On Sunday I will run the Virgin Money London Marathon for the third time. I've always been very active and used to do gymnastics, dancing and ice skating as a child. But I'd never run properly until 2012. That year the London marathon took place on my 45th birthday and Breast Cancer Care, the charity which I am an Ambassador for, was one of the official beneficiaries - it was meant to be!
I trained for six months for my first one, from sofa to start line, as I'd never run at all before that. It was hard, very hard. I could barely do three miles. Then I realised that running isn't always a physical battle, my fight was in my head. Since I broke through that barrier of thinking 'I can't do it' I've been hooked, and there's nothing quite like the sense of achievement when you complete a run.
Exercise helps me to feel in control of my body. Control was something I didn't have when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 at 34 years old. I'd just given birth to my son, Otis, when the doctors told me. It was incredibly scary and my initial thought was 'I'm going to die'. It was particularly hard breaking the news to all my family and friends who were full of joy about the new baby - lots of them broke down.
I had to have a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy which was horrible, especially with two young sons at home who were depending on me. Luckily I found Breast Cancer Care - the only UK-wide specialist support charity. Their leaflet was the first one I was given when I left the hospital. My husband was hugely supportive but breast cancer is still a very lonely, traumatic journey. I attended one of Breast Cancer Care's support groups which was brilliant. It gave me a space to be upset, away from my family, so I wouldn't worry them. Breast Cancer Care is still a huge part of my life and I am deeply honoured that I can now support them and help to raise awareness and money so that more women can access their services.
As the marathon gets closer, the 5.30am training runs have begun again. And this time I'm fitting them in around the long, tiring days of filming for Casualty. But it's worth it. You can't beat running alongside 36,000 other men and women on those crowded London streets. And as you run, you feel this incredible strength as the crowd cheer you on to that finish line on The Mall.
On the day of the London Marathon, the challenge for us runners will be over within a few gruelling hours. But with a woman diagnosed with breast cancer every 10 minutes, for many women across the UK, their challenge is just beginning. And many of them will need Breast Cancer Care's support services to help them face this brutal disease, just like I did.
To support Breast Cancer Care and take on your own challenge go to www.breastcancercare.org.uk/sporting
Headshot Image credit: Matt Frost