By Paul Beasley
My story begins with my late wife Jill who in 2013 discovered a lump at the side of her left breast near to her armpit. Jill rang me at work and told me. I told her not to panic and not jump to conclusions until it was checked out by a consultant.
We were due to go on holiday to Slovenia in a week’s time so Jill went to see her GP. The doctor examined her and said yes there was a lump so booked her an appointment at the hospital for when we returned off our holiday.
We had a lovely time staying in Piran in Slovenia, but Jill kept saying to me ‘I know what this is’, so I tried my best to calm her down and kept saying ‘let’s not jump to any conclusions’.
On our return Jill was examined and was told it was quite a large lump and yes it was a tumour. The consultant was surprised that she’d not discovered it sooner.
Jill was 52. She’d had her first mammogram at 50, which was clear, so she was relaxed and didn’t examine her breasts for lumps on a regular basis. After the diagnosis she felt guilty about that. We’ve got two sons.
Further tests were carried out and we were told it was stage 3 breast cancer which means it was in her Auxiliary Lymph Nodes in her armpit.
This was late July 2013 and by October 25, after her last CT scan, she was told they had identified raised nodes in the Thoracic. This now made it stage 4 breast cancer which meant the cancer cells had moved beyond the Auxiliary Lymph Nodes, which wasn’t curable.
This was devastating news for Jill, me and all our family and friends.
She had an aggressive cancer called Her2 –positive so I’m not convinced the outcome would have been different if she’d found that lump when it was small.
We now had to come to terms with the fact that her cancer wasn’t curable so it was about giving her the best treatments available to try and control the spread of the cancer and give Jill more tomorrows with her family and friends.
She had a mastectomy on her left breast and was given chemotherapy and some very expensive drugs to help control the cancer. The drugs stopped the cancer from developing in her chest cavity but there was one place at the back of the neck called the blood barrier the drugs couldn’t stop the cancer from crossing.
Jill started having seizures at home and when scanned she’d had at least 20 brain tumours scattered all over her brain. The morning after her first seizure before being diagnosed, after the paramedics had left, she went downstairs and started writing her own eulogy. That was the strong and remarkable woman she was.
Towards the last few months of Jill’s life she lost her ability to talk and walk. She was admitted to hospital and her condition deteriorated. She was put on palliative care for the last eight days of her life.
Jill died on February 1, 2018, one month short of her 57th birthday. After the funeral I sat at the table feeling grief-stricken, lost and wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life without her.
That’s when the idea came to me. I was going to accomplish one of my life-long ambitions of walking from John O’ Groats to Lands End in honour of the amazing woman who had left me too soon.
It was something Jill and I had talked about for years with her being my support and back up along the way, but we’d just never got around to it. I was 60 the following year so it seemed an ideal time to take on an endurance challenge.
I decided to walk it in honour of her memory and pay something back by raising money for Against Breast Cancer, my chosen charity.
My plan was to use national trails and footpaths as much as possible. It took me a year to plan and I booked half of my accommodation before I started and planned to book the other half as I progressed out of Scotland.
I started my JOGLE, as I called it, on May1, 2019, and completed it on July 15. It took me 76 days without any rest days.
On day 30 I slipped on the Pennine Way tearing my hamstring, which slowed me down but I never thought of quitting my challenge. The thought of Jill battling with cancer for five years drove me forwards.
On my final day walking towards the finish line at Land’s End I could hear my name being announced and people gathering round to cheer me on. My dear friend Andrea was there to greet me with Kayleigh from Against Breast Cancer and her family. I just collapsed in Andrea’s arms and cried my eyes out.
I accomplished what I set out to do and I raised £10,300 for ABC and later that year I was presented with an award for Fundraiser of the Year.
It was an epic journey from start to finish. It tested my physical and mental strength to the maximum. I know Jill would have been proud.
So what now for me? This Year I’ve walked the Coast to Coast and Cleveland Way and I’m always looking for new walking adventures.
But, it’s hard being alone after so many years of being married. So I feel now I’m ready to start dating and maybe a new relationship if the right woman is out there.
Mind you, she’d have to be interested in walking.