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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

5 Year Finish Line

Today marks 5 years since I was diagnosed with kidneycancer. Strictly speaking I didn’t actually hear the word cancer until the following day. What I did hear was whispering nurses saying, “She doesn’t know yet” and a doctor mentioned a ‘mass’ in my kidney. Either way Wednesday 13th March, 2013 was the day that turned my life upside down, a day of firsts and the last time I would be carefree about my health.
It would be my first (and second) ride as a patient in an ambulance complete with blue lights, my first CT scan and hospital admittance other than pregnancy. Before that day I was blissfully unaware of the 7cm tumour growing inside my left kidney. Plans that day had included completing a catsuit order for a Clothes Show customer and arranging a photoshoot for my new collection. The tumour however had other ideas and decided to make itself known by hemorrhaging, an action which in turn caused the excruciating pain which triggered my collapse.
I’ve made no secret of the fact my hospital care has been sketchy to say the least. It still upsets me when I look back as memories of my treatment are as painful to remember as the cancer itself. The decision to put my blog into book format has exacerbated these feelings as reading them over is like reliving it again. I’m currently on my third draft of the Unfashionable Cancer novel, there are parts I want to rewrite and others I want to erase but it’s real life and I can’t change what happened.
The way I chose to turn my life around has been through fitness. First yoga became a routine part of my week following physiotherapy sessions for nerve damage. A year later I began running, initially in Race for Life with my daughter where I rediscovered my love for the sport. An athletics club member in my youth I’d run regularly until my teens at middle distance. Getting back out there was a revelation, it not only improved my fitness but healed my mind. Running somehow gave me clarity and headspace that has helped me come to terms with all that’s happened.
I took part in a couple more races at 10k distance and then set the ultimate goal, to run a marathon for my 5 year cancer anniversary. Last October I reached the half way mark when I ran the Birmingham Half Marathon, I couldn’t believe how emotional it was crossing that finish line. On Sunday May 13th I will be taking part in the Shakespeare Full Marathon, Stratford on Avon. As I’m working my way through writing a book it seemed an appropriate event to enter as well as being one of the smaller marathons; I wasn’t keen on the huge crowds at Birmingham.
This evening I was back out after a break of a couple of weeks from running, it still doesn’t come easy but I’m determined to do this. I haven’t run more than 14 miles so the next 8 weeks are going to be full on but if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it to the best of my ability. It’s not just my 5 year goal I’m marking, most importantly I want to raise funds for early diagnosis of kidney cancer and patient care. My fundraising page can be found here An Unfashionable Cancer Marathon where there’s more info about the charities Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer.
Kidney cancer is still an unfashionable cancer but it’s on the increase and desperately needs more funding. I am one of the lucky ones and by putting one foot in front of the other I am beating this disease and can hopefully help others do the same.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Designed to Run

Marathon training was halted before it began as I started the New Year with remnants of a cold that had left me coughing uncontrollably. I coughed my way into 2018 and continued in this vein for four weeks before giving in to see my doctor.
The height of my concern that I was unable to run. I had tried a couple of miles which left me hardly able to breathe and leaving anyone who saw me cancelling their New Year resolutions to keep fit.
After examining me the GP said my chest sounded ok and temperature was fine but to be on the safe side he’d send me for an X-ray, more precautionary in light of my cancer history. I was fine with this but there is always a niggling anxiety when being zapped with X-rays, the what ifs.
The following day I turned up at the local hospital for my dose of radiation, one shot and I was all done. Wearing the hospital gown rekindled my creative desire to get rid of these dreadful NHS robes in favour of the one I’d designed a few years earlier. As such I’ve since recovered the gowns I made and will get back to you on progress shortly...

Not being able to run for so long has been incredibly frustrating when I have a marathon to train for. The only plus side to being ‘on the bench’ is that I’ve had more time to write. My book An Unfashionable Cancer Marathon is finally taking shape after 3 format changes, I’m settling back into a writing rhythm.
One of the things I needed to tie everything together; running, writing and business was a design, a heading. Something  that said exactly what I’m doing and why. For this there was only one person I could got to, Justin Robert Price.
Justin has been my go to designer for over 12 years now and from day one was able to turn what I wanted to project into the perfect imagery. Well he’s gone and done it again with a design to head my Total Giving page amongst other media. It projects my message loud and clear from fashion victim to cancer survivor through running. Love it.

Now I just need to get back out there and do it!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

It's no secret that I applied to run the London Marathon this year. To be fair at the time I really did want to take part. I knew that ballot entry was a long shot but it’s not unknown for first timers to get in.
As October drew nearer and results of the draw were imminent I’d begun to change my mind. When the magazine finally dropped through the letterbox I was praying I’d been unsuccessful. On seeing the word ‘Sorry’ I breathed a huge sigh of relief, what had I been thinking?
My change of heart came about for a variety of reasons but it was running the Birmingham Half Marathon last October that really swayed me. Despite being proud of my achievement and enjoying taking part, I didn’t like the razzmatazz that went with it. Realising that I was amongst around 9,000 marathon runners and 12,000 half marathon competitors didn’t excite me. Knowing that for London Marathon there would be more than 40,000 filled me with dread.
I’ve already blogged about my half marathon so won’t go on but we were so packed in at times it wasn’t possible to run at a steady pace. Having trained so hard for so long I’d always intended to not only complete it but to compete in it. Therefore once I’d received my ‘No’ from London I set out to find the most suitable full marathon course for my first attempt at the distance.

In the meantime I was getting frequent messages of sympathy about being unsuccessful with a London place together with advice about securing one through the big charities. This however was another of the reasons I was now firmly against entering this event. I have signed up to run for two of the charities that mean most to me but they don’t have the kind of money needed to get charity runners into London. Why then would I turn my back on them and attempt to raise on average £2,000 for an organisation I have no affiliation with. This was a big deal to me.
When (or should I say if) I cross that marathon finish line it will be the end of a very difficult journey.
In March 2018 I will celebrate the most significant cancerversary, the 5 year goal. I’m careful not to tempt fate by saying 5 years free but rather since diagnosis and so far so good. Running has been my greatest escape and also given me a goal. I’m running away from cancer and towards a healthier future. Being able to complete a marathon will reaffirm my fitness level and further smash away those nagging doubts about stowaways. More than that I will cross the line knowing I’ve given something back to the charities that have helped and supported me through the past 5 years.
I had to give my full marathon choice some considerable thought; not too big, not too far away, not too commercial, at the right time of year. I needed it to be just about the run. I’d hovered over one particular location for a while, everything fitted the bill but there was one more plus. 
The Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford on Avon has an entry limit of 4,000, it’s run in May and organised by the Rotary Club who donate more than half the money raised to local charities.  All of these tick a box for me but the added extra is that as I’m writing a book about my experience, what better inspiration to follow than the bard himself.
There it is, I’m signed up and ready to train for the big one, my first full
marathon on Sunday 13th May, 2018

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

My Half Marathon - half way to my Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

It has been so long since I last updated this blog, I didn’t even write up my half marathon so I’ll begin with that.
Fundraising continues for my full marathon which I'll be writing about next, here's the link to the Total Giving page - I'm aiming to raise £1000 for the Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer.

My 1st Half Marathon!

On Sunday 15th October 2017  I reached the halfway point of my Unfashionable Cancer Marathon journey when I ran theGreat Birmingham Run. It was my first half marathon distance and I ran every step of the 13.1 miles. Here's how it went;
The week before race day I discovered a new ailment, Maranoia. I was terrified of getting ill or injuring myself before the big day and so virtually hibernated. I did risk attending my yoga class although I asked anyone with a cold to declare themselves and move to one side. 
Apart from the obvious preparation; that six months of training I put in three times a week, there were other important factors that needed addressing. Top of the list what should I wear...? I checked out the new prints at my favourite fabric supplier  and after much deliberation chose the Hip Hop design, colourful, loud and with that hint of pop fashion I love.
I also needed a running vest, it had to be green which is the colour of my chosen charity Kidney Cancer Support Network and Facing Up 2 Kidney Cancer and it needed printing. The charity names went on the back and it wouldn't have been complete without my business monika on the front, MISSFIT!
My daughter sorted me out with some nice sparkly green gel nails which just left my hair but my maranoia was so bad (I was on lock down) I decided to wear a cap instead!
The morning of the race came around quickly and I was a bundle of nerves, it wasn't so much the run but getting there. I worried about traffic, parking, directions, getting in the right pen and the big one...needing a wee! Thankfully we don't live far from Birmingham so a short drive and we arrived with plenty of time, parked easily and got clear directions to the event.  First stop was of course the portaloos and then we headed to the start point, my husband and youngest daughter came as support so I had no baggage to sort.
The start was near the finish line where both the half and full marathon runners ended, the latter of which were coming through thick and fast at this point. The atmosphere was already exciting as those running the marathon were cheered across the line.
It wasn't long before I was parted from my family and had to find my way down to the Green Wave start point (after I'd found another portaloo). I was relatively early so managed to get near the front. It was remarkably subdued as we waited, quite a bit of limbering up and Garmin checking but not much chatter.
The first two waves had their warm up and moved off and we were edged forward, unfortunately I'd chosen this moment to retie my laces and so dropped away from the front as people hurdled over me. When I spotted my husband and daughter waving I got so excited, all nerves disappeared as it was finally time to run. We had a short warm up which no one seemed to be paying any notice of before the countdown and we were away.

I can't describe how it felt to be running down past the Selfridge building and out towards Digbeth. Routes I tread regularly but usually with a trolley full of fabrics. The crowds at this point were amazing, loads of whistling, cheering, people calling out our names. As we headed out of the city towards the warehouses the crowds thinned and I really enjoyed passing through these familiar buildings whilst running in a huge pack, it was so strange.
I think there must have been points where I zoned out and was simply running, that happens to me often I literally forget where I've been and just wake up and realise I'm two miles down the road. When we headed into Cannon Hill Park I had a minor panic as I saw the sign for 8 miles and knew this was impossible. 'I've joined the marathon route!' This thought flashed into my head so I had to ask another runner who laughed and explained that the signs are mixed around the course.
I soon realised that the talk I'd heard about the course having had hills removed this year was untrue. There were most definitely, 100% hills. The one we climbed up between mile 7/8 was a beast of a hill but I never once stopped. Since I began training I've always kept on running, no matter what. I feel that some bad luck will befall me if I stop so even if it's baby steps I run. If I have to wait at a curbside I jog up and down. Let me tell you, by the time I got to the top of that hill I was seeing stars! I thought I'd need oxygen!
The other disappointment on the day was how congested it got. I was in the green wave and pretty soon began meeting runners from the white wave. It wasn't long before we were in amongst the slower marathon runners and a few of the orange wave. At times it was so congested I had to do baby steps so I didn't stop still. I found myself going up and down curbs a lot to avoid breaking pace.
I'll get my final moan out of the way, the bottles. Why oh why can't people bring their own water? I always run with water, mostly because having one kidney means I can't afford to dehydrate but also it's easy. I understand that elite runners shouldn't have to run with bottles but for everyone else is it such a hardship? I have never seen so much waste! Not only were there nearly full bottles of water rolling underfoot but also gel packets making the road sticky in places. There must be a better more sustainable solution...oh yeah, carry your own water! The clean up must have been phenomenal (and costly).
It was a huge relief to reach Bourneville and turn, the support from the crowds there was great too and we were heading downhill! By this time we were meeting more marathon runners and passing the last wave of half marathon runners on the opposite side of the road. I'd avoided high fiving anyone around the course after reading Running Like A Girl where it results in the author tripping up a curb and landing flat on her face in the London Marathon. Running back through Selly Oak I did managed to high five a pug though.
One of the bonuses of wearing something I'd made was the great promotion I was giving my business. So many people called out about my leggings and many runners complimented them too which made me smile. It gives new meaning to 'running a business'!
Mile twelve came as a complete surprise as I think I must have zoned out again. The Pershore Road had been more congested coming back and as I hadn't set my Strava app going I had no idea what my pace was but knew it was slower than usual. By this stage I was feeling tired and the temptation to have a little walk was it's strongest. I kept on though, my legs were fine I was just a bit weary. Having never tried energy gels I'd carried six jelly babies in my running belt. I'd had one at miles three, six and eight and with just over a mile to go had one more.
Turning the corner onto Bradford Street was a huge relief, I knew exactly how far was left now, I'm a regular at Barry's Fabrics so it was a short stroll back past the Bull Ring and up Moor Street. Well...unless you've just run the best part of 13 miles! Never before has 'that' hill seemed as steep! My last jelly baby needed to give me one hell of a sugar rush to climb this.
There was a complete mix of finishers making their way up the hill, many walked but more pushed on spurred by the fantastic crowds. By the time we turned onto Moor Street and could hear the announcements as runners passed the finish line I was feeling very emotional. I was reminded of my reasons for doing this run, the finish line was a big milestone for me.
Over the final few 100 yards now I searched the crowds for my family, I knew they'd be there somewhere. I spotted my husband first and tried to get across to him but was blocked by a marathon finisher waving a large glass of gin and tonic. Further on I heard my daughter calling and saw her just as I crossed the line at 2.08.21
My tears came as I slowed down, I'd done it. I didn't feel too bad either but the relief was huge and I was glad to get a big hug off my husband and daughter. I followed the line of runners collecting finisher bags and headed straight off back to the car. I did of course get my medal out and put it on but I wanted to go home.
Would I do it again? Half marathon probably but not a large event like Birmingham. It was an enjoyable day especially being able to run around my second home town but just too big, I prefer smaller races.
I'm very proud to be a Great Run Finisher though and as such have worn my medal all week, including shopping, yoga and writing group. Training has started for the big one now 26.2 miles! First though, what to wear...? ;-)

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

On My Marks!

This Sunday 15th October I will run in the Simply Health Great Birmingham Run. I've entered the half marathon distance and have run the 13.1 miles twice now. My training began when I entered back in April this year so I will have been preparing for 6 months.
During this time my running routine has consisted of training Tuesday's and Thursdays when I'll do between 3 and 4 miles each time. I've tried to treat the 5k (3.1 mile) runs as speed training and now average around 8.40 per mile, around 26 minutes total.
At the weekend I've focused on longer runs of 5 miles plus. Both of the 13.1 mile distances I've achieved in 2.03 hrs which is pleasing. On Sunday I want to push myself if possible and try to complete in less than 2 hours - a big ask!
Since I started running at the end of 2014 I've learnt a lot about myself. I have far more stamina than I realised and have surprised myself with how competitive I am. Running has helped focus my mind as well as improve general fitness which has also benefited from a better diet while training.
Where I used to dwell on worries and concerns about my health I have found running a way to quieten my mind. When I run that is all I do, put one foot in front of the other and breathe. Knowing I can run, seeing the progress I make and feeling my heart pounding gives me huge reassurance. I'm one step ahead.
I have chosen to raise funds for two charities close to my heart. The first, Facing up to Kidney Cancer is one I've supported previously. All monies go directly into a kidney cancer research project at University College London. The second, Kidney Cancer Support Network is a patient led charity supporting the needs of patients and carers going through this disease. Donations can be made through my Total Giving Page, An Unfashionable Cancer Marathon.

In 2018 I will be running a full marathon. I turn 50 at the end of this year and March 2018 marks 5 years since my surgery to remove my left kidney. At that time I would never have thought I'd be able to run let alone run 26.2 miles. By taking on this challenge I hope to show others coping with kidney cancer that it is possible to achieve many things. I am one of the lucky ones, recovery has granted me the ability to run. It has also given me other opportunities including writing and yoga. In turn my new found passion for fitness has lead me to change my business model, I now make and sell activewear through my own business Missfit. Cancer doesn't have to be the end, there can be new beginnings no matter how small.
My goal to raise £1000 has already passed the halfway mark which is amazing. On Sunday I get to run a half marathon race for the first time in my family home town of Birmingham. Hopefully along the way I will raise much needed awareness of kidney cancer as well as increasing the fundraising.
I've made myself some leggings ready for the occasion, hopefully they'll stand out but don't blink, you may miss me ;-)
Debbie X

Friday, 18 August 2017

My Unfashionable Cancer Marathon

I've written about my love of running in this blog and since I laced my trainers back up a couple of years ago I've run over 600 miles. I also took part in a two races a while ago 5 & 10K which raised my enthusiasm for competitive running. However, apart from regular road runs I've not entered any more races, until now.
With my 50th birthday looming in December this year and March 2018 marking the 5th years since my kidney cancer diagnosis I thought it'd be a good time to run a marathon. I've entered London 2018 but know that I may not be successful in the ballot so will enter another if I don't get in. Along the way I will be taking part in the Birmingham Half Marathon on Sunday October 15th.
I began training properly for these longer distances back in May but have only just got my charity page up and running. For this challenge I will be fundraising for two charities; Facing up 2 Kidney Cancer and Kidney Cancer Support Network. This way monies raised will go to both kidney cancer research and direct patient care, both vital in the fight against this disease.
Having just passed my 4th year ct scans with the all important No Evidence of Disease there's never been a better time for me to go for it. The incentive to pass the 5 year finish line has seen me take on some serious lifestyle changes. Apart from running I now attend regular yoga classes and my diet is healthier than it's ever been.
With the goalposts ever moving I don't intend to rest easy once the 5 year marker is here, however if I can run 26.2 miles I can face just about anything. For those patients just starting this journey and others whose diagnosis isn't as hopeful as mine fundraising is so important.
You can donate via my Total Giving page, all money goes directly to the charities all 100% of it, no hidden fees.
Thank you X

Thursday, 27 July 2017

No Holds Barred - A Good Appointment

I'm currently still in the process of putting this blog into book format. To do so has meant fictionalising all of the characters, myself included along with hospital names, places etc.
I've edited the blog itself considerably and it's always written in retrospect, I don't publish events as they happen. The book will be largely unedited, hence the fictionalisation - I can't possibly use real names or hospitals, it wouldn't be fair.
Not as much actually happens now I'm four years on - thankfully! I have however recently had my four year check up at the Queen Elizabeth hospital Birmingham.
This was my first proper appointment with the specialist nurse and having found her so helpful when we met initially last year I was really looking forward to seeing her again.
It was an excellent appointment and she was so helpful answering all my questions and reassuring me no end. We're almost the same age, a year apart and have the same birthday. Even better, she's also a runner - a very good one!
The following is my write up of how that appointment began, from a shaky start I came away feeling pleased that I'd made the change to the QE.
The journey I've been on via two other hospitals is not the norm, in an ideal world I'd never have had to move. This appointment gave me the opportunity to tell the nurse what events led to my being one of her patients. I needed her to know what I'd been through to better understand my fears. What I really wanted was for her to know who I was and why I was really there. The account I gave was the unedited version.

My glasses were steaming up. I’d had a few tears earlier, it was probably that along with the heat of the car. I’m used to 6 gears and air con but my Mom’s Micra screamed at over 60 miles per hour and the blowers felt like they were on gas mark 6. Today’s journey was not pleasant but I was determined to get there.
The QE has a few different approaches so I’d left my phone’s sat nav running for when I neared the hospital. Unfortunately, as I turned off the A38 so did my phone, I glanced down to read, ‘phone apps are shutting down due to overheating’. Brilliant.
The hospital loomed up ahead of me, the suns rays illuminating it’s spherical outlines and then, like a mirage it vanished. I negotiated one mini roundabout after another, catching glimpses of the monster medical centre then losing sight straight after. Signs beckoning me towards my destination, I followed excitedly catching sight of a multistorey car park. Pulling up to the barrier I read, ‘Staff Only’. Shit!
Taking a deep breath I reversed back onto the neverending QE highway and continued circumnavigating Britain’s biggest hospital. With twenty minutes to spare I managed to locate some patient parking near the old building which meant a lengthy treck over to the new centre where outpatients was held.
The beautiful weather had brought people out into the sunshine. The lawns in front of the main entrance resembled a park, people lay reading books, eating ice creams and chatting with family and friends. The difference here was the number held up by crutches, struggling with slings and laying on trolley beds with drips attached.
Once inside the huge entrance to the main building it’s hard to know where to look, every which way – including upwards, is bustling with activity. I passed through the first reception area into the second to await my call to the third. Each seated waiting area is distinguished by it’s seat colour, I was sent to the blue chairs to watch scrolling screens that intermittently flashed up patients names with instructions of where to go next. I looked around, all heads faced the screens, no one wanted to miss their turn. I’d planned on going through my notes for the nurse but found myself glued to the screen, I was still ten minutes early.
It was now that I felt alone. I’d insisted on going by myself, no point taking anyone else along, after all it was to discuss my results and ongoing care. Sitting in this huge hospital amongst so many other patients now made me feel quite lonely.
Maybe it was to do with the call I’d had earlier though, that had really knocked my confidence. I’d been waiting for this appointment a long time. It was to be my first one with a specialist nurse and the first at the QE since I met the consultant when first referred. For me it was the first normal appointment in 3 years and I’d prepared questions that had been with me almost that long.
Earlier that day I’d had a call from the nurse suggesting I may want to have my blood tests done locally. She said as they were happy with my scan results and it was a long way I could save myself a journey to the appointment. I’d been stood in Morrisons with my trolley and I was completely taken aback. Having prepared for this day for so long, sorting the car, writing my notes, was she seriously suggesting it may be a waste of my time? My tears started to fall. I explained how important today was to me, how I’d hoped it would help put past bad experience behind me. Was my 3rd hospital also trying to get rid of me.
The nurse was very apologetic and reassured me it was nothing of the sort, she genuinely thought I may find the treck over a waste of time. I remained firm that I needed this appointment and so it was left. Now as I sat waiting amongst a sea of patients in this vast space I felt very small and insignificant. Part of me just wanted to walk away, what was the point?
In no time I saw my name splashed across the screen with an arrow directing me onwards. I made my way through to the final waiting room and had barely sat down when my name was called, bang on 2pm.
The specialist nurse, whom I’d met once before came to greet me and smiling took my hand and led the way to a consultation room. She was lovely, just as I’d remembered her. The words of my daughter rang true in my head. After the call earlier she’d spoken to me and said the call I’d received that morning was a mistake, the nurse had simply misread things and called it wrong. To be fair she had no idea what I’d gone through previously and why I was now at this hospital.
Reaching into my bag I took out my prepared notes, she was about to find out.