This chapter of my life, started on a Friday in April last year, 2022, when I had an appointment at the breast clinic. I wasn’t worried, I had had a clear mammogram three weeks earlier. However, while doing a self-check in the shower, I had noticed a small cyst like lump on my left breast, it wasn’t even round, it was a funny shape and as if it was connected to something else.
I wasn’t worried which is abnormal for me.
I had suffered with health anxiety most of my life. I was always down the doctors with something I thought might be killing me. I would be sat there, fidgeting, ruminating, sweating, when in fact I was fit and healthy, physically at least, not so much in my head, that’s where the sickness was hiding.
I ran to the appointment – all five miles – well, I was training for the virtual London Marathon, which was in October 2022. I only had six months left to train. I had taken up running to ease the torment in my head, the constant racing, negative, thoughts. Running was my medication – I could go for a run and come back in a totally different mood, feeling invincible as if I could handle anything life could throw at me.
I lay on the white tissue paper, chatting to the breast cancer nurse about my marathon training. I was probably a little smug about my physical fitness, a little too smug. The Dopler was annoying, the sonographer kept pushing it over the same area, I wanted her to stop. The silence was heavy, I wanted to get up and go, walk out of the door that I’d just come in. It’s just a cyst, my mammogram was clear for god’s sake, her face said it all, ‘it doesn’t look normal Louise,’ she said. Two weeks later, in a phone call, while I was alone, I was told that I had lobular breast cancer, and it was grade 2.
I fell into a black spider’s web. Ironically, lobular cancer grows like that, a spider’s web, in lines, hiding in the breast tissue, weaving itself deep inside. Hidden, it has no glue to make a lump. Trust me to get the cancer with a defect.
I still cannot verbalise the places I went in my head during the time I was waiting to find out my fate. If it had spread, how big it was, what treatment I needed. I must be honest and tell you, I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore, I didn’t want to see the pain on my kids’ faces, the pity thrown at me, the tilted heads.
It took all my strength to keep me here, I meditated, ran, read books on Buddhism, shouted at everyone, searched the internet for support networks and ran.
I ran through both mastectomies and radiotherapy, it kept me sane, eased the pain and the sadness. I ran with tears running down my face most days, running repaired the damage the surgeon’s knife had caused, it took nutrients to my scars, it forced me to live, I owe my life to it.
The day I went into the surgeon’s office for the CT scan results to check for spread, was the most terrifying day of my life. Luckily it was clear. Since that day I have no fear, none, I’ve jumped from a plane, bought dogs, bought dogs you say, that’s not scary… it is, when you have had a germ phobia, that disappeared too. Oh, and I run topless, yes topless.
People often ask, how on earth do you have the courage to do that? It’s simple, my body is just a carriage to me now. I keep it healthy and strong, I give it what it needs to keep me alive but it is not me, if anyone judges it, I don’t take it personally. I do not look at it as a part of me, more a shell I use to connect to people.
I used to dread ageing, how would I cope when I hit fifty, my youth gone, gosh, I might have saggy boobs, how ironic, how naïve I was. Cancer has taught me so many valuable lessons, one being, age is not a countdown. I have never felt so alive, so vibrant, so energetic, so fit, so healthy. I feel sad when I hear people say, ‘I’m dreading my next birthday’. I feel frustrated, if only they knew what I knew, how lucky they are. I live in the present, there is no past or future, just now for me.
I now run topless every day, in the rain, in heat, when it’s freezing, I do this to spread the messages that are so important to all of us. To spread positivity, especially body positivity, to spread cancer awareness, to bring attention to flat closure surgery and to show that women do not need to put back breasts if they lose them to a disease that nearly killed them.
I run topless to provoke reaction. Whether it be positive or negative, it sparks conversation, it normalises women without breasts and give them hope that society wont judge them for not going through invasive surgery to pretend to fit in.
I have run three marathons topless. It’s such a strong image, the image of power and strength, yet a strange vulnerability that might not even come from the scars on my chest, but from the perseverance, the resilience. A marathon strips you bare, there is no pretence, it’s you, scars and all.
We all run marathons, through this thing called life, it just that some of us, choose not to hide how hard yet incredibly rewarding they really are…