Clare was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer last year at the age of 46. This year, she completed the Great South Run for Breast Cancer Now.
My dad and sister both had cancer
I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017. I had grade two invasive lobular cancer with lymph involvement, which required a lumpectomy and lymph node clearance followed by chemotherapy. After that, it was found that there wasn’t enough clearance, so I had to have a bit more of my breast removed and then go through radiotherapy. This was all followed by 18 months on tamoxifen.
It wasn’t my first experience with cancer. Not long before that, I’d lost my dad to prostate cancer. My sister had also had breast cancer seven years previously – but she’s fine now. Like her, I believed I’d got through it.
I could tell something was wrong
In 2018, I did the Brighton Marathon. I’ve been a runner for a long time – it's something I love doing. But, while training for the 2019 race, I felt a bit off.
Initially, I put it down to ongoing recovery. I’d been through a lot of treatment and my body was still weak. However, at one point I had a fall. I went to the doctor because of the pain. I thought I might have broken a rib because it just wouldn’t go. I was told there was not much they could do about it, so I was given some painkillers but nothing else.
Then, a while later, I was sick one night after a party. I could tell something was wrong. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t move. I could feel my arms and legs, but I couldn’t get up. Not wanting to make a fuss, I didn’t want to do anything about it – it was actually my husband who convinced me to go to A&E.
I still thought there was a chance for recovery
I ended up staying in for a few days while they did some investigation, and an MRI showed that the cancer had returned in my liver, pelvis, sternum and spine. Initially I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got over it once, I can do it again.’ The doctor had to explain that, while my secondary breast cancer can be treated and managed, it cannot be cured.
Even then, I remained positive. I know there are lots of things that can still be done for me. I can’t change it, so I just get on with it. Plus, my support nurse, Ellie, was amazing. Within half an hour of me being diagnosed, she was there.
I think it hit my husband the hardest. Even now, I’m pretty upbeat most of the time. I have my moments, of course – I hanker for my previous life, when I was able to run faster and do more. I’m not someone who likes being vulnerable, I don’t want to be a patient.
Because of my treatment, I experience mood swings sometimes. But I still don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m just fed up.
I’m still running
After my first diagnosis, the chemotherapy wasn’t kind to my body. I couldn’t run during the weeks I had bad fatigue – but I tried to get out in the weeks in between. I wasn’t going to let it stop me. In fact, I did the Great South Run while in active treatment (one month after surgery and two months after chemo finished), but I had to walk some of it.
I was really determined to get back to how I used to be, but my secondary diagnosis changed that.
I couldn’t run at all at first because I could hardly move. I still have days when I can’t because the pain is just too much. That really frustrated me at first, but I’ve come to terms with it now. I still go out when I can, for my own sanity. Sometimes I’ll get tired and have to walk, but I still enjoy the space to go out on my own and have time to think.
I also love going out with Nikki, my running partner of 15 years. We love having a good natter, and I wasn’t about to give that up.
Either way, getting out is a good way to clear your mind, plus it gives you a boost of endorphins. Nothing seems as bad after a run.
I raised funds for people like me
For the past 14 years, Nikki and I have completed the Great South Run for charity. I choose a different cause each year. The year my dad passed away, I raised money for prostate cancer.
Most recently, I did it for Breast Cancer Now. I thought it’s time to run for me.
I had read about Breast Cancer Now’s funding into secondary breast cancer research and decided to do it. I put my fundraiser on Facebook at the very last minute, just before I did the run, and I managed to raise over £1,500. Even my daughter-in-law’s family in America pitched in!
Nothing can stop me
This year had another twist to it, too, as the GSR was done virtually due to COVID-19. We had to do 25 runs of any distance in 48 days, then 10 miles on the day the event was supposed to take place in order to finish the challenge.
Cancer wasn’t going to stop me, and I won’t let it stop me in the years to come. I will continue doing the event for as long as I physically can.
It may sound blunt, but I’m glad I got to use my cancer for something positive. People want to support me and others like me, so I am grateful to be in this position where I can fundraise. It makes me feel like something good can still come out of my cancer. I’m raising money that could find a cure.
Cancer does not rule my life
The only thing I can really say to others with cancer is that everyone feels different about it. Everyone has their own stories, their own views. There are some people who are worse off than me, and some who aren’t.
But I think it helps to be as upbeat and positive as you can.
If you have any hobbies you enjoy, don’t let cancer stop you. If you want to fundraise, just do it. Enjoy yourself while you can. And talk to people – share your experiences! If you can find a good support group, please do. My friends and family have been amazing, which has really helped me.
Ultimately, cancer does not rule my life. I am not cancer; it’s just something I live with.
If you want to fundraise for Breast Cancer Now, there are so many ways you can do it! Check out our pages for more information.