WHEN Louise Bartha had skin cancer removed from her hand, she decided it was time to get serious about fitness.
“Melanoma has got quite a bad rep for coming back, so I was like: ‘If it does come back, I want to be in the best shape of my life to be able to deal with what gets thrown at me next time,’” Louise says.
But nothing could have prepared her for how serious her condition was going to get.
After the mum-of-two’s melanoma was removed from her hand in 2016 and another type of skin cancer was removed from her scalp two years later, she was given a much more serious lung cancer diagnosis in 2019.
“They were talking palliative care, management, rather than curative treatment,” Louise, 47, from Hove, East Sussex, says. “The conversations were quite serious, quite quickly.”
Surgeons were ultimately forced to remove over half of Louise’s left lung.
But incredibly, less than two years on, Louise will now be running the Virgin Money London Marathon this weekend.
And she’s doing so to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support which helped her through her cancer treatments.
A consultant once told Louise she was a “classic case” for melanoma: a redhead with fair skin who had often been sunburnt when she was younger.
In Louise’s mind, that diagnosis made sense to her – but when doctors found she had lung cancer, she couldn’t get her head around it.
“I’d never smoked,” Louise says. “I wasn’t brought up in a smoking household. My husband doesn’t smoke. I’m a runner. I’m really fit and healthy. I live by the sea.
“It didn’t make any sense to me at all. I don’t even drink – I’m quite boring!”
At the time, Louise’s sons Dylan and Tate were 13 and 10 respectively.
Macmillan helped me tell kids
Working out how to talk about the seriousness of her illness with them was an added challenge on top of the daunting reality of her own physical recovery.
“This is where Macmillan came in,” Louise says.
“I had a bit of counselling with Macmillan and they helped me work out how best to speak to my children about it in a way that they could understand and deal with.
“My eldest in particular is quite scientific. He’s got his own phone. If he was to look up: ‘Lung cancer prognosis’… That was my main worry.
“The data is so outdated – he’s just going to worry that his mum’s not going to be around in a few years.
“There was a lot to deal with. But we got through it. They’ve been brilliant and my husband was brilliant.”
I sounded like Darth Vader
After an operation to remove the upper lobe of her left lung, Louise thankfully didn’t need any more treatment.
And she was determined to not let her new respiratory system hold her back.
“I was thinking I’d be dragging oxygen canisters around with me,” Louise says.
“When I first came around from the operation I sounded like Darth Vader. Breathing was quite difficult and it felt like someone was permanently sat on my chest.
“But the next day, maybe 12 hours after the operation, you’ve got physios visiting you to get you to really breathe.
“Your lung is like a balloon. It stretches and it grows to fill the space where the top half was. The more you use it, the better it’ll be. It stretches to the capabilities you need it for.
“The consultant’s words really stayed in my mind: ‘Make your lung adapt for what you want it to do for you.
“That’s when I started thinking: ‘I am going to run that marathon’.”
Finally fulfilling dream
Louise had a ballot place in the London Marathon in 2019, but had to defer during her cancer treatment.
And the pandemic meant that the mass participation element of last year’s event was cancelled.
But now Louise is finally going to fulfil her dream.
“It’s been such a bucket list thing for me,” Louise says. “I grew up watching it with my dad. We’d hog that TVSunday morning on marathon day. We loved it so much.
“My family and friends were a bit worried about me – and they still are – but they weren’t surprised!”
As well as realising her own dream, the marathon gives Louise the chance to give back to Macmillan.
She says the charity didn’t just help in how she talked about her cancer with her kids.
“My Macmillan melanoma nurse, Claire, is fantastic,” Louise says. “But I also had a lung specialist nurse as well through Macmillan.
“When consultants explain operations, they’re very good at what they do, but they’re quite time-pressured and very matter of fact.
“I didn’t really take it in. I was thinking: ‘This is barbaric! This is crazy!’
“But then the specialist nurse phoned me up and asked if I had any questions, sent me some information, and she also met with me and went through it all in great detail.
“There’s just so much. And Macmillan will be in my life for years to come.
“If I add it all up, this one charity, the support they give on so many levels is just amazing.”
Louise will be joined on the marathon by others who’ve been affected by cancer.
For my wife
Chris Rose, 41, from Suffolk, will also be running with Team Macmillan this weekend.
His wife, Angela, died of breast cancer, and Chris ran the 2019 marathon with her ashes tied around his wrist.
“Angela had always wanted to run the London Marathon but due to her illness that wasn’t going to be possible,” Chris says.
“I decided I would run it for her and, in doing so, raise as much money as I could for Macmillan who helped support her and who are still supporting myself and our 10-year-old son Jack.
“Sadly, Angela died before the marathon, but I made the decision we would do it together and I ran with her ashes in a wristband to help grant her that last wish of getting over the finish line together.
“Being part of Team Macmillan means a lot to so many people – you can’t help feeling like you’re all in it together – and I’m raring to take on the challenge once again in October.”
I wanted to stay alive
Jake Brockwell, 32, from Coxheath in Kent, will also be running the Virgin Money London Marathon with Team Macmillan.
He was diagnosed with bowel cancer aged 31, just before finding out he was going to be a dad.
Jake was told he needed most of his bowel removed, and after the operation in December 2019, he found out his wife was pregnant.
“I am taking on the challenge of running the Virgin Money London Marathon this year following my bowel cancer diagnosis and the birth of my beautiful daughter, Elsie-Grace,” Jake says.
“I took up running during the first Covid-19 lockdown to give myself the best chance of staying fit and healthy to make sure I can watch my daughter, who has just turned one, grow up. I want to make sure I am always going to be around to support her.
“I’m running for Macmillan following the amazing support the charity provided my family, including when my father was diagnosed, and later died, of bowel cancer when I was 13.
“The Macmillan nurse that cared for my father was a superhero and I’m so excited to join Team Macmillan this October to help give something back.”
- If you would like to donate to Macmillan Cancer Support, you can do so here.