Pam joined our Hadrian’s Wall trek in July 2014. A challenge that began as a way to raise money in memory of her partner soon became a “life-changing and life-affirming experience” as well. Read her story.
Three and a half years ago my partner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our immediate reaction at the time was one of shock, disbelief and despair. We remained in a state of suspended animation for a good few weeks as we came to terms with the arrival of this uninvited guest at our door.
A few weeks after her diagnosis, a friend gave us a book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The book is intended to be a self-help guide for day-to-day living in which the author suggests that individuals should be aware of their "present moment" instead of losing themselves in worry and anxiety about the past or future. This seemed like a pretty good idea to us, given the fact that we had spent the best part of a month worrying about what we could have done differently, what we’d missed and what the future held. So we set about the business of living in the moment and making every one of those moments count.
Meeting others in a similar situation
A very important part of living in the moment for my partner was gaining a clearer understanding of what she was dealing with and meeting others in a similar situation to her own. Her consultant at The Western General Hospital in Edinburgh suggested that she go online and look up Target Ovarian Cancer. I can still remember coming home from work one day to find her enthusing about the information she had gleaned simply from exploring the website. It was heartening to see her so determined. It meant so much to her to know that there was a charity focused on raising awareness, supporting women and promoting research.
We went on to attend a Being Together event in Edinburgh, which was a very positive and supportive experience for both of us. I really believe that her contact with the charity played a significant role in her ability to face adversity with determination and dignity.
Prior to her illness, my partner and I were great outdoor pursuits enthusiasts and had many memorable camping and trekking holidays. She often spoke of her desire to plan a fundraising event for Target Ovarian Cancer and, invariably, her ideas about what form this event should take led to discussions about sponsored walks or treks that we might arrange.
Sadly, she was never really well enough to engage with her fundraising plans. In the last few weeks of her life, we talked about many things including her desire for me to carry on living in the moment, endeavoring to make every moment count, and I promised her that I would honor her wish to support the charity that had come to mean so much to her.
Woman on a mission
Not long after she passed away, I read about Target Ovarian Cancer’s Hadrian’s Wall trek, which was due to take place in July. I thought it sounded like the perfect fundraising event for me to join in my partner’s memory. I have to admit that I signed up with a fair amount of trepidation. I was reeling from the loss of my life partner and best friend. I also had to acknowledge that, as our life had become more sedentary, I lost a good deal of fitness, which made me wonder if I was up to the challenge. And I was worried about managing to raise sufficient funds. But I was a woman on a mission and I was determined to honor my promises.
Preparing for the trek became my focus. I treated myself to some new kit courtesy of the January sales. I joined two local walking groups and began walking every weekend so that I could put in some miles over varied terrain. I also increased my weekly Zumba class to two classes a week. And I began fundraising.
The pupils at the school where I teach had a coffee morning in March, which was on a 50’s theme for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. My Zumba instructors, The Zumba Boys, suggested that I challenge myself to do all ten of their Zumba classes in a week and they would encourage the women taking the classes to sponsor me. This also provided me with an excellent opportunity to educate more than 250 women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
My wonderful choir, Love Music Community Choir, chose Target Ovarian Cancer as their charity for the summer term and, once again, I had the opportunity to raise awareness with over 300 folk. These fundraising experiences have led to new friendships that have become very important to me over this past year.
Spirit of comradeship
Over the months leading up to the trek I focused on my preparation, one moment at a time. As the date drew nearer, I was able to engage with fellow trekkers on our dedicated Hadrian’s Wall Facebook page. By the time the weekend of 11-13 July arrived, I was feeling anxious but also ready for the challenge. I had managed to raise over £3000 for the charity and was feeling fitter than I had in some time.
The trek proved to be a life changing and life affirming experience. I discovered that my anxiety about taking part in the challenge on my own, not knowing any of my fellow trekkers, was completely unfounded – these folk turned out to be friends I just hadn’t met yet! From the start there was a real spirit of comradeship borne out of our collective desire to make a difference to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
I believe that, for each and every one of us on the trek, the idea of living in the moment and making every moment count typified our approach to meeting the challenges we all faced that weekend. And it did challenge us in so many different ways – it was physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. It was heartwarming to witness how we all supported one another every step of the way.
It has to be said that the Target Ovarian Cancer staff and the Global Adventure Challenges staff were amazing and really worked so hard to make the experience a positive and fun one for all! We also learned a ‘new descriptor’ for the many ‘hills’ we had to traverse – they were deviously referred to as ‘undulations’ by the Global Adventures Challenges staff, a word we were all using with great fondness by the end of the weekend!
It was a very emotional moment for each of us as we crossed the finish line - it was also a moment of great satisfaction, knowing that we were being proactive in the face of the adversity that ovarian cancer had brought to each of our lives. In the ensuing days, weeks and months the friendships forged that weekend have flourished. For those of you here tonight who are considering trekking for the charity in the future, I think we would all say “Go for it!” You won’t regret it.
In the months leading up to the trek, I did worry about what I would do once it was all over. My preparation had been such a big part of helping me through a very difficult time and I was worried about how I would feel when I no longer had that goal ahead to work toward. I’m happy to say that I have continued walking and I can still be found in the Pentland Hills just outside Edinburgh most weekends! I was also keen to let Amy and Georgina from Target Ovarian Cancer know that I would be up for further involvement with the charity as and when opportunities arose. So, in October, I volunteered at the Walk for One Million at Falkirk, in Scotland (and I even took the Zumba Boys with me!).
I have come to realise that ovarian cancer will always be a part of my life now. My involvement with Target Ovarian Cancer has enabled me to address this fact in a positive and healing manner, as I strive to support the charity’s aim to save lives and help women diagnosed live their lives to the full, wherever they are in the UK.
Inspired by Pam's story? Please share your own experience of ovarian cancer.