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‘Running the marathon feels like a miracle’

I’ve just completed the run of my life. I took on the London Marathon to raise money for The National Brain Appeal and ran it in 5hrs 38mins 52secs − and while my time wasn’t remarkable, the fact that I was able to reach the start line at all was something of a miracle in itself.

Back in 2009, my husband Ian underwent Deep Brain Stimulation surgery at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery to alleviate his Parkinson’s symptoms. Ian was able to regain some movement, and the operation allowed us to once again enjoy jazz music-making, travel, socialising with friends and many other life experiences which we had thought were lost to us forever. Ian has also been able to participate in ground-breaking research that has helped improve his speech and his ability to play the bass.

The NHNN team have continued to provide superlative care for Ian and many other patients. Nothing underscored this more strongly than when Ian accidentally fell down the stairs of a California hotel during our holiday in May 2013, sustaining a serious head wound, which needed 21 stitches in the local hospital emergency room. The Functional Neurology Unit Team responded to our urgent email appeal for help and advice at 6am UK time and provided a rapid follow-up assessment when we returned to London.

Although I’d run the London Marathon for the NHNN back in 2010, I thought this impressive response deserved another fundraising run. So I applied to the National Brain Appeal to do the London Marathon again in 2014 and began training immediately. However, my campaign was halted suddenly when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with ‘aggressive’ grade 3/stage 2 breast cancer in early 2014 after a routine screening mammogram. I underwent a mastectomy and reconstruction surgery at the Royal Free Hospital, followed by 18 weeks of chemotherapy at Barnet General Hospital. During this period I tried to exercise gently – such as riding a stationary bike indoors while my immune system was compromised – until I could return to training in September 2014.

Getting back on the road

Chemotherapy took a lot out of me and, whereas I’d previously been able to run 45 minutes every day, I found that I would be exhausted for a couple of days after each training run. So I alternated gentle 30-minute gym runs with outdoor 45-minute runs until I got my strength back and could start covering longer distances. I had to learn how to ‘read’ my body all over again. Having been used to pushing myself hard, it was difficult to accept my limitations and work with my body as it actually was, not how I wanted it to be.

I also supplemented my training with visits to my acupuncturist and to the British School of Osteopathy, which had supported me through the 2003 and 2010 London Marathons.

To reach my fundraising target, I was able to reach out to family and friends – including members of Herts Jazz Club, where I photograph gigs regularly – to support my run. Folks were already rallying round me during my cancer treatment, so when I announced that I wanted to follow that up by running in the 2015 London Marathon, they gave generously. I’ve raised more than £3,500 to date.

Race day

On the day itself, I was supported by Ian and our long-time friends Laurie and Deb who got me to the start, cheered me on at mile 21 and were waiting for me at the finish line. The first half was relatively easy – crossing Tower Bridge was a tremendous high. However, I hit the “wall” between mile 15 and 16 and had to rely on roadside spectators who passed me Jelly Babies and bananas to get through the leg cramps and all the way to the finish! My final time was slightly slower than my 2010 time of 5hrs 30mins and initially I was a bit disappointed. But then I remembered that, given that this time a year ago I was starting treatment for a life-threatening illness, simply being able to start and finish the London Marathon is a huge gift. I know I’ve won the Lottery.

Melody McLaren, wife of patient and charity supporter, Hertfordshire

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