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