This week Heather Duff shares her story about how sport and fitness has helped her battle and beat cancer. Heather is one inspirational girl and I encourage you to keep up with her blog at fucancer.co.uk
Like many other sport fans living in Scotland 2014 is a year I will never forget. Born and raised in Glasgow I was elated that my city would play host to the Commonwealth Games. With a cast of sports elite and the most inclusive games yet – it was set to be a phenomenal event. I was successful in the application to become a Clydesider and after a generous nomination I had been selected to be a baton bearer too. Not only were the games coming to my home turf, but I was going to be a part of it! However this all changed in April when I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer. Within the space of an hour my plans to relish a summer of sport on my doorstep was replaced with an intense schedule of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and brachytherapy. I was forced to forgo the opportunity to be a Clydesider and it was a gamble wether I would be fit enough to fulfil my role as baton bearer. At that point life as I knew it was gone.
I finished treatment in July and spent August in limbo waiting for the outcome. Due to prognosis the treatment was designed to reduce the tumour. The doctors were amazed when my results showed no trace of the 5cm tumour. It was gone! In subsequent conversations my oncologist credited the efficiency of treatment largely down to my pre-existing fitness. I had always been aware of how an active lifestyle can help prevent certain illnesses. What I hadn't appreciated was how it has the power to help overcome them too! When I was diagnosed I was playing National League hockey, regularly participating in fitness classes and recently completed my first marathon at Loch Ness. I thought I was immune to cancer. How wrong I was.
The hardest part of my experience was not the diagnosis, nor the treatment but life in remission. As someone who is not just active, but very proactive, I have found it very difficult to rebuild my life in the aftermath of my diagnosis. I am incredibly lucky to be in remission but that does not make me cancer-free. Even now, a year after treatment, I am struggling with the side effects: fatigue, unpredictable bowels, menopause and heartbreaking infertility. I lost my confidence too. In a life before cancer I used to rely on sport as my outlet. It was not only enjoyable and sociable but an efficient stress reliever. Feeling self conscious and doubting my body left me reluctant to return to the sports I once did daily. I was depressed.
At the start of 2015 I began Project 30 which is a list of 30 things to achieve before my 30th birthday which takes place in July 2016. I have allowed myself ample time to work through the list which is already in progress. One of the items was to try a new sport. Although confident I could easily achieve this I was hesitant because I didn't want to look bad or risk people laughing at me. Serendipity was at play when I attended a course and began to learn about the Growth Mindset. I am no psychologist but in its simplest of terms the Growth Mindset focuses on the importance of positive thoughts. Or to use the words of Gandhi 'What you think you become'. This revelation brought a Eureka moment: why fear a return to sport when I have already overcome cancer? Instead of trying one new sport I have set myself the challenge of trying thirty! So far I have had a diving lesson at the Royal Commonwealth Pool, experienced wake boarding at Fox Lake and absolutely loved paddle boarding on the sunny shores of Jandia. I am yet to find a sport I don't enjoy. More importantly each time I try something new I feel my confidence gradually building which in turn is having a positive influence on all aspects in my life. I will return to hockey at the start of the season and I have my sights set firmly on completing the London Marathon in 2016. To follow my progress please visit my blog at fucancer.co.uk*. Some may call me a survivor but like the great Maya Angelou once said:"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive: and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style."
*I welcome all invitations and suggestions for what sports I can try for Project 30. The more obscure the better! Contact me at fucancer.co.uk or @hevewilliams