Its been a whirlwind few weeks on the cancer rollercoaster. A couple of weeks before the latest Team Shomelanoma Isle of Wight 106km Challenge I headed off to Marsden HQ for my latest scans. I was due back at the hospital for my results on the Friday but the day before I had a call from the hospital booking me in for a biopsy which came as a bit of a shock. I spoke to my team who apologised and informed me that I had a slightly enlarged lymph node in my right axilla that they wanted to biopsy. The following day, I had my consultation with my Oncologist who was apologetic about the communication and told me given I have had another slightly enlarged lymph node on my chest also in the last 6 months it needed to be checked out. I also have primary breast cancer and 3 weeks prior to these scans I had a full check up for that MRI scan of breast, mammogram and ultrasound that also checked the right axilla and at that point everything was ok. Anyway the biopsy was booked for the following week with results after I got back from the IOW challenge. This was a nerve-wracking build up to the latest challenge.
As we set off for the Isle of Wight weekend, I put the biopsy and results to the back of my mind and focused on the big challenge ahead. The Team kicked off the 106km challenge on Sat morning at 8am, the first 25km along the coastal path to the Needles were stunning and it was a beautiful day. As we left the coast to go inland the path became increasingly muddy and slippy and one of our team Pete fell and badly lacerated his hand. He then had to walk to the next rest stop to get it bandaged up and was advised to get to A and E as soon as possible. Not wanting to miss any of the hike he finished the 13km to complete the first day’s 53km before heading off to A & E for 4 hrs to get his hand stitched. He was back at the start line for 6 am the next morning ready to start day 2 at 6.30am what an absolute trouper. The end of day one was really tough for me those last 5km on Saturday early evening as the light started to dim I was really struggling and my mind wandered back to the Jurassic Coast Challenge 5 years ago when we failed to complete day 2 due to the extreme heat and exhaustion. The big difference on the Isle of Wight Challenge was that the whole team finished day 1 over 3 hours earlier than we had on the previous Jurassic coast. We were home and in bed by 10.30pm, which meant for a better nights rest than on the last challenge. We were all up and ready to start day 2 at 6.30. Day 2 started off with everyone in good spirits and the team split into 3 groups regrouping at the checkpoints. A big shout out to the support team on day 2 as seeing your gorgeous faces at each of the check points really encouraged us all when the feet were really sore and the bodies getting tired. By the time we were on the last leg 94 – 106km every km seemed to go slower than the last and as we passed the 100km marker the extra 6km really seemed unnecessary. As we arrived at the 105km marker we could hear the cheers coming from the finish line and the last km really did seem to go on forever. However it felt quite euphoric to cross the finish line and very emotional to see every one of the team finish the 106km. It was a very tough challenge not for the faint hearted so to see all 16 of us get over the line was really amazing and just an incredible achievement. I was feeling super proud of everyone for successfully completing such an amazing challenge thank you to each and every one of you for taking on this epic challenge. There were many stories and everyone had their own times of struggling, mine was definitely the last 5km on Sat when Dave was almost carrying me over that line. However everyone managed to dig deep and drag themselves over that line. The fundraising for this challenge has exceeded all expectations and has raised £14k, which makes it the highest fundraiser to date. A HUGE thank you to everyone who has so generously supported and donated to support the Team Shomelanoma fundraising. We are edging closer to the £100k target and I will be doing a full update on the melanoma research that the funds raised are contributing towards in the next blog.
After the euphoria of the latest challenge we had a couple of days rest and recovery on the Isle of Wight, it was back to reality and to Marsden HQ for the results of the biopsy. There had been very little time to think about it and on Friday morning all I could think about was how this would be a horrible end to what had been a very special week. Once we arrived at the hospital I was feeling quite sick and I didn’t have long in the waiting room before it was time to go for my results. My doctor told me the very good news that there was no evidence of cancer from my biopsy and we were able to return to my regular 3 monthly scans. I can’t tell you what a relief this was and I almost burst into tears. I think the whole stress of the run up to the challenge with the biopsy and then the physical and mental exertion of going through the challenge had all just caught up with me and just reinforces the rollercoaster ride of being a stage 4 cancer patient.
The recent adventures reinforced the importance to me of continuing to focus on the Shomelanoma challenges and the role of exercise to help both the mental and physical aspects of living with cancer. I recently watched Dame Deborah James documentary Bowelbabe – In her own Words (BBC2 and Iplayer) which if you haven’t watched it I really recommend it. It really made me think about how she had successfully changed the narrative around living with cancer, campaigned for better and kinder treatments and since launching the Bowelbabe fund she has raised over £11m truly incredible. All she wanted was more time with her gorgeous family. Not wanting to get too philosophical here but as a stage 4 cancer patient who is all too aware you are only as good as your last scan I want to squeeze every last ounce of time with loved ones and step back and cherish every moment. Since completing the latest challenge I have thought once again what special family and friends I have around me (and feel very fortunate to have them all you are all very special to me love you all )
May is Melanoma Awareness Month and with melanoma now the 5th most common cancer in the UK and the fastest growing in the 15-34 age group. There are 16,744* new cases every year and 2,341* deaths every year. These cases are 86% preventable. These statistics are alarming and highlight the need for better awareness around melanoma and how to prevent it in the first place and also whilst there have been significant advances in treating advanced melanoma there are still too many patients dying of the disease. This was highlighted last week when I heard news that another fellow patient I knew at the Marsden had died. We had a similar treatment history, immunotherapy, which hadn’t worked for her then, targeted treatment for 5 years that had stopped working and she ran out of options. We desperately need more options for these patients. There is a lot of research work going on to understand why these treatments stop working for some patients and I will share more of this in the next blog.
Of course the best solution is to prevent getting melanoma in the first place and as part of Melanoma Awareness Month I have just spent the morning in parliament supporting Melanoma Focus to promote greater awareness of melanoma amongst MPs as part of the knowyourskin campaign and also encourage MPs to remove the VAT from sunscreen. Wear your sunscreen, stay out of the midday sun, cover up and if you want a tan its much safer to fake it.
Please also do a skin check once a month. Both of the fantastic melanoma charities have excellent resources to show you how to check your skin properly (https://www.melanomauk.org.uk/pages/category/skin-check). If you have any concerns please see your GP or Dermatologist.
I will be back next month with a full update on the melanoma research projects that the Team Shomelanoma fundraising is supporting. Huge thank you again as always for all of your incredible support.