Audrey Hellen has always loved long distance open water swimming, but after being diagnosed with highly invasive breast cancer in 2019, she had to put her swimming dreams on hold. However, Audrey has just completed an incredible achievement of an 11-mile one-way solo swim of Lake Windermere. Here, Audrey discusses her breast cancer journey and how it felt to complete this amazing challenge.
I was diagnosed through a routine mammogram in early 2019. I was swimming the English Channel that year, recently completing my channel qualifying swim, and I had booked Windermere amongst other swimming challenges. One month after my diagnosis I underwent surgery. 3 weeks later, I did a swim guiding for blind people in Lake Derwent, and swam the width of Loch Lomond with friends. Histology showed no lymphatic spread but oncotyping indicated chemotherapy was needed. I started my chemo in July 2019 and finished in December 2019 with no delays or problems. However, I had a PICC line in so could not swim, this was mentally very hard for me. When my line eventually came out, I swam in Lake Windermere, which was truly wonderful. Finally, I started radiotherapy finishing in January 2020.
REBUILDING MY STRENGTH
Whilst in lockdown, I bought myself a pool for the back garden and started tethered swimming. Not only was this great fun, but it also helped with my fitness. It was great physio as when I started, I couldn’t lift a kettle due to the muscle wasting. By swimming I could feel my arm getting stronger and the scar tissue breaking down. After 3 months in that pool, swimming every day, I could lift my arm, comb my hair, lift a full kettle and drive! I completed a 42-mile 2-way channel swim in that pool for Hug in a Bag, a breast cancer charity, who were fantastic with me at Blackpool Victoria. I managed to raise £1100 for them. In September 2020, I finally did my channel relay for COSMIC RAYS, a paediatric charity, which was a fantastic experience. I also attempted Windermere. Sadly, I had to stop at 6 hours I was simply too cold and tired. I immediately rebooked it for this year on 28th September 2021.
COMPLETING THE CHALLENGE
I completed Windermere in 9 hrs and 5 mins. This wasn’t just an 11-mile swim to me; this was a shutting of the door on all my hopes for 2019 that breast cancer took away from me. It reaffirmed to me, that I am still me under all the rubbish going on, that I am going to live my life and not be dictated to by cancer. I wanted to give hope, support, and inspiration to others who are in the same situation. There is light at the end of that awful tunnel, you will come out the other side, changed yes, but a far stronger person than you were going into your journey. After completing the event I feel very emotional, immensely proud, and hopeful. I can see future plans for more challenges in the pipeline
Audrey has already raised over £600 towards our vital research. If you’d like to help Audrey reach her £750 goal, you can donate to her JustGiving page.