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Rhian's West Coast Journey

In October 2007 I had ovarian cancer and was successfully treated at Velindre hospital. I always wanted to fundraise for Velindre but it took me until my 10th anniversary to decide to do something. I met with Mel from the fundraising team to see what I could do to raise money when she told me of the West Coast Challenge cycling 600km from San Fransisco to Los Angeles.

This sounded exciting but there were several factors that made me believe it was not achievable for someone like me. I was overweight and hadn’t ridden since a teenager. After quite a sleepless week I phoned Mel and asked her if it was aimed at ordinary people like me. Her answer was “of course it is, we wouldn’t run them otherwise and you can totally smash this as long as you’re willing to put the training in”. So I signed up.

I set about to fundraise immediately and the support I received from family, friends and colleagues was phenomenal and with lots of hard work the money started to flow in. I couldn’t get over how generous people are and sadly, too many people knew of someone who had been impacted by cancer, but the common thread of those who knew of Velindre, was what an amazing place it is and that the staff there are wonderful. I could certainly relate to that. I also did train quite hard and also shed 4 stone in doing so, along with going to Weight Watchers.

Well September came and the first group had headed out. My nerves were in shreds looking at their posts and I was really apprehensive, especially as I would be going out on my own. The morning came to meet at the Village Hotel. My husband took me and as we looked around the room could see that almost everyone knew each other, my heart sunk for a short while but didn’t last long. Everyone I met were so friendly, welcoming and I immediately felt a part of the group.

The Challenge was so well organised, everything went like clockwork. The first day came and it was time to ride out from San Francisco and get acquainted with my bike! The atmosphere outside the hotel was one of apprehension and excitement and it was time to go, each one of us sporting our wonderful Velindre cycling shirts and the good luck angel charms given to us by Wayne and Jayne Griffiths in the memory of their daughter Rhian. This was such a kind and thoughtful gesture and were appreciated by each and every one of us.

We cycled out to the Golden Gate Bridge and we all grouped for our photo; it was a very surreal moment as this is what I had only dreamed of for nearly a year. We were actually here!

Every day was different and we cycled through so many different terrains and saw some wonderful sights. We were also a mix of abilities, there were the super duper fit ones and the not so super fit ones (me!) but everyone was supporting, encouraging and friendly. I loved the camaraderie and the social element of cycling with others. On the quieter routes, we had chance to chat and we shared our stories and personal reasons for doing the challenge. We also just chatted, laughed and moaned about our sore bits!

It was physically and emotionally challenging and there were two occasions when I sobbed like I had never sobbed before. The first blub was on our toughest day where we had over 5500 feet of elevation, I cycled every bit and this was the day we had trained so hard for. When I was having chemo and when I was overweight I struggled physically and here I was at 46 and the fittest I had ever been. I felt I had now changed my identity from an ex overweight ex cancer patient to a woman who was going to smash 600km in a week; I could and would do this!!

My second emotional day was on our last day. This was ‘only’ 47.7 miles and 1630 feet of climbing but the road seemed long and never ending. This was the day that I really thought of everything. How cancer has impacted us as a family, my Mother had just had another cancerous lump removed, we had just found out that my wonderful 18 year old daughter had inherited the cancer gene that has affected so many of my maternal family, including myself. My Mum was angry when I was diagnosed with cancer and while I have never felt angry that I have had cancer or have the gene, it was a very different feeling knowing I had passed it on to my only child Carys. Surviving cancer also comes with its guilt and you feel somewhat guilty for being alive when so many have sadly died. I also felt that I had come on a real personal journey since signing up for the ride. All this emotion came out on the last day. It wasn’t easy sobbing and cycling!

One of my most humbling moments came as we approached the last few miles, again all of us cycling the last lap together. I was both physically and emotionally tired. I had done a few long rides leading up to the challenge but not 6 days in succession. As I….you guessed it…sobbed my way to the finish one of the younger members of the group, Mathew England happened to notice that I was crying, he reached out and put his hand on my back. I will never, ever forget his act of kindness and his maturity that meant so much to me and continues to make me tear up when I think of it. And then we cycled to Santa Monica beach, it was over! The hugs and Welsh Cwtches we all gave each other at the end was special and there was a real sense of achievement. Kylie handed out our fab medals. We later learned that we raised over £220,000 which added to the first and larger groups’ pot amounted to over £600,000 for the specialised nurses at Velindre.

I enjoyed every moment and feel so proud to have been a part of such a wonderful, amazing group of people. I made so many new friends and have many stories to tell. If anyone has an opportunity to do something like this, just do it, you will never regret it! A massive Diolch to every single member of staff at Velindre, you really are amazing!

Love Rhian x

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