Running helped me through cancer.
To Claire Sands of Annahilt running became a form of therapy after going through cancer.
"I was 29 years old when I was initially diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time my sons were 4 and 2 years and my youngest just 5 months old. I had surgery closely followed by chemotherapy.
"Thankfully the side effects of the treatment were not too bad, because as a mum to 3 young children including a new baby I did not have time to be sick. My husband still had to go to work and if I needed to go somewhere I put my wig on and went, life still had to go on.
After my treatment finished I started speed walking with a group of friends. However, due to work and other commitments very soon my friends were no longer able to join in but I went out on my own anyway....and then I started to run.
"At the time I started running I had got over the physical effects of the cancer and had throught that I had also beaten it mentally but that was not the case. I found myself constantly thinking about the cancer, I was afraid that it would come back, I was afraid for my sons growing up without a mum.
"Then I went running.
"It became a form of therapy to me. If I was feeling afraid or if anything went wrong I went for a run. It helped clear my head and put things into perspective, it was like meditation to me. I would come home 45 minutes later feeling so much better.
"I ran my first Belfast Marathon at the age of 39 and immediately I was hooked, I wanted to run more. Life was good and continued to be good for quite some time. I had my 10 year check up and was given the all clear.
"However, a year later I found another lump. It turned out to be cancer again! I was one of the unlucky ones. It was much harder
the second time around, this time the cancer felt more powerful than me. The most difficult part was having to sit my sons down and utter those dreaded words, "Mummy has cancer". The first time around my boys did not know what was happening to me but this time they were old enough to understand.
"The side effects of treatment were really bad second time round. I had severe mouth ulcers, my eyes were constantly teary, and I had really bad pains. One of the most difficult things to cope with though was losing my hair. I felt that every time I looked in the mirror I saw cancer staring back at me.
"One day I was feeling so low that I honestly didn't think I could take any more. I just could not see a way out. Then a card came through my letter box. It was a cheque from Pretty 'n' Pink. We received a £350 grant which we used toward heating oil, and also toward a lovely night away up the North Coast for my husband and myself. Cancer can sometimes almost take over your life, and that was our break away from it. The money could not make me better, but when I was as low as I thought I could get, just knowing that there was someone out there who cared and was reaching out to me felt like a lifeline. Sometimes it is the small things that make the difference.
"Throughout my treatment I still ran. It helped me feel more energised. I had a few different wigs, some long, some short, and I used to alternate them. It was funny to see the looks on people's faces when they saw me with short hair one day and long the next.
"I finished treatment in December and ran my second marathon the following May.
"Since then I have ran 6 full marathons and raised almost £7000 in sponsorship for both Pretty 'n' Pink and other charities. I sewed pink ribbons into my running vest to represent each person with breast cancer that I had met along the way. There were 33 ribbons in total, some are still with us and some are not.
"This year I also ran the Belfast half marathon. It was a very special race as 2 of my sons ran it with me. Watching me go through cancer has given my boys more empathy for others who are sick. It has moulded the way they think and they are very supportive of charities.
"I have remained cancer free and am due to run my 7th Belfast marathon in 2014. After that I am on the lookout for something different, I feel like venturing out. Who knows where I will end up".