Running extraordinaire Emma Mumby tells us her story
Running extraordinaire and fundraiser Emma Mumby tells us her story
I’d been out for a training run, it was such a warm morning that all I wanted to do was lie down when I got back. I only felt the lump for the first time when I moved a certain way…I had rolled over and felt it against my ribs. I initially thought it was an injury…not what was wanted as I was training for a half marathon and it hadn’t been long since doing Race for Life for my Dad, who had had to undergo treatment for stage four lung cancer. My body was still recovering from it and I was feeling flu-like symptoms too. I went to get checked out, even though I was reluctant to… I really didn’t want to take it seriously.
But then, after initial checks, I felt positive – so many said it was probably just a cyst given my age, lifestyle and fitness level. I worried a little bit over the weekend, but I didn’t dwell and I was at work the next week. Then the hospital called and left a message for me to make contact as soon as possible...that made me so nervous. I was told I needed to go in and see them straight away, and suddenly we were talking about surgery and radiotherapy, it was all too much to take in. I have to admit though, my gut reaction was ‘will I still be able to do the Great North Run?’. I’d gotten really into running over the previous twelve months, and it became so integral to my experience and recovery, to getting through. So in spite of the pain of my lumpectomy surgery, which I wasn’t ready for at all, I was running just 4 weeks later. It was my greatest experience and my proudest moment…
I then faced further treatment. My tests took away a choice about chemotherapy, I had to have it. In preparation for it I also had to go through an induced menopause just before my 35th birthday. So it wasn’t just about facing surgery, or chemo – it become everything – now, and my whole future. Cancer forces you to evaluate everything, especially your own life. In the last year I feel like I’ve learned what I need to live…life is too short. I was a flake, I said ‘yes’ all the time, I was living to work. Now I have more confidence in living for me, doing what is best for me and taking care of myself.
Telling friends was really hard – you end up propping up other people and telling them everything will be ok, and they tell you they know you can do it. In the end, you sort of begin to believe it, that helped. My fiancé, my family – they got me through. But running was so important too. I made the decision to keep running through treatment, a choice supported by my Oncologist. I wrote a running plan, which helped give me a focus, and I ran and ran. At the end of treatment I planned to do the Longhorn 10k in April, the Manchester half marathon in May, Race for Life 10K in June… all building up to the Peak District Ultramarathon for the anniversary of my diagnosis – a 50km run. My first big race – the Longhorn 10K took place the weekend after I finished radiotherapy, and around two months after finishing chemotherapy – I was tired out just by driving there! I kept it steady and dashed across the line alone in 1 hour 10 minutes, just 14 minutes behind my previous 10k record from before I fell ill. I was so proud. Less than a month later I got a personal best as I crossed the line at the Manchester half marathon…only my second official half marathon after the Great North Run, nine months before.
Running gave me something to do, plan for, think about and talk about that wasn’t cancer. And feeling ‘ordinary’ became important – little things like the receptionists at the hospital knowing my name, and asking about running and not cancer – that really mattered. People couldn’t believe I was doing this, and the goals I was setting myself, but during treatment I met five women all living with terminal cancer – and they were the most alive people I’ve ever met. They knew what mattered…living to the fullest. I sometimes wonder if the universe felt like I needed that kick – to come face to face with my own mortality – something that would push me to live everyday as best I could.
It’s done that for me. I look at pictures of myself before cancer, and treatment, and my fiancé says ‘you know you’d kick her arse now!’ and he’s right. I really hope I was stronger than I feel like I was. If you’d told me in July 2018 that a year later I’d not only run a 32-mile Ultramarathon, but cross the line as fourth female over that distance…I wouldn’t have believed you, it still feels surreal!
When I was undergoing treatment, Weston Park Cancer Charity really helped. I used to come along after chemotherapy and during radiotherapy for the craft sessions, mindfulness and sometimes just for a chat with people who made me feel ordinary. Cancer takes away the ordinary – little basic things become precious. Even on a practical level, stuff like paying the bills becomes hard – everyday stuff like heating, which you’re using more of because you’re at home. Someone from Citizen’s Advice saw me at the cancer support centre and he advised me on getting help with paying our energy bills, plus extra financial support we could look to claim. That help to do ordinary things, and to feel ‘normal’…it’s so important. I think it’s what I most want people to know about cancer. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal. Cancer isn’t a death sentence – I thought more about life than anything else! And I just longed for an ordinary, normal life throughout treatment.
It’s been hard adjusting from the world I occupied for a year to the ‘ordinary’ again – you become so immersed in the places and the pattern of treatment that in some ways it feels safer than the day to day. It’s like living scares me now – I get very anxious. When I’m planning ahead I’m so aware of how things we take for granted might change, so planning for my fiancé’s birthday next year is frightening. The one thing I can focus on planning for is running. I don’t know why that’s different, but it’s something I need to have ahead, to look forward to. I have my first 5K race booked in November, the Manchester marathon next April, and I may run the London marathon too, ballot depending. But the biggest challenge next year will be my first 100K Ultramarathon, as I take on the Thames Path Challenge. I’ve entered as a runner to do the full distance as a one day event…hopefully crossing the line in under fifteen hours. To have such a goal to work to helps to keep me focused on training – and it helps with the anxiety of living life again after cancer.
If you would like to support Emma… https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emma-mumby6