Her Spirit, Breast Cancer and me!

By Ele  McGhee

Before breast cancer…. there was Her Spirit – encouraging me to become more active in my late middle years; re-igniting my passion for cycling with group rides, providing me with new opportunities including learning open water swimming, to swim freestyle and take part in running workshops.

Then on September 23rd last year came a breast cancer diagnosis, ironically whilst helping to raise funds for Breast Cancer Now charity! My cancer was 3.5cm in size, Grade 3 in cell activity, and Triple Negative type, so not hormone related and usually occurring in younger women.

Should I take this as a compliment?! It was a shock to hear it was the type to cause the tumour to double in size in 100 days, especially when it had already evaded detection via 2 previous mammograms and an ultrasound.

What followed has been a regime of chemotherapy, mastectomy and radiotherapy, a year of much ‘character building’ treatment! Having had decades of coping with the challenge of Meniere’s Disease, I generally feel able to face things head on, with a smile and a degree of positivity inherited from my late dear Mum. This has turned out to be something else.

The first type of chemo was tolerable although after 3 cycles (9 weeks) the tumour, resolutely, stayed the same size. I was keen to get the ‘not so little’ blighter removed but the specialist had other ideas! So I started what should have been 12 weekly doses of a different type of chemo with another one added every third week. Quite a cocktail!

I’m like ‘Princess and the Pea’ – labels need to be removed from clothes, socks worn inside out … you get the idea. It came as no surprise that my body didn’t take kindly to this second cocktail being pumped into me and I developed the most awful side effects so that the chemo was stopped half way through the course. The tumour had begun to shrink, which was certainly a relief.

It took quite some time for my body to recover as I waited for my operation and subsequent radiotherapy and further oral chemo. It is said that chemo ages you by 10 years and at times I have felt like a nearly 80 year old! In the past I had been aware of people undergoing cancer treatment and doing amazing things like running a marathon!

How, I thought? I’d had many days when the most I could do was sit up in bed! I had always considered those people to be very special beings, superhuman, even, and doubted I could do anything similar. However, I became aware of the recent research linking activity to a reduced risk of cancer recurrence. I didn’t need telling twice! As my fatigue lessened I was spurred on by the thought that I could help myself by keeping active.

I like to have a daily walk, but this had not been possible during chemo due to my very sore feet, so the next best thing was my turbo in the garage. Twice weekly Her Spirit (no drop) sessions coupled with joining a few other Zwift rides made me feel more like me and less like a hospital number! I am particularly grateful to fellow Her Spiriters whose avatars sported the same chemo shaven head as mine – a powerful show of solidarity! During my good phases I also had the chance to travel and support others with their challenges, taking photos, which I love. 

There is no doubt that this last year has been a challenge. So… I wanted to finish my year by taking part in a challenge of MY choosing.

This Sunday (24th September)I will be doing my first triathlon because I can and I will do it! Earlier in the year I was able to support Her Spiriters at the East Leake Tri, a brilliant, friendly event and ideal for novices. Looks like the weather may provide similarly testing conditions for their end of season event on Sunday!

There will be photos! And…. into the future – a future which may be uncertain, but which will surely include some amazing experiences with Her Spirit friends – it feels such a gift. Her Spirit, twinkling in her inspiring colours – thank you! 

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