20th June 2023

Helena’s story – lung cancer & cycling!

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When retired primary school teacher, Helena, 67 from Wolverhampton, was first diagnosed with lung cancer, she was suffering from severe breathlessness, so it’s hard to believe that just over a year later, Helena would go on to complete an incredible 150-mile cycle ride, spanning four days and raising more than £1500.

“It all started with a persistent cough in January 2022. By late April, following many tests and despite being a lifetime non-smoker, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) which had spread to my liver and some lymph nodes.

“When I was first diagnosed, I felt I just had to accept the inevitable – my life had ended! However, within days I began going to church again and together with the prayerful support of the community at St Aidan’s and the start of targeted treatment, my mindset, and health, began to change.”

I started with Osimertinib, a one-a-day tablet, and it changed everything. The tumour began shrinking. My liver returned to normal and I was beginning to get my life back! This really gave me the incentive to set myself challenges and goals which I’ve made a reality for 2023.

The challenge is on!

Before her diagnosis, Helena led a relatively healthy lifestyle. She cycled, played tennis and hiked on a regular basis but post diagnosis, she began experiencing severe breathlessness. But Helena was determined this was not going to hold her back and set her heart on completing Cycle Route 81, which runs from Aberystwyth to her hometown of Wolverhampton.

Recognising the magnitude of the challenge, Helena was very sensible in her approach. She decided to test her fitness first by virtually walking the London Marathon around her local park.

“I was asked by a friend to join them on their challenge walking the virtual London Marathon. He’d had knee replacement surgery and had set himself this personal goal, so it was a chance to test my fitness as I intended to walk some of the way with him.

“I hadn’t started my cycling training yet so, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to complete more than 10 miles of laps around my local park. We started the challenge early on the 23rd April – the same day as the London Marathon and almost a year to the day of my diagnosis. I stopped only once, to attend the Sunday service, fully anticipating that would be the end of it, but my friends at church and from tennis, had other ideas.

“From offers to walk with us to cheering me on, I completed lap after lap and finished the full 26.2-miles alongside my friend, just over 9 hours later! It felt amazing to complete the full distance and it set me up for my cycling challenge.

I will cycle 150 miles!

“I’ve done long-distance tours before, but I was nervous. My breathing will never be as good as it once was and I knew cycling, especially going uphill, was going to be more difficult than before my diagnosis. But I remained positive.

“The challenge itself, Cycle Route 81, started in Wolverhampton where I live, and ended in Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales.

“Thankfully I didn’t do it alone; my friend Claire Garner-Woodberry joined me on her first multi-day cycle tour, and we also had another friend on hand ready to support us if needed.

“We cycled for four days, covering 35-40 miles a day while carrying our luggage. We’d pre-booked B&Bs for overnight but throughout the day we peddled on and ended up cycling around 160 miles as we added in some scenic detours.

“When we started the challenge, neither mine or Claire’s fitness levels were as good as they could be, but we were determined. I think the biggest worry was overcoming saddle sore and facing the Welsh hills in the heat. However, we took on the challenge with the mindset that we’ll do it, even if we have to push the bikes up every hill!”

We are in complete awe! Helena and Claire started the challenge on Tuesday 6th June and completed the final six miles on Saturday 10th June. It was the hardest cycle she had ever done but also one of the most rewarding ones. In total, the pair raised £1,558 with more donations set to come in.

Helena’s top tips!

  • Do lots of cycle training. Get out on your bike as much as you can. It will help to overcome the inevitable cycle sore!
  • Factor in regular rest stops and drinking plenty of water before and during a ride.
  • Admire the views and take plenty of photos.
  • Give yourself a reason for taking on the challenge and focus on that if you start to struggle.
  • Most importantly, soak up every minute of your challenge and be proud of yourself for giving it a go.

Update June 2024: Sadly Helena has since passed away. Our thoughts go out to her family and friends during this time.