THE BLOG

I Had to Walk the Great Wall of China Before I Could Face My Mother's Death

21/05/2015 21:50 BST | Updated 21/05/2016 10:59 BST

In December 2009 my mother was diagnosed with renal cancer at the age of 54. Five months later she was dead.

But I was fine. In fact I was so fine I didn't even understand the question when people asked me.

One of the last things my mother was able to do was attend my sister's wedding, assisted by a nurse. When my sister delivered a simple speech thanking my mum for just being there and telling her how proud she was to be told 'you're just like your mum', there was not a dry eye in the entire room.

Well there was one set of dry eyes - mine - because I was fine.

Two years later I moved to London, but the story did not come with me. I couldn't find the words, I couldn't find the strength and I certainly couldn't find any people that would understand just how big it was to lose a parent to cancer in only five months. I never talked about it because I insisted I was fine.

After I'd been in London for a year however, away from my family, away from my memories, I suddenly realised - I'm not fine at all. I'm all alone and I feel bereaved.

I decided I needed to take a step towards facing this and signed up for a Macmillan Cancer Support hike along the Great Wall of China. This let me commit to something bigger than my own story and I found my voice. Now I could channel my energy into raising awareness and funds. But I still wasn't able to address my own buried emotions.

I trained hard along with all of the other members of the group, turning my focus onto walking and dedication to breaking in new hiking boots and raising money.

On the second day of the trip, our guides took us out to an iconic monument at a point on the Great Wall where three different territories conflate. This was the moment where we were asked to stand in a circle and contemplate our past, present and future. We were urged to think of the people who brought us to this moment.

In the middle of a group of supportive people, in the middle of a gruelling day's hiking at one of the world's most spectacular spots, in the middle of my past and my future, I stiffened up and I refused. I refused to embrace my emotions, I refused to feel.

Then I saw people comforting each other and asked myself why nobody was comforting me. I realised that I wouldn't let them. I realised at that moment that I wasn't alone and that I didn't have to face it alone. I finally opened up and the tears came, and flowed... and flowed.

Looking back I realised that if I hadn't joined the challenge and stood there at that point in time, I might never have addressed all of the built-up pain and emotion that was eating away inside me. It gave me the safe space I needed to open up and really start healing.

It took me 5000 miles in a plane and 15 kilometres on foot to get there, but I got there and the tears finally came out. That was when things started to change.

I was inspired to tell the whole group why I was there and later that day, stood up after dinner and told the story of my mother. I also told everyone that every week following her death I light the Shabbat candles in her honour. The candles are Jewish tradition, an integral part of my identity and upbringing. Nearly the entire group joined the ceremony and emotions ran high with grief, healing and thoughts of the future. At that moment I knew I would be fine and have a support network to lean on.

At the same moment as I confronted my grief, I also realised something about myself. It came very naturally to me to offer support, physical assistance and encouragement to others. Every day I'd do morning stretches for the group and I became a fitness support presence in the team. My being in China and in an environment completely out of my comfort zone made me look at myself in a different way. I started to think about how I could use my own skills and strengths to fight cancer with fitness.

When I came home I realised that something had to change, so I qualified as a confidence trainer and a life-coach. I hadn't been able to process my grief and it was suffocating me. I wanted to find a way to help others find their way out of that darkened tunnel.

Now I carry on fighting cancer with fitness and have signed up to take part in a series of competitive events to raise money for Macmillan. In May I will be taking part in Adrenaline Rush, a new urban obstacle race series whereby 25% of registration fees go directly to Macmillan to help make sure that no one faces cancer alone. It's another excuse for me to carry on fighting cancer with fitness - and I can't wait.