Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer in the midst of the pandemic, and took on the 100k challenge while having treatment.
I was hoping to avoid chemotherapy
It was a huge shock when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts in September 2020. Testing for an altered BRCA gene came back negative, which made my bilateral breast cancer diagnosis even more unusual.
I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction in October and hoped that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to some of the lymph nodes on the left-hand side. As a result, I underwent an axillary lymph node clearance followed by 16 rounds of chemotherapy and three weeks of daily radiotherapy.
While I accepted the surgery, I found it difficult to come to terms with having chemotherapy. The first four chemo cycles consisted of fortnightly EC, and these were definitely the toughest.
I felt very ill in the days immediately following each cycle. I put on weight, became bloated because of the steroids I was prescribed, and my hair began falling out just after Christmas despite using the cold cap.
I wasn’t working at the time and, due of the surge in Covid cases, I was keeping my toddler away from nursery because of the risk infection might pose to me. Looking after my toddler definitely kept me going, but my self-confidence had plummeted.
I signed up without a second thought
I saw the Run 100k challenge advertised when I couldn’t sleep one night after chemo. I thought it sounded like a great opportunity to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Now. It would also be a great personal challenge, to get through the next month and a step closer to the end of treatment, even if I only managed to walk it.
I signed up before realising what I had done, and the next morning was shocked to see donations had already started coming through! At that point, there was no going back.
I have never been a very athletic person, but I marked New Year's Day 2020 by doing my very first 5km parkrun. After having our little boy in June 2019, I really wanted to get fit and saw running as a chance to do that while also having time for myself.
I only managed to complete a couple more parkruns before Covid hit. Unlike the rest of the world who seemed to take up running during the pandemic, I used it as an excuse to bin my new year's resolution!
Friends and family joined me in the challenge
I wanted to raise money for Breast Cancer Now for a few reasons. First because they helped me when I was struggling to come to terms with needing chemotherapy. Through Someone Like Me I was introduced to a lovely lady who really helped reassure me by sharing her own experiences.
I also wanted to give something back to everyone who had helped me get to this point, from medical staff to family and friends. By donating to Breast Cancer Now, I knew I was contributing to the greater cause.
When I started the fundraiser, I openly said I might have to walk some of it, and it might take a bit longer than the month. At that point, family and friends in Ireland set up a WhatsApp group where they committed to walk the 100k across the month alongside me. It was incredible.
Every day, people were sharing pictures from all over reminding me how much people were behind me. A couple of very good friends in London also came to run alongside me each week, which turned into a very welcome social event given we were in the midst of lockdown.
Breaking the challenge into smaller chunks really helped
To anyone who is considering taking up the challenge, I would say try not to get overwhelmed by the long road in front and instead look towards completing smaller wins over shorter time periods. This was a strategy that helped me get through my whole cancer treatment journey as well as the Run 100k challenge.
100km sounds overwhelming on its own, but broken down to 3km a day it felt a lot more achievable. Also, if possible, try and get a little supporter group together who will encourage you to get out even if they don’t want to join you.
Join the Facebook group too, as it is bursting with encouragement and motivation from other people also completing the challenge. It’s full of people with all ranges of ability from marathon runners to total beginners.
I never put too much pressure on myself to complete the challenge in a certain way. On the very first day, I struggled to make the 5k goal I had set myself and didn't know how I would ever get to 100k. However, each day I went out I got a bit closer to the goal, and was incredibly proud that I did manage to run it all in the end.
Fundraising turned something rubbish into an excellent experience
I am so proud of the money I helped to raise, and so grateful to everyone who donated and helped push me through the challenge. I never expected to raise nearly as much.
I also never expected how much I would gain personally from the challenge. I felt stronger and fitter by the end than I had done at any point in my treatment, despite still having weekly chemo at the time.
It connected me to friends and family I hadn't been able to see as a result of the pandemic, and turned something quite rubbish into a really positive force, on so many levels.
If you'd like to get involved in the Run 100k, our next challenge begins in October. Until then, you can check out all the other exciting fundraising challenges idea we've got on.