Land’s End to John O’Groats has to be one of the most famous distances, stretching the whole length of Great Britain between two extremities in the southwest and northeast. At 603 miles as the crow flies, it is a firm favourite for many fundraisers. However, as we do-si-do with lockdown and social distancing, opportunity to complete this challenge has been thwarted over the past year.
But not for Joanna Heard! Living with stage 4 lung cancer and having received support from Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, the 35-year-old set herself the challenge of cycling the equivalent distance on her exercise bike at home.
“I wanted to do something challenging, to push my limits and prove to myself that a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis wouldn’t hinder me.
I’ve never been what you’d consider ‘fit’ but after I was diagnosed, I started really looking after my body and mind and I finally felt strong enough to take on this cycle from the safety of my own home.
My diagnosis came as a complete shock. It started back in May 2018 when I was really poorly. I was pregnant at the time with my daughter and yet I lost 2 stone in weight. I had a cough that just wouldn’t go away. I kept getting throat and chest infections and I lost my voice to the point I could only speak in a hoarse whisper.
It was put down to being pregnant and run down and then having a newborn and being sleep deprived! I kept going back to my doctor and over the course of 15 months, I had over 12 rounds of antibiotics and was diagnosed with various things from pneumonia to pleurisy. In hindsight, my symptoms were obvious indicators but, due to my age and the fact that I was a non-smoker, nobody considered lung cancer.
It’s taken me time to comes to terms with my diagnosis but I’m now at a point where I won’t let it dictate my life. I’m fortunate that the targeted treatment I’m on doesn’t have really harsh side effects, like chemo often has. It’s not without side effects; I’ve had to take a reduced dose as a result but largely I can get on with my life, get on with being a mummy and a wife, and to keep experiencing and living. That’s where this virtual Land’s End to John O’Groats came about.
I set myself the target of completing the distance over the course of a month and worked out I would need to cycle around 20 miles a day to achieve it. I’m sure to many that won’t seem like too big of a task but for someone with stage 4 lung cancer, this was no walk in the park!
I knew straightaway that I was going to do the challenge for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. They are an amazing charity and are paving the way for getting lung cancer on the map. They do a lot of work to change misconceptions and improve understanding around the disease. I know many people still consider lung cancer to be a disease which only affects older people, or that you can only get it if you smoke, and this simply isn’t the case.
I’ve also used their Ask the Nurse service when I have questions or concerns and have built friendships with many of the ladies that work at the charity. The emotional support, as well as the money they put into research, is invaluable.
Knowing that money I was raising would help continue this vital work kept me motivated through the challenge, but it was tough. The first few weeks were okay but as the month went on, my back started to really hurt. But I pushed through and, with the help of the incredible messages of support from friends, family and even strangers plus a cushion on the saddle, I kept on going.
Because that’s what you have to do when you’re diagnosed with lung cancer – you have to keep on going. Life doesn’t stop, unless you let it. It might be uncomfortable at times. It might be exhausting and distressing along the way, but you can get through it. With the help of family, friends and Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation as that cushion, you can get through it and carry on living.”
You can still show your support to Joanna and help us continue to support people like her. Click here to donate and congratulate Joanna on an incredible achievement.