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Women V Cancer Cycle Kenya celebration photo at finish line

An interview with our Women V Cancer Champion

Sandhy Robinson-Jones is nothing short of amazing and a true Women V Cancer superstar. Right from the start of Women V Cancer back in 2010, she joined us on our first cycling challenge in Kenya, having been through ovarian cancer. Nearly ten years on, Sandhy has also survived a brain haemorrhage and a stroke and yet she remains a fantastically positive person. This year, she’s joining Ride the Night 2019 to raise vital funds and awareness in support of the services, charities and care network that have helped her through her journey and the thousands of people affected by cancer. Here, Sandhy tells us her story.

In a nut shell

Initially, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 3B in February 2008 at the age of 46. I had a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy (and a few other random things removed - anything that looked remotely like cancer, ‘get it out - NOW’) - such fun! Then I completed six cycles of chemotherapy.

It was pretty horrid, but I managed to find a way to get through it. I had a fantastic support network and there’s excellent follow up after ops and chemo. Everyone to do with any cancer is very involved, from medical staff to charities to fellow patients and my own friends and family.

It isn’t a wonderful part of your life, but people do take care of you. You have great people who are just ‘there’. They can be called by the phone or visited at the hospital - they are like an extra piece of family. And of course, I had my amazing husband, the FH. Always there. Always supporting. Always a strength for me.

Then in May 2014 at the age of 52, I suffered from a brain aneurysm (subarachnoid haemorrhage) and I had a stroke four days later.

As one of the first women to join a Women V Cancer challenge back in 2010, tell us your Women V Cancer story…

I jumped onto the computer one night, to see some weird thing that my FH told me to do - I should cycle in Kenya. Right… but I thought I’d just ‘sort of join’. When I had to pay to join, I stopped, as I had lost my job, so couldn’t afford to do that. I forgot about it in an instant.

BUT! The next day I had an email from Calum at Women V Cancer, asking if I’d made an error and didn’t manage to join. I emailed back and told them that my ovarian cancer drama had stopped my job for the moment etc., but I would love to do any design work for them as I can’t afford to join.

In short, Calum and Ann (also at Women V Cancer) gave me the joining amount then and there. They wanted to have me doing the cycle. I nearly had a heart attack, but I thought I MIGHT enjoy it…

What do you find most rewarding about our Women V Cancer challenges?

First, the most rewarding thing is the incredible amount of money we can get for people with ovarian, breast and cervical cancers. The friendships that we find during training and during the trips - they are amazing - and sometimes, they last you forever.

These women - my amazing women - are unbelievable. They have all been through cancer of one type or another. They have all tried to help others and have been there for others - wonderful women who have jobs/kids/husbands…

We did Kenya together and we did Cuba together. We raised masses of money for women’s cancers, and we were SO proud. And I think we still are. We know what we are doing helps others.

What has been your favourite Women V Cancer challenge so far?

My favourite was the Cuba cycle. After Kenya, it was much more relaxing! There were fewer hills and I was fitter! Plus, I raised more funds - which is far more important than actually cycling…

Having raised so much money for Women V Cancer over the years, do you have any fundraising advice/tips?

Yes. Get off your arse and move!

Ask for help, ask for money, ask people to actually realise what happens to someone like me or you when they're diagnosed with cancer.

In the UK, it’s amazing. We have the fabulous NHS and we are so looked after by them. But they need funds to find the cure for any type of cancer and to stop it from killing people. We are not there to save people - we are there to raise enough money, so that the hospital can.

Why have you signed up to Women V Cancer Ride the Night?

I helped Ann and Calum to set up the first Ride the Night in 2014, after doing the Kenya and Cuba cycles. I almost had my life back; then I had the brain aneurysm, a subarachnoid haemorrhage and four days later, I had a mild stroke. That was a bargain, as I was in a coma at the time… ;)

The 19th of May 2019 marks five years since I ended up in hospital and nearly died. I almost did - but I am still here. I now can speak reasonably well, as I have aphasia (which totally sucks). I also have osteoporosis (increased risk of breaking a bone) and osteoarthritis in my spinal and the top of my legs, both from the ovarian cancer operations.

But - life is getting there again! However, five years on from my first Ride the Night, this year’s is harder for me. Doing this is almost doing what I was doing then - but I really hope I can manage 62 miles!

You seem to be recovering well from your aphasia. Would you mind telling us how it has affected you over these past five years?

My aphasia developed after my aneurysm. I rather hated it at first - not speaking properly totally sucked. As well as not speaking, it makes you 'not understand' things, unable to read, unable to write. It can affect the fact that you can't read pound notes - so initially, no buying things very easily.

The impact is devastating. It affects confidence and self-identity. It can lead to isolation and depression. In the last five years, it has been incredible. Initially, I was unable to speak - not able to walk…’ (I was in a coma at the time - as you do…) etc. etc.

Eventually, I managed to climb out of the hospital bed in order to leave the room as I wanted to have a cigarette. So I ended up on the floor, covered in ripped out tubes, scrambling across the room to escape to have a cigarette. Unfortunately, they caught me. Bah.

Now I don’t even have any inclination to have a cigarette. Rather astounding!

 

And now you've set up a charity for people living with aphasia...

Yes, my colleague, Barbara and I have started a charity, Living with Aphasia in Devon. That’s sort of what I do now, as I can’t ‘work’, so I need to do something. 

There are over 367,000 people in the UK with aphasia, but a figure that increases by 20,000 each year. It is very sad, as a lot of people don’t go out any more, don’t meet people etc. Our charity aims to help these people find a way to reconnect with others again. It usually happens from having a stroke, but it can also develop from a brain injury or head injury. A brain injury is what happened to me.

It's incredible you're Riding the Night after all that! How's your training going?

Dreadful!

If there were three tips you could give to anyone who’s new to Women V Cancer, what would they be?

Find other people to get fit and cycle with you. Remember to raise awareness of cancer, but also remember that some people need other help too. I do try to be a positivity person as well - and keep my fingers crossed that I can complete this challenge, now that half my brain has had five years to get almost back to normal! 

A huge thank you to Sandhy for sharing her story and her phenomenal support of Women V Cancer right from our roots.

Since we first started Women V Cancer, over 10,000 amazing women have taken on one (or several!) of our Women V Cancer challenges and have together raised over £16 million for the Women V Cancer charities, Breast Cancer Care, Ovarian Cancer Action and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. Together, we cycle for the thousands of people across the UK affected by women’s cancers and with a determination to put an end to the diseases once and for all.

Please join our cause and commit to one of our life changing Women V Cancer challenges. From Riding the Night in London or Edinburgh to pedalling through Italy, Croatia or Thailand, we’re sure we have the perfect challenge for you and we can’t wait to see you there.

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