Bike 8 – Car 7. Victory is mine.

In the end, I did it. I cycled to every session of radiotherapy this week. That means that over the course of my radiotherapy treatment – the final phase of the hospital-based part of my treatment for breast cancer – I cycled to more sessions than I drove to. That means that in the duel I was playing out between the car and the bike, the bike won. The final score? Bike 8 – Car 7.

It started out as a bit of fun (Cycling challenges and lowering expectations) but then it became more serious. It became really important to me psychologically that the bike won.

20160226_121012-1 (1)The infection I’d had (It went downhill from there) set me back a few days. To secure a win, I knew I had to cycle the 11-mile round trip to the clinic every day of my final week of treatment. So that’s what I did. I cycled in the rain on the first day, last Monday (Don’t wait for the rain to stop, dance – or cycle – in the rain), and then the weather turned in my favour. It was cold, but there were beautiful blue skies for most of the rest of the week. By Thursday evening, we were even at 7-7. It was only by cycling to that very last session that the bike would win. Friday 26 February dawned clear and bright and off I rode, making it 8-7 to the bike. The photo is of me minutes after arriving back home from the clinic (thanks to the neighbour who took the photo!).

It seems fitting that my triumph on the bike coincided with the very last day of the hospital-based phase of my treatment. Six months of chemo, surgery and radiotherapy – it’s all over.

I’m not stupid; I know how symbolic the “duel” was. The bike was me and the car was my breast cancer. Put simply, my treatment has gone well. We got rid of all the cancer that could be detected. There can never be any guarantees that it won’t come back in or around the same area or turn up somewhere else in my body. For the time being, however, I guess you could say I’ve won. For now, that has to be good enough. Victory is mine.

Don’t wait for the rain to stop, dance – or cycle – in the rain

In the epic Bike vs Car duel that I am currently playing out on the not so mean streets of southwest London, the score now stands at Car 7 – Bike 5.

I’m trying to cycle to more sessions of radiotherapy than I drive to (Cycling challenges and lowering expectations). It’s an eleven mile round trip. Yesterday, Monday, was the critical day. It was raining (lightly, but it was still raining) and I could so easily have hopped in the car and driven. What a bad start to the week that would have been. It wouldn’t have counted towards the overall score as I’d decided that if the weather was bad, I could drive and it wouldn’t count. I reckoned that was fair. However, it would have meant that, even if I cycled to my final four radiotherapy sessions over the rest of this week, the best I could get would be a 7 – 7 draw. If I wanted a win, I had no choice but to cycle, despite the rain. Now, an 8 – 7 win is still in sight.

I did briefly consider phoning the clinic at 9 o’clock yesterrday morning to ask if they could change my appointment to the afternoon when the forecast was better, but I decided that would have been taking things too far. So I put on my waterproof trousers and jacket and off I went. I got wet, but not soaked. It wasn’t cold and it felt good. By the time I left the clinic to come home, it had stopped raining.

On the way back, I bumped into a good friend and neighbour, the Sky Sports presenter, Dave Clark.

Dave, who’s 49, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years ago and is living life to the absolute full (Dave Clark interview: Darts presenter lifts lid on five years of battling Parkinson’s – and refusing to throw in the towel). We started chatting about where we might go on holiday this summer. We’re thinking of going where Dave and his family went last year. He said a few things about how beautiful it was then remarked that it rained a lot at that time of year. No sooner had he said that, though, than he followed it with “*But don’t wait for the rain to stop, dance in the rain, eh?” We both knew exactly what he meant. That’s why I cycled to radiotherapy in the rain yesterday and that’s why, in September, Dave will be tackling the 200 mile coast-to-coast walk across the north of England, raising funds along the way for Parkinson’s UK…  but hopefully not in the rain! We hope to be with Dave for part of the trip. Way to go, Clarky.

* I’d never heard it before yesterday but I think the original phrase is “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” I’m not usually one for cod philosohpy, but this one struck home. 

What a difference a year makes

Precisely one year ago today, I set sail from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands on a 72-foot yacht called Challenger 1 that was headed 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to St Lucia in the Caribbean.

Together with 11 colleagues, flag arcI was taking part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, an annual race (or rather it’s a race for those who choose to race; most don’t, it probably won’t surprise you to hear we did) involving hundreds of yachts that all follow largely the same route Christopher Columbus took when he “discovered” the Americas in 1492. As part of our “Atlantic Challenge”, we and other colleagues had raised more thn £32,000 for Save the Children. Our crossing took 15 hot, humid, exhilirating days and nights. boatIt was – and I’m sure will always be – one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done (the photo of the dolphins on the About page of this blog is from that trip).

What a difference a year makes. Here I am at home in rainy London preparing for my eighth and final round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in July (Before Christ? British Columbia? No, BC stands for breast cancer). My last chemo session is tomorrow, 25 November*. Three-and-a-half weeks later, I’ll have major surgery (19 December – it’s official & Immediate reconstruction – the decision is made), and may or may not spend Christmas Day in hospital.

Two very different challenges. I worked so hard to get a place on the boat and I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard I’d been selected. The second challenge, breast cancer, was thrust upon me and is one that nobody would ever, ever wish for.

saveI was determined not to be sad today, but it’s not even 9 o’clock yet and I’ve already been in tears twice – once talking to my husband about this blog post and once later when he made a funny comment to cheer me up and I meant to laugh but cried instead. But that’s enough for one day, and I already feel better having driven back from dropping the boys off at school (yes, I’ve become a bit of a soft touch on that front) to Barry White blasting out My first, my last, my everything on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2.  I defy anyone not to be cheered up by that song (so thanks, Chris!). Now I feel reflective rather than sad. I plan to spend plenty of time over the rest of the day reminiscing about my Atlantic Challenge and contemplating the sheer bloody randomness of life and the importance of taking your chances when you can.

*I agreed with the oncologist at my consultation yesterday that I should go ahead with the final session as the chemo-induced nerve problem in my feet, particularly the right one, appears not to have got any worse. We’ll stick with the reduced dose of 75%. I never thought I’d ever say I was happy to have a session of chemotherapy, but I’m genuinely glad that I’m going the distance on this. As one of my fellow travellers said of my final round on the online forum that I joined back in August, “may it zap any little blighters left standing”. I can only second that.