Getting stronger, one step at a time - Michelle's cancer story

Published: 10 January 2024
After completing chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments for breast cancer, Michelle knew she needed some guidance to help build her fitness again. She was determined to return to running marathons like she did before her diagnosis.

Meet Michelle

Michelle hated running at school. She was not sporty or outdoorsy, but Michelle changed as she grew up. She settled in London, started working, got married, had a child, and most surprising of all to herself, she found herself enjoying life as a long-distance runner.

In 2016, everything changed again when Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer and began chemotherapy and then radiotherapy.

"The side effects from that last one were the worst. The build-up of six sessions of toxins in my blood took its toll on my body, and I was hurting. I started to struggle sleeping because of the pain. My legs hurt, my chest hurt, my knees, my back, everything."

How running helped her back to herself

Macmillan helped her to focus on her wellbeing again and supported her to enrol on a specialist fitness programme. Slowly, she found herself going to the gym regularly, under careful supervision of an expert trainer.  

Woman running outdoors. She has short brown hair and is wearing an orange vest.

"I knew that over the last six and a half months my body had taken a huge battering and I needed a little bit more guidance than just lacing up my trainers and heading out the front door."

She steadily built up her fitness and within about four weeks, she could run on the treadmill. She went slowly and focused on getting the whole of her body working again before she started seriously training for any long distances. She was determined to return to running marathons like she did before.

"You don't have to go fast, you just have to go."

A year after completing chemo, she made it to the starting line of the London Marathon, and then to the finish line. She went on to run many more marathons and half marathons. She’s also signed up for a course to train as a running coach, because she’s seen for herself how good running is for her mental wellbeing.

Michelle’s courage to take on new challenges has grown, and she’s more comfortable with being uncomfortable as she pushes herself further in training.

"Training for a marathon is as much about mental strength as it is physical. I have a positive mantra that I say to myself, a tool that I used during chemotherapy; you don't have to go fast, you just have to go."

Read more about ways to care for your wellbeing from our series of blogs on the Wellbeing Hub.