This August, first-time half-marathoner Shamim is getting ready to take on her first Big Half – a race she sees as the ultimate test of her resolve after being treated for cancer.
Londoner Shamim, originally from South Africa, was only 43 when she received a shock cancer diagnosis in August 2017. After finding a lump in her breast, Shamim booked an urgent appointment with her doctor and after 18 agonising days awaiting test results, she was told she had triple negative breast cancer – an aggressive form of cancer that accounts for only 10 to 20 per cent of breast cancers.
“I was speechless... I couldn’t believe it,” says the Investment Analyst. “The tears poured out, streaming down my cheeks. How could I have cancer? I had no family history of cancer; I didn’t smoke or drink, I ate healthily, and I exercised every day. It was an extremely difficult time.”
Finding solace in running
With her family in South Africa, Shamim faced her diagnosis and subsequent treatment alone. She explains: “I went through 16 chemotherapy sessions, surgery and 23 days of radiotherapy with no help from anyone. It was a harrowing time dealing with multiple life-changing events with no support.
Running became her solace and helped her to keep fit and active throughout the rigorous treatment. “I found my strength in running,” she says. “I continued to run every day throughout treatment because it was the only thing I had control over, the only thing left from my old life. Running kept me sane.”
Coming back stronger
Not long after completing her cancer treatment in May 2018, Shamim ran her first-ever 5K race, Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, and the desire to test herself in more events took hold; she now has her sights set on completing The Big Half in under two hours. And she hopes to prove to others that they can also come back stronger from cancer.
“I want to raise awareness of cancer among young people,” she says. “And I want to inspire and motivate people to believe they can survive cancer.
Keeping positive and healthy
The road to the Start Line of Shamim’s first half marathon has not always been a smooth one, particularly after the world was plunged into uncertainty when the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
“I was rebuilding my life one piece at a time when Covid-19 struck,” says the London resident.
“Throughout the various lockdowns I’ve had to shield because chemotherapy compromised my immunity and I only have one functioning kidney. But again, running has been my saviour. I run every day along the Thames, and it keeps me positive and healthy.”
Emotional and practical support
Living alone and shielding throughout the pandemic has been a difficult experience at times for Shamim, but she is grateful for the support she received from local charity Time & Talents, which provides emotional and practical support for those suffering with loneliness and isolation in the community.
“Time & Talents has done a lot for vulnerable people over the years,” she explains. “Whether you are a cancer patient or an older person, they offer a wide range of activities and there’s always someone who is happy to have a chat with you. Through Covid they helped people, like myself, who were shielding with shopping and food.”
So Shamim is using her place in this year’s event to raise much-needed funds for the Southwark-based charity to say thank you for its care, and to help ensure others receive the support they need in times of isolation and loneliness.
Visit Shamim’s fundraising campaign page to find out how to contribute.