In which Pinchy swims for bloody hours

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to blog about this. I’ll probably work it out while I’m writing. Last month, I did my Biggest Ever physical challenge: I swam 5K for Sport Relief. Yes, I know! Me! The doyenne of exercise-avoidance!

Five kilometres, I can tell you, is a bloody long way. It is, in fact, 200 (count ’em) lengths of the Surrey Sports Park pool. It seems even longer when you can only do a ‘majestic’ (ahem) breast stroke and have never done more than happily bob around a holiday swimming pool for 40 years prior to taking on this challenge.

I’m being slightly disingenuous, of course: I didn’t just get in the pool on the day and hope for the best. I had been training for it since September, along with my two co-swimmers, my dear friend S and her oldest buddy A. Well, when I say training, it was more like swimming up and down for a bit twice a week, and then going for a natter, a cuppa and a panini because we were ‘famished’. At first, anyway. We were all comfortably swimming a mile – 64 lengths – by November, although that was taking me an hour. And then I sort of… stalled. I didn’t really get in the pool much during December and January. Or February. I started to seriously think about pulling out of the swim. I hadn’t started fundraising and was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the task for a non-swimmer.

Come to think of it, I was overwhelmed by much over the winter. It’s true that you only realise when you emerge from a tunnel how dark and cold it was in there, and how long it has been since you felt the warm sun on your face. Sitting here now, feeling broadly OK, I can’t quite believe what a struggle those wet, overcast months were, in all ways. It was probably a combination of seasonal glumness, a stressful time re finances, my natural tendency towards depression, and big bad life-changing stuff going on for friends who I love fiercely. Plus I was working almost every evening to meet deadlines and very involved with our school campaign after our head teacher left suddenly. (See my previous five posts for the full story!)

This period of General Rubbishness, pre-swim, was topped off nicely by a week in Egypt. Our first family holiday abroad for three years, and the first since I finished my cancer treatment. We took the kids out of school for a week and could still only afford it by hiving off a bit of the money we’d borrowed for a basic refurb of our decrepit kitchen, combined with DH’s first bonus for a few years. In other words, we were quite desperate for a holiday. The kiddies were looking forward to it so hard I thought they would burst before we hit Sharm. We were going to have an amazing time!

There is a small but important life lesson here about ‘non-attachment to outcomes’: the more you want things to be a certain way, the less likely they are to meet your expectations.  I’m always quoting Alain de Botton on travel – something very true he once said along the lines of ‘the trouble with holidays is that you take yourself with you’. The trouble with Egypt was that I took my tearful, short-fused, exhausted self there and expected to be transformed instantly by the sunshine, sea views and all-inclusive package  into the easy-going, cheerful version of myself. What actually happened was that I sat on the lounger with cause-less tears running behind my shades while our delightful and beautiful children had an amazing week in the pool. My Kindle died, both our phones were stolen from our hotel room, necessitating far too much interaction for DH with hotel security and management, reps, and Egyptian police stations, plus there was the worst torrential rainstorm Sharm had seen for decades. My energy was in such a shit place, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if I manifested all of the above, like a frickin’ witch.

I was planning to swim loads while we were there. I didn’t. I did snorkel on a coral reef with beautiful fish, like Actual Finding Nemo, though, and that lifted my spirits a little. When we returned, it was only a fortnight to the Big Swim and I had only covered less than a third of the distance in my training sessions. So I went Forrest Gump. I got in the pool and just swam, for 80 lengths. Then a couple of days later I swam 100. Then 120. And finally, on the Monday before Sport Relief Swimathon Saturday, I ringfenced three hours and swam 180 lengths. At that point, and not at any point before, I knew I could do it. S mentioned that last year’s Swimathon times were on the website. I made the mistake of looking and realised that I really was going to be one of the slowest in the entire country – no-one in my age group had done 5k nearly as slowly as my predicted time of 3hrs 20 minutes. The only women who had done that sort of time were (I kid you not) called things like Doris and Ethel, which I pejoratively assumed meant that I was as slow as a Very Old Lady.

That week, as I wondered again why I was doing this, the Sport Relief programme about Davina McCall’s far more crazy challenge to cycle, run and swim 500 miles from Edinburgh to London, was on telly. The documentary followed Davina on her trip to Africa before taking on the challenge. As she sat with the little girl whose days consisted not of school and games and fun with friends but the monotony of breaking rocks and breathing dust with her mother, hour after hour after hour, for pennies, I cried. I realised that the money I had already raised at that point would send two little girls like her to school for a year. THAT was the point. And I cried again the next morning when I tried to explain to DD when she asked why I was swimming so far. There was my motivation. To give little girls, just like my bright and funny and precious seven year old daughter, a chance at a better life.

Nevertheless, I still had to do the damn thing. I didn’t sleep the night before the swim. I woke up in a terrible mood, really jittery and anxious. S had an upset tummy and A had her back strapped up. It was not looking good. The worst thing was waiting all day: the event wasn’t due to start until 6pm after the  start time moved from 5pm. I went slightly ballistic, and pointed out to the organiser that this would mean I would be in the pool until nearly 9.30pm, meaning my children couldn’t be there at the finish line and our plans for a takeaway and champagne with my M&D, who were up for the weekend to cheer me on, would be buggered. After she realised quite how slow I was (and that she’d probably need to give me the keys to lock up…) she asked if I’d like to start an hour early, in my own special lane. Like a special person. FFS. My sister texted, accurately: ‘We are not a family of athletes, Pinch’. I graciously accepted, of course.

So we arrived at the pool. DD and DS had secretly made me a poster saying ‘Go Mummy Go!’ I got into my cossie. Put my goggles on. Still shaking. My lovely friend B arrived en route to her date night just to see me off. Good luck countdown texts arrived from other dear friends. Team Pinchy was cheering on the sidelines. I got into the water, put my bottles of sporty drink stuff raided from DH’s cycling larder on the edge, and started. I was not entirely in a lane of my own – there was also a small child, who swam the entire 200 lengths in less than two hours, and a series of elderly gentlemen doing the 5k as a relay, who also finished well ahead of me. It took me a good 40 lengths to get into any sort of stride. If one can be shaking while ploughing up and down a pool, that was I. I stopped briefly every 20 lengths for a quick gulp of drink, and to check in with the very patient lady counting for me. Every length took one minute, for the first couple of hours. Then, as everyone else in my lane finished and I had it to myself, I actually got quicker. I was coming in under target! photo 2

My family and S’s arrived to cheer us all on for the finish. The last 20 lengths were punishing: I was breaking new ground, and by that time my right arm was very painful. It’s the one that I had all the lymph nodes removed from; my movement is slightly limited on that side and it does get very uncomfortable at the top and in the armpit if I overdo it, risking lymphodoema and cellulitis ( I’ve only had this once, and it was royally crap).

Then, suddenly, it was the two hundredth length. My darling husband and babies stood at the end of the pool shouting ‘COME ON PINCHY!’, and I was trying to swim 25 metres while doing an odd mixture of sobbing and laughing. And then it was over. My official time was 3hrs 8mins. I’ve just checked and I was the 3,680th person to finish in the country. Whoop! Because I had started an hour early, I was actually out of the pool a few minutes before my much speedier swimming buddies, and was able to cheer them on at the finish. We had done it! Between the three of us we’ve raised a couple of grand so far, I think – you can still donate on my page at https://my.sportrelief.com/sponsor/majapawinskasims – I’m a few quid shy of £700 so all donations very welcome!

There was elation and achiness and lots of hugs. And we all got a medal, much to the smalls’ delight. Then champagne and a massive fat well-deserved Thai takeaway at home, followed by a bath in oil provided in my lovely school mum friend E’s ‘survival pack’ (along with bananas and jelly babies).

I woke up the next morning, terribly glad it was all over (although slightly surprised I had not turned into a size 6 sylph overnight). And at that moment, I began to feel better. Lighter and brighter. I had a health kinesiology session with my very dear friend Magic Emily, which helped shift things further and sorted out the achy lymph-free arm. And I have felt a little bit more myself every day since. I haven’t completely shaken off the Gloom, but I’m getting there. And that’s prolly why it took me so long to blog.

I’m never, ever swimming 5K again. But I quite fancy a different sort of physical fundraising challenge. I’m thinking trekking Peru for Breast Cancer Care next. Machu Picchu, anyone?

 

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How to be good

Some years ago, I read a book by Nick Hornby called ‘How to Be Good’.  (Amazon tells me I purchased it on 11 June 2002, to be precise.) The blurb: ‘According to her own complex moral calculations, Katie Carr has earned her affair. She’s a doctor, after all, and doctors are decent people, and on top of that, her husband David is the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But when David suddenly becomes good – properly, maddeningly, give-away-all-his-money good – Katie’s sums no longer add up, and she is forced to ask herself some very hard questions. Nick Hornby’s brilliant new novel offers a painfully funny account of modern marriage and parenthood, and asks that most difficult of questions: what does it mean to be good?’

I remembered the story this week when I was thinking about how deeply I am striving, post-caaancer, to be a good person. To lead a ‘good’ life. Which is not about giving my spare room to a homeless person, because it’s also my office and that just wouldn’t, y’know, work. For me, being good means: being kind, giving and receiving love, maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium, going with the flow, being true and genuine, being faithful, being in the moment, choosing to fill my life with joy, forgiving myself and others, responding rather than reacting, listening, paying attention to my inner wisdom, looking after my body, being there for my friends and family, achieving my potential, being cheerful.

And not: spending waaay much time in my head, being something of a fantasist, procrastinating, being angry, cold, and hard, withholding love, shouting, being impatient, wallowing in intermittent Black Dog days, being lazy, being resentful, trying to control everyone and everything, taking no exercise, drinking unhealthy levels of wine, worrying about what everyone thinks of me, spending too much time on social media instead of playing with the children, not supporting others, being too busy for the people I love and care about, not smiling, being absent, feeling guilty, being utterly selfish. Being horrible to DH, mean to my precious babies, critical about everyone.

I am all those things, and more. Trying to Be Good requires a monumental shift in the way I am in the world. Often, I don’t think I am a very nice person. People who don’t know me well may think I’m delightful, because I’ve only ever been polite and funny and sweet to them, or they may despise me, like the poor postman whose head I bit off recently. But I know I have the potential – and certainly the desire – to be a better, kinder, gentler, more authentic, more loving and lovable human being. Connecting with the pure love and light at the centre of my being: that sort of thing.

There’s a coaching exercise called ‘Eighty Today’ where you imagine you are 80 years old, and consider what you would like your friends, partner, children, colleagues to say about you as you near the end of your life. It’s basically the same as fantasising about what people are saying at your funeral, though less morbid. I have to say, with my literary proclivities, I quite like the Gothic aspect of imagining everyone in black crepe talking in muted tones at my woodland burial, over the strains of Mumford & Sons’ ‘After the Storm’ between the oak trees, about what a bloody marvellous chap I was. No-one wants, Scrooge-style, to be thought of as not a terribly nice person to have around. I don’t want the people I love deeply (but don’t always show it), to be shouting gleefully: ‘Thank goodness that miserable old bat has shuffled off her mortal coil, let’s have a partay!’

But there’s a motivation to Being Good that is far, far more important than what everything thinks of me when I’m old, or dead, or both. It’s my belief – I might even say my knowledge – that the physical body, the emotions, and one’s thoughts are interconnected so closely that you cannot separate out what’s going on in your head and your heart from what happens in your body. My body expresses or manifests everything that I think and feel. I’ve written before about my lack of surprise at being diagnosed with breast cancer, precisely for this reason. There’s no blame attached to this, by the way: I don’t think it’s my ‘fault’, I just understand that it was inevitable. According to Louise L Hay, cancer is always connected with deep anger and resentment, often directed at oneself. Every physical dis-ease or ailment is connected to a thought pattern. Identifying and releasing those old patterns of thinking and being, and replacing them (through tools such as affirmations) with something healthier, can help to heal. If holistic stuff isn’t your bag, this probably sounds bonkers, but even Western doctors accept that numerous physical conditions, ranging from digestive and skin disorders to stroke and heart attacks, are rooted in emotional disturbance or ‘stress’.

And so Being Good could mean the difference between life and death, for me. Post-cancer existence is like being in a post-apocalyptic territory. Every familiar feature of the landscape has shifted. Finding a new reality is hard, and painful, and fraught with wrong turns. I am acutely aware of the need to make the right choices about what I think and feel and how I behave, because I really, really don’t want to go to the Badlands of Cancerville again. And as I said in June, every ache and pain and twinge in my body and bones makes me scared shitless that I have secondaries lurking somewhere. Perhaps this is just about the illusion of control, but I know I feel so much better when I am calm, and sober, and have plenty of sleep, and eat well, and get fresh air, and laugh, and am kind and loving to everyone, especially me.

Perhaps it’s not about battling to change completely, though. I Am, as Birley Shassey belted out, What I Am. Perhaps it’s simply about being a Good Enough person, like childcare guru Donald Winnicott’s concept of the Good Enough Mother. Not trying to be perfect, because it’s impossible and you set yourself up to fail, creating a vicious circle. But being a little bit kinder, a little bit more cheerful, a little bit more chilled, a little bit healthier, a little bit more forgiving. As my health creation mentor Kit once wisely remarked to me, ‘Having cancer doesn’t turn you into a Saint’.

(Or Greavsie.)

Feel the fear and do it anyway

You know that thing I said a while ago about not feeling any fear when I was diagnosed with breast cancer or throughout my treatment? Well, turns out you can only Keep Buggering On for so long before the big ol’ scary monster, Fear itself, bites you on the arse and one has what I will delicately describe as a Wobble. (You don’t want to know the extent of the tears and associated snot, frankly).

Friends who have been through health crises of their own or with children tell me this is entirely normal. It works a bit like post-traumatic stress disorder, from what I can work out. The big thing happens, you get through it (no choice: it’s happening whether you dissolve into a puddle or not, and the human pysche is astonishingly resilient), you survive. All is well. You stop being intimate with consultants and surgeons. Then, a while later, a thought pops into your head. An insidious, sneaky, betraying thought that starts ‘what if…’

Exempli Gratia: ‘What if that pain/twinge/ache/tingling/weird colour is because Something Is Really Wrong?’ The body has let one down before with a poor performance, after all. Quite dramatically too. Specifically, in my case (let’s be brave and look it in the eye, shall we?): what if that annoying ache in my back is because I have secondary cancer of the liver (rather than another bout of sciatica)? What if that discomfort under my left rib is because I have secondary cancer of the pancreas (rather than getting so excited about my new health discovery, chia seeds, that I overloaded my gut with sudden, massive amounts of soluble fibre)?

If something really is wrong, do I really want to know? Do I want to be prodded and scanned and take the gamble of a) being completely reassured and feeling like a happy idiot or b) being told devastating news that means I will be compelled to write birthday cards in advance for my darling babies and husband for the next couple of decades?

I had a quite intense session with my awesome health creation mentor, Kit, this morning, which prompted me to blog about this. She’s had first hand experience of The Wobble: she was diagnosed with ‘incurable’ cancer in 1992, is in fine fettle, and still panics before every annual check up. She reckons fear is just an acronym of ‘False Evidence Appearing Real’. She asked what the thought was that I was thinking, and where it had come from. I know exactly. It was a feature in my beloved Grazia magazine about three weeks ago. It was from the fiance of a young woman who had just died from secondary breast cancer, in her liver, after recovering from breast cancer treatment and then getting a pain in her back. He had been hoping she would make it to their wedding this month. She didn’t quite get there.

This very sad story would have given me the jitters by itself, but there is a twist worthy of the Whitbread first novel prize (ooohhh….). It wasn’t the first time this beautiful girl had been in the magazine. She had written her own story in 2010, just after being diagnosed and having her first chemo. I remember, graphically, reading her feature, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I read it in bed, just after finding the lump in my breast for the first time, two or three days before fessing up to DH and booking an appointment with my GP. I remember the gut-liquidising chill as I read it: I already knew, deep down, that I was about to follow the same path. Chemotherapy in particular, before I had any idea of what it actually entails, was one of the most terrifying things I could imagine enduring.

And so when I read that she had died, my thought  – the thought behind all of this fear over the past few weeks – was this: ‘What if my life is mirroring hers?’ Almost instantly, I started to notice twinges and discomfort all over my body, all of which also have perfectly innocent explanations. No back pain at first, but I worried so hard about it that, sure enough, some back pain manifested itself. I worried so deeply, I’ve given my immune system a bashing and am currently fighting a rubbish chesty cold – the first for years (I really don’t get ill, apart from the obvious…). I panicked about my alcohol intake. I spent an entire evening, last Friday, crying on DH as I explained why I was scared. For, like, five hours (poor sod). Hot, salty, really big ploppy tears. They just wouldn’t stop. It was remarkably cathartic, actually, because to be honest I haven’t really cried specifically about caaancer at any point.

Then on Saturday afternoon I decided to take action. I had heard rumours of the mind-clearing benefit of exercise, though as a largely sedentary, distinctly non-sporty person, I had little experience of this. Regardless. Strapped on dusty trainers and, if I can just shock you, dear reader, I went for a run. Yup, you read right. Pinchy made like Forrest Gump and just….ran. And then walked for a bit, before running, and walking again, round a quiet local residential area, accompanied by an interesting selection of tunes on DD’s borrowed Shuffle. Among the Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and Kylie there are a fair number of Disney themes. Turns out The Climb by Miley Cyrus is a perfectly acceptable running track…

Run, Pinchy, run!

Do you know what? Those rumours are true: moving your body really does clear your head. In the stressy age of extreme juggling we live in, that in itself is far more of an argument for getting off one’s fat arse than the nebulous idea of ‘getting fit’. Kit suggested that the universe sends us loving lessons, and maybe the message embedded in my fearful state was my own need to take proper control of and responsibility for my health: my diet (already pretty good, but I have made some more tweaks and am liking James Duigan’s Clean and Lean approach. I will learn to love kale…), the amount of wine I get through (38-year-old working mum levels. You know what I’m talking about), and my lack of any exercise other than 60 kettlebell swings most mornings.

My instinct is that she’s probably right. And she’s also right that I need to pick up the phone to my oncology team and say I’m not comfortable with waiting until next February to be checked over. Being signed off for a year is AMAZING, obvs, and I’m sure my consultant wouldn’t have done so if he wasn’t entirely sure that I’m fine, but six months in, I’m also miles further from medical attention than I have been since I was diagnosed. Which may also have something to do with The Wobble.

Other action: do some yoga cat poses to sort this damned sciatica out. Stop with the chia seeds for a bit (already done; gas levels no longer on the red-for-danger bit of the dial). Most importantly, apply the four questions that make up The Work of Byron Katie to that pesky ‘my life is mirroring hers’ thought:

1. Is it true? (I don’t know)

2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? (No)

3. What happens when I think that thought? (The Wobble)

4. Who would you be without that thought? (Fully enjoying being happier, and more myself, than I have been at any point in my life, ironically).

Then turn it around: my life is not mirroring hers. We are completely different people, with different diseases, different treatments and different outcomes. I am safe, and free, and all is well.

And a final reminder to myself and everyone else: MOVE AWAY FROM GOOGLE if you or anyone you love has a question mark over some aspect of their health or what’s happening in their body. American health forums filled with fear-filled posts by the ‘worried well’ seriously Do Not Help. Ever. Now, I must ring my oncology team. At some point.

Radiotherapy kicks off…and I need your vote!

I’m a quarter of the way there! After a week where I basically spent the bulk of each day at the hospital, I have completed five of my 20 radiotherapy sessions. Oh yes. We are motoring. I’ve also seen an oncology consultant, had my Herceptin chemo drip, and an ECG. I am on first name terms with a scarily large number of the staff of the St Luke’s Cancer Centre, now I’m there so much.

And do you know what? It’s fine, really it is. Everyone who’s been through similar says the radio ga ga is a walk in the park compared with Big Bad Chemo, and they are right. It’s painless. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re dying, or make you vom for days on end, for a start. The worst bit is the logistics, and the relentlessness of it.

Every weekday, after nursery and school drop off, I get to the hospital, park, check in, get the attractive rear-fastening (ie not concealing in any way) robe on, wait for between ten and 60 minutes, get called into the rads room, get my right boob out while chatting about the weather, lie on my back on a platform with my right arm in a very awkward position above my head, and get drawn on. Two radiotherapists line the machine up, muttering numbers at each other while bright green beams criss-cross my torso. Then I lie very still for a few minutes while the radiation thing emits a high-pitched apocalyptic sort of noise and rotates around me to ensure all the scar tissue is zapped. (Just in case there is a pesky cancer cell hiding in there, waiting to pounce.) And then it’s all over. Simples.

I haven’t had any skin soreness yet (my mummy sent me loads of very gentle calendula stuff from Weleda as I can’t use perfume or shower gel or lotions or deodorant or anything around the breast and armpit), although I am starting to feel a tad fatigued. I’m doing a great visualisation: when The Noise starts, I imagine one of those little silver indoor sparklers, like a mini magic wand, just sort of having a bit of a dust round but leaving all healthy tissue alone. Like Nanny Plum from Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. Or something.

The consultant I saw originally had listened to my request for appointments that fitted in with the kiddies, and they are all at around 10.20am. I’m really glad I opted out of work this month because there honestly is no time to do anything other than the most basic laundry/food/dishwasher admin before and after the appointments, what with nursery and school runs.

It was all a bit crap on day one, Monday, for a bit, as I asked for a later appointment on Tuesday so I could go to DD’s first sports day. The only other appointment they could offer was 2.30 – ie about the time I need to be thinking about heading for school pick-up. I said I couldn’t do either. They said it had to be one or the other. I was anxious and resistant anyway, and was reduced to tears. A lunchtime appointment magically appeared.

So on Tuesday morning, me and DH sat on primary school benches on a sunny school field, watching DD and the rest of reception, year one and year two, dressed in the colours of their respective house teams, running their tiny socks off. DD, who has a bit of a reputation for bursting into tears at school events (which makes me feel a curious mixture of distress, dismay, empathy, annoyance and guilt), did the egg and spoon race rather hampered by holding her ever-patient teacher’s hand, but by the obstacle race she was confident enough to just run alongside her teacher.

Me and DH also took part in the parents’ races. We were both in the latter half of the field (which will come as far from a total shock to anyone who has admired my built-for-comfort form, of course), and much to my surprise I was quite disappointed. There’s something about school which brings out a hitherto-hidden competitive streak in me. I really wanted to win, and I really wanted DD’s house to win. DH was a particularly poor loser, saying afterwards regarding his fellow ‘athletes’: ‘Most of this lot are probably used to scarpering from a stolen car, away from the police and over a six foot hedge.’ Dreadful slander, but if you knew DD’s school, you’d just nod and agree, frankly.

Anyway, it was great to feel healthy and cheerful enough to do another Normal Mum thing like being at and taking part in sports day. And another really lovely thing has, rather more unexpectedly, happened this week, too: I’ve been shortlisted for another blogging award! Yay!

This time it’s the Blogger of the Year category in the Lovedbyparents‘ 2011 awards, sponsored by Virgin Hot Air Balloons. (The hot air reference is in no way a hint as to the quality of the blogs, natch.) I’m one of ten finalists chosen by this fab parenting website, and I know from reading many of the others that competition is seriously stiff. So PLEASE vote for me!!! And do feel free to spread the word to family and friends and colleagues. Voting is only open for one week, from today (8 July) to Friday 15th July, so get your skates on, Team Pinchy!

In the meantime, we’re off to see Take That at Wembley tomorrow night, along with the entire female thirtysomething population of the country. (Seriously, practically everyone I know has gone/knows someone who has/is going, including the ECG guy today, which was a bit weird, having a chat about Gary Barlow while topless). I gather many of the yummy mummies in the audience have been drinking PINTS OF WINE, and then flashing their boobs at Robbie et all. I obviously won’t be doing this, because it will quite literally stop the show, but I might treat myself to a half pint of sauvignon to celebrate a Good Week. Bottoms up.

Team Pinchy did it!

We did it! I am still smiling. Yesterday was such an amazing day. Team Pinchy did the 10 mile Pink Ribbon Walk at Petworth House in Sussex, and has so far raised more than £2,700 for Breast Cancer Care.

Team Pinchy at the finish!

The day started well: DH let me have a lie in, and woke me with a cuppy tea and a good luck card, before making me a properly good fry up. (I might hang onto him…) Then at 11am, me, my mummy, my sister, and my beautiful friends S, N and B met in the marquee, all in our pink t-shirts with our numbers pinned to the front, all nervously excited.

Mummy had made us all bracelets from pink beads, and B very kindly surprised us all with a Champney’s voucher for a pedicure for our soon-to-be-battered feet. My lovely Pops had volunteered to be a marshal, so he was there too, and dished out lovingly-created bags of all day breakfast with sausages, boiled eggs, biscuits, and even little packets of salt, pepper and his usual ‘parsley garnish’.

After a welcome from the event organisers, the editor of sponsor Woman & Home magazine, and celebrity supporter Andrea McLean (her off of Loose Women, accompanied by her mad dog, also in a pink t-shirt), we had a bit of a warm-up led by Green Goddess Diana Moran. And then at midday, we were off! There were 800 people walking yesterday, and as the line of pink t-shirts stretched ahead of us on the Downs (we started at the back), I felt quite overwhelmed by the scale and significance of the event.

The South Downs are without doubt one of the most beautiful bits of the country, and the views as we trekked up and down the hills were stunning, with a dream cottage round every corner. The weather was perfect – white clouds scudding across blue skies. The sun came out long enough to cheer us, and the clouds kept us cool enough. We walked in pairs, rather than all together, being of differing heights and ages, and caught up with each other at rest/water/wee/lunch stops along the route.

My mummy, sis and Pops

At mile 5, mummy jettisoned her 20 year old trainers, which had inevitably fallen apart almost instantly, and did the second half of the walk in flip flops. At mile 7, some Enid Blyton-style enterprising children were selling homemade lemonade by the side of track, with 50% of profits going to the charity. I found mile 7-8 the toughest, including lots of very steep, narrow tracks through muddy woods, with burning thighs. (Obviously none of us had done any proper training…)

At the top of the final hill we saw Petworth House come into view again, and felt elated as we did the last achy mile. As we approached the finish line, I saw some little figures running through the grass, and realised it was DD, DS, and my gorgeous nephew. I got a bit wobbly at that point, as they raced towards us, and I walked the last 100 yards holding hands with my babies. Just before the finish, DH and my lovely brother-in-law met us with glasses of pink champagne – such a fab, thoughtful gesture. (It has to be said that the dads all did a stirling job being On Duty all day yesterday, including taking our respective smalls to parties, sorting out meals, naps, and clothing, dealing with little accidents, and generally keeping the children alive).

My best girls

We all tied our pink ribbons to the finish line, and Team Pinchy crossed it together, arm in arm, and all in tears. It was an extremely emotional moment: I’m actually sobbing again as I write this. We’d carried our ribbons throughout the walk, with personal messages written on them. I dedicated mine to Team Pinchy and all the mummies who go through breast cancer. All the messages were so touching (although S was concerned that her lovely dedication sounded a bit final, like I’d actually died).

We’d done it in just over four hours. I remember cheers, and photographers, and feeling we’d really achieved something. We hugged, cried, rested, drank, and watched the kiddies, including B’s daughter, dancing on the stage to Madonna and Queen. Then we all went our separate ways, elated and emotional. We headed back to my sister’s house for a well-deserved takeaway (my mum’s legs had completely seized up by this point, bless her), and drove home with sleeping children, before sleeping for a full, uninterrupted eight hours for the first time in months.

I woke this morning still on a real high. Because although, as S’s DH pointed out, we’d only walked a couple of times round a golf course, it was a Big Thing. When we registered in February, I had two chemos and surgery to go, and the walk felt like a very long way away, in all ways. And then the day was upon us, and I was with some of the people I love best in the world, who have always been there and who have supported me so brilliantly since I was diagnosed.

It was a strange feeling, being the one who they were walking for. Every so often, it hits me that I have had breast cancer, and it’s a shock all over again, like being winded. But at the same time as forcing me to acknowledge what I’ve been through, the day felt like a real marker in the sand. A line drawn very firmly under the worst of the treatment. A celebration that we have all got through it, together. A very firm two fingers up to caaancer. I felt strong, and so alive. And so very, very honoured, proud, and humbled to have been joined on the walk by five wonderful women.

Breast Cancer Care exists so no-one – women, men, partners, friends and family – has to go through breast cancer alone, and Team Pinchy embodied those values to perfection yesterday. So thank you – everyone who was there, all the virtual members of my team, everyone who sent messages, and everyone who donated so generously. On paper, it may only have been the equivalent of a corporate golf jolly, but in practice, it was one of the most memorable days of my life. Go Team Pinchy, blisters and all! Whoop whoop!

My first charity fundraising thing

Gosh, my thighs are still aching. After months of sort of enforced inactivity, I decided it was about time I did some exercise. Not randomly: me, my mum, my sis, and three friends who I met five years ago through NCT when we had our gorgeous girls (aka Team Pinchy) are doing one of the Pink Ribbon Walks this summer to raise cash for Breast Cancer Care.

There’s less than three weeks to go now until our 10 mile walk across the Sussex Downs from Petworth House on 11 June. So on Sunday morning me and my friend S left our respective broods with their jaded daddies (her DH baggy-eyed thanks to an early start from their youngest, my DH from a boys’ boozy lunch in London that lasted 10 hours. When I raised an eyebrow to the wisdom of this plan, he actually quoted my last blog post on fun back at me. Sigh.)

Anyway, we walked four and a bit miles along the river Wey from Guildford to Godalming. It was bliss. Fresh air (at times a little too fresh), sunshine, peace, beautiful views, fabulous company, being close to nature (including the paddling horned cattle that I got all excited about because I thought they were water buffalo. Idiot. I don’t think I will live that one down for a while.) We did it in under an hour and a half, so we should easily do the 10 miles in four hours – the organisers reckon it should take somewhere between three and five hours.

And we are doing brilliantly on the fundraising so far, too. We are required to raise at least £175 each to take part in the run, so our team target was £1,050. I set up a Just Giving page to make it really easy to donate, and as of today we have already raised a fantastic £1,440 – 130% of our target. Whoop whoop, girls, well done!

I’d really like to get to £2,000 (because I like nice round numbers, and because it was the year I got married), so all donations are warmly welcomed! Just go to www.justgiving.com/teampinchy. Thank you!

I’ve never done anything like this before. I always donate to the usual big charity telethons but I’ve never had a personal connection with a cause. I chose to raise money for Breast Cancer Care because the organisation, particularly through its website, has been an invaluable source of information and support since I was diagnosed. And I’m already seriously thinking about doing the charity’s Machu Picchu climb in 2012 or 2013, for which I’ll need to raise £4,000. I’ve always wanted to visit Peru, so that will be a real life goal as well as an amazing shared experience with other women who have been on the same sort of journey as me.

But first things first: don’t try and climb hills at high altitude before you stroll along the Downs etc. Now I just have to keep up the training with plenty of brisk 20 minute strolls and maybe another long walk. This neatly dovetails with my Health Creation goals: fresh air/sunshine/exercise: what’s not to like? Far better than the stinky old gym, where I cancelled my membership last week and felt a large weight of ‘shoulds’ being lifted from my shoulders.

And even though I love food and wine waaaay too much to ‘diet’, I’ve also (whisper it)  joined Weightwatchers to try and shift that final post-baby stone (2lbs off in week one, yay)! I really don’t think it matters what eating plan you sign up to: I’m just finding that tracking everything I eat is making me much more aware of unconscious snacking and portion sizes, and the impact of alcohol on my daily calorie intake (about which: eek!).

Lots of walking will also hopefully mean I feel better in my cossie when we go on holiday at the end of June. My body confidence isn’t exactly high at the moment, what with the lopsided tits and everythin’, so every little helps (At the weekend, DD asked: ‘Mummy, which is your booby that hangs down?’ Out of the mouths of babes…).

One thing that has given me a real boost this week was being included on the Race for Life dedication of someone I haven’t even met. The very lovely Kate Husbands (aka @moomi_mama), a friend of a friend, ran it in 37 minutes (a personal best, I gather) and sent me this picture of her bib.

Now, I bet her thighs are aching more than mine…