The Fittest I have Ever Felt!

MARCH 2015: Annie Broe joined up with RunBrighton for the first time this winter and has fully immersed herself in training for this year’s Brighton Marathon, attending all but one of the long Sunday runs.

But it only came to light a couple of weeks ago what Annie has been through prior to embarking on her marathon-training journey.

Although her treatment for breast cancer is now behind her, Annie has had to battle through various challenges associated with some long-term side effects on her cardio fitness associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy just to make it to the start line this 12th April. We’re just a couple of weeks away!


Annie, firstly I must congratulate you on getting this far, four months of hard training behind you and now able to enjoy a taper in mileage. How do you feel?

The fittest I have ever felt! Running really has become a great ‘bolt on’ to the other fitness stuff I do – Boxercise Bootcamp classes and PT with BodyFit Brighton. Cardio-wise, running is king, but I feel that the strength training is vital.

Were you always active / sporty before your illness?

Yes, very. At the time of diagnosis I was playing a lot of tennis and going to hot yoga classes several times a week, and all of my life I can describe myself as always having been involved in something sporty or active. That said, until a couple of years ago I could not run between my flat and the Queen Victoria Statue at the end of Grand Avenue – a distance of under half a mile – without pausing for breath.

Cancer does not seem to discriminate between the ‘fit’ and the ‘unfit’ – just look at all the sporting heroes we have lost to the disease.

What can you remember of the time you were first diagnosed with cancer?

I can remember it most vividly, as though it were yesterday. In fact it will be 8 years ago on the 28th March that I heard the words no one wants to hear: “Mrs Broe, you have cancer”.

And what happened in the months which followed? That must have been a traumatic time, something which hopefully the majority of us will never have to face.

The most traumatic thing I had to do was to tell my daughter, Becky (who was nearly 17 at the time), but between diagnosis and seeing her I had a couple of days in which to compose myself. I told her; she shed many tears; I then went and had quite a drastic haircut in advance of losing my hair completely; and then we both went off to see ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’. A rather strange day.

After that, I started a programme of chemo (6 sessions with three weeks between each), and the low points were extreme nausea and 2 week-long stays in hospital because I was neutropenic (dangerously low white blood cell count caused by the chemo) when my fever spiked 40 degrees; it was ironic that this was nothing to do with the cancer, but everything to do with the treatment!

My job kept me sane because I was going to feel absolutely ghastly whatever I was doing, so I might as well be achieving something rather than sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.

Then followed mastectomy, radiotherapy, and eventually reconstructive surgery. The latter involved taking my LD (latissimus dorsi) muscles from my back and using them to reconstruct the breasts, with the assistance of some silicon implants. Thus I have lost some strength in my back due to the lack of these muscles, but I really do not feel that this has hindered me in any way (probably because I do not want it to). I must say that running with implants is rather a peculiar sensation!

At what point were you able to see a light at the end of the tunnel?

I saw ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’ immediately because by nature I see no merit in existing in a place of darkness; I had decided that I was on a mission and nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to stand in the way of survival. I had a teenage daughter, a job to maintain, a roof to keep over my head, and a life to live. A 5cm tumour in my breast was NOT going to get in the way.

When were you able to resume some normal exercise? What did that involve in the early stages?

I did not have to stop exercising because I did not feel unwell. In fact the day I was diagnosed I went to tennis team practice that evening as I considered that hitting a tennis ball hard was just what I needed! And the advice certainly seemed to be that exercise was encouraged for the ‘feel good’ factor. I continued to play tennis and go to hot yoga, though due to the nausea had to abandon the hot yoga eventually. But being out in the fresh air playing tennis was most beneficial, especially as I was in the company of people I knew and who understood what I was going through. The surgeon who carried out my reconstructive surgery warned me that I might lose my ‘backhand’ due to the movement involved in a slice backhand, but that was like a red rag to a bull as far as I was concerned, and I can tell you it did not affect me one bit. Resuming yoga quite soon after surgery was the best thing I could have done for myself because I became my own physio.

Stepping up from ‘normal’ exercise to running a marathon is quite a big deal, even for someone who hasn’t been through what you’ve been through. What prompted you to want to do that?

In a PT session in October 2013 I was told that we would be going for a 10k run. My reply is unprintable. However, we did it, and I think from that was born the idea that running had its place in my overall fitness; there was certainly room for improvement as although I wasn’t out of breath, as such, I certainly struggled from a cardio point of view. This 10k jaunt led me to challenge myself to do the Hastings Half in 2014 to raise money for the Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead where I had my three reconstructive operations. I then considered that 2015 was perhaps the year to have a punt at the Brighton Marathon as well as the Half. I’ve got a big birthday this year as well. So why not? What had I got to lose? I was motivated by two factors:

  • I want to raise money for two charities very close to my heart
  • I am inspired by the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”

How did you find out about RunBrighton and how have you found the whole experience?

Good old Google led me to RunBrighton! The entire experience has been absolutely BRILLIANT. The resources available, support and organisation are outstanding – let’s face it, look at the calibre of the people involved and who have given their time and expertise such as Nick Anderson, Nick Morgan, Mike Gratton, Jon Pepper, Dawn & Co from Body Rehab and everyone at Studio 57, not forgetting all of the RunBrighton Ambassadors who tirelessly encourage and pace us all every Sunday. And, of course, your good self!

It is sad (but true) that I shall miss your email every Monday attaching the weekly training schedule (which I found very user-friendly as it caters for beginner, improver and hardcore) and advising the venue and Mapometer link for the following Sunday’s run. From starting out with an hour’s run on the 30th November to a three hour run on the 22nd March just proves how RunBrighton’s progressive method of training really works.

What has been the biggest single challenge encountered since our first long run at the end of November last year?

Without a shadow of doubt it has been getting up soooooooo early on an often dark and freezing/windy Sunday morning, and out of the house by about 7.45 a.m. The upside was being all done by lunchtime and being able to have a ‘Saturday night’ on a Sunday afternoon.

Oh, and the hills. And the mud. But usually stunning views.

What will it mean to you when you cross the finish line at the Brighton Marathon?

You have great faith that I will cross the finish line, thank you! On the basis that I do, it will be the third significant moment in my life; the first was giving birth to my daughter, and the second was seeing her graduate.

Based on how far you’ve come so far on your marathon journey, what single piece of advice would you give someone taking on the challenge for the first time?

If you want to train for a marathon the right way and meet some smashing people along the way, sign up to RunBrighton. NOW.

Annie, your story is truly inspirational; thanks for sharing it. My one single piece of advice is to enjoy the day (which I’m sure you will)! Good luck!

By Mike Bannister