Insert clever running pun here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

My thighs are on fire. My breath comes out in short, raggedy rasps as I force my heavy legs to keep moving, keep running.


I am a black speck in a vast sea of pink. Pink wigs and pink fairy wings and pink, sweaty faces. A grainy photocopied picture of a smiling man bounces up and down as its wearer pounds along the muddy path ahead of me. "For Dad", it says. Next to For Dad is "For my mum, who I miss every day." "For all the people affected by cancer." "For my beautiful daughter." "For the cure." "For myself."

I round a corner and suddenly, shimmering on the horizon, I see it: the finishing line. Cheap plastic signage has never looked so good. I manage to awkwardly grab my ipod and skip forward until the track I have pre-selected for this very moment fills my ears. (Leona Lewis: A Moment Like This, if you're interested. I'm not even joking.)

This is it.

My strides become strong and purposeful. My aching limbs begin to stretch out, reach further, move faster. I am going to finish this race, damn it, and I am going to finish it well.

As I push myself forward, striving for the end, I feel a solid ball of emotion begin deep in the pit of my belly and swell up through my chest. Tears sting the corners of my eyes. Or maybe it's sweat. Either way, it's something. As I see familiar faces shining towards me from the crowd, smiling and cheering my name, I am almost overwhelmed. But I keep going.

And before I know it, I'm through. It's over. My shoulders heave as I lean my hands on my knees, exhausted. Elated. (But mainly exhausted.)

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

You're probably thinking that was a marathon, or some other spectacular feat of human endurance, right? Wrong. It was a paltry 5k. But, for me, running that first 5k was one of the biggest achievements of my life. I am not co-ordinated or sporty, at all. The only sport I can engage in with any level of competence is skiing, and that's only because my dad bought me my first pair of Mickey Mouse skis when I was two so I had a head-start. My whole life I had been told, and I had believed, that sport, or just exercise really, was simply not my thing. And that was ok, because I was clever, and musical, and arty, and you can't be good at everything. I was embarrassed by my own unfitness, I couldn't even run for the bus, and so I avoided anything that might expose this flaw, this failing.

And then my mum was diagnosed. I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to make the situation any less crap, nothing I could do to help. Cancer has a way of making you feel powerless; it comes into your life uninvited and just takes over, puts its feet up on your couch and eats all your food and makes you watch some tragic documentary when all you want to watch is Grey's Anatomy.

So, shortly after her diagnosis, I signed up for the Race For Life. Sure, it couldn't directly influence what was happening to my mum, but it gave me a focus, something to work towards. And not only for me; all of my friends, my family, my mum's friends who wanted to help but didn't know how, suddenly had an easy and direct way of showing their support. They couldn't make it all go away, but they could sponsor me, and holy crap did they sponsor me. I raised over £1,200 for that first race. It was insane. I raised much less when I did the Race For Life again the following year, but every single penny I have raised means so much to me because at least I feel like I'm DOING SOMETHING. Which, without wishing to sound like a credit card advert, is priceless.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying, you might have noticed a new button on the right-hand side of this page. This year, as I've mentioned already, I'm taking it a (small) step further and running as part of a relay team in the Edinburgh Marathon on 22 May. My leg is only (only!) 5.4 miles, or just under 9k. The charity we're running for is Breast Cancer Care, which provides free practical and emotional support to people affected by breast cancer. They have information resources and helplines, they run workshops, they promote awareness (including Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day - woohoo, fun times) and they have a forum where people can share their stories and fears with other people in the same boat (the Secondaries: Inspiring news and stories section is a particular favourite of mine. I avoid the End of Life forum though. No thanks).

I want to make it very, VERY clear that I do not AT ALL expect readers of this blog to sponsor me. However, I know that some of my "real-life" family and friends read this (hi family and friends!) and I will be pestering them for support. I want to make it as easy as possible for them to donate, so I have put the link to our JustGiving page up here primarily for that reason. Clearly, if anyone else does want to contribute, well, obviously that would be incredible and I'm not saying you *can't* sponsor me if that is something you feel you would like to do. I do want to raise as much money as I can for a charity that has directly supported me and made me feel a little bit less bewildered and alone. But please, please, please do not feel that you have to sponsor me. This blog is not about taking money from you, whether for charity or otherwise (well, apart from the 27p).

What I would love is your support. Encouragement, good luck wishes, kicks up the arse when I fail to go to the gym YET AGAIN. That kind of thing.

And if there is someone close to you who has or has had breast cancer, please let me know (either in the comments or by email) and I will write their name on my back, and keep them in my thoughts, on race day. Because it is not just about my mum (although her name will, of course, be the biggest!). It is about Julie, and Sophie, and every single person who is fighting this disease. Whenever I am out running and start to feel tired, or in pain, and I want to stop, I always think about the painful, exhausting, de-humanising treatment that people with cancer endure just to stay alive.

If they can put up with all of that for us, then I can bloody well keep running for them.


9 boats moored

  1. Beautiful post. Made me tear-up a little bit. I don't know anyone with breast cancer (only other cancers) but this summer I will be joining the Oncology Ward at the Western on a project to improve treatments for ovarian cancer patients. Trying to do my bit on the other side of the bed.

  2. Fabulous blog - thanks so much for your kind words about Breast Cancer Care - and good luck with your marathon relay!

  3. This made me miss my gran. :)

    Good luck with your leg of the relay! And I really hope you're doing a better job of training for your 5.4 miles than I did for my little 5k. ;)

  4. Made me cry. I've done race for life twice, both times for my grandad. Good luck with the marathon!

  5. Congratulations! I love your pink tutu!! I walked the 3-Day & raised $2K in honor of my best friend's Mom who died of breast cancer. It was the most amazing experience ever. Best wishes to you as you continue to make a difference!!!

  6. I was definitely tearing up reading this. My aunt had to have a mastectomy a few years ago. I'm running my first 5K this year.

    Hugs to you, to your mum.

    (The tutu is the BEST.)

  7. To the mysterious and beautiful "." - thank you so much for your lovely comment, and thank you even more for doing such an amazing, important job. My mum is at the Western a lot and the staff there are inspirational.

    Thanks everyone for your kind words and good luck messages, it really does mean a lot :)

    And yes, I am very fond of my pink tutu.

  8. I only just realised my name was set to "." on Blogger (*oops*). I'm @mfrej - your fan from Twitter :)

    I'm looking forward to working at the Western very much. Although sometimes working in the lab can be daunting and challenging, when you think that behind your samples and test tubes there are real people with their lives and relatives who love and care for them, it makes the job a lot easier and rewarding.

  9. Well done, Kirsty.

    And love the look.


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