THE statistics are pretty convincing – enough to make any woman get on her bike perhaps.
Thirty minutes of exercise every day reduces a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by around 20 per cent; women who do the most physical activity are 12 per cent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who do the least; if every woman in the UK was physically active one in six cases of breast cancer could be avoided.
When Sam Scobie heard the numbers it changed her life – and she hopes that of her 12-year-old daughter Amanda.
“I’m lucky enough not to have been affected personally by breast cancer,” she says.
“There is cancer in my family but not breast cancer, although my nana died young and it might have started in the breast, we don’t know. But I have friends who have had it, and one just had a double mastectomy because she has the BRCA gene.
“There can be few people who don’t know someone who has had breast cancer.
“So when I heard about the difference exercise could make, it inspired me to get back on my bike. I knew I had to do something – and that I could get fit and raise money for Breakthrough at the same time was just great.”
She adds: “I know that generally it’s people with direct personal experience who get involved with fundraising but the idea of helping so that women stop dying of breast cancer – which could affect my daughter when she’s older – was very powerful.”
Sam, a freelance project manager who is co-chair of Edinburgh’s Women in Banking and Finance organisation, first discovered the work of Breakthrough when the charity’s former director Audrey Birt came to speak at one of its events. Now she has raised almost £8500 for the charity and is encouraging others to saddle up and become one of Mike’s Marvels this Sunday in the Pedal for Scotland ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh, joining surgeon Professor Mike Dixon’s team to raise money for Breakthrough’s research.
“When Audrey came to speak to us they were just launching Breakthrough 100, a scheme to get 100 women to raise £1000 each, and I thought this was something I could get involved with. That was two years ago and while I did events like cocktail parties, I realised that the message of Breakthrough – about being physically active – was very important, so I decided to get fit.
“I had been getting back on my bike – something which I hadn’t done since I was a child – so I got involved with a cycling club. Then I joined Mike’s Marvels and did the Glasgow to Edinburgh cycle and I would urge anyone who feels able to do it to sign up. It’s such a fantastic event, you get great support and you really feel like you’re achieving something.”
Sam has since also completed the Spartan Sprint, a 5km obstacle race in East Lothian and has done the Edinburgh Night Ride this summer – all for Breakthrough. “Riding 50 miles around Edinburgh overnight was amazing,” she says. “Cycling had become something I did once every two months, now I try and fit it in all the time. And I go to the gym too – and the more I go, the more I want to keep going. I’m 43 and I probably was starting to put on a bit of weight. It could have gone one of two ways – get fit or sit on a sofa eating crisps.
“I was never sporty as a kid, so getting fit has been a revelation to me – and I truly believe it is reducing my chances of breast cancer, which were like most women’s, one in eight, so I’m hoping those odds are getting smaller.
“And with the fundraising going to research I hope that by the time my daughter is old enough to worry about breast cancer, a cure is available.”
More than 4500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Scotland each year, and around 1000 still die from the disease every year. Breakthrough’s aim is to make breast cancer a disease which is no longer terminal, by investing in research for new treatments.
Some of that research takes place at the Western where Professor Dixon is the clinical lead at Breakthrough’s unit, which was established six years ago. His work is focused on finding new ways to treat women whose breast cancer is fed by the hormone oestrogen.
Like Sam, he too knows the benefits of physical exercise on breast cancer research, running marathons, 10ks and cycling, all to raise cash for Breakthrough.
Of course not all exercise has to involve running for miles. Any physical activity that is of moderate intensity or higher can reduce risk, provided it lasts for at least 30 minutes a day. If it makes you warmer, breathe harder and gets the heart beating faster it’s doing some good.
And while doctors don’t yet know quite how physical activity reduces breast cancer risk, studies have shown that maintaining a healthy weight is vital, while others suggest that it can reduce levels of oestrogen in the body – the hormone which is known to encourage the growth of some cancers. Exercise can also help people’s bodies respond well to insulin, which may also influence the growth of breast cancers.
Research has also suggested that regular physical activity can improve the chances of survival following a breast cancer diagnosis. There is also some evidence that physical activity may reduce the risk of the breast cancer coming back, while keeping active may also help people cope with cancer treatment by improving both physical and mental health.
Sam adds: “Half an hour a day is nothing really and its impact could be huge. It’s definitely had a good impact on my health already. I’ve lost about a stone but it’s staying off, and I think I’m setting a good example to Amanda about having a healthy lifestyle which should stand her in good stead for the future.”
Sam, of Hailes Park, has explained to her daughter – as well as her 16-year-old son Chris – why she’s involved with Breakthrough and it inspired Amanda to submit a recipe when her mum and two friends produced a cookbook for the charity. “She wanted her recipe for butterfly cupcakes to be included, she loves baking,” says Sam. “Friends Sue Rees and Catherine Mather helped me to put together The Little Cookbook of Inspiration, which is a compilation of recipes from friends and family, food which inspires them. It’s all quite personal, like Granny’s Lemon Curd, that kind of thing. It’s raised nearly £7000 for Breakthrough on its own.
“The idea though that we’re helping towards Breakthrough’s aim to be free of the disease is what inspires me, and I hope will inspire others to do the same.”
n To sign up to Mike’s Marvels or to sponsor Mike please call 08080 100 200, or you can donate at justgiving.com/Mike-Dixon1 or by texting Marv80 GBP5 to 70070.