My never give up mantra for life has helped to get through some of the most challenging times coping with cancer over the last 6.5 years. Hope that treatments continue to work, research continues to develop new treatments and I can keep living life to the max and enjoy life’s adventures with family and friends. However, I am under no illusions and as I approach the 6-year stage 4 cancerversary next month I know that I have been lucky that on both occasions my melanoma brain tumours have been caught early and I have benefitted from the significant medical advancements in melanoma treatments in the last 10 years. Too many fellow patients are still dying from his awful disease and as time has gone on the sad fact is that I know more and more patients whose lives are cut short. This makes me all the more determined to continue to raise awareness of melanoma, share my story and raise more funds for melanoma research at the Royal Marsden.
As we approached the end of 2022, the subject turned to what will be the 2023 hiking challenge. Normally we like to have a few months rest after a challenge (or at least Dave would!) before we get going with the next one. I am the first to admit that I love the hiking challenges and when one is over I can’t wait to start planning the next one. In early November we headed down to Devon to see our friends Tony and Sam who have been with us on every challenge since the Three Peaks in 2015. Tony had already been looking at challenges for next year and he mentioned the Isle of Wight 106km Ultra challenge-taking place on 29/30 April. For Sam, Dave and I there is some unfinished business that appealed to take on this challenge. In 2018, Team Shomelanoma undertook the 100km Jurassic Coast Ultra challenge in mid July. After 58km on the first day in blistering heat of 28 degrees, we were absolutely exhausted, had developed severe blisters with the heat and I was feeling badly dehydrated. I was also conscious at the time that I had only been on my targeted Debrafenib and Trametinib treatment for a short while and had also experienced significant side effects. So we made the difficult decision not to continue for the last 42km the next morning. At the time I knew that I had made the right decision but of course there was also the regret and guilt for not completing the full 100km of the challenge. It is for this reason, the Isle of Wight 106km Ultra challenge is really appealing as there is unfinished business to complete the challenge for Dave, Sam and I. We are all signed up (16 of us!) and training has now begun for the Isle of Wight challenge which will take place on the last weekend of April and we are all determined to complete it.
In fact, with just 8 weeks to go until we embark on the latest challenge some of the team have just returned from a 2 day training weekend in Devon. When we originally signed up for the challenge training through the winter was one of the factors that I was most concerned about. Knee deep in mud, cold and wet I had visions of some really horrible training walks. Of course you never know what the UK weather is going to throw at you and we have had horrendous weather in July on the Welsh 3000’s and the year before 28 degrees on the Jurassic Coast so we are used to all eventualities BUT this is the earliest in the year we have done one of the hiking challenges. As we kicked off the training walks in mid Jan we had a day of pouring rain and lots of mud but already 6 weeks later we have just returned from a gorgeous weekend in Devon training on the SW Coastal Path lots of hills and we were blessed with absolutely stunning weather. Here are a few photos of the gang of the training walks so far. I will say after the Devon walks on the coastal path I know that there is much more training to be done before we take on the Isle of Wight Challenge in 8 weeks time.
In late Jan, I was back at Marsden HQ for my latest melanoma scans. You may recall that the frequency of my scans had been increased from 3 months to 2 months as I have a slightly enlarged chest lymph node that is being monitored closely. The reduction in the scan frequency makes you feel you literally have a few weeks to breathe after the last scans and then you are gearing yourself up for the next ones. In order to try and stay calm I had signed up for a 21-day yoga and pilates warrior challenge which involved going everyday to a class at the local studio I attend. This was perfect timing as I really find that the yoga classes in particular due to the breathing technique help to keep me really calm. I have deployed the breathing techniques in the brain scan MRI machine for a long time and it really does work. I was back to see my Oncologist at the end of the week and fortunately it was good news. My scans are stable the chest lymph node is still slightly enlarged but it hasn’t grown since Sept so he advised me that he thought it was ok for me to resume the 3 month scan schedule. I felt so relieved and David and I left the hospital and went straight to Pavilion Road, Chelsea where we celebrated in one of the cafes there. It was a beautiful afternoon and it actually felt like spring was on its way.
Alongside hiking training and trips to Marsden HQ we have been very fortunate to get away skiing in Jan to Chatel with my good friend Jen and her family including her wonderful Dad Norrie who if ever there is inspiration to embrace life fully, take on a challenge and live and enjoy life to the absolute max he embraces it all & what we would all give to be skiing in our 80th year! The snow has been very mixed this year but we really lucked out and there had been a big dump of snow just before we went out. It was freezing I mean -14 but with the thermals on and lots of layers it was a wonderful long weekend and we had lots of laughter and fun and got back in one piece which I am always pleased after skiing, I have enough health issues to deal with without broken bones from skiing ha ha.
Last month Mr H my rockstar husband Dave turned 50. When I was originally diagnosed with stage 4 cancer almost 6 years ago I didn’t think I would be seeing my 50th birthday far less celebrating David’s half century. We had the Xmas drinks/bday celebration with friends in December and this felt a big milestone to celebrate. So we headed off to Paris for a long weekend. It had been over 10 years since we had visited the city of lights and having been away for so long it was fabulous to go back and it did not disappoint. We had 4 days of fun visiting all the sights, eating delicious food exploring Paris drinking cocktails and it was a really gorgeous weekend and we both loved it. Here are a few photos of our amazing trip hopefully it wont be 10 years before we return again.
This month as training steps up a gear I also have more medical appointments to check up on my second cancer, the breast cancer. Honestly if it’s not one thing its another, I am due for my annual mammogram, ultrasound and my Doctor wants to do an MRI scan of the chest just to check that the tamoxifen I am taking is still doing its job. Lets keep everything crossed that all is still well. I am trying not to think about this at the moment and the hiking training is providing a welcome distraction. I will report back in the next blog.
In a couple of weeks David and I will be attending the Melanoma Patient Conference in Birmingham. This is a fabulous event for patients and their families to learn more about the latest medical advancements in the treatment of melanoma. It also provides a fantastic opportunity to catch up with other patients who are going through a similar experience to you and they just get it. This will be my 3rd conference and I have found each one really invaluable. They also reinforce how much still needs to be done both in terms of raising awareness about melanoma to prevent people getting the disease and also developing new treatments to cure and extend the lives of those who end up with this awful disease. I always come away feeling more knowledgeable and I would recommend the conference to any fellow patients considering attending.
The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity recently published a blog on the Team Shomelanoma Fundraising efforts and I am happy to share this here (https://www.royalmarsden.org/blog/shiona-hits-fundraising-milestone) In addition, we have now set up the Team Shomelanoma Isle of Wight 106Km Challenge Fundraising Page. With 8 weeks to go and training upping a gear we are grateful for any support you can provide to continue supporting the fantastic melanoma research efforts of the Royal Marsden. With the determination hat on we are very much hoping we will all be successfully completing this challenge. More to come in the next blog.
Thank you as always for all of your continued support and I will be back with more Shomelanoma adventures next month.