Runner's World (UK)

Sara Crosland on re­turn­ing to run­ning af­ter a brain tu­mour



A brain tu­mour couldn’t stop Sara Crosland from liv­ing her best life


from Ellesmere Port, near Ch­ester, was an ac­tive per­son – run­ning 10Ks and half marathons, as well as cy­cling and hik­ing – un­til De­cem­ber 2017, when her body started to mal­func­tion.

‘I be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence a lot of fa­tigue, I de­vel­oped a rash and then this in­cred­i­ble joint pain,’ she says. ‘Start­ing in my hips, then my knees, my an­kles; ev­ery move­able joint in my body was ex­cru­ci­at­ingly painful.’

The joint pain sub­sided some­what, but it was re­placed by a tin­gling feel­ing in Sara’s face. Doctors first sus­pected the par­vovirus, then Lyme dis­ease, and it was only when she was re­ferred for an MRI scan that they dis­cov­ered an acous­tic neu­roma brain tu­mour the size of a golf ball.

‘I felt de­tached, numb, like you’re sat there watching it hap­pen to some­body else,’ says 45-year-old Sara. ‘And then I was quite an­gry about it. You have got all these things that you haven’t done, but that you still want to do. I thought, “I’ve al­ways looked af­ter my­self and here I am, in­ca­pac­i­tated with a brain tu­mour.”’

A date was set for surgery to re­move it in April 2018. Fear­ful of what could hap­pen, Sara wrote farewell letters to her fam­ily. Three weeks be­fore the oper­a­tion, her con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated when she had a haem­or­rhage. She spent time in three hos­pi­tals to deal with that acute prob­lem, and her oper­a­tion went ahead on sched­ule.

She was home six days later ‘out of sheer bloody-mind­ed­ness’, but a new set of prob­lems arose.

Sara lost her hear­ing and her sense of bal­ance on her left side, and then de­vel­oped loud tin­ni­tus. She couldn’t move with­out feel­ing like ev­ery­thing was spin­ning, and she was vi­o­lently sick. She was told she had a high risk of per­ma­nent fa­cial paral­y­sis and could have prob­lems swal­low­ing.

But three weeks later, she was out rid­ing her bike. They say you never for­get, but this was dif­fer­ent. She had to put her sad­dle as low as it would go, to be closer to the ground, and be­gan by push­ing her­self along the pa­tio with her feet, like a tod­dler. She then took it out on the lane near her house, but be­cause of her bal­ance, had a ten­dency to veer to­wards the hedge. It was the same with run­ning, which she had to keep up – two weeks af­ter her di­ag­no­sis she had en­tered a Race for Life; it was some­thing to aim for.

‘I could have thought, “Stuff this,

I’ll just sit and knit.” That was the easy op­tion, but I’ve al­ways been goaldriven and I wanted to prove peo­ple wrong,’ she says. ‘I met so many peo­ple who said, “You’ll get used to your new nor­mal.” That re­ally ir­ri­tated me be­cause I didn’t want a new nor­mal. I like who I am, thank you very much.’ (left) Sara conquers Jebel Toubkal, the high­est peak in

North Africa ; (above) the face of de­ter­mi­na­tion

Since then, Sara has pro­gressed to tak­ing on the types of chal­lenge that even some­one in peak form might think twice about. There was the York­shire Three Peaks Chal­lenge, a 24-mile jour­ney in the Pen­nine Range be­tween the peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Wh­ern­side and In­gle­bor­ough that is in­tended to be com­pleted in un­der 12 hours. While Sara says that hav­ing no bal­ance is ‘a re­ally hor­ri­ble feel­ing, like be­ing drunk and hun­gover at the same time’, she in­sists that her big­gest prob­lem that weekend was fad­ing be­cause of hunger.

Then she climbed the high­est point in North Africa, the 4,167m peak of Jebel Toubkal in the High At­las Range of Morocco. ‘There were so many un­cer­tain­ties: “What if I’m tired?

What if I can’t keep up? What if I fall be­cause of my bal­ance?” I think if any­one had of­fered me an es­cape route on the day we left, I might have taken it,’ Sara ad­mits. ‘But there was also, “What if I can do it?” and that’s what kept me go­ing.’

Next up, coro­n­avirus per­mit­ting, is the Lake Dis­trict Ul­tra Chal­lenge, a 100km walk in June, which she’s plan­ning to with Danielle Gib­bons, a former foot­baller for Liver­pool and Black­burn Rovers ladies’ teams. They’ll be rais­ing money for the Bri­tish Acous­tic Neu­roma As­so­ci­a­tion (BANA) and Brain Tu­mour Re­search. Longer term, she dreams of climb­ing one of the ‘smaller’ peaks near Ever­est.

Sara is still far from be­ing as healthy as she once was, so the most im­por­tant thing now is main­tain­ing a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. Con­ver­sa­tions with friends in the mil­i­tary helped in the early days. ‘They’ve been trained to deal with dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, so be­ing able to ap­ply what they’ve told me to my own con­text has helped enor­mously,’ she says. ‘Rather than look­ing at the date of my surgery as if it was the end, I thought of it as day one. From that point, I knew what I was deal­ing with and could take one step at a time from there. It is pos­si­ble, with the right mind­set, to over­come big ob­sta­cles.’

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