I wanted to share with you today a personal story about my amazing, inspirational stepdaughter, Nikki. When she was just 19 she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer, and was given a ‘target of five years – get that far without a recurrence and she’d have done well’. She underwent the trauma of radiotherapy and chemo, and was told it was unlikely she’d be able to have children. Soon after this I met her mother, who subsequently became Mrs TD; Nikki became my lovely daughter.
She’s now 48, married, with a daughter and a son, aged twelve and fifteen.
That’s not all. Four years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Back to the horrors of chemo and a mastectomy. She now has an annual mammogram, followed by the agonising wait for the results letter a few weeks afterwards. She prays for a ‘thin letter’ – it’s the fat ones that bring bad news.
In the recent past she’s become fond of water-based activities – kayaking, paddle-boarding. Since the summer she’s become addicted to wild swimming. She’s been going to a seawater pool on the coast near where she lives, accompanied by an equally crazy friend or two, sometimes her firefighter husband.
Most of her working life Nikki has worked in the National Health Service, most recently in cancer services. She’s a passionate advocate of ensuring the best support and care is available for those who are having treatment, or are survivors of cancer.
A friend of hers, also an NHS worker, was so impressed with Nikki’s courage and obvious pleasure in her cold-water swims that she created a link for herself and others to make donations to the charity Cancer Research UK for every swim Nikki completed this December. At the time of writing she’s raised over £800.
I was going to write here about Nikki’s swimming, but thought she expressed it far better than I could in her own personal blog. She’s given me permission to quote from it here, and to use some of her pictures.
Extract from her Shephards Way blog, 2 Nov: link HERE
I’ve been asked quite a lot recently A. Am I mad? B. How do I do it? Cold water swimming that is …. we can come back to other answers for A. another time.
Mr S [Nikki’s husband] had invited me cold water swimming a while back and I had politely declined – my reasons were mainly vanity and size based. Roll on 4 months and a good number of swims tucked under my swimsuit I am HOOKED. Vanity and size-based concerns have literally been washed away: I don’t care that I may look like a plonker in my pink hat, black costume and boots – I am as happy as happy can be! It is the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced, well apart from the big purposeful flash I did the other night just after a dusk swim, but we can save that for another time too.
I would say I’m a fearful and anxious person by nature but I’m think my anxiety has also developed through my life experiences. I often think of myself as a not very brave person, definitely not someone who likes to step too far out of their comfort zone, although I am known for pushing my limits a little at times. BUT when I swim in cold water I feel the bravest person I know! Bonkers eh??
When I am driving to the lake, I get a little knot of anxiety in my tummy – I think it’s also mixed in with a little excitement. I get out of my warm gear and pop on my swimming hat and boots. As I walk to the steps into the lake the excitement builds a little. The first few steps are cold (obviously) but I take a big deep breath and as I exhale I swim off into the lake. With certain friends at this point there is a loud woo hoo. Initially there is some tingling pain mainly in my arms then as I swim I start to get used to the feeling and strangely my body sort of warms up! My mind during this point is doing what I think is most clever, it is overriding all my natural fears, it’s forcing me to think of the water, the feel of the fresh air on my face, to be aware of my oh so clever body. I look around at the sights, people watch, gaze over the sea to Wales, to the gorgeous iconic pier. I can hear the water lapping around me as I push on through, the sound of silence or the hum and chatter of friends or others. For a brief moment in time I am fearless, I am free and I am happy.
The return to shore is exciting too, the sense of having just done something mad makes me dizzy with excitement, wanting to take pictures and to share my euphoric state with everyone!! Then there is the getting dressed, the woolly hat, plenty of layers and the hot chocolate, before setting off back to life again!
My perfect moment in time, where for a short space in time I am brave, strong, invincible and cancer doesn’t exist.
In a recent Guardian article: ‘Nature has healing powers: Britain’s Covid heroes share their favourite outdoor spaces’, several people talk of the beaches, woods and other places in which they’ve felt connected with nature and its restorative, calming influences (link HERE).
Nikki is more of a heroine, to my mind, than any of these worthy individuals!