Secondary breast cancer didn’t stop me climbing Ben Nevis

PUBLISHED ON: 16 February 2017

Alison stood on the peak of Ben Nevis

Three years after she was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, Alison Metcalfe completed a challenge that only recently she would have found impossible.

Alison reached the summit of Britain’s highest mountain around five hours after embarking on Trek Ben Nevis, to raise money for Breast Cancer Care.

Standing on top of Ben Nevis felt unbelievable.

Like a lot of people, I have my tick list of things I want to do. But Ben Nevis surpassed that because it was never something I’d envisaged doing. And when you do something you’d never even dreamt of doing, it makes you realise you can achieve anything you want.

It was like a whirlwind

I was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in December 2013. Being told my breast cancer had returned and spread to my bones felt like I was looking down the barrel of a gun waiting for someone to pull the trigger.

I started radiotherapy almost immediately – I was straight back into the system. It was like a whirlwind.

I was in a massive amount of pain to begin with. In January and February 2014, I was walking with a stick, very slowly and only a few hundred yards. Once the pain was under control I could move a bit better.

After three months, I started having chemotherapy. The pain improved and the cancer was under control, but the side effects made life very difficult. There was a lot I couldn’t do. The soles of my feet were so sore I couldn’t even wear normal shoes.

I love walking. We were on holiday in the Lake District in 2015, and I remember looking up at the hills knowing I couldn’t manage it. It was torture.

Then in January 2016, after two years of my cancer being stable, I stopped the chemotherapy and started taking hormone therapy. I’ve now had a whole year of being able to do things.

A group of walkers repare for their Ben Nevis charity walk

I set myself little goals

I plan things three months at a time, between scans. In one sense this is difficult as I don’t know what will happen, but it’s also intensified life. I think: ‘I’ve got another chance. What opportunities can I squeeze into that time?’ I booked to do Ben Nevis with three weeks to go.

But I had already started preparing for Ben Nevis without really knowing it.

I needed to get fitter and stronger, so I started doing a Pilates class for people with breast cancer. That gave me confidence to join a Pilates class that wasn’t just for people with breast cancer.

When I came off the chemotherapy and could wear trainers again, I joined a gym. I started gentle exercise, and gradually increased what I was doing. I saw people doing a circuit training class and thought: ‘I want to do that.’

I wanted to get back into walking, so went out walking in the Lake District. I set myself little goals, and when I achieved them I then looked at the next little goal. So by the time I signed up for the event, I was ready and fit enough to do it.  

Alison takes a selfie on the peak of Ben NevisI decided to raise money for Breast Cancer Care because I’d worked on a project to update their Secondary breast cancer resource pack. It won a British Medical Association Patient Information Award, and I went to the ceremony in London, where I was welcomed on stage to collect the award. It was just fantastic to get the chance to do something like that.

My top tips for anyone taking on Ben Nevis

  • Gradually build up your fitness and set yourself small goals. As you achieve those small goals you’ll increase your belief in yourself. It really helps with the mental preparation, being able to tick off little things you’ve done.
  • On the day you’ll be on your feet for 8 hours, so make sure you practice. It’s a good excuse to get away on a walking weekend to break your boots in.
  • Listen to the guides during the trek – they give great advice.
  • Finally, Facebook is great for fundraising. Keep updating your friends with your training and progress to inspire and remind them to sponsor you. I was amazed how quickly I raised the money.

Follow in Alison’s footsteps and take on the majestic Ben Nevis this September for Breast Cancer Care.

We’ll support you every step of the way to help you reach your fundraising target and prepare for the trek.

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