WHEN she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer two years ago, Heather Duff was distraught when doctors told her to prepare for the worst.
According to the 29 year-old, only 19 other women had ever been registered with the same condition, and none of them survived more than two years after their diagnosis.
But Heather, from Winchburgh, West Lothian, challenged herself to “buck the trend” and on Sunday, she completed the London Marathon to mark her remission.
“I’m so overwhelmed, crossing the finishing line was a very emotional moment, I could just see my husband and my family waiting for me,” she said. “I’m so pleased I did it.”
Heather, who works as a community inclusion officer for Edinburgh Leisure, played hockey at national league level before she was diagnosed with cancer in April 2014 – after doctors discovered a 5cm tumour on her cervix and pelvic wall.
Heather underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy before she was given promising news at the end of August 2014 – that she was in remission. But it took her a while to “piece her life” back together, and running the London Marathon at the weekend highlighted how much cancer has changed her body.
Heather said: “I’d only ever run one marathon before I was diagnosed, but this weekend it felt like I was running in a completely different body.
“I was a lot slower than I was previously but it didn’t really matter to me because I was doing it for Cancer Research UK – I wanted to give them something in return.
“In life, you have all the pieces that fit together like a jigsaw – like your job, family, friends and romance.
“But when you get cancer it’s as if it all shatters and you have to start slowly piecing it all back together again.
“At one point during my treatment my husband, Gordon, literally had to carry me from the bathroom to my bed because I was so weak, so to have completed the marathon is an amazing achievement.”
Heather now wants to make other women aware that “anyone can get cancer” and to visit their GP immediately if they suspect something is wrong.
She said: “I thought I lived an exemplary life and I was healthy, I didn’t think for a minute I’d get cancer.
“I started getting the symptoms of cervical cancer about three months before I was diagnosed, such as back pain, irregular bleeding and blood in my urine but I just put it down to a bad tackle at hockey.
“I’d encourage all women to attend their smear tests and screenings because you just never know.”