Never give up!

Through running Fit Over Fifty Women I have the pleasure of meeting many inspirational women.  Going through cancer treatment, not once but twice and then signing up for an Ultra 100km race, not once but twice, Alex Pilgrim is certainly one of them!  Here is her story.

Alex running in the Dorset Ooser

Alex running in the Dorset Ooser

My history

I was brought up on a farm and have always been fit and loved the outdoors.  To counterbalance the stress I was under in 2013 when my mother became very ill I started to do the local park run.  Following my mother’s illness, I suffered from depression and was then diagnosed with Lyme Disease in 2015 a bacterial infection picked up by an infected tick.  The diagnosis came back ‘recent or current’ but thankfully was able to be stopped by several rounds of antibiotics.

In May 2017 when I turned 60 I did the ‘Poo Test’ we are now all sent in the post.  This picked up a tumour in my large intestine.  It also turned out that I was allergic to chemotherapy, which is rare, but this meant I needed to seek alternative ways of trying to ensure the cancer did not return.  This includes taking herbal and nutritional foods and supplements.

Cancer is a lifestyle shift

For me cancer has been a radical lifestyle shift.  I would never have dreamt of doing Ultra races before my diagnosis but I am determined to get something positive from the devastation.  So after my bowel cancer treatment I began training for my first 100km (the Threshold Sports Dixons Carphone) Race To The Stones .  Here you can see pictures of me competing and my feet at the end!

Annual scans

As part of my recovery from bowel cancer I have a yearly CT scan and in August 2018 this, plus the following PET scan picked up that I had another tumour; this time it had metastased into my lungs.  Once again I went in for major surgery.  Looking back on this, walking around with a chest drain for 4 weeks after the surgery was worse than the surgery itself.

I am an optimist but….

Alex in the Race to the Stones

Alex in the Race to the Stones

I am however, an optimist and was determined to continue running.  Below I am at the Dark Dorset race, a week after coming out of hospital.  They let me walk 1.5 miles with my chest drain still in place!

The cancers have been hard to come to terms with, but people around me have been so supportive, especially those at my running club.  I love trail running so the Ultra races are great for me!  I have a busy schedule lined up, including a half marathon (The Ooser) in March; a full marathon (Hellstone) in May, plus other shorter training runs and races.

Poor feet!

Poor feet!

What I am aiming for

These races lead up to the Race to the King.  A double marathon in June 2019 (just for clarity, one marathon straight after another one) .  I am currently 3 to 4 weeks behind in my training schedule but hope to catch up soon. My surgeon in Southampton said “Go be a badass runner” as he signed me ‘recovered’ from the operation.

Food issues

However, both operations, and indeed, living with cancer in general, has had a major impact on what I can and can’t eat. My gut just won’t tolerate certain foods.  I’m currently investigating a ketogenic diet, where there is scientific proof for its viability both for cancer treatment and endurance running.

This is giving me a few creative cooking challenges including investigating making my own sports nutrition items, to carry with me on my runs.

Exercise when recovering from cancer

Planning for races 6 to 9 months ahead is a great way to keep focused on looking ahead and the things I love doing.  I do have to rein myself in a bit because I am still in recovery.  I say I am currently being ‘unnaturally cautious’.   Having part of my lung removed effects my lung capacity, which inevitably effects my running.  Luckily because I was so fit before the operation and because I had such good lung capacity then, the fact that I now have less probably means I am more like an ‘average person’

Two weeks after leaving hospital The Maverick Dark Dorset Race

Two weeks after leaving hospital The Maverick Dark Dorset Race

Exercise after cancer is now recognised as an important part of everyones recovery, although I can understand not everyone wants to enter 100km races!  For me being fit before the cancer treatment has also been important in terms of my ability to recover quickly.  So my message to others is keep yourself as fit as you can because you never know what is round the corner and if (like many of us) you do find yourself with a diagnosis of cancer, do not give up!