Rebecca Swift, a charity campaigns officer from Birmingham, was training for her third half-marathon when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Four days later she came sixth in her local Race For Life and now, just 15 months on, she’s taking on a 150-mile running challenge for charity.
Aged only 32 and at the fittest she had ever been, Rebecca’s diagnosis came as an immense shock. “It was like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from,” she said, “I had been of the mind that breast cancer doesn’t really affect younger women.”
After finding a lump in her breast in 2013, Rebecca went to see her GP, yet was told there was nothing to worry about due to her age and lack of family history of breast cancer. A year later, noticing that the lump had changed, Rebecca went to visit her GP and was diagnosed with grade 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
After a traumatic few weeks following her diagnosis, involving endless tests, appointments and surgery to remove her lymph nodes for testing, Rebecca decided to throw herself into running. “It helped me to cope with what was happening and gave me time to think,” she said. “It helped me to process all that was going on in my life, and to try and retain some positivity about my situation.”
Rebecca was amazed at how well her body coped through her first round of chemotherapy – something she now puts down to her fitness levels at the time. “I had few side effects (apart from losing my hair) and was able to run, work and have a social life.”
However, upon starting her second round of drugs, Rebecca cruelly suffered from muscle and bone pain and was bed bound for weeks after her first infusion. “It became difficult to walk up a flight of stairs, let alone run!” she said. However, showing incredible strength and resilience, Rebecca refused to let this stop her doing the thing she loved most, continuing to run as much as her body would allow. “When I felt well enough I tried to go for a run, even if it was just for half a mile. I remember on Christmas day, a week after my chemotherapy finished, I made myself go out in the morning to run a mile!”
Rebecca is currently completing a 150-mile running challenge to raise money for Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now. After losing two close friends she had met over the last year, through an online support network for young women with breast cancer, Rebecca was determined to do all she could to help combat this cruel disease. “I have seen and experienced first-hand the devastation that breast cancer causes to futures, families and lives. I wanted to do something useful with the fact that I had survived this far.”
A huge milestone in Rebecca’s challenge was the Birmingham Half Marathon – the same race she had been training for when she was diagnosed. She said: “Completing the half-marathon was about more than just a race to me. This time last year I wondered whether I would make it this far and would be around to do it.” Rebecca completed the race less than two weeks ago, bringing her total mileage up to 222 miles – a whopping 72 miles above her target, which she had vowed to complete between August and October this year.
For Rebecca, running has played a crucial role in helping her to stay strong through her cancer treatment – mentally and physically. “It raises my mood, helps me to try and stay positive and to feel like I can still achieve something even while seriously ill.” Rebecca truly believes that her fitness levels – a direct result of her running – massively contributed to her body’s resilience through the treatment. “The fact that my fitness level was so good prior to my diagnosis helped my body to cope with the gruelling treatment that I have had to go through over the last year.”
Through running, Rebecca has also regained trust and confidence in her own body: “Running has helped me rebuild my relationship with my body, so I can feel proud of it once again, instead of angry and ashamed. I’m learning to accept that my body has been through a lot over the last year, and that the achievements I have made with running over the last few months are pretty significant.”
Rebecca has now raised £1000 for Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Care – the only breast cancer support charity that provides information and support specifically for younger women. Her story demonstrates the power of running in helping one maintain psychological strength, positivity and focus through the most traumatic of life experiences, and also physical resilience.
To anyone enduring a difficult time in their life, Rebecca’s story should act as inspiration: that obstacles are there to be overcome. “Running helps me to feel that I am achieving something, even at a time when I felt my world as I knew it had ground to a halt.”