing in the morning, post pee, and before a sip of any liquid whatsoever. And then I close my eyes and step on with trepidation.
‘Yup still fat”, or “Oh, not as fat”…(actually – you’re bloody lovely! Edit: KB)
But the thing is, even though my conscious mind knows it’s impossible to lose or gain fat overnight, those numbers can have an irreversible effect on my mood. So, I try to not weigh myself all that often, and invariably do at least a week’s damage limitation before I even start thinking about getting on them, let alone actually doing it. I am working on a better relationship with my scales, it’s not worth the heartache. Whether you are suffering from thyroid issues or not, don’t beat yourself up about weight, it is simply a number, and it does not define you.
Running around your family…
I spend countless steps running around after my family, but I also try to find time to actually run. I try to find half an hour at some point to spend either road or treadmill running 3-5 times a week. If I can steal an hour I will go to the gym and supplement my running with strength training. By doing both, you can increase your stamina as Sacha Wingenfield from runtastic.com says “a combination of strength training and running have the best effect on your performance”. Getting back into running has not been without its struggles, but by committing to at least trying to get some fitness back, seems to yield the best results for me.
There are some amazing free resources available to help to get into, or back into running. The NHS has launched the Couch to 5k campaign with great success. Katie has even put together an epic playlist for you, all that’s is left for you to do is hit the road!
I am hoping this little insight might trigger just one person to dig their trainers out and get out there. We are all faced with our own life challenges, but whatever they may be, I can almost guarantee an endorphin or two will help. There are still days when running doesn’t happen for me, and I am learning to be ok with that. And if you’re in the same or similar boat, let’s do this together!
Getting back into running after injury or illness takes guts, energy and a whole heap of love. Love for yourself.
We’ve got this!
By sharing stories we learn not only more about each other but more about the world and how to see things through another person’s eyes. It has been an absolute honor to host Helen and I’d love you to follow her Blog – Instagram – Facebook – Twitter.