By Gayna Marie
In 1995 I was knee deep in new relationship “bliss” with my (now) husband Liam. I had a lump on my collarbone, soft and squishy. I ignored it for many months. I felt well, and was living life to the full. My mother prompted me to go to the doctor’s, and they did the normal stuff- drew blood, told me it was probably nothing, especially when all my blood tests came back normal. Still, I was referred for surgery at King’s College Hospital, and just before Christmas in 1995, the lump was removed. According to my GP, they all suspected it was lymphoma.
After diagnosis and subsequent staging scans, they graded me as “ Hodgkin Lymphoma, 2A, nodular sclerosing” with a very bulky mass in my chest. I was treated with MOPP/ABVD over 6 months at King’s College, and then sent off to have follow up radiotherapy at St. Thomas in Westminster. The treatment was difficult, but I did not have any major problems and was able to carry on working as a teacher throughout my treatment, albeit on a part time basis.
Immediately following treatment, I became pregnant with my first son, Toby. It was amazing. I was warned that the treatment I had might render me infertile, so my husband and I were amazed and delighted that we would be able to have our own family. Two years later, we had our second son, Ben, who completed our family. Both boys are polar opposites- Toby is loud, lively, passionate, and loves to be around people. Ben is quiet, studious and gentle. I could not imagine my life without my wonderful kids. I have a successful career as a middle leader in a school, leading music. I work full time. It is tiring but hugely rewarding.
In terms of late effects of treatment, the first ten years were the hardest for me. In retrospect, I think I had severe anxiety and depression about my health and my future. Not knowing for certain if the treatment had worked or whether I would relapse had a significant impact on me, especially because I had small children. I bargained with God (and I am not even a believer) to allow me to bring up my children. I figured that if I got them through to 18, that would be good enough. My hypothyroidism was diagnosed in 1996. This was no surprise, as literally all the women in my family have rubbish thyroid function. More recently I have been referred to a cardiologist, as minor damage to my heart from the cancer treatment was picked up during an echocardiogram. I have also had an early menopause and take transdermal HRT which stops the symptoms and protects my bones.
Nowadays I still have a lot of anxiety about my health, but I am learning to channel that anxiety into healthful activities and a lifestyle that supports good health. Initially, following treatment, I was quite literally paralysed. I feel I went through the motions of living for at least a decade after my treatment. I look back with regret on those years. At 40, a midlife crisis of sorts happened. For years I had been overweight and I drank more wine than was good for me. I changed my diet dramatically, and decided to give up all animal products. I also stopped drinking wine and all alcohol. It was tremendously empowering to make a positive step for my own physical and mental health. I was completely in control of my own choices. I then entered a long distance walk- 20 miles, to raise money for breast cancer research. I trained for this every week- starting out walking a mile, then adding to it.
It sounds crazy now to actually “train” for a walk, but I was so out of condition. By the time I did the walk, the weight was off and I was starting to think about running. I started the “Couch to 5k Running Programme” in the Christmas of 2014, and entered my first 5k race the following May. As soon as I completed it, I decided I would run a marathon and entered to run the Edinburgh Marathon the following year. Obviously, this was crazy, and not to be recommended, but I was super enthusiastic about it. I started a 40 week training programme to get me running the distance. I also decided to raise a lot of money for cancer charities while in my 40’s through running. I completed the Edinburgh Marathon in just over 6 hours- it was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I was hooked.This year I am running the Manchester, Liverpool, London and York Marathons, all to raise money and awareness for the UK charity “Children with Cancer”.
Running has become a huge part of my life. All my friends are runners, and any friends I make who are not runners soon become runners! I am a “run leader” at Bodymode Running Club in my hometown (the best running club in the world), and I firmly believe that running keeps my mind and my body healthy. It has helped me to redefine my place in this world and in my own head. I do not feel like a victim of cancer or a list of long term late effects when I am training. I do not feel like someone with a dodgy ticker when I can run faster than women who are 15 years younger than I am. Future plans for 2019 are to run my first “ultra “ event. Next year, I want to run my first international marathon.