A CANCER survivor has set herself an incredible challenge - to row a million metres on a static indoor rowing machine before her 30th birthday which falls on New Year‘s Eve.
Bethan Jones, 29, of Gwernymynydd was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in September 1999 when she was just 17.
Now fully recovered, she is determined to give something back to help in the fight against cancer by raising as much cash as she can through her muscle-aching challenge.
She might be incredibly fit and healthy now but being diagnosed in September 1999 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was devastating for Bethan, her mum Lynn, dad Colin and younger brother, Mark.
She said: “I had a large lump on the right side of my neck which, for a number of months doctors, suspected was due to a severe throat infection. For weeks they prescribed antibiotics and steroids in an attempt to reduce what they thought was an infected gland.
“However, in early September, I was sent by my GP to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist at Wrexham Maelor Hospital. He took one look at the lump and arranged a CT scan that afternoon.
“He also tried to draw fluid from the lump for tests so they could establish what was causing the problem. And that was not a pleasant experience seeing as there was no fluid to draw out!”
Bethan was admitted to hospital three days later to undergo a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue from the lump was removed so doctors could run test.
However, she says this left her with a large scar on her neck thanks to the seven stitches she had to have to close the wound.
Bethan said: “The following Friday, less than a week after my initial appointment, I was diagnosed as having Hodgkin's disease.
“For some people, being told you have got cancer is probably going to be the worst moment of your life, but for me, I don't think it was.
She added: “I must admit it was a shock, after all cancer only happens to other people, you never imagine it will be you, but in a way I was relieved. At least I knew what I was up against.
“I think I knew anyway, after having the lump for so long and the way the doctors in Wrexham reacted so quickly, I think in my heart of hearts I knew it was more than just a lump.”
And, after her doctors decided there was no time to waste, Bethan began a course of chemotherapy just three days after being diagnosed with the dreadful disease.
She said: “I had five weeks of treatment. I had weekly chemo injections at Wrexham hospital and consider myself to have been very lucky - apart from losing all my hair I didn’t really suffer too many side effects!
“Following chemotherapy I spent six weeks at Christies Hospital in Manchester, where I underwent radiotherapy treatment, from the top of my cheek bone to about half-way down my chest.
“Treatment lasted about 30 minutes every day, Monday to Friday. I spent the full six weeks in hospital getting home to Gwernymynydd only at weekends.
“Radiotherapy is not unlike having an x-ray. You do not feel or see anything but the treatment left my skin burnt and due to the area being treated I must admit I had a very sore mouth.
She added: “The problem was my saliva glands were damaged by the radiotherapy which meant they weren’t producing saliva properly. I really suffered with sores and ulcers and lots of food tasted very strange.
“At least my mum and dad had the relief of me being quiet for a while as talking was quite painful. However, despite the side effects, the six weeks passed quickly and I was back home and on the road to recovery before I knew it.”
And being just 17 at that time Bethan still had to think about her A-level studies.
She said: “Throughout my treatment I continued to attend Sixth Form at Mold Alun High School and passed all my exams at the end of the year.
“In fact I got three A grades which I am very proud of especially as a lot of people thought I should spend an extra year studying because of the time I been forced to miss.
“And I continued to go out with my friends too, we went to the pub and nightclubs right through my treatment. I admit I got some funny looks as I had no hair and a lot of the time I suppose I didn’t look too well.
“The thing is I felt normal so wanted to continue to do "normal" stuff. I approached the whole thing with the attitude that I had an illness, it did not have me. That way I felt in control.
She added: “I finished my treatment just before my 18th birthday and seeing as New Year’s Eve is my birthday I saw in the new millennium as bald as a coot, but I really didn’t care.
“For about four or five years after I was classed as being in remission and had to go for six month check-ups with the haematologists at the hospital. But the scans and x-rays were reduced and the check-ups went from every six months to annually.
“Eventually I was told I didn’t have to go back unless I had any cause for concern and thankfully I never have had. I’ll turn 30 this year and have been fit and well for the 13 years since my treatment ended.”
And it was the milestone of her 30th birthday that gave Bethan, who works for IT outsourcing company, CSC (Computer Science Corporation), the idea of a fundraising challenge.
She said: “I enjoy going to the gym and rowing is something which, although I find extremely challenging, I really enjoy. I have been rowing as part of my gym work outs for a while although for never more than a few minutes at a time!
“I use www.concept2.com website to record my rowing distances and came across their Million Metre Club. The Concept2 training logbook is available to all rowers, professional or total novices and enables people to track their distances and times.
“They have global rankings on the website where you can compare yourself to people worldwide. The Million Metre Club enables rowers to track their distance up to One Million Metres and become part of the “club” once they have completed the distance.”
She added: “I wanted to set myself a personal challenge to help keep me motivated at the gym and at the same time to raise money and awareness for the Lymphoma Association and about Lymphatic cancers.
“Rowing a million metres before I turn 30, while I’m still in the age group which Lymphoma affects the most, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity.
“And in April this year I decided I would row the one million metre distance before my 30th Birthday.”
Due to work commitments Bethan spends much of her time living in Chesterfield, Derbyshire but still gets home to Gwernymynydd most weekends and uses the gym at the Holiday Inn, Wrexham Road, Chester when she‘s home.
She said: “I’m using the indoor rowing machines at the Gym where I am a member in Chesterfield. I row between four and six times a week as well as keeping up with other forms of training including Spinning - indoor static cycling - and a weekly group personal training session.
“My family, friends and my personal trainer have been a huge support and motivation. Many of them row with me for short distances, keeping me company.
“Staff at the gym have also been a huge support and always offer words of encouragement when they see me sitting on the rower early before I go to work or at the weekends.
“I have a spreadsheet which I use to track distances and predicted finish date to make sure I am on target to finish on, or before, New Year’s Eve this year.
She added: “My current daily required metres is 3,600m. I know I must row at least this distance every day, seven days a week, if I am to complete the challenge by my target date.
“To ensure I’m getting rest days and to let my blistered hands and aching muscles recover I am trying to average a minimum of 10,000m at every rowing session.
I’m well over the half-way mark now which feels like a massive achievement. At least I now know that from here on every metre rowed is closer to the finish than the start!”
And it isn’t just aching muscles that are proving a problem for Bethan as the challenge as caused some unexpected problems.
She said: “I always knew it was going to be a tough challenge, but I think initially I under estimated how tough. The physical effort require to row 45 minutes a day is massive!
“I have blisters and calluses on my hands and heels. My shoulders are sore and spending the amount of time I am sitting in one position on the rower really is taking its toll.
“I have to go to the gym and row at least five times a week, if I miss a day I have to make up the distance another day so I cannot afford to get complacent.
“The truth is I cannot afford to have a day off due to a hangover or because I had a hard day at the office! Having said that, I’m really enjoying the challenge.
“I’m seeing a massive improvement in my rowing technique and my stamina. I never professed to be the fittest or strongest person, but I know that down to my sheer determination and belief in myself that I will definitely complete the task.“
To help Bethan raise funds for cancer charity the Lymphoma Association visit www.justgiving.com/BethanMillionMetres and donate
Page Last Updated - 19/09/2011