Allyson lives in the East Riding of Yorkshire and began her career in the NHS at the age of 17. After retiring in 2018, Allyson noted that she had ‘never really been ill’ until she was diagnosed with breast cancer after attending a breast screening appointment in 2019.
Here you can read what happened after her diagnosis and how she is now helping to support others receiving personalised care.
“My breast cancer was identified during a breast screening appointment. Following my diagnosis, I underwent surgery and 15 sessions of radiotherapy.
In December 2019, Allyson was training for the Moonwalk event and walking two miles a day but despite regular exercise, Allyson had started to notice that she was putting on weight around her stomach and in March 2020, she also started experiencing stomach pains.
“I spoke to my GP and one of my prescribed drugs, which prevented osteoporosis (a potential side effect of breast cancer) had recently changed from a branded product to the generic drug, so we thought this may be the cause. Since it was the start of the pandemic, seeing a GP for a stomach ache didn’t feel appropriate, but it only got worse over the next few weeks and by May 2020, I looked five months pregnant. I decided to contact my GP again and this time I was booked in for a face-to-face appointment.”
Allyson’s GP submitted a referral for an urgent scan however, two days later her symptoms had become worse so she returned to the GP and was admitted to hospital for a CT scan. Whilst in hospital, Allyson had six litres of fluid drained and five days later she was told that she had ovarian cancer.
“I was very weak and frightened. Following an MRI scan, it was decided I would have four sessions of chemotherapy and in September 2020 I underwent surgery.
“When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know the symptoms of ovarian cancer but I’d encourage women to familiarise themselves with B.E.A.T.
“As women, we tend to accept stomach pains and bloating but it’s important to understand what’s normal and speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms that don’t seem right.”
Coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis
“Receiving the ovarian cancer diagnosis was devastating for me and my family. It felt like being woken up in the middle of the night and thrown into the ocean without a life raft. I was so frightened and all I could think about was my death. I felt so alone.
“My husband became my carer and made sure I was eating and drinking properly. After a few months, I started to feel stronger physically and mentally and wanted to take back some control. I began looking at my diet and exercise, as well as investigating ways to manage my mental health.
“Women with ovarian cancer are three times more likely to develop mental health problems and I knew I was struggling. Thankfully, I found Ovacome, an ovarian cancer charity that supported me in my time of need.
“Through Ovacome, I met other women with a diagnosis who have since become dear friends that I couldn’t have managed without. I was a strong, independent woman when I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, but it made me feel vulnerable, yet determined to do something to help myself and other women with a diagnosis.”
“I knew I needed to get fit for surgery and to help with the recovery after, so when I saw a challenge to run 60 miles for Cancer Research UK, I decided to try and walk it instead. I started to walk again, albeit slowly on some days following the chemotherapy. I was very weak, but feeling the weather on my face made me feel so much better.
“In the month prior to my surgery, I walked 70 miles. It wasn’t easy but I was determined to be as fit as I could be. In the month after surgery, I’m proud to say I walked 26 miles and have continued to walk every day since, whatever the weather.
“Walking has been my salvation. As I came to the end of my chemotherapy treatment, I set a goal of walking 1000 miles in 2021.
“When I realised I was walking a marathon a week, my goal changed to 52 marathons in 52 weeks. Sometimes I’d walk with my husband, other days alone, in silence, listening to the sound of each step like a sort of meditation.
“There were other times where I struggled, too, usually because of the ‘scan anxiety’ common among women like me. Slowly, I learned to face my fears. One day I loudly sang Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive while sobbing, which helped with my ‘I can do this!’ attitude. Luckily, we live in the countryside, so nobody saw me!
“During one of my walks, at a time when I was receiving lots of messages of support from others, I came up with the idea of creating a virtual walking group for women with ovarian cancer. I got in touch with Ovacome, who had helped me previously, and we created the Walk With Me group.
Walk With Me is a friendly and supportive group that helps people with Ovarian cancer to achieve their individual walking goals. The group connects virtually on WhatsApp to share friendship, encouragement, stories, and photos of the wonderful things they see on their walks. We also have a Strava club where people can share their routes and congratulate each other.
“Walk With Me isn’t about the distance; it’s about supporting each other through ovarian cancer and sharing our experiences. With the support of the women in the group, I achieved my goal and walked 55.3 marathons in 52 weeks. That even included a few weeks with plantar fasciitis, but nothing was going to stop me!
“I now only do things that bring me joy every day and walking has become that for me, I face my fears as they arise, but know whilst cancer has changed me, it does not define me, but has been a real opportunity for change in my life for which I am grateful.”