Siobhan Smith says running has become an essential part of her recovery from a fourth bout of cancer, as she is determined to regain her health, fitness and independence.
Ms Smith, 38, from Penistone in South Yorkshire, said: “Learning to run has been life-changing for me. Exercise has helped me cope mentally, and I’ve met some lovely people.”
She was first diagnosed with cancer in her early twenties. She’d become sick with a flu-like virus and began losing her voice for up to three weeks at a time. Tests revealed she had throat cancer, and she was forced to take 18 months off work as a night club manager.
“I was shocked and devastated,” she said. “I had no idea it might be cancer. I had to take a pill every day that provided a steady, continuous dose of chemotherapy into my body. I suffered side-effects from the chemo, and had to take anti-inflammatories and steroids. The drugs were constantly changed and I was in and out of hospital regularly.
“At one point, I lost my voice for 14 weeks. My dad kept me busy, growing plants and creating hanging baskets. We’d have competitions to see who could grow the best strawberries. That really kept me going.”
Eventually hospital visits became less frequent and life got back to “normality”, but eight years later, she discovered she had cancer for a second time and had three surgeries to remove a lump in her breast.
Following her diagnosis with breast cancer, doctors decided Ms Smith should have regular MRI scans to monitor her throat, breasts and heart. It was during one of these scans that cancerous cells were discovered in her lung.
Within two weeks, she’d had keyhole surgery to remove a quarter of her lung.
“I had to learn to breathe again. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea or get in the bath on my own,” she said. “I was heavily strapped up, with my arm in a sling, so my body could recover. This time I learned how to knit and got into adult colouring. I also read a lot, and started watching series like Prison Break and Breaking Bad. Thank God for Netflix.”
Her brain tumour was detected in October last year. She’d been experiencing debilitating headaches that lasted three to four days.
She said: “I definitely didn’t think I had a tumour on my brain. When I was told I had cancer for a fourth time, I felt angry, upset and fed up. But I knew that after everything else I’d been through, I was strong enough to handle this too.”
Doctors removed the tumour, and she was not put under general anaesthetic for the surgery, meaning she was awake for the whole procedure.
She said: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life. When I found out there was a tumour on my brain, my first thought was ‘I’ve done throat, breast and lung, I can crack on and do the brain too’.
“The worst thing about the surgery was having to have my head shaved. The crown of every woman is their hair. I’d always taken pride in mine, with funky styles and crazy colours. It was soul-destroying to lose it.”
But Ms Smith wanted to turn her experience into a positive one and after linking up with personal trainer Katie Ford, she decide to aim for a 10k, hoping to raise as much money as possible for Yorkshire Cancer Research.
She’s distributed collection boxes throughout the shopping centre at Foxhill where she works, and Sandersons Boutique has taken on the charity as its official partner.
Ms Smith was also inspired by the loss of her best friend Catherine Hallett, 35, to leukaemia two years ago.
She said: “She was diagnosed and died within a year, leaving behind two young children. I was devastated. She was at Royal Hallamshire Hospital while I was having treatment for lung cancer, and I’d often go and see her. I know that if Catherine was still here, she’d be in the background saying ‘You can get up that hill!’
“Catherine’s family chose to raise money for Yorkshire Cancer Research at her funeral. It seemed right that I should choose the charity too. I was diagnosed and treated in Yorkshire and now I’m recovering in Yorkshire. I’d like the money I raise to go towards improving the experience of other patients in the region.”
To sponsor Ms Smith for the Abbey Dash this November, visit www.ycr.org.uk/fromcancerto10K. For more information about Yorkshire Cancer Research, please visit www.ycr.org.uk.