Writer, speaker and cancer survivor Emma Campbell shares her running journey with us...
You might know Emma best as the inspirational, witty and determined @limitless_em. Running lover and cancer thriver Emma ran the Vitality 10K in 2019 with her friend Bryony Gordon, and thousands of like-minded women, in her pants as part of the Celebrate You campaign. She’s running it again this year in May, and before then she’s tackling the Virgin Money London Marathon. She’s doing all this following her third cancer diagnosis at the beginning of 2019. This is her story…
I’m 48 and I’m a mum of four: a 16 year old son and 10 year old triplets. I’m also a cancer patient – I was first diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, I had a recurrence five years ago, and then a third diagnosis a year ago. I started running a year ago at the same time as that diagnosis.
I’ve gone through phases of running before, but it never felt like a healthy thing – it just felt like a punishing thing. I didn’t feel like a runner.
With incredibly lovely timing, I got to know Bryony Gordon and we struck up a friendship which has revolved around running. And now I can officially say that I’m in love with running. I did the Vitality 10K in May, which was a huge thing for me. I’d never done a 10K before, let alone one in my pants.
I embarked on chemo in July last year because it was in my lung and in my breast, and I then had surgery to remove part of my lung and a mastectomy in November. And on the morning of my partial lobectomy, I went running with Bryony and I got my 10K PB.
Running has become something so hugely positive: I can set myself these challenges alongside the cancer challenges, and I felt euphoric that I got that PB on the morning of that surgery, that I was in peak fitness when I needed to be.
Initially I signed up with Bryony, thinking I couldn’t do it alone, but of course I can do it. I can run it alone. I’ve been doing a lot of crying when I run, and listening to music, but it is my mindful meditation time. My way of coping with my cancer status is to keep as busy as I can, but when I’m running you don’t have to do the physical busyness; it’s stilling my mind. It’s very, very positive.
Now I’m back in remission. The tumour on my lung was benign, thankfully, the mastectomy has done its job so that’s good. I remain a cancer patient – I have three-weekly check-ups at the Marsden – but I’m in a strong, positive place. I had been on anti-depressants for the past three years, but I’ve been off them since Christmas – I just wanted to see what I’ve become. And it’s been a bit tough, but my early morning runs have been my daily dose of citalopram.
I just love running. I like the fact that my kids have seen me in quite a bad state over the years, especially my oldest son, and they’ve seen me pale, and weepy and low. For them to see me thriving and putting myself forward for challenges is brilliant. I want them to see their mum picking herself up. I have bad days, but they see me come back from a run on a Saturday morning, strong and ready to face the day: I want them to see me as strong.
There are times when you feel like doing anything other than surviving sometimes feels impossible, and it’s incredible to think there’s this new way of pushing beyond that. It’s not brutal, it’s not crazy: it’s been a bit of a life-saver mentally. It’s got me through a very difficult year, and it’s made me cope in a much more positive way.
And now I’m doing the marathon! I don’t recognise myself! Who am I? Who have I become?! Every so often I’ll think, what if I have a new diagnosis? But I just think I’ll find a way unless my legs fall off. I’ll do it! It’s been such a transformation. Three months into last year, Bryony was talking about the Vitality 10K and I thought I couldn’t possibly do it, but then I did do it – and I did it in my pants – it was so out of my comfort zone. And on the morning of that run, I just thought, you know what, fuck it, I could run a marathon. I can do this! And now I can’t wait.
If I can get through the marathon running more than I walk, I don’t care how long it takes me. I’m not competitive with other people I just want to do it for me. I’ve been training since January, with three runs a week and two strength training sessions – we’re doing a lot of lunges and squats. I’ve realised that I’m not great on the nutrition front, so I’m trying to take myself in hand and make it the whole package of breakfast, supplements and so on. What I really love is coming back from a run, and having a really hot bath with magnesium salts in it: I love my oatmilk coffee on the way home from a run, and then going for that bath.
My approach to life now is that by some miracle I’m back in remission, and I’m back in a really good place. And I’m in the best place I could be. This is my time to build on that, and to face those fears. I feel hungry for challenges, really.