Lynne’s open water swimming journey through breast cancer
By Lynne Tomlinson
I belong to Her Spirit (HS), a community of women whose aim is to become the best version of ourselves in whatever life stage we are in – motherhood, menopause and beyond. One of my HS Open Water swim mates suggested ‘Coniston End to End’. This is a swim from the South end of Lake Coniston to the North, a distance of 8.5km (or 5.25 miles in old money).
I decided I would take up this challenge as I needed a focus to get back into training after some time out due to a shoulder injury. I signed up in October 2021 with the event in June 2022.
The plan was to swimble (not a technical term but in common use!) over the winter months when the water can be as cold as 2°C then start training sessions indoors in the New Year with coaches Mel and Holly, who are also the Co-founders of Her Spirit. This plan would allow my shoulder more recovery time and I felt confident that if I kept up the exercises from the physio I would achieve the swim.
However, a routine mammogram at the beginning of December resulted in a recall as there was a ‘suspicious’ area needing further investigation. My next appointment was the beginning of January so it wasn’t a great Christmas. I swim in open water because I love the outdoors and getting so close to nature is just magical. I also swim to help my mental health. When I’m getting into the water I concentrate on my breathing, slowly in, more slowly out. There is no room in my mind for any other thoughts, I am where I am. Swimbling got me through those difficult weeks when I’m just waiting for the biopsy then more waiting for the results then, depending on the results, more waiting for a treatment plan. Yes, I knew the system, because I’ve had breast cancer twice before! I also knew that if I was diagnosed again I would be facing a mastectomy as I’d had radiotherapy on each side and that can only be given once.
Fast forward to results day where I learnt that I had cancer for a third time. My operation was February 15th and I had elected to have a double mastectomy for symmetry. Did that de-rail my plans for Coniston? I was more determined than ever that cancer was not going to win. I religiously did my post-op exercises to increase my mobility and when my scars had healed sufficiently I was back in the open water. I missed about 6 weeks of indoor training and I found it quite tough to manage an hours session for the first 3 weeks or so but … Coniston was still on.
I am a ‘skins’ swimmer. That means I don’t wear a wetsuit. I wear gloves and socks as I have reynauds which affects my fingers and toes particularly. In my mind the only thing stopping me from completing the challenge would be the cold. I was hoping that swimming through the winter in cold water had been enough for my body to be more acclimatised.
I followed the training plan as best I could, took on board nutritional advice and even got to love the yoga sessions, something I never thought I’d say! Then the day arrived, wet and windy! Well, it is the Lake District after all! We were set off in waves according to our mile time, slower swimmers first. My tow float and I had many words during my time in the water. It hit me on the arms and head many times. I think the Chimp (The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters) was inside shouting ‘you think you can do this?’ bash, ‘I’ll show you!’ bash. This carried on for many a mile but little did the Chimp know that she was distracting me from feeling cold. Once I saw the large inflatable duck that signified the end I knew I would do it. It had taken me 3 hours and 53 minutes but the time was not really relevant.
What is more relevant is that I achieved the challenge 18 weeks post op which would never have been possible without the support of Her Spirit and my swim buddies. My medal is on display alongside my plaque for winning my age group as the fastest skins swimmer.
I believe anything is achievable with the right support and the right plans in place. Fancy a challenge anyone?
Lynne is also playing a key part in Her Spirit’s Lakes to London 500KM challenge which is aiming to raise £100,000 for Breast Cancer Now. You can sign up too and join her Lakes to London
Find out more about Her Spirit – Find our more
Watch Lynne’s amazing journey on Her Spirit TV