"Having already suffered with mental health issues for most of my adult life in the form of panic disorder and agoraphobia, what followed sent me into what I can only describe as a complete tailspin. In 2000, aged 30 with 4 young children (my youngest was just a year old), I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 2 breast cancer.
Suddenly I found myself forced into a world of fear and anxiety, 12 hour surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was an unfamiliar environment and I felt completely out of control.
Just as I was about to celebrate my 5 year survival I was knocked back with a new diagnosis of a very rare blood disorder called polycythemia Jak2. Essentially, my body was rapidly producing too many red cells resulting in extreme fatigue, breathlessness and bone pain. At this point I became so scared of my own body and my mind and felt there was no escape. A break down followed. But, when you get so far down you find survival kicks - I had to give myself a fighting chance.
Armed with self help books and youtube I began to relax and absorb information. Gradually, my mind started to change and I was becoming wiser and filled with gratitude at simply just being alive. I started to crave the only thing that is truly real, pure and simple – nature. The natural world is our birthright. It is free, it is beautiful and there is so much to see. I started to enjoy hiking videos, spending hours watching the freedom and scenery; one in particular I must have watched a dozen times 'Spend More Time In The Wild'. My wanting to seek adventure became more than my tiredness, pain and fear.
I decided to jump into the deep end and sign myself up for Trekfest 2018 in the Peak District - 25k of rolling hills, woodland and high elevated views. My son agreed to do it with me for support and like a child I felt excited to buy my first pair of hiking boots at 50 years old. It was a fantastic feeling. I felt truly free and acknowledged that this was a positive challenge. The views kept me going and along with my son, we made it through to the finish line. I was tired and sore for a good reason this time, but I was also hooked and have been hiking ever since."
What goals do have you in the future or are you currently working towards?
My future plans are simply to see as many places as I can! I will be doing Pen y Fan in March (2019), so that's a great start. I would love to do some multi-day hikes such as The Great Glen Way and maybe even the Wainwrights Coast to Coast walk; exploring the Lake District National Park is very tempting too! I'd love to buy a tent and wild camp.
The sense of freedom excites me and I know I am getting so much stronger. My mind is clearer too. Another goal is to go it alone with a tent on my back with no particular direction and see where it takes me, even just for a few days. I crave freedom and space – an environment so far removed from traffic hospitals and crowds. The silence is a healer for a broken mind and body. Sure, I still have challenges, but nature is my new tool for self help."
What advice would you give someone facing a similar situation?
It does does not matter how slow you go. Relax and enjoy every view - the trees, the ever changing skies, the feel of the landscape around you. Allow your body to blend in with it until you become part of it and feel every step no matter how small or slow. Above all, enjoy the new sense of freedom.
Surrounding yourself with like minded people can very powerful. I have found that hikers are some of the most real people you will ever meet, since you share the same goal and there is a deeper understanding of the importance of being authentic and a part of nature.
If you can find the courage to speak out, it will surprise you that most people are only too happy to listen and understand. Find your favourite place, be it the mountains, woodland or coast, and sit silently listening to the sounds of nature. It is here that you will find your healing and where you will finally meet the real you."