I found the Bluetits Chill Swimmers through a series of fortunate events which have changed my life! It started when I met a Bluetit called Sian while walking the Pembrokeshire Coast path with my daughter Abbie. She took me for a couple of swims before I met another Sian (don’t worry, you don’t have to be called Sian to swim in Wales!). Somehow I had managed to mix up camping sites and arrive at a different campsite from the one I had actually booked. Luckily there was room for us to stay and it turned out that Sian, who owned Pencarnan campsite, was the person who actually set up the Bluetits. By 10pm that night Sian had got both myself and my husband Tony in the sea for a moonlight swim at the beautiful Porthsele beach in St Davids and she inaugurated us both into the Bluetits with a badge! The summer months that followed were just the best, full of new friendships and swimming at different locations across our beautiful county of Pembrokeshire. Finally, at the age of 48, I had found ‘my thing’ and everything about it was so inclusive. After years of struggling with arthritis and chronic back pain and avoiding the sea through fear of the cold water causing back spasms, now the sea was healing and the cold water soothed my joints. I also found my body confidence. I’m a big girl but the Bluetits are all shapes and sizes and within a few weeks I even had the confidence to skinny dip!
Then just as I was getting used to the sea turning colder I found a lump in my left breast and I was diagnosed with a grade 3 aggressive breast cancer, which had invaded my lymph nodes. Everything stopped while surgery and treatment took over my life. Treatment involved 3 operations, 6 months of chemotherapy and 20 radiotherapy sessions. I needed a PICC line (which is a long line in the arm that is used to administer drugs) and this meant that I could not go in the water, as I could not get the entry site for the line wet. However, I was able to paddle, so that is what I did. Whenever I was well enough I would join a Bluetit swim and just get my feet in - but each paddle was followed by another chemotherapy treatment and weeks in bed, being sick with hospital admissions for blood problems and sepsis. Radiotherapy left burns on my skin but I kept paddling and the Bluetits with their crazy antics, fun, laughter and friendships got me through. Then finally almost a year on from my diagnosis, my treatment was finished and I am now in remission.
I hate everything about cancer, I don’t see myself as a survivor, I just see myself as lucky. Everyone who has to fight cancer fights it as hard as they can, no one fights it harder, the disease is just indiscriminate. At the moment we cannot stop cancer but the earlier we find it, the better chance we have! My aim is to empower as many people as possible to be able to recognise the symptoms of breast cancer and to get to know their boobs. With Sian and the Bluetits we have set up a ‘Check Your Bluetits’ campaign, to get everyone checking their boobs every month! I had only started checking my boobs because a dear and lifelong friend of mine was having treatment for ovarian cancer. She sat me down one day and made me promise that I would become more aware of my own body and get anything checked out. I didn’t know at the time but this would be the last conversation I would ever have with her. As part of my promise to her I started to check my boobs and just 10 months later I found my lump. If I had not had the conversation with my friend I would not have found my lump in time for the cancer to be treatable.
Please get checking, it’s so easy to do and we are always changing in and out of swimsuits so this can be a great time to have a good feel! Statistics say that 1 in 8 of us will get breast cancer (as well as 400 men who are also diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the uk) but most breast cancer can be found early through checking boobs monthly. If you are over 50 and have regular mammograms, these are an extra check, you still need to check your boobs every month. It’s not just lumps, we need to check for changes in the size of boobs, skin changes, dimples or an orange peel effect on the skin, and nipple changes or discharge. All these things can be completely normal but they all need checking out by your GP. Have a look at our video on our Bluetits website that will show you how to check your boobs, it’s really easy and checking could save your life just like it saved mine! Keep swimming and keep talking about boobs!
Photography: Ella Richardson Photography