Passionate open water swimmers will tell you one of the reasons they love the sport so much is because of how alive it makes them feel.
But few of them would know the meaning of those words quite like 24-year-old Theodora Moss.
In September 2013, in her third year at Leeds Medical School, Theo received the earth-shattering news she had Stage 2 Lymphoma. In what was a cruel twist of fate, she went from practising medicine in hospital to being the one in need of treatment.
“Just as I was adjusting to life at one end of the stethoscope I was forced to be on the other as a patient,” said Theo who decided to have her chemotherapy treatment at St James’s in Leeds to allow her to continue her studies.
“It was a work/personal life balance that was extremely surreal. Working and being treated on back-to-back weeks in the same hospital. As I lay in my student flat hearing friends come crashing in at 4am, I felt defeated by the injustice of it all. I simply could not believe this was happening to me. But also I was determined to do whatever it took to beat it and I didn’t want the cancer to define me>”
As well as having her studies to pull her through, Theo also had swimming. A self-confessed water baby, Theo had always loved taking to the pool.
“I’m not a sporty person at all but I did love swimming, but while I was having treatment I couldn’t go to public pools because of my weakened immune system. It left me very frustrated and as a result of that and my treatment I put on weight which no one warned me could be a side effect.”
But then she found open water swimming.
“As my treatment and exams came to end a group of went to Bolton Abbey and went swimming there. Diving into the clear Yorkshire river I have never felt more alive. Every inch of my skin tingled and as the water flowed past I felt the worries wash away with it.
“That summer I swam as much outside as I could from the Yorkshire Dales to Tooting Lido and the Cornish coast, and so was born a new obsession. “I enjoy finding peace in the rhythmic breathing and stroke cycles that helps me forget about any stress. I can enter the water with a head full of to- do lists and anxieties and always emerge with a clearer mind.”
During her treatment Theo lost all of her hair which she says was harder for her family and friends to deal with as they had to see it all the time.
She has nothing but praise for the treatment at St James’s, The Bexley Wing and the Teenage Cancer Trust. But she says at 20 she did feel a lot older than the teenagers being treated.
It was then she was contacted but Trekstock, a charity which support young people aged between 20 and 30 with cancer. One Direction stars Liam Payne and Harry Styles are ambassadors for the charity which was looking to expand into Leeds. “After I’d finished my treatment and exams I went down to meet them and was asked to become a member of their Young Person’s Panel.
“As well as meeting other young people who had been through a similar things to me, it was great to be involved in something that was going to help other young people. Trekstock is an amazing charity. They come up with great ideas, such as the Renew exercise programme for people going through cancer. They run ideas past us as we have been through it.”
Theo is now a Trekstock ‘champion’ and is helping to establish a monthly Cuppa and Connect service in Leeds.
The group provides opportunities for young adults to meet their peers in a social environment, enjoy refreshments and social activities together whilst sharing their experiences amongst an empathetic community.
“We really need the support of clinicians so that people find out about what Trekstock can offer them. The teenager Cancer Trust is amazing but is for 13 to 24 year olds. Trekstock aims to fill the gap that exists between TCT and adults support services.
“People in their mid and late 20s have very different issues to teenagers and older people and that is where Trekstock comes in. We really want the network to expand further to help more people thrive through cancer.”
Theo’s treatment may now be behind her, although she does go for regular scans, but open water swimming is very much her present and future.
“I swim in an outdoor pool at least three times a week and try to swim in the wild whenever I can,” Theo said. “I love the feeling of water flowing through a head full of hair, something I now savour every time I swim and will never again take it for granted.”
Theo has now signed up for the one-mile open water swim at Swim Serpentine as she looks to give something back to Trekstock.
“When I was under going treatment my friends and family took part in the Leeds half marathon and raised £30,000 for TCT and a lymphoma research. Now I am in remission I wanted to do something.
“I’ve managed to persuade my non-swimmer boyfriend Alex to join me in taking part in Swim Serpentine for Trekstock. They are an amazing charity run by young people for young people and their refreshing and inspiring network of young people and support programmes have helped me get my life back on track – open-water swimming included.” The event takes place this weekend and will see the pair join thousands of other open water swimmers swimming a mile for charity.
“We did just short of a mile in Lake Windermere last weekend so we are confident that we will be able to do it,” says Theo.