Recently, we chatted with community member Jo Hammond about her incredible story of how running saved her when going through some tough times and how she refused to give up her dreams.

Jo’s Story

How it all started

“Back in 2014, I signed up to do a Tough Mudder with a group of friends. I ran for about 30 seconds before I had to stop as I was out of breath!  It took forever to complete and I decided after the event to start running, or at least try to!  I entered a few 5ks, 10ks and half marathons but still never really trained properly and tended to just wing it on the day. 

A new challenge

In 2018, my friend decided she wanted to run every day for a year and asked me to join her.  So, on Boxing Day that year, my true running journey began.  I managed to run every day for about 170 days before injury struck but I definitely had the bug.  I signed up to do a half marathon in March 2020 and was following a structured training plan for it. Then Covid hit and the race was cancelled. I had the option to do it virtually, but I had lost my running mojo and through the first lockdown, I favoured staying in eating all the food and drinking gin over running! 

How life can change so quickly

It was mid-June when things changed forever. I was lying in bed and I had an itch on my side. As I scratched it, I thought I felt a lump on the side of my left boob.  Straight away I panicked and because of a family history of breast cancer, I knew I couldn’t leave it.  I made a doctors appointment and was assured by the nurse that it just felt like a cyst but they would refer me anyway due to the family history. 

A week later I was at the hospital, having a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy – getting the results the same day.  I was called back in to be told that whilst my mammogram had been clear the ultrasound had shown ‘something’ and an MRI would give them a better look.

I just crumbled, I knew then it wasn’t going to be good news.

Facing a diagnosis

The following week I was called back and told I had Stage 1 Grade 1 breast cancer.  It was highly treatable and I had been incredibly lucky and found it early.  The MRI that detected a second smaller lump also turned out to be the same cancer.  My treatment plan was relatively simple. I would need an operation to remove the cancer, radiotherapy and Tamoxifen for 5-10 years.  As I was due to lose a fair chunk of my breast, I had a few options regarding the type of surgery I could have.  I opted for a reconstruction using back fat, leaving a big scar but I would be left looking fairly ‘normal’.

I was looking at at least eight weeks (due to having to self isolate as well as recovery) out from running and that really messed with my head. Running had got me through from the point of diagnosis to my operation. It was my time to feel free from it all, cry if I needed to, and clear my head of all the ‘what ifs’.  A couple of weeks after my operation I went for a little walk and I honestly thought I would never be able to run again and I just cried my eyes out.  Running meant so much to me, I couldn’t bear the thought of not being able to do it.  

Moving onto a Half Marathon! Could I do it?

Prior to my diagnosis, I had booked Silverstone Half Marathon which fell in November.  Doing that half marathon meant so much to me.  It was what kept me going at my lowest points.  To be able to say I had run a half marathon just five weeks after finishing radiotherapy and three months after major surgery was an achievement I wanted so badly. 

At my follow up appointment I asked my surgeon when I could run again and she told me not to run until at least December. There was no medical reason, it was purely down to irritation that may be caused by the radiotherapy.  I was devastated. The cancer had already taken so much from me and now it was going to take running as well.  I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t go that long without running. 

Midway through radiotherapy and six weeks after my operation, I decided to lace up my trainers and go for a short run.  I put on two bras to minimize any movement and off I went!  It felt amazing and other than my left arm swinging out and doing its own thing it was pain-free.

Throwing caution to the wind!

At this point, running really started to mean something to me.  I’d never realised the mental benefits of running. I guess it’s not until something is almost taken away from you. that you realise how much you need it.  I felt like my runs had a purpose and I really fell in love with it.  Whilst on holiday in October, I decided to sign up for Manchester Marathon!  I was turning 40 in 2021 and wanted to do a marathon to mark the occasion!

Silverstone Half Marathon was made into a virtual event so on the 14th of November, me and my sister ran a local route and completed it virtually.  I’d done it!  Five weeks after finishing treatment and three months post-op, I had run a half marathon…and got a PB!

Having a plan

Prior to my diagnosis, I had always felt a bit lost with my running, tending to just go out and run 5k and not really understanding what tempo runs, speed runs and fartlek runs were.  Then a friend suggested I follow an eight week, 10k programme to set a base for when I started marathon training. Having that structure to my training has paid off massively and I wish I’d done it sooner!  Hill repeats no longer scare me and I now know what a tempo run is!  At the end of the eight weeks, I achieved a 10k PB and I felt ready for marathon training.  

Manchester here I come!

Manchester Marathon then fell almost exactly a year to the day that I finished treatment.  I was worried it would take me longer than six hours and I would be swept up by the sweeper bus!  I managed to complete it in 05:41 and crossing that finish line was so emotional, I couldn’t believe I had done it!  To think how far I had come in the last year was amazing and I was beyond proud of myself!!  I managed to stay out of my head, and when I found it tough I thought about others going through their own cancer battles. Thinking about those going through chemo and life-changing surgery gave me the strength to push on through the pain and keep going until the very end. 

I am so proud of what I have achieved in the last year, how much I have grown and how much my running has progressed. There are still runs where I beat myself up and I put an immense amount of pressure on myself. But, if you’d asked me a year ago if I thought i’d be where I am now the answer would have been no!  Running and working out has become a huge part of my life and who I am now.  Cancer made me realise I need to make changes in my lifestyle. It also helped me have belief in myself – that I can achieve things I thought were impossible. 

Feeling fearless. Jo’s love of running kept her going through tough times.

Don’t give up

My advice for anyone going through something similar is don’t give up. Don’t ever give up – because even when things seem impossible, you will always find that inner strength to come back stronger. I want to do another marathon in 2022 and I am thinking about doing an ultra marathon as well!  I’m not sure what happened to the girl who couldn’t even run to the end of the road without getting out of breath but this ‘new’ me is here to stay!!

If you would like to follow Jo’s journey further, you can find her on Instagram @jo.hammond.5.