Runner Chantele Rashbrook, 47, completed the London Marathon a year after being diagnosed with secondary breast cancer
‘I fought breast cancer to run a marathon!’
‘Getting my first breast cancer diagnoses at the age of 41 felt like being hit over the head with a very large bat. I was in total shock – there’s no history of breast cancer in my family and I was at my fittest, thanks to regular runs with the group I set up in 2010: the Rashbrook Runners. Initially, I thought “that’s me done”, but the more I spoke to professionals, the more optimistic I became. I’m a positive person anyway and my husband, Phil, even more so, which made the diagnosis easier to handle, as did the amazing support I received from family and friends. I had a mastectomy to remove my right breast, where I’d discovered a lump, then six rounds of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy as well as taking the drugs Herceptin and Tamoxifen.’
‘Fitness played a huge role in my recovery – I don’t think I’d have coped as well with the chemo if I hadn’t stayed active by running, cycling and walking. I’m convinced it helped me recover a lot quicker and stay much stronger. I’d turn up to meet my running group twice a week as normal and start them off, and on the days between treatments that I felt back on top again, I’d even manage 5K. But I did get frustrated and upset when I couldn’t do what I normally could and there were times I felt it wasn’t fair.
‘At one point, I queried whether doing too much exercise would aggravate something in my body and release a chemical that would make me more at risk of cancer, but my doctors reassured me this was definitely not the case and advised me to do what I felt I could but also listen to my body and rest when I needed.
‘I had a year in remission but, soon after, I found a lump under my earlobe and discovered the cancer had spread, travelling to my neck, chest and lungs. It hit me more the second time around; I was stunned as no one had told me it could come back. I had chemotherapy with a different drug, which wiped me out a little more, but I still continued exercising. This time, I did a lot more cycling, often clocking up 25 miles.
‘My philosophy has shifted slightly, but I’ve maintained my positive outlook, and good health – both physical and mental – plays a huge part. My running club has kept me going – they are a great bunch and have been brilliant. But crucially, the need to survive for my children Charlie, 19, and Lily, 17 has driven me.
‘The turning point came once I’d finished all my treatment, when I began taking a new drug called Kadcyla. I’m very lucky; it’s worked amazingly well – the cancer has disappeared from everywhere apart from a very small area on my lung. I was able to build my fitness up because of the drug and, less than a year after I started taking it, I ran the London Marathon in four hours, 48 minutes. I was chuffed with my time and the money I raised for Breast Cancer Now – the charity that inspired and motivated me train for the event. Since then, I’ve done two sprint triathlons – both this year. The distances are just right for me at the moment and I’ve experienced my first open-water swim, round the moat of a castle, which I really enjoyed.’
A GREAT ACHIEVEMENT
‘Most weeks, as well as running up to four times, I do up to six pump, Spin and step classes. I enjoy the intensity of the exercise and find it energises me. To fuel myself, I eat healthily and try to avoid sugar – I’ve read a lot about the link between cancer and sugar. That said, I still eat cake, but my body doesn’t like sweet food the way it used to. I try to give my body and mind a break by taking the dog for a walk first thing in the morning, or flopping in front of the TV. Sometimes, I have reiki healing treatments. It can be emotional, but it’s relaxing and a brilliant stress relief.
‘I won’t deny that running is harder now – I’m not as quick and fit as I used to be and I don’t seem to have the stamina or the speed I once had – but I don’t run to beat my personal best: the fact that I’m doing it is an achievement.’
‘I feel positive about my future – my lifestyle, my medication, and my doctors’
Chantele celebrates with her parents after a race er canc r bette for ning paig Cam t men treat