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Claire Birch Headshot

This Christmas My Son Will be Rowing the Atlantic for Breast Cancer Care

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Today my 21-year-old son, Luke Birch, sets off with his best friend, Jamie Sparks, on a huge challenge. They will attempt to break the world record for the youngest pair to row across the Atlantic. They will row 3,000 miles, endure at least 50 days of non stop rowing and will burn 10,000 calories a day. They will share exhaustion, fear, sunburn, sea-sickness and salt sores.

Luke has always been sporty and at just 18 he swam the English Channel solo. But this is even bigger. The boys are competing in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge and this race is known as one of the toughest on earth.

Luke is taking on this challenge to raise money for Breast Cancer Care after I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year when I was 49 years old.

My mother died of breast cancer so I had always been slightly paranoid about getting it. When I was diagnosed they discovered I had the aggressive HER2 type, just like my mother. I chose to have a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. It was tough, and losing my hair was particularly hard.

I was very lucky because my cancer was caught early. But I had to make big decisions quite quickly to have the best chance of a good outcome, both medically and psychologically. It was a horrible shock and my family and I were immediately engulfed in a whirlwind of trying to find out as much as possible about the illness and treatment options available. I had to think about how to talk to my children and friends about it and how to deal with my workload at Doddington Hall, while undergoing lots more tests and fitting in numerous appointments.

But I was lucky. I had the most amazing support, access to information and help from professionals and other people going through the treatment. It was all of this that enabled me to make decisions that I was comfortable with, to feel in control of the situation and to remain positive throughout. To take the good days along with the bad without getting too stressed - and in turn I hope this made things easier for my family and friends.

I had such a positive approach to my illness because of the excellent information and support I was able to access. I firmly believe that should be the case for every person who is diagnosed with breast cancer. So the boys decided their challenge shouldn't just be about the physical and psychological challenge. They are also aiming to raise £100,000 for Breast Cancer Care to ensure that anyone affected by breast cancer can have the same support I did. Because Breast Cancer Care is the only UK wide specialist support charity for anyone affected by breast cancer, and they provide all their services for free.

And that's why, for the past year, my home has been filled to the brim as it became HQ for amassing all the supplies the boys need at sea! And why my middle son will spend Christmas day in a tiny boat, eating dehydrated food made up with sea-water - instead of his usual Christmas feast!

Of course we'll miss the boys this Christmas but I am so proud of them and how they have conducted themselves with their fundraising and training. They have been best friends since they were seven and there is no one else I would rather Luke was with.

I didn't wave them off today, it would have been too hard. But I'll definitely be there to see them cross the finish line!

You can follow Jamie and Luke on Twitter @2boysinaboat or on their website 2 Boys in a Boat where they will be blogging throughout the journey. The 2 Boys in a Boat team would like to say a huge thank you to their supporters including Duracell, Wesee.com, Reed.co.uk, Buzzacott and Sidley Austin.

Around the Web

Atlantic Rowing Challenge for Breast Cancer - Training

Breakthrough Atlantic | Rowing across the Atlantic for Breakthrough ...

Two Boys in a Boat | Youngest Pair to Row the Atlantic

Charities - Solo Atlantic Row

Meet the students planning to row the Atlantic - Telegraph

University of Bristol student attempting to break Atlantic rowing record

Servicemen defy disability to row across the Atlantic

Why I Am Rowing Across the Atlantic, and Why You Can Do It Too