Life, but not as you knew it: How running has helped me cope with throat cancer

Here at Shine HQ, we’ve just launched our new campaign Smash it for Shine.  What’s it about? Getting out of your comfort zone and making 2017 your year – whether you want to learn something new, try something different, or just challenge yourself to make a change (no matter how big or small).  In our latest blog, our guest writer Vicky shares with us how running has helped her cope both mentally and physically with the shock of a throat cancer diagnosis – and how she plans to keep going until she rocks the Great North Run in September.  Have a read, get inspired and let us know how you’ll smash it this year. There are loads of ways to get involved (and we promise that most of them don’t involve running a half marathon!).

One day last September, I was diagnosed with throat cancer. What a shock – both for me and the medical team. I’m a fit and healthy married mother of two – I have never smoked and don’t drink (excessively!). Why, how, what if…all these questions flew through my mind for weeks…it’s not fair, what did I do to deserve this…blah blah blah. But there are plenty of blogs on all of that, so I wanted to chat about how my hobby, running, got me through it all.

Vicky and running buddy, Millie

I took up running about three years ago, going from being a complete non-runner (forged sick notes for my PE teacher, avoiding running for a bus etc.), to thinking that I needed a flexible form of exercise that fit in around my life. With childcare, being a committee member of the school PTA, and very busy career, I hardly had time to fit in exercise.

So I took up running using the “Couch to 5k” app. It wasn’t easy, I hated it and was often found having a quiet sob behind my sunglasses for the first mile or so. But eventually it got easier and as each month passed I could run further and a tiny bit faster. I looked forward to getting out in the fresh air and having 30-40 minutes to myself.

Three years later, I have run 2 half marathons (the Great North Run – GNR), countless Park Run mornings, and many, many 10km races. I joined a local running club and found the fun in running with a variety of people, all ages and abilities. I also told two of the running club leaders what I was going through, and received so much love and support from them – training and rest advice which really helped.

At the end of last year (2016) I managed to complete a virtual challenge – which was to run 1000km (621.4 miles), and my final race of the year was one week after my treatment. I ran a 5km seasonally named “Reindeer Run” on Christmas Eve.

During my initial tests, back in August 2016, I had my training plan for the Great North Run to keep me going, and it kept me focused. I knew I had to eat, get some rest and follow my training plan…despite being worried sick about what my diagnosis might be. I had two endoscopy procedures within four weeks of each other, and the first question I asked the consultant was “when can I go for a run?”

The big day arrived last year and I ran the GNR 10 days after my first endoscopy operation. My consultant thought that I was bonkers but agreed that I could do it. He told me that as my body was fit and active, it was okay to run as it wouldn’t be a shock to my system, and it might actually be good for me. That feeling after 13.1 miles was amazing. I ran a little slower than the previous year but that medal means more to me than any of others where I have achieved faster times.

Vicky and her 2016 Great North Run medal

I attended my follow up appointment (where I received my diagnosis) after I had run 5 miles earlier that morning, and it took my mind off the meeting with the oncologist. Running frees the mind, allows you to think about your breathing, and most importantly, if you find yourself a good running buddy, you can chat about random rubbish. The steps of running keeps you going. You can’t stop and cry mid-run, but I did have days when I felt I was running…. running fast… and angrily away from cancer.

I started radiotherapy at the wonderful Clatterbridge Centre, Wirral, in November…. six weeks of daily trips and treatment, with the target in my mind of continuing my running. I proudly told the nurse and radiology staff of my intentions, and they told me to listen to my body and take it easy. My oncologist and consultant have both commented on how being fit and focused has helped me tackle side effects and the treatment, and I do wonder if I might have suffered more if I wasn’t so fit?

My running slowed down during radiotherapy but I was out, in the fresh air, alive. Who cares how fast or how far you go, its getting out there that counts! Because of my treatment, I still have a sore throat and dry mouth, so my trusty water bottle comes with me, and I don’t beat myself up if I need to rest a little or walk a few steps. It’s still early days in terms of recovery and I’m happy to slowly build my fitness back up again.

Vicky with her running crew

My message to anyone going through cancer is to consider keeping active and doing something you enjoy…that may be yoga, cycling or swimming, but during the days when you are waiting for appointments or for treatment to start, it’s a wonderful tonic to have a daily focus. Be prepared to slow down a little if you are going through treatment – even the super fit get their energy levels zapped with radiotherapy or chemo – but just enjoy the focus on your activity and put cancer out of your mind for an hour. Put on your trainers and get out there. Don’t let cancer beat you.

The running bug is still with me and I have booked races to run this year including three different 10km races and two more half marathons…..And I have been offered a charity place at this year’s Great North Run for Shine – how lovely is that? I will do my best to raise money and raise awareness of this wonderful charity.

So what are you waiting for? Get your trainers on!

If you’d like more information about how you can Smash it for Shine, take a look here.

Shine is the official charity partner of Virtually Geared, a virtual running company that will support you to reach your running goals – and send you a fancy medal once you’ve finished your challenge!

We currently have two places left to run for Shine in the 10 mile Great South Run in October 2017. If you’re interested in one of these places, drop us a line at