“Cancer taught me that life can change in an instant but cycling helped me move forward.”
Mother-of-two is joined by daughters for Cancer Research UK’s Cycle 300 challenge.
A mother-of-two from Bingham, Notts, who was left physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted after facing breast cancer, says her experience has given her a newfound sense of adventure.
Lauren Blackamore, who lives with daughters Jasmine, 7 and Emmie, 5, said she has learnt to make the most of the time she has been given, after going through the shock that life can change in an instant. And to play her part in supporting research, she has signed up for Cancer Research UK’s Cycle 300 fundraising event.
The 36-year-old had always been fit, active, and focused, setting herself personal physical challenges such as running 1000km in a year alongside working for credit reporting company Experian. However, she had been aware of a niggling pea-sized lump in her left breast and after months of trying to put it to the back of her mind she decided to mention it to her GP. At the end of 2017 she was referred to the Nottingham Breast Institute, but scans revealed nothing abnormal.
“A year or so later, I decided to go back to the doctors. I’d lost a lot of weight and put that down to diet and exercise, but the lump had changed slightly in size. I remember saying that I didn’t understand what it was and just wanted it to be removed,” said Lauren, whose daughters were just 2 and 4-years-old at the time.
Appreciating that she wanted the peace of mind, Lauren’s GP referred the then 33-year-old back to the hospital. In March 2019 she had more scans and was surprised when doctors took a biopsy at her appointment but felt relieved that she would find out what the mysterious lump was.
“The bit that sticks most in my head from that day was that the consultant pressed that I shouldn’t come to the results appointment on my own. They booked it for a couple of days later and my mum came with me.
“When I got to the Breast Institute on March 7tht, I was ushered relatively quickly into a room and a few minutes later two women appeared and introduced themselves as a surgeon and a breast care nurse. At that point I knew it was bad and I didn’t need to hear the news they gave me: ‘I’m sorry the biopsy has shown that you have Breast Cancer’.
“Nothing prepares you for those words. Regardless of the niggles, I don’t think I’d allowed myself to believe it could be anything serious and I broke down in tears. Ringing my dad and telling him was devastating.”
“That was the beginning of a whirlwind of information, decisions, tests and appointments. The nurse advised me to think urgently about whether I wanted more children because of the impact of treatment on fertility. I was also offered DNA testing to see if I had the faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
“It was a lot to take in and I left that appointment realising the impact the diagnosis would have on everyone around me. I’d never really planned to have any more children, but you never expect to face a decision like that. The DNA test was an eye opener too. I realised if I had a faulty gene then my daughters would have a higher risk of breast cancer as well. It was such a relief a few weeks later when the DNA tests came back with no issues.”
Three weeks after Lauren’s diagnosis surgeons removed four tumours and carried out a partial breast reconstruction using tissue from her underarm. They also removed a lymph node to establish whether the cancer had spread.
“I was very lucky that it hadn’t got that far and so my consultant took the decision that chemotherapy wasn’t necessary. Hearing those words felt like winning the lottery and in June 2019 I started five and a half weeks of daily radiotherapy and a five-year course of daily hormone therapy tablets.
“I was really positive at the start of my treatment and I continued to work throughout it and tried to be upbeat for my children. But by the end it was really draining and I was utterly wiped out.
“I rang the bell on 18th July 2019 which was an incredible feeling and I honestly thought ‘things can only get better’. In reality it wasn’t that simple. I hadn’t appreciated that throughout the journey I hadn’t really stopped to think about what had happened. I’d just kept moving forward, working to the next appointment and prioritising those around me.
“Two weeks later I hit a really bad place. I was annoyed with myself that I should have been happy that it was over but I also hadn’t appreciated the aftermath is quite a lonely and scary place, even though I had an incredible support network. I kept my emotions to myself and struggled to get out of bed.”
Lauren had always turned to running as a way of looking after her mental health but the fatigue she was experiencing as a result of her treatment left her with little energy to exercise.
“I came to the realisation that I needed to turn a terrible, unlucky, unthinkable situation into something good, so I turned my focus to something I had never done before and bought a road bike. I had no expectations of myself and it was less physical exertion. I started to build up my rides, managing to go further and faster and loved having that headspace and sense of achievement again.”
Having fully regained her fitness, and finally ready to face another challenge, Lauren and her partner recently climbed Snowdon, took part in The Yorkshire 3 Peaks and completed the 100km Peak District Ultra challenge last month.
Lauren said, “That gave me the lift and reassurance that actually cancer doesn’t have to be the be all and end all, I have achieved more than I ever thought I could have, even before cancer, less than 2 years after finishing treatment.”
Lauren now wants to get back from hiking to biking and has signed up to Cancer Research UK’s Cycle 300 challenge. She will raise sponsorship by cycling 300 miles throughout September with daughters Jasmine and Emmie occasionally riding alongside her.
The challenge is open to anyone and you can choose how to complete it – whether it’s 10 miles a day, 75 miles a weekend or all in one go.
She said: “Since having cancer I’ve been passionate about helping raise awareness, raising funds and supporting others who face the same battles. I know personally how important Cancer Research UK’s work is, not only for me but for the future of my children. I never thought at 33-years-old I would become that 1 in 2 people who get cancer. I was young, fit and healthy.
“The work Cancer Research UK does is vital to better understand, detect, diagnose and treat cancer and the Cycle 300 challenge is a great, fun way to push yourself to raise money for the sake of others.”
Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of the progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
Nicki Embleton, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Nottingham, said: “We are very grateful to Lauren for her support and hope it will start a chain-reaction, sparking the interest of cyclists of all ages and abilities. 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime**. But all of us can play a part to help beat it.
Cancer Research UK spent over £2 million in the East Midlands last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research. Money raised by Cycle 300 is crucial to the pioneering work of doctors, nurses and scientists who are tackling cancer on all fronts.
Taking on the challenge has positive health benefits too. Along with helping to build fitness and burn excess calories, cycling regularly encourages a healthier heart and can help to improve mood and sleep.
Join the challenge and receive a free fundraising pack at cruk.org/cycle300
Lauren’s fundraising page is www.fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/laurens-cycle-300-giving-page-1