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When Sarah Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer, she felt like she lost control of her body. She explains how running helped her cope with her treatment.
I found a lump on my breast in 2016. I ignored it for a few months, convincing myself it was just a cyst. I was 41, an avid runner, and had no history of breast cancer in my family. I didn’t allow myself to think the worst.
When one of my close friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, she urged me to go and have a doctor examine the lump. When I did, they immediately referred me to the breast clinic.
Within a few minutes of my appointment, I was told that it was ‘probably some sort of cancer’. I was assigned a breast care nurse and had a biopsy and a mammogram. I was given a lot of information very quickly – it was impossible to take it all in.
After having a CT scan on 5 January 2017, I was officially diagnosed with breast cancer. It had only been a few weeks since my initial appointment with the doctor.
I went onto autopilot. I even went into work the next day, as I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I just wanted to carry on as normal, as if nothing had changed.
My first thought after being diagnosed wasn’t, 'Why me?’ It was a worry that somewhere along the line I had done something wrong. That I had taken my health for granted.
I decided I needed to be proactive. Before my treatment started I read as much as possible about what was ahead of me. In my research, I came across Breast Cancer Care. I ordered all their information and booklets and kept them in a special box for my reference.
I had a left side mastectomy, six sessions of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy. The chemotherapy affected me the most. I ordered wigs and headscarves before my first session as I knew I was going to start losing my hair.
Nobody warned me about the other side effects. About the fatigue that meant I would find it hard to run, the hot flushes that made me feel sick or losing my ability to taste. It was frustrating to feel so out of control with the changes happening to my body.
When you’re going through breast cancer treatment, you get trapped in a cycle. It’s appointments and check-ups and waiting rooms, with no breaks in between. All I could do was focus on whatever stage I was at and try not to think about what was coming next.
Breast Cancer Care’s Helpline was a huge help to me during this time. If something happened that worried me, I would call them up immediately. Sometimes I didn’t feel well enough to talk on the phone, so having the option to email was a relief. I don’t think I would have coped through my treatment without their support.
One of the first questions I asked my breast care nurse was, 'Can I still run through treatment?’
Running has always been a release for me. It clears my head, relaxes me and helps ease out any anxieties I might be carrying. On the day I was diagnosed, I went running with my running club in the evening. Being able to talk to my friends and work through what had just happened was invaluable.
Although I was able to run, my treatment meant that it was tough. I would get breathless more easily, my speed dropped, and sometimes I could end up in pain if I ran for too long. I used to get quite teary if I felt I couldn’t run the way I used to.
When I finished treatment, all the emotions I had been pushing aside hit me at once. It was difficult to deal with what I had gone through and the fact my body was in recovery. Running helped me process those feelings and I signed up to half marathons and 10ks to give me something to work towards.
Within nine months of finishing my treatment, I ran in the London Marathon 2018 for Breast Cancer Care. I wanted to give something back for all the support that they had given me. I ended up raising around £1,400. It’s my greatest achievement.
The hardest part of having breast cancer is not being able to be carefree any more. I’m still worried that my cancer might return. I’m doing all that is in my control to look after myself by keeping healthy and being active – but if I feel a pain, I can’t help but panic.
I know that this will change with time. I’m not as anxious as I used to be about recurrence. I’m still dealing with some side effects due to my ongoing tamoxifen treatment, but I’m accepting the positive things that breast cancer has given me.
I appreciate the people around me, and the support that I received when I needed it most. Life moves on, and I’m lucky I get to move forward with it.
We've partnered with Skechers to help women like Sarah Jane #walkwithhope after a breast cancer diagnosis. Shop the Walk With Hope collection and help raise money for those who need us.