I am running. Yes, I am running. Not very fast, not very elegantly, but I am running.
I often forget to breathe, have a constant runny nose and it probably looks like I may well collapse at any moment.
But I am running.
I am also starting to enjoy running. At the beginning, I dreaded everything about it; my stinky trainers, the kit and the faff with the phone/app/headphones combination. Now I can’t wait to go out again. This change of mindset only happened this week, week 5 of the Couch to 5K programme because I must be getting fitter. I now accept that every metre I run is progress and more than I did the day before. I don’t care that I am still working towards running 5K because I know I will get there. Whilst my mindset change is a huge motivator, the Couch to 5K programme is brilliantly effective. It’s design means that you really cannot fail and therefore the success that it generates drives you towards your next run.
I was initially motivated by the Heads Together Campaign and the courage and determination shown by runners such as Rhian Burke, Jake Tyler and Poppy Farrugia and now my family are my motivation. I had a place in the London Marathon 2017 to run for Children with Cancer but the unpredictability of my 11-year-old son’s leukaemia meant that regular training was virtually impossible. I would start a training programme and then we would be faced with an emergency hospital admission or a period of intense chemotherapy which required 24 hour care. It all felt futile. I lost my momentum. My place was deferred until 2018 and I’m now determined to make my family proud.
Now we are in the maintenance phase of treatment so things are much more predictable and I have been able to establish a running regime. This regime has provided me with much-needed solitude and head space. I literally forget everything when I’m running, partly because I’m concentrating so much on not falling over and remembering to breathe but also it allows my mind to wander. Allowing my mind to wander used to take me back to my son’s diagnosis and the tough days which is why blogging and starting my own business became a necessary distraction. What has been liberating about running is that I am now able to allow my mind to wander without the risk of it delving into the deep, dark places that it used to go.
So, this is the thing. If you have been thinking of starting running, go do it! Download the Couch to 5K app, put your kit on, faff with your phone/headphones and get out there. It will be tough, you will feel a mess but it will be worth it. You will get to a place where you can enjoy being able to let your thoughts run as freely as your feet.
My son will sit his SATs next week along with his friends. I am so proud and grateful for this because in January 2016 he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and will continue to be in treatment until 2019. I have watched him as he has maturely and determinedly prepared for the SATs by attending additional classes after school and completing reams of work at home without a fuss.
I know he finds it hard. It breaks my heart as I watch him trying to remember how to answer a maths problem or to apply the concentration that he needs. It breaks my heart to know that when the results come out in July they will not recognise how hard it has been for him and many others because of the personal battles they face. I know he will be ranked and judged against his peers who have been able to attend, focus and engage with education without interference.
When the results come out in July I will explain the following to him:
Government policy dictates that schools must objectively assess children at the end of each Key Stage to show how much progress you and your friends have made
The school will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
Your teacher will be judged on how much progress you and your friends have made
Your next school will be given your SATs results and you and your friends are likely to be given GCSE target grade based on these results
You and your friends are unlikely to ever be asked what you got in your Year 6 SATs
Your SATs results will not mention that you have and are fighting cancer
I will also explain to him that because of his bravery and courage he was able to prepare for his SATS despite the huge trauma he has been through in the last 16 months. I will tell him that his results will differ from his friends because:
he had 6 months off school in Year 5 but attended school whenever he could despite being bloated on steroids, bald through chemotherapy and in constant pain.
he has endured over 450 days of chemotherapy involving many general anaesthetics, surgical procedures and IV treatments
he has taken so many medicines that we have lost count but included morphine for pain, anti-sickness and antibiotics
he has spent long periods of time in hospital separated from his Mum, his Dad, his brother and his sister
he has been so weak at times he couldn’t even get up the stairs
he has experienced the significant effects of steroids with changes in mood and increases in appetite
he has seen, heard and experienced pain, distress and fear which no child should
Felix receiving one of many transfusions
Just after a surgical procedure to remove his portacath
I will then go on to say that the following is far more important to us than his SATs results:
You are the most kind, caring and loving boy despite everything you have been through
You have never once said, “it’s not fair” or questioned “why me?”
When you were in hospital, you did your very best to try to keep other poorly children happy and entertained
During the darkest of times you turned cancer on its head and raised thousands of pounds for charity
You continue to face the daily challenges of being diagnosed with cancer with positivity, humour and humility
You are an absolute star in our eyes; we couldn’t be more proud
Next week he will stand tall and face the SATs with the determination and positivity that he has faced cancer with. I only wish that he didn’t have to do them, I know I could withdraw him but having been excluded from so many things already because of his diagnosis he wants to be ‘normal’; he wants to do everything that his mates do.
All I want is the government to stand up and recognise that children are not all the same, they are diverse and wonderful. Many children fight daily battles whether medical, social or emotional ones which impact on how they can prepare for the SATs, how they cope and the outcome.
By testing them in this way you are only highlighting their difference not embracing it.