Kathryn was relatively young when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was both physically and emotionally challenging yet she felt very glad of Big C’s support during this time. This May when Kathryn turns 40, she will also be celebrating five years free of bowel cancer. To celebrate both her birthday and cancer recovery milestone, Kathryn is running the Brighton Marathon this April to raise funds for Big C. This is her story…
In 2013, aged just 34 years old, Kathryn was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer. It was a huge shock for both herself and her family. She was young to receive this diagnosis, and as a result often felt isolated. Very quickly she endured the many scans and tests necessary to confirm her treatment plan.
Kathryn told us: “I remember the initial welcome I received at Big C, it was brilliant. No doubt I arrived in floods of tears and needing strong coffee. They were great. So that’s where I headed during my treatment days, during the waits, during the difficult days.”
Firstly Kathryn underwent major surgery to remove the tumor along with a large part of her bowel and the creation of a temporary stoma. A matter of just three weeks later, she underwent seven months of grueling weekly chemotherapy. During the treatment she was unfortunate to suffer all the side effects possible.
Kathryn told us: “The most debilitating side effect was the extreme joint pain, which meant on many days I was unable to get out of bed. My husband often had to carry me to the bathroom. During these dark days I never imagined being able to contemplate running a marathon!”
Soon after, Kathryn suffered with chronic fatigue and this has become a long-term side effect she has had to live with; learning what her body can manage has been a journey even to this day.
“I have always been a very positive person but I struggled at the end of my treatment mentally and am left living with anxiety now. A cancer diagnosis was very much a life changing illness for me.”
It was the aftermath that proved the hardest and Kathryn found it difficult to explain things to her family and friends, to process what she had been through – this was when things hit her the hardest.
“I wanted to talk about what happened to me but others around me just didn’t know how to.”
Kathryn received several sessions with one of our Big C counsellors – this gave her the tools to cope with her anxiety and rebuild her life.
Due to the type of surgery and stoma she needed, Kathryn was on a no fibre diet. She also required a huge quantity of steroids to stop her allergic reaction to the chemotherapy, which resulted in a three stone weight gain. She has worked hard these last two years to lose the excess weight and began to see that running a marathon was perhaps a possibility once again.
Kathryn also attended the Look Good Feel Better sessions through the Big C, which were a great help to her and a boost to her confidence.
To help her navigate the dietary challenges associated with bowel cancer, she also needed a lot of nutritional information to support her change in lifestyle. She borrowed books from the Big C library and attended our nutritional seminars.
“It was such useful information and I would often pop into the centre to return books, enjoy a complementary massages, therapy or counselling. Plus the many coffees, biscuits and tissues. The Big C Centre and team were always welcoming and had time for me when I was overwhelmed by it all.”
“I really needed that non-medical environment, it was such a comforting and relaxing space to be in. Good to get away from what going on. I’m keen to say thank you by raising as much money as possible for the charity.”
During her treatment, Kathryn had many days where she couldn’t even walk up the stairs without her husband’s help, so to think she is attempting a marathon now goes to show her determination.
“I’ve always been a strong and positive person but I got to a place where I was rock bottom. It was actually when I received the ‘all clear’. I thought I’d be celebrating but that’s when the task began of trying to piece my life together again. Although it was great to be signed off it was a really scary time. I needed to get a lot off my chest and begin to understand that feelings were normal. Big C helped me to learn tactics for coping and how to deal with others’ responses.”
“It’s been life-changing but good things have come out of it. I’m a better person because I have even more consideration and compassion for others, especially those going through an ‘invisible illness’. So what better way to celebrate than by undertaking a huge challenge of running a marathon. This distance is hard for anyone let alone for someone that has experienced cancer. But I feel very passionately about supporting local smaller charities that has been of great support to myself, family & friends. (Did I mention that I also ate quite a few of Big C’s biscuits on my visits, but blame the steroids for that!) So this is me saying thank you for everything, biscuits included.”