23. The Secret to Losing Weight and Transformation Photos (hills climbed: Meall Bhuidhe and Luinne Bheinn)

This is the 21st post of a series which is introduced here.

May 2018

Mel and I arrive at Inverie at half nine having been ferried across the water from Mallaig in a small boat, because this hamlet on the peninsula of Knoydart in the Scottish Highlands is inaccessible by road. There’s no police, no street lighting or street names. It’s all very ‘Wicker Man’ but I love it here.

We trot out along a stony track. It’s overcast and lightly breezy, but warm. Our first landmark comes into view; a prominent memorial perched on top of a dome shaped hillock.

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The memorial was commissioned by Lord Brocket in memory of his father. Brocket was Laird here at the time of the land raids, he was also a Nazi-sympathiser. 

Mel and I haven’t seen each other for some time and now that we’re walking I remark on how lean she has become.

‘Yeah, that’s protein for ya man. It’s great and I obviously had fat to lose, but the downside is all my work clothes are falling off me.’ Mel says.

‘I know what you mean! Even my size twelves are baggy on me now,’ I reply. ‘Do you remember how miserable I was when the breast care nurse told me weight gain was an inevitability of being on Tamoxifen and that shifting fat would be difficult?’

‘She didn’t know how bloody minded you are,’ Mel said.

‘I know right! I’ve always been determined. When I was twelve I wanted a ping pong table, but when I asked Mum if she’d get me one she was like ‘no, it costs too much/where would it go?/ it’s probably just another of your fads.’ But I REALLY wanted a ping pong table so you know what I did? I saved up my pocket money, bought some wood, some ply, banged it together and made my own. The point I’m making by telling that story is if you truly want something then you make it happen…I didn’t want to be fat. Despite the odds stacked against me I had something to prove. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you set your mind to something.’

Mel is faster than me as we ascend steep, rough ground toward the ridge of Meall Buidhe. She disappears into the landscape. I think back to when I was here in 2014, the height of summer, blisteringly hot, battling my way up this unforgiving steep slope through scratchy bracken. Now my struggle is quite different. Another sharp pain shoots up my spine, and each step with my right foot a mini trauma. But I am here and still able to do the thing I love.

I top out. The wind is ferocious. We get higher and higher. ‘How heavy are you?’ I shout to Mel. The question arouses no suspicion as so far we’ve only been talking about food, exercise and weight loss. But I’m actually asking about her weight because my legs aren’t strong like they once were and I’m totally paranoid a sudden gust will blow me clean off the face of the mountain. Mel tells me she’s 52kg so I feel reassured that if anyone’s being blown off it’ll be her first.

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Mel LEANing into the wind.
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The long walk over egg boxed terrain from Meall Buidhe to Luinne Bheinn (mountain in partial shadow centre left)
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Even loooonger walk out to the Mam Barrisdale and back to Inverie.

We march out. My feet are in so much agony they’re looking for my shoe laces to hang themselves with. My body hurts all over, especially the arm the chemotherapy was put in. My back aches too. ‘Last time I was here I was fantasising about an ice cold pint of lemonade and lime, this time all I want is to get my boots off and lie down. I’m fucked,’ I say.

‘It’s a fair old trek,’ Mel nods. ‘It’s the biggest hill day I’ve done this year.’

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Back in Inverie the Frenchie is outside The Old Forge. Britain’s most remote pub.

It takes us 9 hours to walk the 27km route. We shower, change and then head to the pub. I enjoy my first double Jack ‘n’ coke of the night while we wait for big, juicy venison burgers to be brought to our table. ‘This is what I love best about a big fuck off hill day – you can drink and eat more and not worry about all the calories,’ Mel says. And I agree, it is good.

I think about the convenient excuses I’d made to convince myself that weight gain wasn’t my fault – I was ill/I felt low/It’s hormonal/It’s the chemotherapy and Tamoxifen/ I’m eating healthily  so it can’t be down to me (err no, you fucking liar, what about stealing chips from your son’s plate before eating your own dinner or dipping into the biscuit tin, not to mention all the extra picking in between!).

I think about how unhappy I felt with myself until I came to realise that the secret to losing weight is incredibly simple – stop eating like a fucking dickhead.

Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise so I did two things; I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app to keep a daily diary of what I chuck down my cake-hole; I signed up for the James Smith Academy Bali Challenge. Weighing and logging everything I ate was a pain at first, but I soon got into the way of it. And for the three month long Bali Challenge I have to post weekly updates – progression photos and my weight – this is highly motivational.

Of course I wanted to be a skinny bitch overnight, but weight loss doesn’t work like that. I had to put from my mind what I was seeing in the mirror and focus on the end goal. I’ve never dieted and I’m not on a diet now, but what I have done is make a lifestyle change. My understanding of nutrition is improving and my eating habits are better now than they were pre-cancer – and did you know that if you lose even just 5% of your weight it reduces your risk of cancer by between 25% to 40% and that applies to EVERYONE (unless you are underweight).

I go to the bar to order more Jack Daniels. The 6’7″ 21 stone Frenchie asks if I’ve visited before and I tell him that I was here a few years ago, but that I looked different then, I had long dark hair. He asks why I cut it all off and dyed it pink so I tell him – I can do that now that I’ve regained my confidence.

I show Frenchie photographs of how I’ve changed. My lovely long dark hair to the midway chop before taking the plunge and shaving the rest off before it fell out in clumps.

From Left: This time last year getting my final chemotherapy. Feeling ropy as fuck. Scribbling crazy colours on my face because I felt depressed (I’m smiling but inside I was a wreck). Last pic is me, the fat bazza, as I kiss off chemo by doing the Great Glen Way.

From Left: Start of year weighing 77kg (though first two images taken after I’d already lost 4kg). Latest images I weigh 61.5kg. The sports bra and pants are way bigger on me now.

Feeling a whole world happier one year on from my cancer ordeal. Photos taken at the Daily Record, Glasgow.

I’m no stick insect and have no desire to be, but losing the fat I stacked on last year has given me my confidence back and I feel so much better within myself.  I’m proud to have won one of the hardest battles of my life and to be a good example of what can be achieved with a positive attitude. If I can do this anybody can!

 

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(Hills climbed during weight loss period: Beinn a’Chrulaiste, Beinn Enaiglair, Glas Bheinn, Little Wyvis, Canisp, Clava (24 times), Meall Fuar-mhonaidh (3 times), Meall Bhuidhe and Luinne Bheinn. Followed programs created by James Smith. Went to weights class every Wednesday.)

Knoydart hill tune (Mel and I sounding like a cat’s fucking chorus as we sing loudly to the hills)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22. Fun in the City: Part 2 (no hills climbed, only stairs up to the Daily Record Building for photo shoot)

This is the 22nd post of a series which is introduced here.

Saturday 21 April 2018

It’s a sunny Saturday morning and I’m walking by the Clyde, the river that cuts through Glasgow. My friend Mel is over this side of Scotland to climb Beinn Bhuidhe. Although I’ve done that Munro, with the pal I’m meeting later for dinner, part of me longs to be with Mel on the mountainside. But there again what I’m going to do today is a different kind of awesome. It’s just after 10 o’clock and nervous excitement starts to tingle through me as I climb the concrete steps up to the Daily Record building – in fact I’m so nervous my guts are going wild and I’m going to have to go bless their toilet (that’ll be the third time already today).

Why was I nervous?

Well, you see, I was lucky enough, along with twenty-three other women, to be selected to model at Breast Cancer Care Scotland’s biggest fundraiser of the year ‘The Show.’ The event – one of a kind in that all the models have had a breast cancer diagnosis – doesn’t take place till the last week of October (to mark the end of breast cancer awareness month) but today everyone involved in it has come together for the official meet and greet.

After going through several locked doors I am shown into a large meeting room where twenty-four chairs are set in a circle; they soon fill up. We are welcomed by the Breast Cancer Care team who introduce themselves, our stylist and the reporter who will be interviewing each of us throughout the course of the day. We’ve each brought a photograph which we are then invited to talk about.

Some people choke up as they talk and I feel the emotion rise inside me. What I hear is powerful stuff, compelling to listen to and utterly inspiring. It’s my turn to speak, but I don’t get beyond, ‘This is a picture of me and my mum,’ before hot tears roll down my cheeks. I keep talking but my heart is breaking all over again.

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Taken a few weeks before secondary breast cancer caused my mother’s death. I was 24 years old, but my mum aged 44 was only a young woman herself.

We are split into two groups. It’s welcome relief to leave the room and go get measurements taken by stylist Ian Todd. I’m smiling again. Then I get my make-up done. I keep my eyes closed while it’s being applied, but have a sneaky peek. My blood runs cold and I feel a prickle in my pits; I look like I’ve been face planked into a bag of flour. The make-up artist sees the visible horror on my face but reassures me that I will not look like I’ve been resurrected from the dead by the time she’s finished. I keep the faith. When I open my eyes again I’m pleased with how I look. She punks up my hair and then I get changed into the outfit I’ve brought. For the first time ever I look glamorous and that makes me feel happy in a way I’ve never experienced before.

There I am in the pink Breast Cancer Care t-shirt…click to watch this time lapse video that records the day of our photo shoot. If you keep your eyeballs super peeled you will see me whizz past in my sparkly trousers, and a blue tartan corset designed by Mary at  Loch Dress

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Six months ago I was bald, very ill, rather overweight and uncertain. Seeing myself like this makes me feel more confident. Thank you Breast Cancer Care for this fabulous opportunity!

After the photo shoot in our ‘outfits we’d wear on a nice night out’ (as opposed to those outfits one would wear on a regular slutty night out) we found out a bit more about what the charity does – and what we could do to help as the charity’s ambassadors (raise breast cancer awareness, raise awareness of what the charity does, help with fundraising by getting sponsors and raffle prizes).

I want to do my bit, but I’m no good at asking for sponsorship – partly because I’m scared of rejection.

As we are called back into the studio for the last shoot of the day Emma, the charity’s Press and PR Officer, asks me to go with her for my interview with Sunday Mail Freelance Journalist, Jenny Morrison. On the way Emma mentions she thinks my art is amazing. I’m puzzled as to how she knows I’m an artist, but she explains she’d seen links to my work on my Facebook page. I feel flattered, but also inspired…

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I decide to donate this painting I did of The Creation of Adam for auction at The Show, hopefully it’ll raise a bob or two for the charity.

I’m also inspired by the women taking part in this event, they all have remarkable stories. Some were diagnosed many years ago, some – like me – have not long finished treatments, others are currently receiving treatment, including some who have secondary breast cancer which can be treated but not cured.

Click the link below to read more about the other models involved. Some of these stories will be expanded on and featured in the Sunday Mail between now and ‘The Show’ in October – and there may even be the opportunity for other media work, like on radio and TV. Cool or what.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/health/brave-scottish-super-models-hit-12444240

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The day wraps up with one last group photo. I am a person not a number…oh…wait…yes, yes I am a number…I’m number 8.

Jenny the journalist shakes my hand and invites me to sit. She is kind and has a sympathetic disposition which makes me feel at ease. It’s been a long day and I’m tired so manage to tell her my story without spilling more tears. I tell her how hillwalking rescued me from the loneliness and grief after cancer caused my mum’s death, and about how it was my salvation during my own cancer journey. I tell her about the book I’ve written and she asks if she can read it, I’m very happy to let her. I explain that I wrote it for my sons and also as a drawing of the line under all the sad years. I add that it’s just as I finished its writing and am ready to embrace a happier life that I discover the lump in my own breast. There was no time to stamp my feet and yell at the world how unfair it all was; I just had to get on with it. I tell Jenny that planning hill days and blogging about my cancer journey gave me something positive to focus on and ultimately what I want to do is to help and inspire others by sharing my story.

It’s a wrap.

The day at the Daily Record building is finished. But I am not. The sun is still high and so am I.  I go to the Counting House in George Square for a drink. I’m pressing my lower back into the fruit machine when a kind woman offers me a seat at her table. She asks what I’m doing in Glasgow. When I tell her about my day she pulls out her mobile phone and asks if she can have a selfie with me; now I don’t know how much alcohol she’d put away but I wasn’t gonna refuse her request when she’d just made me feel like a total star! LOL….and yeah, dinner with my mate Lorna was a top way to round off a tremendous day.

 

To find out more about the many services Breast Cancer Care provides click here: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/

To find out more about The Show Scotland 2018 click here: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/fundraising/show-scotland

Check out other awesome images by the photographer who took these shots – from sporting heroes, superstars like Sting, the Scottish landscape and coastline to the sky at night. Click here: http://www.amacmedia.co.uk/

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21. Fun but no Sex in the City: Part 1 (hill climbed: Arthur’s Seat)

This is the 21st post of a series that is introduced here.

21st – 24th March 2018

I am off on a jolly to the big city of Edinburgh for a two day event ‘Younger Women with Breast Cancer’ (YWBC) organised by the charity Breast Cancer Care.

The ticket collector is getting closer and I shift uncomfortably in my seat, but the squirming stops and I feel the flood of full-on glee when he scribbles across my ticket without noticing I am travelling on the wrong date. Happiness is enhanced as I am sitting next to a power point AND I have free WiFi. The train journey passes quickly.

Before I check in to my hotel I go to see Jenny Brown, the literary agent who’s helping to find a publisher for the book I have written – she tells me it once took her six years to find someone a publisher…I wonder if that is her subtle way of trying to tell me to be patient… It took a year to write the first draft of my story and, after a commissioned editorial report, another year to restructure the entire manuscript. In the third year a second editorial report was carried out to get the material up to submission standard – I carried out the minor changes, but this was challenging as I was undergoing chemotherapy. I got there though, and in June last year Jenny made the first submissions to publishers. This is now the fourth year of the journey toward publication. It’s a slow process, but Jenny is confident – and I just have to hope that I can stay alive long enough to see my book in print!

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After the meeting with Jenny I wander off up Arthur’s Seat and the surrounding craggy tops. 

The pack on my back is heavy – too heavy after deadlifting at weights class yesterday. When I arrive at the hotel I’m booked into my back is in spasm.

The next day is full on at the Breast Cancer Care charity event. I walk into a room full of strangers. Chattering voices grow louder and there is lots of laughter. With a breast cancer diagnosis in common we are all insta-friends.

I enjoy the breakout groups – there are many on offer, but I’m here specifically to attend sessions on the menopause and intimacy in relationships. I want to know if sex is always going to feel like being shagged by a cactus…I want to know if other women feel the same…and I’m hoping the professionals who are facilitating these sessions will offer answers.

Chemotherapy and tamoxifen put me through a medical menopause and that has dried me out which causes sex to be so painful – but that’s if I even have sex, which mostly I do not because my libido has disappeared into the sunset. I used to enjoy sexy time and feel cheated and angry because that part of my life has been fairly destroyed – but equally I am grateful to still have my life.

Sadly the professionals provide no miraculous answers, I’m going to have to find my own way forward. So what do I take away from these sessions? Well, I’ve learned that I’m not the only person whose sex life has ground to a virtual halt – and some of these chicks are way younger than me; their stories have blown me away and so not only do I feel less alone in what I’m experiencing, but I also appreciate that I am a very lucky girl to have such an incredibly supportive boyfriend who puts no pressure on me and still makes me feel loved.

After a long day me and Lizzie are first to head straight for the hotel bar.

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                          ‘Where’s your mask, Dick Turpin?’                                My back may well be bad, but I’m in need of defibrillation when the barkeep charges £11.60 for a Jack Daniels and coke! Daylight robbery.
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Quick trip to Sainsbury soon sorted out the extortion racket run by the hotel bar. Stash in a baggie under the table. Titter titter.
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My old school pal Fiona (long hair – a dead giveaway) pitches up and gatecrashes the night. Things are getting messy.

It’s midnight and the bar closes. Folk drift off upstairs to their rooms to get a good night’s kip before another day of breakout groups – but not me. No no. Me and my old school pal jump in a taxi and head off into the city. We get out at the Bridges.  Fiona withdraws money from a cash machine while I sit next to a homeless guy and talk shit. My friend pulls me away by the arm. Live music belts out from some place. We go in. I like it. It’s crowded and the vibe is good. I head straight for the dance floor. Somehow I end up on stage with the band and then suddenly I decide I’ve had enough and leave. I’ve hit the proverbial wall.

The homeless guy is still out on the street. I sit next to him again. People pass by and I enjoy asking them for money. One man withdraws a tenner and hands it over, I give it to my homeless friend. Some dodgy looking character approaches us; my new friend stands up to greet him and after a brief exchange they trade places! I walk down onto Princes Street. The homeless dude is off to a shelter and offers me the tenner for a taxi. I decline. I’m happy to walk and I know the way back to the Holiday Inn…

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Murrayfield in the dead of night.

It’s quite some time later. I’m fed up walking and I’m freezing. I wonder how I’ve ended up outside Murrayfield Stadium and realise I’m a bit lost. I’m stumped as to how to get back to the hotel. There’s no fucker around who I can ask for directions and I’ve no data on my phone to check Google maps. It’s amazing to me when a bus appears. It’s not going my way but the driver gives me the number for a cab. I pull out the change that’s in my pocket, £3.80 – just enough to get me back to the hotel.

I’d had a good day and a bloody brilliant night. The Younger Women with Breast Cancer weekend had been well worth the trip and I’d recommend it to anyone who has the misfortune to be diagnosed with cancer. Check out the website Breast Cancer Care for more info.

Next: Fun in the City: Part Two (Steps climbed up to Daily Record building for photoshoot!)

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