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How my breast cancer diagnosis took me on the path to unexpected happiness

In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, cancer survivor Jackie Scully shares how she found the energy to get up and change her life

Woman climbing the Great Wall of China
Updated: October 1, 2023
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I never thought I'd find happiness on the start line of a 10k run, with tatty trainers and a bald head covered in jelly baby powder. But then, I never thought I'd have to learn to walk again in my 20s or learn to live again in my 30s.

When I had my pelvis rebuilt at 25 – the result of a condition called hip dysplasia, which meant my hip socket was too shallow to support my leg – I decided my body belonged on the sofa, not in exercise leggings.

Breast cancer had other ideas. I was diagnosed in my 30s, and having my right breast replaced with my tummy fat at 32 was certainly not part of the life plan, but it taught me that if I didn't step out of my comfort zone and start living, there would be no life to plan.

Woman in blue at the top of a mountain with walking poles
Jackie Scully has taken on countless challenges

To move forward, I realised I needed to get up, get outside and get going. So, I took my metal-pinned pelvis and cancer-rearranged body and did what no one (least of all me) expected. I went for a run.

When I did my first 10k, I thought it would be my longest race – and my last. The event took place a week before my final chemotherapy treatment, and with a close friend by my side, I'd never felt more alive.

I was slow, I ate far more bananas than was needed to get around. But I did it. And since then, I haven't looked back.

In the nine years since my diagnosis, I've run multiple half marathons, two marathons (one on my wedding day), trekked the Great Wall of China, run a 34-mile ultramarathon, walked 66 miles around the Isle of Wight, completed a half Ironman and climbed a few mountains for good measure.

Lady in a wedding dress ready to run the marathon © Natasha Hurley
Jackie ran a marathon on her wedding day

I even broke the Guinness World Record for the longest static cycling class in the world on my 40th birthday (29 hours and 5 seconds on a spin bike); an age I never thought I'd reach.

Each time, I thought that challenge would be my last. Each time, I had to dig deep. But, each time, I found the strength to keep going – and my body came with me.

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I've not found my limit yet. What I have found is that it's only when you shoot for the impossible that you find out what is actually possible. And you can go a really long way with the right people by your side.

Group of people cheering in a spin studio© Gabriel Bush Photography
Jackie and her team broke the record for the longest spin session

How exercise helped me find happiness

The path to happiness is not easy. But I know that the smile that beams out from my sweaty, red post-exercise face is the most genuine one I have.

I didn't realise that moving my body would move others quite in the way it has, but I've discovered that helping others find joy in exercise is the purest kind of happiness.

I'll never forget the woman who got out of a wheelchair after she saw me run a marathon. Or the team-mate who stayed up all night on a spin bike to show herself she could take control of her body after long Covid. To me, being the soundtrack to someone else's success is a million times more rewarding than my own achievements.

Woman in rain coat ready to run in a race
Jackie Scully takes part in challenges, come rain or shine

Happiness isn't just acts of self-care, such as burning a luxury candle or cosying up on the sofa with a good book. Happiness is there lurking in the hard stuff. The fact that I found happiness in lacing up a pair of trainers is not something I'd ever predicted.

When I'm moving, I'm living. When I'm searching for my physical edges, I'm living my best life – and inadvertently helping others do the same. So, I can think of no better way to celebrate being 10 years clear of cancer than extending the search with people around me at every stage.

Two women smiling wearing head torches
Jackie's friends accompany on her challenges

In 2024, I'm going back to the 10k that started it all, with more than 100 other runners. I'm going to encourage as many people as possible to complete 100k in a year (swimming, walking, crawling etc).

I'm also going to try and break a world record by doing a marathon physically attached to friends who have lifted me up this last decade.

I'm going to trek the Sahara with a brilliant team. And, I'm going to push myself further than I thought possible by attempting a 120-mile ultramarathon. Don't worry, I’m going to have a big party too.

READ: I'm about to turn 40 - this is how I'm tackling my midlife crisis

The plan? To raise a full £100k for the charities that helped me get up in the first place. Because, when we have a big enough why, we can endure any how.

We all have individual summits to reach and you don't have to run a marathon to be happy. But, if you open the door and take even a tiny step into the sunshine, a brighter life awaits. I hope you make your start line.

Find out more about Jackie's latest fundraising effort here, raising money for Breast Cancer Now, NHS Charities Together and Willow Foundation. 

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