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Saddle Cures: One Athlete's Journey to Healing on the Bike

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Meet one athlete who has found the cure for a difficult diagnosis in her favorite activity.

by Sarah Weltman

I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Lymphoma in January 2011. Over the previous year, I had developed symptoms that were telling me something was wrong. Mostly, I felt strangely tired and weaker than usual. It became obvious that the enlarged glands in my neck, back, and shoulders weren’t a result of an infection or fever and I eventually plucked up the courage to go to the doctor.

Diagnosis was swift. My doctor identified the symptoms within minutes and I was sent straight to the hospital for a chest X-ray and blood tests. After more blood tests, an ultra-scan, a biopsy, a fine needle aspiration in my neck, a CT scan, and a bone marrow extraction, my diagnosis was clear.  Although this was a terrifying time, staff at King’s College Hospital were reassuring and extremely caring throughout the whole process, as they have continued to be throughout the journey.

I was surprised to learn that immediate treatment wasn't an option. I was put on what’s known as "Watch and Wait" due to the non-aggressive nature of this type of blood cancer, and also because there is currently no cure for it, and, at that point, treatment options were limited.

Cycling gave me something to focus on while living with blood cancer.

Once the initial panic of a cancer diagnosis had subsided and Watch and Wait had been explained to me (monthly check-ups while the progression of the disease is closely monitored) I found myself feeling extremely lost. I was in limbo, trying to accept that I had a life-threatening condition but was unable to receive immediate treatment to fight the cancer. It was a very strange place to be, trying to carry on with life as usual, but constantly fighting an overwhelming sense of doom.

Not long after the diagnosis I was on my way to work, feeling pretty low, when I noticed a brightly-coloured poster. The image was a large animation of two people riding bikes with the words "Leukemia and Lymphoma Research," who are now known as Bloodwise. I was instantly hooked by the prospect of their annual cycling fundraising Bikeathon.

I hadn't ridden a bike for 20 years and yet I knew straight away I needed to take part in this event. I gathered a group of friends and that year about 15 of us rode 26 miles and raised over £2000. It was the start of what has continued to be an obsession with cycling with the aim to raise money for the charity that has played a major part in keeping me alive.

The subsequent year a team of friends and I rode in the London Revolution, a two-day ride of 180 miles completing a full circle of London (an event I have now done twice); since then I have only missed one Prudential Ride 100, and my stalwart team members and I have participated in every VELOTHON Wales event since it started in 2015.

I have participated in all of these rides to raise money for Bloodwise. I have immense gratitude for the charity and I'm determined to help them continue their work supporting patients and researching treatment for the 137 types of blood cancer.

I started treatment in August 2014 by entering a clinical trial for an inhibitor drug called Ibrutinib. The treatment is in the form of tablets I take daily, and although the list of possible side effects is long, I'm lucky enough to lead a very normal life. Bloodwise played a huge part in promoting and funding research into this drug, particularly by way of their Trials Acceleration Programme, which assists in the launch of research projects with financial investment and administrative support to researchers.

Cycling gave me something to focus on while living with blood cancer. It helped me come to terms with my illness despite its progression by giving me a goal and a way of proving to myself that I was still in charge of my own body.

Most importantly though, cycling has been a way of giving something back to Bloodwise, without whom my treatment options would have had much more of a negative impact on my life. 

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