The blog is back! Life Update

I can’t believe that it’s been a whole year since I last updated my blog!

Last night I watched an amazing TV film on BBC one called The C-Word which was based on the life of Lisa Lynch – an amazing lady who blogged her way through a cancer diagnosis. I won’t spoil it for those of you that haven’t watched it (if you haven’t, make sure you do. Amazing, inspiring and emotional.) – but I found most of it totally relatable. Watching the film reminded me about how I first started this blog and prompted me to read through my older blog posts.

My blog first started back in 2009, a month after I was diagnosed with very severe aplastic anaemia. I used it as a way to keep my friends and family up to date with my progress while I was in hospital receiving treatment.

More recently, I’ve used the blog to write about my new found hobby, running, and for the occasional reflection on how life used to be.

A lot has happened in my life since my last update. I found myself a full time job which I completely love. I celebrated my one year work anniversary last week!

I did finish the Bupa London 10,000 which I’d been blogging about through my training. My time was 1 hour 7 minutes so a nice PB!

That was the last race that I ran. I had planned to run more last year/early this year – but lost a lot of motivation and for some reason couldn’t commit to a training schedule.

It seems that I have turned a corner recently though. I spectated at the London Marathon again this year and felt totally inspired (I’m sure I said this last year too!)

So inspired that I came home from London on the Sunday night and by Tuesday morning had secured myself a 2016 London Marathon charity place! I am very excited to be running for Starlight Children’s Foundation who are a charity that supported me through my illness.

All is well with my health too. At my last appointment with my consultant about six months ago I was told that for the first time in over five years all of my blood levels were at the level of a healthy adult. Woohoo!

I have been visiting my local hospital every fortnight to have treatment for iron overload which is something that has been caused by the high amount of blood transfusions I received while I was unwell. It’s an annoyance that I still have to go to the hospital regularly but the treatment is simple enough and I am always in and out within about an hour so it could be a lot worse.

Over the last few weeks I have really picked up my training. Up until now, I was just running very randomly – when I felt like it (short version: never). But since getting offered my marathon place I have been giving it my all and am getting used to the early starts so I can fit in a training session before work!

I am so pleased to be back in the blogging world and am looking forward to sharing the next chapter of my life with you all as I prepare to run the London Marathon.

London Marathon fundraising page

Bupa London 10,000 – 5 weeks to go

I’ve had quite a hectic week and haven’t been able to stick to my training plan fully. This week I opted for a quality over quantity approach so I feel like my training hasn’t suffered too much. I would usually try and fit in four runs every week but this week I only managed two – never mind!

So, without further ado… my week in running…

I usually like to go for my long slow run on a Sunday night. Last Sunday I was in London spectating at the marathon and when I got home at about 9.30pm the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run so instead I went on Monday night.

Me and my friend Megan, who is running the Bupa 10k with me, tend to meet up once a week to go for a run together and Monday was the day that we ran together this week. We live on opposite sides of our town so we like to start our run at each others homes on alternate weeks so that we can run different routes. I like doing this because it stops running from becoming monotonous! I also like running with a friend – I just find it makes it so much easier. Me and Meg love to have a good chat as we run.

This week we met up at Meg’s house so she decided on the route. We took a slightly multi terrain route with lots of hills which would usually be my worst nightmare but I actually really enjoyed it. I’ve been incorporating a lot more hills in to my training so this run was a breeze!

There was a slight discrepancy between my iPhone, which said we ran 4.4 miles, and Meg’s iPhone which said we ran 4.5 miles – not a big difference but I love looking over the stats after I go for a run so I just want to know which is most accurate! Nevertheless, we covered somewhere around that distance in 53:20 with an average pace of 12:08 minute miles. I was hoping for an average pace closer to 11 minute miles but factoring in the unexpected hills, I’m happy with that pace!

I went for another run during the week but I can’t tell you anything about it because I didn’t track the stats at all. The only way I can track my runs is through my iPhone but I really don’t like to have it with me when I’m running because I feel like it’s another thing I have to worry about – so I decided to not take it. Maybe I should invest in a Garmin watch?

One thing I can tell you is that I felt strong at the end of the run which can only be a good thing! It was nice to fit a quick run in to an otherwise hectic week.

Another week down, five more to go!

Running for a reason

I first started running in 2013 when I signed up to run the British 10k to raise money for Teens Unite. Although I’m now running purely because I enjoy it instead of fundraising for charity, my reasons for starting running still help keep me motivated through my training.

This time last week I was in London spectating at the London Marathon which happens to be one of the biggest fundraising events in the UK and I saw so many amazing people running for something that’s important to them – whether it be to raise money for a charity close to their heart or simply to chase a PB time. The determination of all of the runners was really inspiring and it really got me thinking about my reasons for starting running in the first place.

Spectating at the London Marathon

Teens Unite are an amazing charity who support young people aged 13-24 with life limiting illnesses including cancer. They were (in fact, they still are) a huge support to me when I was going through my own personal health struggles and they’ve enabled me to meet so many other young people facing similar situations to myself. Running the British 10k was an opportunity for me to thank them for everything that they’ve done for me over the years and it was an honour to run on behalf of all of the teens whose health conditions mean that they are unable to run that distance.

Me with some of my Teens Unite friends and Natalie Cassidy!

Whenever I tire in my training I think about all of the inspirational people that I’ve met through Teens Unite and it really helps to lift my spirits.

Before and after. Left: day after my transplant; Right: Showing off my British 10k bling

One mantra that I love is “one day you won’t be able to do this but today isn’t the day“.

If you’re looking to get in to running but don’t know where to start why don’t you consider signing up to run a race for a charity that means something to you? Teens Unite still have places to run the British 10k in July!

London Marathon 2014

Yesterday thousands of people descended on the streets on England’s capital for the annual Virgin Money London Marathon and for the first time ever I went along to spectate and support all of the amazing runners.

Team MS-UK!

I can’t believe I’d never been to watch before and I’m already looking forward to going back next year! It was an absolutely incredible atmosphere and it was one of the most inspiring days ever. In the past I’ve doubted myself and my ability to run but seeing yesterday I witnessed the biggest variety of people running, from pensioners to those with disabilities who are succeeding against the odds, and it really inspired me to keep going.

I spent the day volunteering for an amazing charity called MS-UK who are based in my hometown, Colchester. They are dedicated to supporting anyone affected by multiple sclerosis – which my mum was sadly diagnosed with 20 years ago. I felt honoured to be able to support all of their runners who raised a lot of money!

Look how beautiful the weather was!

We arrived quite early on in the day and pitched up on the Embankment, just before the 25 mile point. Shortly after we arrived the Mini London Marathon and wheelchair races started which was another inspiring part of the day.

Mo Farah was who everyone was waiting for and when he ran past the crowds went wild! Mo is one of my biggest inspirations and it was so great to see him running his first marathon.

Mo!

Then the fun began when the masses started to pass us. I loved seeing all of the amazing people taking on the challenge – most of who were raising money for a cause that was important to them. Even more amazing was those running in costumes – as if running a marathon wasn’t difficult enough already! There were a lot of rhinos, superheroes, a man with a fridge on his back(!!), firemen, morphsuits and onesies – just to name a few of the amazing costumes I saw.

An amazing woman called Melissa Fehr passed us quite early on in the race. She finished with an amazing time of 3:30 and left with a personal best, Good For Age entry into next years race and a Boston Qualifier! Melissa contacted me a few weeks ago after I was chosen as letter of the month in the May 2014 edition of Runner’s World. Like me, she received a bone marrow transplant five years ago for a condition similar to what I had. I gave her a huge cheer as she passed through the MS-UK cheering point and it was great to see her with a beaming smile on her face! Melissa was raising money for Anthony Nolan – please check out her Virgin Money Giving page to find out more about her.

I was also incredibly proud to see my friends mum Amanda who was struggling with a knee injury but continued to finish the race. She was raising money for Children with Cancer UK which is also a charity very close to my heart.

We stayed right until the end to cheer on as many runners as we could to help them through their final mile of the marathon. I was even throwing out compliments like ‘how can anyone run a marathon and look as good as you do right now – keep going!’. Every single person that got to the finish line is an absolute hero in my books – regardless of the time they got there in.

Bring on 2016 when I’ll be old enough to enter the marathon!

Bupa London 10,000 – 6 weeks to go

The clock is ticking and my first race of 2014, the Bupa London 10,000, is approaching quickly.

When I ran my the British 10k last July my training was so sporadic and instead of following a structured training plan I just ran as far as I wanted as often as I wanted (not very often according to my RunKeeper history!). That approach clearly didn’t work for me as looking back at my RunKeeper history the furthest I’d ran before the race was 5k – no wonder I was so unprepared come race day!

At the end of the British 10k 2013 after less than adequate training

This year I’ve opted for a very different approach and have decided to follow a training plan which I started last Sunday.

I spent a lot of time researching different training plans and I decided to base my own training plan on Hal Higdon’s training plans which a lot of people seem to love. I’ve made a few adjustments to his Novice 10k training plan, for example I’m running four times a week as opposed to three and my I’ve started my long runs on Sundays at an increased distance to ensure that I’ve ran further than the 10k distance before the Bupa 10,000. The longest run on the training plan is only 5.5 miles so I’ve adapted it so that my longest run before the race is 7 miles.

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a weekly training update on my blog so keep your eyes peeled for those!

Before I finish this post I just want to wish everyone running the London Marathon tomorrow the best of luck – you’re all amazing! I’ll be there cheering you all on!

Back in the zone

I really don’t like the winter. It sucks. I hate the weather (not that the weather in this country is ever nice – even in the summer!) and it just makes me feel so unmotivated.

Since Christmas I’ve been the worst runner. My new years resolution (to run 4 times a week) had flown out of the window by mid-January but of course I managed to find my excuses.

My friend Megan and I have both signed up to run the Bupa London 10,000 in May and although our 8 week training plan doesn’t start until the end of March, we’ve decided that from now we’re going to go for long runs together every Sunday and last night was our first long run together. Let’s hope we stick to it!

Obviously we took loads of pictures of ourselves!

Usain and Mo?

We were only planning on running about 5k but we ended up doing 8 which was nice! I was surprised because the first time I went running with Meg about a year ago I had to stop at the end of the road. I was so unfit! I really enjoy running with someone else so all in all I really enjoyed our first Sunday night run! Meg prefers to run with music so I took my Yurbuds so I had something to listen to but I forgot to charge my phone and it ended up running out of battery after 3km… just my luck!

Compulsory Instagram pic

On Thursday I’m joining my local running club which is exciting!

I will make sure I update my blog to let everyone know how my training is going. The blog has been a little neglected recently!

2013 reflections

I cannot believe that 2013 is coming to a close already! It feels like it was just yesterday I was welcoming in this year – but as they say… time flies when you’re having fun!

This year has been so good to me. I’ve done so many amazing things and I feel amazing for it! It was the three year anniversary of my bone marrow transplant this July and it feels so crazy to think that I’ve done things that were completely unimaginable just a few years ago.

This post was inspired by Facebook’s new Year in Review feature which lets you see your 20 biggest moments from the last 12 months and I really enjoyed looking back at everything that I’ve done.

Without further ado let’s have a look at my five favourite memories from 2013:

1. Beating aplastic anaemia

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know about my four year struggle with a rare blood disorder called aplastic anaemia which I fortunately got the all clear from this February! I posted a YouTube video about it at the time and I still get a bit emotional watching it back now!

2. Running the British 10k

To celebrate getting the all clear, myself and my friend Anna decided to run the British 10k London Run on the weekend of the anniversary of my bone marrow transplant to raise money for the amazing Teens Unite! I’m so proud of this achievement because when I was having my treatment I could barely walk to the end of the road without getting out of breath. It was an absolutely fantastic experience and the best thing is that we raised over £1700 for Teens Unite!

3. The Purple Tie Dinner and Dance

Another Teens Unite fundraising event – one of most incredible evenings of my life! Over the summer I worked with a group of other young people supported by Teens Unite to organise the amazing Purple Tie evening at Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire. I got the opportunity to share my story with the guests which I loved! I was so proud to be part of this amazing event which raised nearly £9000!

 

 

4. Leaving school

Having aplastic anaemia and being constantly in and out of hospital meant that I missed most of the first three years of secondary school and for a long time I felt like I wasn’t going to ever go back. Fortunately, I managed to get back to school to do my GCSEs and I got a good set of results which I’m really proud of. I do kind of miss it though!

First day, 2008 and last day, 2013
School prom

5. Enjoying life

It’s impossible for me to summarise my year in just five points so this one broadly covers all of the fun and amazing things I’ve done this year from going to V Festival to meeting the X Factor judges and even just all of the fun things I’ve got up to with my friends – like onesie dog walking (you should try it!)

 

 

 

 

Sonia!!!

 

I’ve loved every minute of this year and can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for me. I’m looking forward to running more races, fundraising for even more great charities and of course working really hard on this blog!

What is your favourite memory of 2013? Leave a comment!

Victoria Park Santa Run

Since the British 10k in July my poor running shoes have been gathering dust in the corner – oops! I really do love running but despite signing up for a few races in 2014 I just couldn’t get back into it but then the lovely people at Teens Unite Fighting Cancer mentioned that they had places for the Do It For Charity Santa Run in London’s Victoria Park so I jumped at the chance to snap one up!

It was slightly surreal seeing thousands of Santa’s descend on Victoria Park but it was great fun nevertheless! At the 5k point there was a choice to either stop there or carry on for 10k which I was considering but of course I thought of my excuses!

I finished the race in 37 minutes which I was fine with but I would’ve liked to have done it in 30! I can count on both hands the amount of runs I’ve been on since July so I think I did well considering that!

I would’ve finished slightly quicker but running in a Santa suit isn’t as easy as it looks and at around half way through the course I decided to de-Santa!

The event has really motivated me to get back into running and I’m really looking forward to running the Bupa London 10,000 in May! I’m even considering doing the British 10k again – let’s just hope next year won’t be as hot as it was this year!

Most importantly – I managed to raise another £180 for a charity that’s really close to my heart! If anyone would like to make a small donation please visit my JustGiving page – every penny will be much appreciated!

Isolation, swine flu masks and lies

Recovering from a procedure as big as my bone marrow transplant wasn’t easy. After being an inpatient at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit in London for 20 weeks, in September 2010 I was finally discharged! It had been two months since my transplant and I was feeling better than ever however I was still vulnerable and everything I did was a potential health risk. My lack of immunity meant that public transport was out of bounds and often I would have to wear a mask, similar to the ones used in the swine flu outbreak a few months prior, on any outings. Being bald was bad enough but wearing the mask really did make me stick out like a sore thumb and that was one of the reasons I continued to feel isolated despite being discharged from hospital.

It was only 18 months earlier that my family and I were told I was suffering with leukaemia and I asked my sister “am I going to die?” – a moment that stuck in my head throughout my treatment. I’m quite similar to my mum, who suffers with Multiple Sclerosis, in the sense that unless I really need to I won’t show anyone that I’m suffering and even when I was being wheeled around hospitals, so pale that I was nearly transparent and feeling like a dog, I would always respond with “I’m fine” whenever anyone asked how I was, but inside I was scared. I was scared to be leaving hospital. I didn’t know what was round the corner for me and if I’d cope being almost in isolation in my own home – a normal teenage life was right in front of me but I just couldn’t quite get to it. Going back to school wasn’t in the foreseeable future and I was scared that my friends could forget about me.

I was right to be nervous. Less than 24 hours later I was packing my bags and back in London after a spike in my body temperature. The doctors told me I’d be back for two nights maximum which eventually turned into a further six weeks but I was relieved. I knew I was safe there and the people around me understood what I was going through. I didn’t have to worry about anything for those six weeks because I knew I was in the best place for me. Of course I was eventually getting fed up of being in hospital but part of me almost didn’t want to go home.

During those six weeks I faced all sorts of problems. I fought infections, spent countless sleepless nights screaming in pain and praying that I’d get better soon. I was fed up of being ‘different’ and although I was nearly two years into my journey it still hadn’t sunk in that I’d been diagnosed with this horrible illness.

When I was discharged from London for the second time I had to return to the hospital twice a week – on a Monday and Thursday – to meet with my consultant. Because I was unable to use public transport I had to endure long taxi journeys to London, often in rush hour, and a quick ten minute appointment could frequently create a ten hour day – majorly spent in the back of a car. It wasn’t for many months that my appointments were cut to weekly and then monthly but it felt great that eventually I had more time to start living my life.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss Christmas, my first holiday since being diagnosed and an amazing charity called Teens Unite.

The Bone Marrow Transplant

Thank you again for such an amazing response to the first two posts in my Sunday blog series where I’m writing about my fight with aplastic anaemia from the very beginning. It’s been so lovely reading all of the messages I’ve received each week, especially those from people that I don’t even know.

After my condition being re-diagnosed as aplastic anaemia I started treatment quite quickly. My family and I spent a lot of time with my consultant discussing possible treatments, side effects, precautions and risks. Hearing so many complex words and drug names was frightening, especially at such a young age. I was only 11 and I was petrified however I kept going because I trusted what the doctors were saying and I knew that if I kept my chin up it would all be so much easier to cope with. There are loads of pictures of me during my treatment always with a smile on my face!

I was receiving chemotherapy when I took this picture, believe it or not!

As you can see, I tried to never let my treatment get on top of me. I knew that the pain and sickness was, however silly it sounded to me at the time, going to be worth it so I kept going. For a few weeks I filmed a video diary, which I’ll post on this blog later on in the week, and looking back at the videos I can’t believe how happy I was!

Behind the smiley face, however, was a very scared teenage boy. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me and although I genuinely was happy to be in the best hands, some days I would just break down in tears because I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore.

From day one there had always been talk of a bone marrow transplant however my consultant wanted to try other treatments first that promised a quicker recovery. The first treatment I received was called ATG, or anti-thymocyte globulin, which is very difficult to explain but all I can say is that it’s produced by rabbits and horses! The doctors were amazed because they anticipated very bad side effects that would have me out of action for weeks but it got to day five of the week long intensive treatment and I was still acting perfectly normal! But that all changed in the last few days which bought fainting, vomiting, the works! Grim.

I was discharged a week or two before my 12th birthday and had to be kept isolated at home. It sounds horrible to be kept in isolation in your own home but I was so glad to be able to sleep in a comfortable bed and eat nice food! Fortunately I was able to go out with my family to celebrate my birthday!

Months passed and we went to an appointment with my consultant to receive the results of my ATG and unfortunately I’d been put forward to receive a bone marrow transplant. The consultant explained to me about tissue matching and how sometimes it can be very hard to find perfect matches but I found two or three! Unfortunately the first two weren’t able to donate and I was starting to lose hope when one day my dad got a phone call from the hospital saying they’d found a completely perfect match who was willing to donate and that I’d be starting treatment within a month.

In July 2010 I was transferred to University College Hospital, London and quickly started on an intensive cycle of chemotherapy to completely wipe my immune system. The first few days were fine, I felt generally ill but it was nothing compared to the first time round. I had one rough day out of ten which was great because I was well enough to walk around and look after myself. My life changed forever on the 15th July 2010 when after months of waiting, I finally received the bone marrow transplant that saved my life! I can remember the day so well – it was around lunchtime and when the bone marrow arrived I was eating a takeaway pizza (classy!)

It was quite surreal. As I sat there munching away at a pepperoni pizza, an anonymous donors bone marrow was being delivered to me through my hickman line (plastic tube that connects straight to the central artery) just like a blood transfusion. I was awake throughout and the procedure was finished within half an hour.

That evening, I received a small blood transfusion and I’ve never had one since – a far cry from having up to nine per week not so long before!

Day after transplant – feeling better already!

I was kept in hospital for a long time afterwards and was finally discharged and back in Essex in September – only to return 24 hours later – but that’s another blog post!