Tag Archives: Advanced bowel cancer

D-Day

25 Sep
chapada-diamantina-national

The Chapada Diamatina National Park, Brazil

Wow! In just a few hours I’m heading to Heathrow and meeting my trekking group at 3am for our 6am flight.  That’s actually quite scary!   I had naively thought this trek would be a smoother build up than it was for China – that my nerves would be less, that my training would be easier, that I’d manage my long to do list better but actually – a bit like having a second baby – it’s not been easier, just different.

There have been a new set of challenges to tackle these last few months.  I mean who’d have thought my lovely comfortable walking boots would decide to start to hurt for the first time, just five weeks from departure.  Or that after finally realizing there was no remedy that I’d only have two weeks to break in a new pair.  Well that’s certainly upped my trek adrenalin levels but whilst not 100% worn in, the bottom of my toes are no longer blistering so that’s a definite win!

Of course I will be fine – it’s simply a long walk after all.   I will do what I can before I leave and the rest will just have to wait.  The world won’t end if I don’t clear my to do list or if I forget my toothbrush – there are normally solutions.  Everything falls into perspective somehow when you work in and live around cancer.  After a period of relative stability, it’s been a tough few weeks with various patient friends struggling with recurrences, complications, side effects and terrible news that the cancer is now incurable.

That, of course, is why I’m going – to show my solidarity, to take action, to do something practical to try and raise funds for research to improve the early diagnosis of bowel cancer so these tragic experiences stop once and for all.  After all 9 out of 10 people survive bowel cancer if it is diagnosed at its earliest stage but currently only 1 in 10 are diagnosed then.  Far more  – over 60% – are diagnosed when there is at least local spread into the lymphatic system or with a secondary tumour.  That makes treatment so much tougher and the odds significantly worse.  It’s also why Bowel Cancer UK’s new research programme will focus on identifying the highest risk groups and look for better ways of preventing and detecting bowel cancer early.  But this requires money and so that’s why I’m happy to go way out of my comfort zone, control my nerves and fly to Brazil to take on this amazing challenge.

If you are still not sure why you should sponsor me and help Bowel Cancer UK – this blog from lovely Gina Shergold, whose husband Steve was diagnosed at the age of 30 and is now only 33, should explain it better than I ever can.

Gina, Steve and Esmee

Gina, Steve and Esmee

Heartbreak. The Worst One Yet

by Gina Shergold

I’m going to try and keep this one relatively short because I don’t think my brain can handle too much more right now.

The last time I wrote, we were waiting for a CT scan and the for the new trial treatment to start.

For the past 6(ish) weeks, we’ve been going into hospital regularly for blood tests, consent forms and so on to get Steve up and running on the trial, and on Thursday last week he had a physical exam to make sure he was well enough and showing no sign of infection etc, with a view to him starting the trial this week.

On Thursday afternoon, we had a call to say that it turns out the trial had been closed for a while and that Steve could no longer participate. They asked us to come in today to discuss other options.

So today, we went in for a meeting with the oncologist and were hoping he would have news on a different trial.

Instead, he told us that there is currently nothing available, and that we are now dealing with a “terminal illness” – incurable.

We are absolutely devastated, shocked beyond belief and heartbroken.

We also learnt that his spine has got in on the cancer action, and more than likely his liver, too, although that part isn’t confirmed yet.

They will keep looking out for trials, and as soon as one comes up that Steve is eligible for, we will be informed and he’ll be put forward for it (provided he wants to be).

Steve has slept for most of today through sheer exhaustion.

I feel numb to the point where I can’t feel my feet on the ground, but at the same time, I’m  in more pain than I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I don’t really know how I’m still standing at the moment but we both agree that we will not give up, we will keep fighting and live every day to the fullest for our baby girl and for each other.

Sorry it’s a short, blunt and pretty rubbish one, but I wanted to keep everyone updated. I’ll write again when I have more information and/or when my head is feeling a bit less fuzzy.

Gina xx

We have to stop this.  We have to stop the pain and anguish bowel cancer causes.  We have to stop people dying and WE CAN – but we need money to invest in research, to raise awareness, to campaign for best treatment and care across the UK.  We need your help.

This is going to be my last fundraising challenge for a while – as I can feel the fatigue with my endless quest for sponsorship – but if you could sponsor me, just one last time – for Gina, Steve and baby Esmee – for everyone affected by this awful disease, it would be awesome.

You can sponsor me by visiting my justgiving page: www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina4

or simply text: GUTS68 £5/£10 to 70070

Thank you

For more information about Bowel Cancer UK visit our website on: www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk

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Thank you

Laughter and Tears at the 02

23 Jul

Fireworks

*Fanfare of trumpets* We did it!

Today, Michael, Clare and I conquered the 02.  Of course like most things in life it was more scary thinking about it than actually doing it, but even in overcoming our fears of inadequacy there was a challenge.   I’m a firm believer that it is good to be challenged – I’m prepared to push myself outside of my comfort zone and try something new, because I’ve learnt by skydiving and trekking in China that it leads to the best memories and insight into yourself.

CKngEWWXAAA6AKR

Clare, Tony and Michael

02 group pic

We started with inevitable photos – Clare had organised for Town Crier, Tony Appleton, to proclaim our challenge – he looked wonderful in his full regalia but my goodness his bell and cries are loud!  Then we had a short safety briefing – we were all a bit nervous at this stage as they talked about ropes and harnesses, wondering what on earth was ahead.

We then changed into our climb gear including our harnesses (what a look!) and it took me right back to my skydive with wonderful Nikki.

CKngDPAWwAANl9S

Michael and I ready to go

Then we were taught how to use our safety harnesses and away we went.

Funnily enough the first bit is a steep ascent (where you can’t take photos because they want to sell them to you!) and looking up at it, I was transported back to China and actually that made me feel better.  Hey, if I could climb those steps on the Great Wall, I could definitely do this and I remembered that I learnt in China that looking at it was much worse than actually doing it!  In fact, whilst it is steep, it feels a bit like you are walking on a bouncy pillow which is a little weird but it was absolutely fine.

The views from the top were fantastic – it really is a wonderful panorama and thankfully the threatening storm clouds didn’t deliver any rain.o2 panorama

After a steep descent it was all over too soon, so we headed for a late lunch.

Of course much of our talk was about Lynda Bellingham, Michael’s wife, as he remembered all she went through and struggles with his grief, which is still so raw.   I am truly grateful for his support for Bowel Cancer UK – he is genuinely helpful and generous with his time and that is exactly what we need.  Now we need more people like Michael to step up and help us stop this dreadful disease.

We also talked about Clare’s Mother Ann, currently in active treatment for advanced cancer.  Clare’s love for her mother is quite wonderful and I hope my own daughter will feel like that about me too when she is grown.  I’m sure Ann must feel very proud, as she has a beautiful, funny, generous daughter in Clare and we are blessed that she has chosen to support us.  Of course both Michael and I have everything crossed for Ann’s next scan.

For many people challenges like this are a piece of cake but if they aren’t your thing then the challenge is real.  So I feel proud of us.   I have enjoyed  laughter and tears with two wonderful people, started my fundraising and maybe even helped raise some awareness.  A good day.  Now for the next challenge…..

For more information about Bowel Cancer UK, please visit our website.

To sponsor me, please visit www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina4 or TEXT STOP 68 £5/10 to 70070

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Challenges and reflections

29 Oct

trek 4

So I’ve been back from China for almost a week and my brain is finally beginning to feel less addled by jetlag and the hour change and it’s certainly good to be home.  My daughter is delighted by her panda bear toy so all is well and I’m almost forgiven for going!

I left my blog rather abruptly to go off to a celebration meal on completing the trek and then took to the tourist trail, spending a couple of days in both Beijing and Xi’an where I visited the Terracotta Army, Terracotta armyinspired, as I mentioned in an earlier post, by my patient friend Gail.  I’m pleased I spent the extra days as it gave me a greater insight into China and its contrasts.  It truly is a fascinating country and culture.

It’s also given me time to reflect on the trek.  I freely admit I was terrified before going – of failure I guess and my lack of time for preparation definitely didn’t help.   My lovely husband stoically put up with the tears and traumas and thankfully once I was at the airport I began to feel calmer and embraced the challenge more positively.

trek 3

That’s me in green! That was seriously steep.

I realise that must sound pretty pathetic but as I noted back in August, I’ve a had a mild phobia of physical challenges since my school days and my life is a bit mad after all, juggling a full on job, long commutes and my most important role as a Mum.  I guess taking on the trek reminded me what a fine tightrope I walk in my day to day life.  So who would have thought that today I would be able to say I loved it.  In fact, I loved every moment of it – even the really challenging bits.

pressing the limitsMy lovely bowel cancer survivor friend Fiona was a particular star in the run up, helping me to fundraise by personally donating, baking cakes to sell and doing an office collection.  She predicted the challenge I felt would make it more worthwhile in this picture she sent to me.  I held onto that thought before I went.  Thank you Fiona, you were right!

So what was so great about it?  Well it proved yet again that if I dig deep and hold my nerve I can extend my comfort zone and it does make the achievement sweeter.   I wasn’t sure I could manage the steep climbs but thanks to will power and focus I did and the views were an awesome reward.   In some places the mountains seemed to go on forever and the sheer scale and beauty of our surroundings was inspiring.  Trek 15 mountains trek 10 I’m now determined to hold onto the feeling of an endorphin fuelled buzz after a tough physical challenge and try and incorporate it into my normal life.  I’m not great at ‘me time’ but I am now hoping to join a local trekking group in the Cotswolds as I think the  benefits to my physical and mental health outweigh the downsides of time away from home.  I am even seriously thinking about doing another trek – I didn’t predict that I would catch that particular bug!

I think it was also great because whilst I didn’t raise as much money as I originally hoped (but I’m still working on that) I did raise some new funds for the charity and we’ve benefitted from some extra media coverage, which all helps to raise awareness.  I’ve also felt blessed by the tremendous support I’ve had from my friends, family, colleagues and my lovely online buddies.  So many people have been incredibly generous with their support and a few have even given multiple donations and I have found that humbling.  Thank you so much to everyone who has donated.

At a time when so many of my patient friends are having a tough time, going through  gruelling treatment, the fact that they still took time to cheer me on across the twittersphere was incredible.   I definitely carried thoughts of them and many we have lost, throughout the trek.

Of course whilst I was away there was the sad news about the death of Lynda Bellingham.  Yet another reminder that there is much to be done and why Bowel Cancer UK’ s Time for Guts campaign is so important.  People continue to die needlessly and I firmly believe its time it stopped.  I hope more than anything that my trek will encourage others to take action too and help us raise further funds and awareness because after all, no one individual or organisation can make the change we need but together we can.

solidarity

If bowel cancer has affected you or someone you love please don’t be a bystander, take action, get involved.  With focus and determination, together we really can save lives.

I hope you have enjoyed the pics and of course it’s still not too late to donate!

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

or Text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070.

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#Ihaveguts

17 Oct

Deborah #IhavegutsWoo hoo I did it! I completed my trek on the Great Wall of China and I’m elated and sad all at the same time.

Great Wall final dayWe set off for our trek around 7.45 this morning and drove for about 90 minutes to the Juyongguan Pass which is closer to Beijing. Alan, our Chinese guide, warned us to expect more people and he wasn’t wrong. Coach loads of Chinese tourists were climbing the Wall, although thankfully mostly on the other side to us.

The scenery was dramatic with mountains all around but we’ve all been spoilt by the peace and tranquillity of the remote places we have visited and actually seen very few people or cars. Here in stark contrast, wherever you went, you could hear the hum of the busy road that cut through the valley.

The Wall was lovely as ever and of course we were instantly challenged to a steep climb. I’ve got to be honest – it was steep but a delight after yesterday!

We walked for a couple of hours only today, which felt too short for me. I would have liked to be back in Jinshanling with mountains stretching all around me. Of course, the purpose of today’s walk was for closure and to finish with a celebration. So after the trek, we all walked as a group off the Wall where Jen and Mark (our Discover Adventure trek leaders) were waiting with bottles of Chinese fizz. There was happiness and tears.

Great Wall Trek groupIt’s been an incredible challenge and for some of the group it’s been harder mentally and physically than others. The group has ranged in age from 21 – early 50s yet we’ve bonded well and also found our comfort points within the group. I’ve been particularly impressed with some of the younger members of our group. There are a few who have barely travelled, have struggled physically and felt homesick, and yet here they are completing this amazing challenge. I’m in sheer admiration of their achievements. Fantastic.

Deborah trek shirtAfter the trek we drove back towards Beijing and stopped briefly in a silk factory and museum which was interesting and then went on to have a foot massage. It was great, but oh my goodness it was so painful. I think my masseuse found every aching muscle in my feet and legs and there were a lot of them! I’m sure it will help in the long term.

We are off out now for our celebration meal as a group. Tomorrow we have a day exploring Beijing. Will write more then.

Happy weekend all.

Please sponsor me: www.justgiving/deborahalsina1

Mutianyu Great Wall

17 Oct

Great Wall long stepsI woke feel a bit ropey this morning. We’ve been eating really well, lots of gorgeous fresh Chinese food but yesterday it was a bit greasier… who knows what caused it but I really wasn’t sure which way the day would go so decided a long walk would sort me out one way or another 🙂

From the outset at around 9am it was hot and we had to walk from our hotel at the bottom of the valley up to the Great Wall. Oh my goodness, it looked high and far away, and for the next couple of hours at least we walked uphill.  We started on the road for what felt like an eternity. It was terribly hot, pretty steep and there were times when I felt dreadful. I tried to keep up with my normal walking buddies but kept slipping back. I couldn’t quite work out why it was such hard work. At the top of the road we were finally at the foot of the hill and started zig-zagging up the paths to the top. Bizarrely this instantly felt easier – in part because we were walking through trees.

As we finally climbed the steps onto the Great Wall we met some other tourists who looked at us with great surprise and admiration and said “Have you really just walked all the way up?”. We were all suddenly superheroes and the exhaustion of the climb was behind us. They had come up on the cable car (if only I’d known there was one!!). I suddenly realised I felt better, so the steep arduous climb had indeed sorted me out.

At the Wall we had a choice – either a couple of hours extension walk or waiting whilst the back of the group caught up and just chilling until those on the extension walk came back. So of course in the spirit of the challenge I signed up for the extension walk.

Deborah #ihaveguts stepsI think yesterday I said it was the steepest toughest climbs we had done. Well scratch that, it was today! 500+ incredibly steep steps below the first watch tower which were extremely daunting to look at but in fact were better once you were doing it. I cannot believe how far I’ve come over these last few months of training and trekking. Just a few months ago there was no way I could have climbed those stairs and smiled at the top, but today I did!

We then went on and did another four similar watchtower climbs. Only a small group of us went the full distance but we were buzzing from the sheer hard work, sense of achievement and awesome views.

Once we re-joined the group we all walked along the Wall for the descent, but, of course, there were a few final twists.  In fact before we could go down we had to go up so we were back climbing in 80 degree heat.  Eventually we had three options – we could walk down, go by cable car or toboggan. Personally I liked the walking option but everyone else wanted to toboggan (why??) so I decided to face my fears and join them. After all I’ve jumped out of a plane; surely it couldn’t be worse than that!

Great Wall viewFor surreal experiences, it was quite hard to beat… Tobogganing 2km downhill in 80 degree heat with the Great Wall towering above you is something I will always remember. But I’m such a wimp, I’d quite like to have taken it steadily but could hear group members whooping with delight behind me, itching to go faster, so I did my best to speed up and was delighted when I finally reached the bottom.  After that and the exhausting trek I feel a sense of achievement today. I have definitely pushed myself very hard and been pleased that both my mind and body have risen to the challenge.

Sadly tomorrow is our last day on the Great Wall. We will only walk for a couple of hours before taking our final group pictures and heading back to Beijing for the next couple of days. I’m pining already for the views.

Please sponsor me at www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Jinshanling towards Simatai

15 Oct

Great Wall morning viewLast night was thankfully not so cold and we managed to get our room heater to work, albeit weakly, but that was very much better than the night before. Only one jumper last night 🙂 I slept like a log after the long day of walking and was truly grateful for the lie-in until 7am.

After breakfast we started trekking from where we left off yesterday to re-join the Wall. The long walk uphill certainly woke us all up.

Great Wall trekToday has been perhaps the most challenging trek so far because the wall goes up and down over the mountains around Jinshanling. It is an incredible construction feat but sheer madness so we’ve given thanks and remembered the thousands upon thousands of people who built and re-built the Wall in appalling conditions over hundreds of years.

Watchtowers punctuate the Wall regularly here and each one seemed to be higher than the one before, yet there was always a steep drop between them. Ouch! The steps have been both deep and steep in many places today and for the first time there were also smooth sections of surface between the watchtowers – a bit like a skateboard ramp – but thankfully these were punctuated by small ridges. Only willpower, zig-zagging and calf muscle got me up the steep climbs today, but I did it!

Great Wall stepsI’m pleased the organisers left this walk until today as I felt more psychologically prepared for it and my legs muscles are also less painful. My journey on the trek has been interesting as I’ve grown in confidence about my ability to complete it successfully. I am clearly not particularly fit but have been labelled as part of the “A team” because I’ve been walking as part of the front group. In part it has been the challenge of keeping up that has got me through this, but also several of us in this front group are of a similar age,  in similarly demanding jobs and I think we have all enjoyed the silences as much as the chats. However I have certainly loved the group camaraderie as we’ve regrouped and in the evenings.

Bizarrely today’s walk ended too soon for many of us as we had to pick up the coach to move onto our next destination. I guess the only explanation is that the views are so breath-taking they leave you wanting more, even if it means another few watchtower climbs!

During our last two days we will be trekking in the area of Mutianyu, where apparently the Wall is quite touristy as it’s reconstructed. That will undoubtedly be great to see but I suspect we will all miss the quietness of earlier days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my lovely friend Gail whilst I’ve been here in China.  I’ve been fortunate to know Gail for a few years now because she has advanced bowel cancer.   She is one of life’s wonderful people – extraordinarily kind, warm, funny and generous – and I hate the fact that I can’t do more to help her. I would so like to have met her in other circumstances.

View from the top of the Great WallWhen I was choosing a trek I asked lots of people with advanced bowel cancer where to go and they choose China. Gail told me she’d have liked to do this trek and then go and see the Terracotta Army but is obviously too poorly, so after the trek I’m going to do that for her. I hope my pictures and updates will give her a taste of this amazing experience and I simply wish we could be here together.

I’m trekking to improve the treatment and care of people with advanced bowel cancer. Please sponsor me:

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Or text GUTS72 £5 or £10 to 70070

Spectacular Jinshanling

14 Oct

Great Wall lunch viewIt was freezing overnight literally and my room heater wasn’t working so I went to bed with thick PJs, socks, two jumpers and a hat. In fact, it was the best night’s sleep I’ve had since leaving the UK but waking at 6.15 was still horrid and bitterly cold. Apparently it had reached zero degrees overnight and there was frost on the ground.

Breakfast – the normal – cold fried eggs on sweet, slightly toasted bread was welcome though. We left around 8am in the bus to take us to the start of our trek.

Thankfully for my sore calf muscles that needed a good warm up, there was some level walking to begin with but it was short lived. We quickly made a steep ascent to the Great Wall and were instantly impressed with the views. The Wall at Jinshanling is impressive, weaving its way up and down across steep mountain tops. Why it was ever needed to stop an invasion is a mystery as the mountains themselves are pretty formidable and stretch out as far as the eye can see in every direction here. Truly spectacular.

Deborah morning selfieIn this section of the Wall there are regular watch towers.  Although it is not fully reconstructed, it is still very beautiful. We were aiming to reach the 24-window tower by lunchtime so around four hours of walking lay ahead. It didn’t take long before we were all quickly stripping off layers of clothes as the sun rose in the sky and it became very warm. It’s definitely been the warmest day so far with glorious sunshine.

We played tag with another group of trekkers for most of the day, as we kept crossing each other but on the whole it’s a pretty quiet route. It was a long morning trek full of ups and downs but around 1.30pm we reached the tower and we were all ready for our packed lunch!

The views from the 24 window tower were awesome again and many of the group took the opportunity to put on their charity t-shirts for photos, with many wonderful charities represented. As a long-term charity worker, it’s a delight to me to see people taking action and supporting the voluntary sector. After all it’s absolutely what we rely on to survive.

Deborah and BethBizarrely, my room-mate, Beth (pictured, right) is raising funds for the Bowel Disease Research Foundation which is a lovely coincidence as Bowel Cancer UK is currently running a joint project with them. I’m delighted we are trekking together and I have now met 5 people in the group who have lost someone to bowel cancer. It doesn’t surprise me at all that it is so common. If only we could really raise awareness and help people realise how common it is and the importance of early diagnosis.

After lunch we had to leave the Wall as it was blocked due to an army base and instead headed down through a village.  We passed fields where women were working and it reminded me of something Alan (our Chinese guide) said this morning,  “China is rich but the people are poor.”  The lack of helpful machinery certainly seemed an indication of that.

After a welcome stop for an ice cream in the one cafe in the village (aimed at trekkers) and we were climbing very sharply again to reach the Wall. By now it was late afternoon and the gentle light gave a warm glow across the Mountains. As we continued, we passed countless Chinese photographers waiting to take pictures of the Wall at sunset but taking the opportunity to take a sneaky snap of tired dusty trekkers as we passed by!

About 8 hours after starting our day we descended the Wall and walked back to our hotel via a local cafe. We were all in heaven with the proper coffee and cake!  Simple pleasures and all that.

It’s been a good day, very challenging at times given the steep climbs and length of the trek and there were definitely times this afternoon that I felt truly tired.  However the joy of watching the sunset on the Great Wall of China made up for it all and spurred me on. Hurrah, day 4 – conquered!

Here’s hoping it’s a bit warmer in our room tonight!

Please sponsor me:

www.justgiving.com/deborahalsina1

Or text GUTS 72 £5 or £10 to 70070.

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