Fit School Interview: The Truth about Life with Breast Cancer, Mary Huckle

I first met Mary Huckle in 2016. We were introduced by the director of Fitpro (the UK’s largest fitness industry training provider) and asked to speak on a panel at a national fitness conference.

Mary spoke eloquently about her experiences of surviving and subsequently living with breast cancer. It was personal for me, since the event came shortly after a close family member had been through treatment for breast cancer. Mary was also relateable. She was someone who had switched careers from ‘corporate’ to Pilates and wellness (Mary is a personal trainer and Pilates instructor based in Enfield/Bush Hill Park). She was someone with a family. She was someone speaking at the same conference as me and here she was – gracious and grateful. Telling her breast cancer story.

Since that time we’ve become friends and work colleagues. It’s great to have a friend in fitness and business to sound off against. We can be frequently found wandering around Connaught water or attending Pilates training events and just ruminating!

Breast Cancer Now: Wear it Pink

It was Mary who first brought my attention to Breast Cancer Now‘s ‘Wear it Pink’ day on 19th October. She’s been very active for the charity, raising awareness and helping to organise fundraising events.

I also have a friend with a son born within days of Isaac, currently undergoing difficult treatment for triple negative breast cancer (I know it’s never easy). And whilst I have worked with our local breast cancer unit to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise after and during cancer, and support our local Race for Life events, I felt I wanted to organise something that showed some solidarity.

The recent news of broadcaster Rachael Bland who lost her battle to breast cancer – she was just 40, and her words, ‘it’s the knowing you can never live innocently again,’ together with my friendship with Mary and Ali are the inspiration behind wanting to walk for Wear it Pink. So please join us if you can.

Mary’s Story

Here’s Mary’s story:

Karen: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself? Your job and family. How you came to be at where you are now in life?

Mary: I’m 53 years old, married with three grown up children – Robert, 27 and twin girls, Lauren and Ellie, 21.

My background is banking and finance but I trained as a fitness instructor and PT in 2004/5 and that is where I’m presently at. I’ve also been teaching Pilates since 2009.

Karen: Could you tell me a little bit about your experiences of cancer? I know you were diagnosed young. How has that affected you?

Mary: Just a few weeks before my 42nd birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a right-side radical mastectomy and all my lymph nodes removed before undergoing six months of chemotherapy and then starting a five year course of the hormone inhibitor Tamoxifen.

Sadly, I had to put a hold on the business that I’d built for myself but once I’d finished the chemotherapy I set about re-building my business. I hoped this episode had just been a glitch in my life and that I could confidently get back on track with my work. It felt amazing to be able to plan ahead again and do what I loved, which was helping others.

My business had also evolved as I began working with women in the same predicament. Being able to give a fellow sufferer advice, guidance and of course confidence was both humbling and satisfying. It was my way of giving back.

Seven years later in 2014, I received a second diagnosis. Being labelled with incurable, metastatic breast cancer was devastating. Now it would be a case of containing the disease which had spread to my chest wall and behind my collarbone. I was determined not to lose my business again and I continued to work despite having further surgery and five weeks of radiotherapy. I then started a different hormone inhibitor called Letrozole. This disagreed with me and gave me the joints of an arthritic 80 year old so my oncologist put me on Anastrazole instead and hooray, I could run again!

The saga continues as in early 2018, I had another diagnosis when lesions were found in my bones and liver. I can’t put into words how terrified I was – thinking that my luck was running out and that I might be leaving my beautiful family. A third diagnosis was another almighty blow. As positive as I’ve been and still am, the morbid thoughts frequently slip into my mind. I guess that’s just part and parcel of my existence. The night times are the worst as you feel at your most isolated and scared.

I am now on oral chemo and Exemestane, another hormone inhibitor plus I have a monthly injection, Denosumab, to stabilise my bones. To ensure that I can take all the above, I have monthly blood tests. Waiting for the results every month is stressful so I try to keep as distracted as possible. I’m thankful for my job as it keeps me very busy.

Karen: You’re very active, and promote activity. How has activity and exercise helped you on your journey through diagnosis, treatment and recovery?

Mary: It’s been my saving grace. It’s played a huge part in my journey, both mentally and physically, from the day I got diagnosed to present day. It’s most certainly made me more resilient and has made my recovery a lot shorter. Exercise makes me feel alive and kicking (literally!)

Karen: What advice would you offer to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer? Take one day at a time.

Mary: Don’t Google anything, be guided by and trust your medical team. Stay active but practise lots of self-care too. Stay positive. Keep busy or distracted. Ask for help if you need it, be it emotional, e.g. counselling or practical help from family and friends.

Karen: What advice would you offer to anyone who has recently finished cancer treatment? 

Mary: Be prepared to feel down rather than elated. Whilst you’re in active treatment, you feel looked after and cocooned but once you’ve finished you may feel vulnerable and alone with nobody to turn to. I recommend getting professional help if you really can’t cope. I did just that and it really helped me.

You may also feel lost and have a sense of ‘Now what?’ but it’s okay to allow these feelings to pass over you. It’s normal and part of the process. Go with the flow and then start to plan your future.

Karen: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from living with cancer? 

Mary: To live in the moment, to not take family and friends for granted. To not sweat the small stuff. All cliches but so true. Oh and the ability to say no.

Karen: How do you live differently now compared with before you were first diagnosed? 

Mary: I take a gentler approach to life and try not to get stressed. I was a typical perfectionist, nowadays I’m perfectly imperfect.

Karen: What picks you up on challenging days?

Mary: I pray. I’m thankful. I focus on my children and how they make me laugh. I go for a walk in the woods or marvel at the sunrises and sunsets.

Karen: Why do you support Breast Cancer Now? 

Mary: I’m passionate about women and men living with breast cancer to a ripe old age rather than dying. The only way this can be achieved is through fundraising for much needed research. I think of future generations including my own children and how I can help make the world a safer place for them.

Karen: What are you doing for Wear it Pink and why? 

Mary: On Friday the 19th October, with the help of local shops and businesses, I’m turning Queen Anne’s Place in Bush Hill Park all shades of pink. We hope to raise lots of money for a brilliant cause whilst having fun.

Fit School is supporting Wear it Pink by walking for breast cancer on 19th October at 11am.

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