Guest Blog from Cath Koutna
Cath, from the Macmillan Living with Cancer Programme for Lincolnshire talks about how, from her own experience with Cancer, physical activity can help change lives. As part of her role, Cath is now involved in supporting physical activity projects around the county such as the recently established Fighting Fit project in Lincoln.
I remember Valentine’s Day 2018 like it was yesterday. Sitting in a cold, lifeless consultant’s room, waiting for my biopsy results. In my heart of hearts, I knew what was coming. But I hung onto my last few minutes of hope with such determination, only to have it shattered by the words, that I can still hear ringing in my ears, “You have Breast Cancer….” Not only did this diagnosis mean that I was about to start a journey into the unknown, it also dawned on me that the treatment I would need to undergo would bring to an abrupt end the exercise routines that had recently become such an essential part of my life.
You see, I’d just got back into running again a few months prior to finding the lump, and it was a tonic that was helping me to navigate some challenges I was facing in my personal life at the time. And I had fallen in love all over again with just how electric I felt after moving my body. And the thought of it all ending with the onslaught of the cancer treatment I was about to undergo came as another huge blow.
Running had always been my exercise of choice. I’ve never been fast, but for me it’s always been about the mental freedom and physical high I experience post run. It’s an opportunity for me to process my thoughts and work through life’s ups and downs. I don’t necessarily come up with solutions to problems, but it helps to alleviate the symptoms that my stressful thoughts can create. Cancer was going to be one hell of a problem to navigate without some form of movement to ease the physical and mental stresses that inevitably accompanied it.
So, whilst I spent the next 10 months receiving chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, managing only to walk slowly around my village, I dreamt of the time I could run again. My treatment was ultimately successful, and I am eternally grateful for all the medical help and support I received, which to this day has enabled me to stay cancer free. What I noticed however, when I started the daily ritual of taking medication post-surgery to prevent recurrence, was just how exhausted and battered my body was from the cumulative effect of the treatment I’d undergone. My mind told me to move, but my body started to say no!
However, maybe as a result of my stubborn personality, I was determined that nothing was going to stop me from moving!
Three weeks after my surgery I went for a walk and decided to try and run just a little bit. Well, I ran, and I ran, and I ran. It was the most freeing, exhausting, liberating and grounding experience I’d ever had. After the incredibly stressful time following my diagnosis of cancer and the treatment I’d had to undergo, when I’d felt like I had little control over what was happening to me, to be able to move my body and free my mind was truly exhilarating. That’s when I really discovered the healing power of movement. And I truly believe it can help everyone. It doesn’t have to be running, it can be whatever form of physical movement suits you – Pilates / Walking / Yoga… absolutely anything. But moving your body can definitely help to free your mind.
I can’t recall where I first saw the 5K Your Way initiative. But as soon as I recognised what it represented and learned about the story behind the Move Charity, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. To help encourage others to ‘Move’ throughout their journey of cancer and beyond is a privilege. To help and hopefully inspire others by sharing my lived experience feels incredibly humbling.
I am now an ambassador for the 5KYW Move against Cancer initiative in Lincoln, and we love our Saturday mornings at the Boultham Park parkrun. We have been welcomed with open arms by the Parkrun community, and it’s an honour to spend time with others with lived experience of cancer, as they start up or continue to keep physically active.
Since completing my treatment I have since gone on to run two 10Ks and a half marathon, and have applied for a place in next years London Marathon!
I have also taken up open water swimming at Activities Away in Lincoln, which is another great form of exercise that helps me manage my long term health in line with ongoing medication.
As I got back into work mode post treatment, I took on a new role as a Social Prescribing Link Worker, working within the Voluntary Centre Services in Lincoln. Social Prescribing is a role which now exists within the NHS, to help people manage their own health and wellbeing, by linking them to services and organisations that exist in their community. It’s a holistic approach undertaken by the NHS to focus on person-centred health care, enabling people to have more choice and control over the healthcare they receive.
I’ve since moved on to working within Lincolnshire CCG for the Macmillan Living with Cancer programme, as a Community Development Project Manager. My role is exciting, and very varied, and offers me an opportunity to create improvements in peoples experience of care for cancer in the county. I am able to give back, and hopefully create more opportunities for others to access whilst navigating treatment.
Working in partnership with Active Lincolnshire, Voluntary Centre Services, and the Lincoln City Foundation have come together to bring an exercise program to Lincolnshire for those people that are going through treatment for cancer. It is delivered by the Lincoln City Foundation, and anyone from across the county can access it, following a self- referral or through a referral from a health care professional. Whilst it is currently hosted in Lincoln, the aim is that it will be rolled out to other parts of the county in time. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. To give people an opportunity to manage their own health and wellbeing as best they can, whilst they go through such a challenging period in their lives, is one of the most exciting initiatives I could be involved in. I have personally experienced the healing power of movement and exercise, and I am so grateful to be a part of what I know will become a sustainable program of exercise in our county for the future.
Find out more about the 5k Your Way parkrun in Lincoln
Find out more about the Fighting Fit Programme
Read more advice for Getting Active With a Health Condition