I’d always joked that I didn’t really like running. There was some truth in it. I loved how fit it made you, I loved how you felt after you’d been on a run and most of all I loved Parkrun – those free, weekly, timed 5k runs that take place in hundred of locations across the UK every Saturday morning. Since finishing treatment for primary breast cancer in February 2016, I’d also run a half marathon, a 10-mile run and a 10k and for a while I even trained with a running club. You don’t do all that if you genuinely don’t like running – but I always found it hard and I wasn’t a natural.
Then in March I got a pain in my spine and my right hip. I followed it up and it turned out I have secondary or metastatic breast cancer.
As well as there being cancer in my bone marrow and in three vertebrae, there is a lesion in my left-side rib area and there are “areas of less significant scattered bone disease”. As for my right hip, while there are no obvious signs of cancer in the hip itself, the pain I get there may or may not be related in some way to the diagnosis. Either way, that’s where there is most pain.
I suspected my running days were over but I hadn’t put it to the test. I needed to find out one way or the other.
Last Sunday morning, I plucked up the courage to give it a go. I put on my running kit, including for inspiration the Parkrun t-shirt I got for having chalked up 50 runs, and set off for Tooting Common at the end of our road. I went as slowly as I possibly could without it being considered fast walking. It didn’t help. It took just a few steps for me to know it wasn’t going to work. I’m not going to exaggerate; the pain was nowhere near excruciating but I just knew my hip couldn’t take it. My back, I could feel, would also start hurting soon.
I waited a few minutes then tried again. It still hurt. I tried once more, and that was it. I limped to a secluded spot on the common, sat down in the shade of a tree and proceeded to shed a bucketload of tears – of anger, frustration, sadness and self-pity.
So now I know for sure. Barring some weird reversal of the crap that’s going on inside my body, my running days are in the past. I guess I knew they were but I think I had to go through the motions. Maybe on some subconscious level I knew I needed a good, cathartic cry.
So much for getting a century of Parkruns. I made it to 86, which is pretty damn good. For those of you who may be thinking of suggesting I limp or walk the course 14 times just to get to 100… the answer is a big no.
It’s strange. On one level, I’m really disappointed but on another I’m already over it. Maybe I really didn’t like running that much anyway! More likely it’s because I know I have no choice. Or perhaps sometimes a good cry is just what’s needed to help you move forward. I’ll continue volunteering for Parkrun every now and then as I’m so grateful for what it has given me over the past three years. It was a key part of my recovery from my treatment for primary breast cancer and I’ve made new friends through it and had such fun. I ran all but one of my 86 Parkruns in the past three years, most of these on my home course on Tooting Common. I started it in earnest in April 2016 – six weeks after I finished radiotherapy – and never looked back.
On the positive side, I’ve restarted treatment. I had to have a short break as the drugs made my neutrophil count drop during the first cycle to below the level that was judged safe to continue with treatment. Neutrophils are the white blood cells that fight infection. Pharmaceutical intervention was needed to get them back up to the required level but we got there and here I am, back on track with Cycle 2. I have blood tests next week to check to see how things are going.
There’s clearly lots going on inside that I’m not physically aware of. But what about the things I am aware of?
Well, it sometimes takes some careful manoeuvring to get out of bed in the morning without too much pain. This is mainly due to the pain in my ribs – where we’re pretty sure there is also cancer – that sometimes develops overnight and to the discomfort in my hip, which – regardless of what’s causing it – is sometimes there a lot of the time but is annoying rather than painful. My back is not generally painful but can start aching if I walk a good distance.
My hip hurts every time I get up from a seated position and take my first few steps. The pain generally wears off as I start moving about but a few people have commented that I sometimes walk with a slight limp.
The level of pain I have in the morning gives me a sense of how things will go over the course of the day. I either take no painkillers (that’s the most common outcome at the moment), over-the-counter strength painkillers or prescription painkillers. The problem with the strongest ones is that you’re not meant to drink alcohol; the pain has to pretty bad before I take those!
The pain is at its worst by far in the days following the monthly Faslodex/fulvestrant injections and the Zometa/zoledronic acid infusion. Getting the injection in your buttocks verges on the painful side of uncomfortable and your glutes hurt like hell for a couple of days afterwards. The Zometa and the fulvestrant can – and do – cause bone pain for a couple of days afterwards too. Painkillers are most definitely needed then.
Also, I swear my hair is getting thinner by the day. Thankfully diarrhoea – a serious concern with the Verzenios/abemaciclib tablets I’m taking – has not been a problem. I’m not saying it’s been non-existent but it’s not been a problem.
I already knew tennis was out. Now it seems running is too. There’s still the cycling; I rode 62k yesterday, in glorious sunshine, the furthest I’d ridden since starting treatment in late May. I’m paying for it now as I’m absolutely whacked. Thankfully I’m not working today and, as Wimbledon is on, I have an excuse just to sit on the sofa and do very little other than watch amazing tennis on TV and finish writing this!
The question now is whether cycling is enough or do I need to seek out something to replace the tennis and running? Swimming anyone?