Monday, 17 September 2018
In April 2013, I was in a bit of a mess. I was six months pregnant with our third child, Eliza, my husband and I should have been shopping blissfully for baby grows and painting the nursery with the same ecstatic excitement we’d felt when I was carrying James and Maisie, then five and two years old.
However, our third pregnancy had been spoilt in a way we could never have imagined, not even in our worst of nightmares.
In the previous month, I had been told I had cervical cancer. I had cervical cancer and I was pregnant.
I had had undiagnosed vaginal bleeding since the very early days of my pregnancy. We had rushed down to the Early Pregnancy Unit at the local hospital terrified that we were miscarrying this tiny life, who was barely days old. Ultrasound scans on a weekly basis for the first 12 weeks provided relief each week as our third child grew and seemed to be completely oblivious to all the anxiety we were experiencing.
Since a clear smear test 18 months previously, medical staff dismissed cervical cancer as a cause for the bleeds. We were told that “sometimes women just bleed in pregnancy”. Then, when I was around 24 weeks pregnant, another bleed occurred, and I sought reassurance that our baby was ok through a visit to the ante-natal unit. Hearing a heartbeat put our minds at rest. Following what had become a routine internal examination, a doctor I’d never seen before said it looked like I had a polyp and took a sample from my cervix.
Within a couple of days, I was asked to come back to see a doctor. Honestly, I thought it was simply an appointment to prescribe some iron tablets, so I sent my husband off to work. Fortunately, my parents said they’d attend with me, otherwise I would have been there alone apart from Maisie who was sat in her pushchair. It was at that moment I was given the news that turned our whole world upside down. I had cervical cancer.
Like any newly diagnosed cancer patient, I underwent examinations and scans, to determine how big the cancer was and what the most effective treatment was going to be. Though, unlike most other cancer patients, my scans were also studied to assess when they could safely deliver my unborn child, who we now knew was a girl. It was a balance of giving me the best chance of curative treatment in time and ensuring that Eliza had the best prospect of survival.
At this point I was told I would be treated at The Christie. The name of the hospital sent ripples of fear through me. The Christie? But that’s where ill people have to go…while I didn’t feel ill at all.
I spent the rest of the month waiting for 15th May - this was the date of my caesarean section. I would be 32 weeks pregnant.
The weeks became studded with appointments with oncologists at The Christie to explain my treatment plan – six weeks of chemotherapy (“and yes,” they said, “I would lose my hair.”)
I did get some chance to feel like a “normal” expectant mother by attending my ante-natal appointments, extra scans and finally having steroid injections to help Eliza’s lungs to develop quicker in anticipation of her early arrival.
I now had almost daily contact with a doctor, nurse or midwife. I said to my husband more than once, in tears, that I just didn’t want this to be me, I wanted my old life back.
All I could think about was the cancer. How fast was it growing inside me? Could I afford to wait until May? What about making sure James and Maisie had a Mum around? How could I not give Eliza the best chance of survival when it had been she that had been the reason I was in the right place at the right time?
Fast forward five years and I wish I could shout back in time to my earlier self. “Believe! Eliza is going to be fine, better than fine. This treatment is going to be successful. You’ve got this!”
My emotions ran high again in April 2018 as I had the privilege of running the London Marathon - a lifetime’s dream. Though, it was not my first marathon since treatment, it was in fact number six. Making me a seven times marathoner altogether and I won’t be stopping at the finish line on The Mall.
In 2018 I have set myself the challenge of running five marathons to mark five years in remission - one for each year of survivorship, who else to do it for but The Christie.
I was a runner long before I was diagnosed with cancer, even running through all three pregnancies and ran within weeks of giving birth. I continued to run through my treatment.
The hospital staff encouraged me to continue unless I got to the point where I couldn’t. That point didn’t arrive as I ran three or four times a week, it felt great. I believed that it was one way I could fight my battle, head on. I felt like me when I ran, not a cancer patient, just me.
Once treatment ended I maintained my running routine with Eliza accompanying me in her pram. I started to sign up for races again and I measured my recovery as my times came tumbling down to pre-treatment speeds.
In October 2014, I ran my first post cancer marathon. I was astounded to cross the line in a lifetime best of 03:50:12. Since then I ran more marathons and countless other races, the most recent being the Seville marathon in February 2018 – the first of my five in 2018 challenge.
I have also thrown the gauntlet down to my family and friends, asking if they would sign up to an event which improves their fitness, while pledging to raise money as part of my team – Nicola’s Christie Soldiers.
My view is that while being fit doesn’t prevent you from serious illness, it’s still an investment and better enables you to deal with and recover from whatever health problems you may encounter in the future.
The response I have had has been amazing. I’ve had pledges from friends, family, colleagues, my husband’s friends, friends’ husbands, neighbours, friends of friends – the list goes on. Even the very youngest of my local community are getting involved. The Rainbows are running their own marathon between them one night in the local park.
I was super proud to wear my Christie vest at the London marathon. I am eternally grateful to The Christie for permitting me the opportunity to do this in two ways – successful curative treatment and to offer me one of their prized golden bond places. “Hey - The Christie – I owe you big time!”
Nicola and family have been nominated for a Pride of Bury award, you can vote for her at www.prideofbury.co.uk/the-categories/our-hero-family-award-finalists/
To find out more about how you can support The Christie charity please visit www.christie.nhs.uk/the-christie-charity/
Monday, 3 September 2018
Tony Gretton - Christie fundraiser
I recently completed a ‘6 by 6 challenge’ doing six sporting events/challenges in six consecutive weeks.
I realised that people wanted something more for their sponsorship money. I couldn’t give them blood but I could give them sweat and tears (oh yes and cramps, lots and lots of cramps).
The idea came about a year ago. I had completed two sprint triathlons and a 45 mile bike ride on three consecutive weekends. My thoughts turned to 2018 and my 60th birthday and how I would like to mark it. I decided I wanted to do a real challenge to test my endurance to the limit.
So if you’re thinking of doing a fundraising event, my first tip is to make it a challenge for yourself. Something you’re going to really have to work at to achieve.
Building on my 2017 ‘three in a row’, I decided to add in a longer bike ride, a swim and, well read on if you want to find out. I already knew the dates for the first three events and it didn’t take long to find the others.
My second tip is to plan. You need to have a date to aim at, to focus the mind and help with training.
At the end of 2017, I announced my 6 by 6 challenge. My wife thought I was ‘bloody mad’ – or at least that’s the more polite version!
Thirdly, announce early on what you’re going to do. You’ll be able to gauge interest and people will know early on that you will want them to sponsor you. Plus it adds a commitment to your challenge.
2018 dawned dark, cold and wet. I’d already put in a few months hard groundwork training, but January began the real ramp up and the full release to the big wide world of what I was going to do and when.
The events and dates unfolded thus:
20th May – Sprint triathlon at Lytham St Anne’s where I set a personal best (PB) and finished sixth in my age group.
27th May – Sprint triathlon at Rossendale where I set a PB and finished third in my age group.
3rd June – 45 mile bike ride from Blackpool to Fleetwood area and back.
10th June – 80 mile bike ride around North Wales including two monster climbs, one being the Horse Shoe Pass. Boy did I have some cramps in the last mile and aches at the end of this one, but little did I know what was to come.
13th June (my birthday) – a two-mile open water swim to celebrate being 60 years old!
24th June – Half ironman at Cholmondeley Castle where I came second in my age group. All I can say about this one was that I plain hurt and suffered some of the worst cramps on the run I’d ever had. At 400m from the finish, I actually screamed in pain at the cramps in both legs. I couldn’t take a step. My daughter appeared from nowhere to encourage me on, giving me the spur to keep walking as the cramps eased. Then 200m later there was my granddaughter and we ran side by side for those last yards and crossed the line to the cheers of the crowd. I’d finished my first ever half ironman and the last …. Though there is a part of me that would love to have another crack at it.
When I spoke to my personal trainer she also told me I was ‘bloody mad’ for doing all these events back to back. I didn’t believe her but I do now!
Tip 4 – engage with people who know and understand what you are going to do. Use their knowledge and experience. Think about joining a club that specialises in that type of event and train for it. I told my triathlon club what I was planning and they also said ‘you’re bloody mad’ but they gave me brilliant support.
I then entered a couple of events, the Blackburn 10k where I set a PB and the Liverpool half marathon. The last time I ran this far was just after I’d left the Army, was as fit as a butcher’s dog and was only 24 at the time. Somewhere over the last 36 years I’ve lost 22 minutes and trust me when it says 400m to the water station, suddenly it’s twice as far as it ever used to be.
For all the training, the date of the first event soon dawned and events two and three followed. Event four, the 80 miles around North Wales was my first real test. The furthest I’d ever been on the bike was 60 miles, so this was 20 miles into the unknown, round a very tough course and on a rather hot Sunday. Somehow I managed to get my older brother to sign up to it as well. It was tough, but boy was it glorious. We’d both do it again!
Tip 5 – If you can get someone to come along with you, even if for only a part of what you’re going to do it will make the day a lot more memorable. Believe me, seeing North Wales on the bike is firmly etched into our memories. When I told my brother I would also be doing a half marathon shortly after the bike ride he also told me I was ‘bloody mad’.
The fifth event was only three days later, the two-mile open water swim. It went faultlessly and I only suffered a bit of arm ache in the last 200m. Thankfully, the rain held off until we were back in the car. It’s a funny thing, I hate swimming in the rain …. You get too wet!!
Before I knew it the 24th June arrived. I was up at 4.15 am to get to Cholmondeley Castle.
Tip 6 – Find a great location. If you choose somewhere really nice you’re more likely to have supporters come to watch. You’ll also feel a bit more inspired.
I lined up with another 179 fools (I mean competitors) waiting for the hooter to set us off for the most gruelling sporting event I’d ever done. Seven and a half hours later I crossed the finish line. I hurt, I mean I truly hurt! My wife, daughter and son-in-law were there to see me finish. My six in a row was announced over the loudspeakers and the crowd clapped and cheered again.
The Christie, National Kidney Federation and British Heart Foundation all got a mention. Loads of people spoke to me after about my challenge and asked about the charities and why I chose them. So not only was I able to raise funds, but also elevate the profiles of the charities I was supporting.
Tip 7 – Get your family and friends involved - you can’t do it without them.
Tip 8 – Pick a charity which really means something to you. It’s much easier to sell it to others. You need to tell a story.
Tip 9 – Use social media, but limit your updates prior to the event or you may risk people losing interest. I updated on all my training mileages as it’s a good way to keep a tally.
I promised my wife I’ll never do another half ironman and it’s something I’ll honour. She worried all the way around my final 13 miles of the run. Without her tireless and selfless support, I couldn’t have done it.
On the way home from Cholmondeley we visited Bolton Hospice to see our closest friend Aileen. I kissed her on her forehead and told her I’ve done all six events! Aileen peacefully passed away within a day of us seeing her. And that’s the thing, all the way through the toughest of training and the events, for all the pain I put myself through, I knew I would recover. We always knew Aileen wouldn’t.
I did receive one great piece of news a few days later. A friend and colleague suffering from complete kidney failure had received a new one and was now back at work.
We cannot solve all the terrible illnesses out there, but we need to keep trying. It’s support from the thousands of Christie fundraisers (amongst whom I’m proud to count myself) who help fund vital research and care and treatment for patients. Believe me, every single penny counts.
There are so many people I want to thank including my wife Margaret, for all her fantastic support and the Scarborough radiography department, who raised a phenomenal amount of money for my three causes. There have been some real highs and lows but it’s confirmed my belief in people and there are a lot of wonderful ones out there. And finally, I’d like to thank all the companies that sponsored me.
I hope this inspires readers to do something, too. We have all been affected by the loss of someone close. Use their life to the most positive result that can be achieved, helping to save others.
My challenge is complete - I’m tired, I ache, I’m proud! I wonder what everyone would say if I decided to do it again next year!