“Being diagnosed with breast cancer came as a bit of a shock,” says Mandy, a childcare practitioner from Knaresborough. “I had no signs or symptoms. I didn’t have a lump and I felt absolutely fine.”
Mandy’s cancer was found in June 2019 after she attended her first routine breast screening appointment at the age of 50.
She was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer called ‘HER2 positive’, which meant doctors needed to act quickly.
In July, she had an operation to remove her breast, and six weeks later she started a course of chemotherapy, with three sessions every three weeks. This was followed by a further 12-week course of chemotherapy, a three-week course of radiotherapy, and further surgery in December 2020.
“Throughout all that I also had a treatment called Herceptin, which is a type of immunotherapy that can help prevent the cancer coming back, and another medicine called pertuzumab,” explains Mandy.
“There were lots of side effects from all my treatment. My joints hurt. It affected my bones and I felt really stiff. I could have quite easily stayed in bed on some days. But I knew I had to keep myself moving.
“I didn’t want my children to lose their mum. I didn’t want their life to be any different, so I made myself get up. I had no option.”
During treatment, Mandy began attending an exercise programme funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, which provided access to a physiotherapist and Pilates classes.
In December, as her treatment was coming to an end, she saw an opportunity to do some more fundraising for the charity.
“When the 10th anniversary of my mum’s death was approaching, I decided I wanted to give something back and do something positive – and that’s when I started running. I completed the Great North Run for Yorkshire Cancer Research,” Mandy explains. “After my own cancer diagnosis, I did think that I could keep running. But on the days when I was absolutely exhausted, it just wasn’t an option. So I started walking, and then I just kept building my steps up.”
To stay motivated, Mandy decided to walk every day in December. She walked a total of 167 miles, raising more than £650 for Yorkshire Cancer Research.
“Being able to access the exercise programme made me realise that if people don’t raise money, services like this won’t be available, particularly through the pandemic when not as many people are doing sponsored events. It’s really important that we keep these services going,” says Mandy.
“When I decided to walk every day, I didn’t set a target of a certain number of miles, because I wasn’t sure what I would be able to do. I knew that I’d be having surgery and that some days I might not feel up to it. Some days I just walked in the house. But I just did what I could and kept going.”
Mandy often walked with her husband Roy and children Scarlet and Will, and Roy bought her a smart watch so she could track her steps.
She also joined a Facebook group for people going through similar experiences, and in January they teamed up to complete the distance of walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back.
“I found that the more I moved, the less pain I felt,” Mandy says. “And it’s not only been good for my body, but mentally it’s helped too.
“For me, going through cancer has been a real mental challenge, and getting outside, in whatever weather, was a huge help.
“Having other people to walk with who are going through the same journey also really motivated me and kept me going.
“We could talk to each other about what we were going through while walking and being outside at the same time.
“It is very hard, especially on those days when you’ve had chemo and you’re feeling very nauseous, and your body is really tired. But it’s not about setting yourself up to fail, it’s about taking small steps. I really feel that exercise is what’s got me through it.” Mandy has now received the go ahead from her physio to start running again and has embarked on a couch to 5K plan. Her aim is to complete the Great North Run again in September.
“Running was originally for my mum. But now, it’s for me. When I ran again for the first time it was very emotional. After everything I’ve been through, it felt like an ending. I thought: ‘I’m here, and I’ve made it. Nothing has stopped me’.”
Dr Kathryn Scott, Chief Executive at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people with cancer and has allowed thousands more cancers to go undiagnosed –we’re determined to change this. The Tour de Walkshire is about encouraging people to get outdoors in May, be active and help save lives. Exercise has many health benefits and is crucial when it comes to cancer, it can help lower the risk of cancer and improve cancer treatment and recovery.
“We would love to see friends, families, teams and organisations across the county get involved and do some good for themselves and for Yorkshire.”
For more details visit www.yorkshire.com/walkshire or yorkshirecancerresearch. org.uk/tourdewalkshire