I first heard of Kay about 6 months ago from a friend. She told me “If you are looking for a local person with an inspiring story then you’ve GOT to interview Kay – she’s amazing”. So last Sunday Kay and I sat down with Starbuck’s coffee and had a good blether. One of the key things we talk about in this blog is cancer and exercise.
She shared her courageous journey with breast cancer, fitness and living life to the full.
Expect: Lots of exercise inspiration, an insight into losing all your hair and the wonderful idea of asking everyone to wear a wig on her 50th Birthday Party!!
Read on to be totally inspired!!
Hi Kay, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
Sure – I’m Kay! I’m originally from Sheffield. I used to work in theatre – that took me to London and then it brought me up here, to the Highlands. I changed career 25 years ago after the birth of my daughter. I now work for the council.
You seem pretty fit. Have you always been into fitness?
I’ve always been active. When I lived in London I used to cycle everywhere – I didn’t drive until my 40s. I’d cycle and do gym classes.
I’m 49 and I didn’t get into running until I was about 30, so I’ve been running for the last 20 years.
Why and how did you get into running?
Years ago a friend asked me to do a Race for Life 5km with her. I think it was the first ever Race for Life in Inverness. I liked it and got hooked!
I started doing 10 Kms and then half marathons. Getting good race times used to be important to me. I always wanted to do a 10km in under 50 minutes but I never quite got it.
I love running because it gets me outside – I love being outdoors.
Also in recent years I’ve become a more sociable runner. I go to events and do club runs. Running with others motivates me to go out in all-weather and during the dark nights.
I understand that you’ve been unwell in recent years. Can you share more about this?
Yes of course. Well everything had been fine for me health wise so getting cancer came as a major shock. I come from ‘good stock’ – we never get ill!
Two years ago, 2015, I was running with friends and – I know this sounds weird – but they and I noticed that I had sweaty boobs! You could see it on my t-shirt. When I got home and checked, I noticed a lump. So I booked an appointment but I didn’t think much of it – it wouldn’t be anything serious.
I had a mammogram.
They called me a week later and told me I had breast cancer.
Four weeks later I had the lump removed. I was lucky that they caught it early.
They do this thing called “checking the margins” of where the lump was and they also tested my lymph nodes.
I was all clear!
I had radio therapy for 4 weeks and they put me on medication for 5 years.
Then that was it. I felt like I’d ‘got away with it’. I didn’t tell many people as I saw no need.
But I decided to now grab life by the horns!
I’d been lucky and I wanted to make the most of my life.
I don’t like the term ‘bucket list’ but rather I just did things – things that I’d have done anyway – but I felt the need to concentrate the time that I’d do them in.
What did you do?
I cycled around the Outer Hebrides with a friend,
I did challenging hill walks,
I went on a hiking and running holiday in La Palma on my own,
I bought kit and went cross-country skiing for the first time
and I booked on a Spanish Course!
Wow – that’s quite a list!
Yes, I just felt inspired to be fitter and do all the things I wanted to do. I actually ran my fastest ever 5km in that year. I ran it in under 24 minutes.
But am I right in thinking that you got sick again?
I went for my check up mammogram in December 2015. I felt it was just a routine thing and that I’d be fine.
But they found a lump under my arm pit. They biopsied it there and then and I was told it had come back.
They removed all the lymph nodes on one arm and I had to stay in over night, something I hate.
What does it mean to have no lymph nodes on one side? Does this restrict you at all?
It puts me at increased risk of lymph oedema. For ages was terrified of lifting weight in the gym but I did my own research and I now feel it’s okay as long as I’m sensible.
What happened next?
Three or four weeks after the operation I had to have chemo.
I took sick leave from work whilst I had the chemo. The chemo was for 4 months and I took 6 months off work.
I received it in rounds, every 3 weeks. I started the chemo in February and finished in June this year.
I was warned that I’d get different side effects: nausea and joint pain (called peripheral neuropathy). Although I got the nausea I never had any joint pain. I put that down to me being so fit and active as it’s rare not to get that.
Where there any other side effects of the chemo?
My hair started coming out in clumps. I knew I’d have to shave it off and get a wig but I didn’t want it to be too obvious. I had long hair so first I had it cut into a bob. I then chose a similar styled wig and got my hair shaved off.
All my hair came off – my eye brows and eye lashes. But it was okay, I wore eyeliner and drew brows on.
One bonus is that you never need to shave your arms and legs!!
I was lucky in that I felt well during my chemo apart from the first treatment which gave me nausea. But my skin was amazing and I’ve never slept better.
And am I right in thinking you still exercised whilst receiving chemo?
The treatment was every 3 weeks, so I’d usually rest for the week of treatment and train for the other 2 weeks.
It was a very active time for me – I was off work and I wanted to make the most of it. It was during this time that I climbed my 100th Munro!!
Friends who wouldn’t normally hill walk started walking with me as they wanted to support me. Five people did their first Munro with me at this time!
I’d run, I felt this strong drive to make the most of my life and to be as fit as I could.
But I also listened to my body and if I didn’t feel right I’d stop.
I was told that after the is chemo finished my heart and lungs will be affected. I’m certainly feeling this at the moment with my breathing.
It’s amazing, although friends were ‘supporting you’, you were actually introducing them to hill walking and fitness!
Yes! It was a great opportunity and I really appreciated their company.
How do you feel about the support that was offered to you?
I feel that I was lucky – I’m in a relationship, I have a job that I love and lots of friends. I don’t feel I needed much external support. But I went to a support group that was put on.
In some ways I don’t know if I needed the group.
I don’t feel like a ‘cancer victim’ – I have my dark days and days where I felt beaten up but I feel I have the resources to deal with this.
Everyone is different – they get the disease differently, they get different treatment and also they may not have the support in place like I have.
What have you learnt from this experience?
This might sound strange but good things can happen when you are ill.
You realise who your friends are. I received support from people who I didn’t expect to and on occasions didn’t receive it where I did expect it.
I’ve met a lot of really interesting people on the way.
I feel more open, more sociable and humbler. I realise the importance of being connected. I think I was probably a bit more impatient, more focused on my self and would be rushing around in my own world before.
I made 2 good friends from my first round of treatment – we call each other our ‘breast friends’ – we are a strong support to each other.
I’m going to be 50 this year and my brother is taking me on holiday to lap-land to do cross-country skiing which I’m so excited about!
Oh wow, you are turning 50? You don’t look it!!
My partner and I are going to La Palma for my 50th. It is a very special place to me as I went there after my first treatment and felt SO happy and free. I want him to experience it too.
And I’m going to have a 50th party –every body has to wear a wig! and we will do Karaoke. I just tried it for the first time a few months ago and I’m quite good, it’s a fun thing to do. Before all of this I wasn’t going to bother with a party – but now I just feel grateful to be here and want to make the most of it!
I love your energy Kay!
It’s like life has become so vital and precious that you want to squeeze all you can out of it…
Yes. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally a positive person – more of a realist.
But I’m not a victim, I had ill-health – I describe it as a blip and then a bigger blip.
I do fear it coming back. I dread the yearly mammogram.
When I feel fear I think:
“If I die, I die… we all have to…”
I try to be quite open.
But for now I’m living my life.
I’m due my next screen in January and I’m booked to a half marathon in Abu Dhabi in February with friends.
Is there anything else that you are taking from your experience?
I know that staying fit and active has helped me ward of some of the physical and psychological side effects of the chemo and the diagnosis.
Some people won’t be able to do the exercise I did but even walking can help.
I’ve also learned that I can inspire people.
Twenty years ago I wanted to train to be an exercise to music instructor but I thought I was too skinny and would be a poor role model. While I’ve been ill I’ve help motivate a lot of people – I know longer care if people think I’m too skinny! I want to make a difference so I’m going to do it.
I’ve learned the importance of living for the moment and doing things for yourself.
Thanks so much to Kay Odell for so bravely sharing her story here. She is a complete inspiration! Neither Kay nor I are giving out exercise advice to those who have cancer here – rather she is sharing her experience of what has worked for her. If you have cancer we’d encourage you to seek medical advice on your training plan.
Rather I feel Kay’s message is for all of us – if we are healthy or suffering from ill health – life is short and precious and you need to make every moment count. And moving more and getting out doors is usually a good idea! Thanks for reading – please share with anyone you think will find Kay’s story helpful.
If you share Kay’s interest in the hills – or would like to – come walk with me! Find out more here: http://www.cairngormtreks.co.uk/treks-adventures/ If you don’t want to miss a new blog sign up for my email newsletter here: Newsletter Sign Up