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Woman sitting in a tent in the arctic circle

10 years on from my cancer diagnosis, kindness is what keeps me going

Whatever we face in life, kindness always wins, says cancer survivor Jackie Scully

By: Jackie Scully
June 1, 2024
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It was boarding the plane to the Arctic Circle in thick snow two days before the tenth anniversary of my breast cancer surgery that I allowed myself to believe that I would make it to my 10-year clear celebration.

I’d reasoned with myself that even if I were to fall ill standing on a frozen lake wearing pretty much everything I owned, with a group of strangers, hot chocolate and a husky for company, I could hardly request an 'on-the-spot' MRI scan or a blood test. I had made it to 21 February – and had trekked out into the middle of nowhere in snowshoes just to be sure.

That’s breast cancer for you. Its shadow never leaves you. Making it to that all-important 10-year milestone is a moment that too many people don’t make. So, when I saw it hurtling towards me, I decided to take myself off to a remote and otherworldly environment that tested me in ways I could never have imagined.

woman standing in the snow with a walking pole
Jackie celebrated 10 years cancer-free in the Arctic circle

I wanted to stare at the biggest sky, in the coldest of temperatures, and shout to the big wide world. And that’s exactly what I did – before scurrying back into the nearby igloo to bury myself under an electric blanket in front of a toasty log fire.

Marking ten years clear

I was never going to mark a decade of learning how to live again by sitting on the sofa. But, bearing in mind my Arctic challenge represents just a tiny fragment of my year-long celebration, I think many around me would rather I put my feet up and declare the win.

I’m writing this having recently broken the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon in a 10-person costume.

On 21 April, I, along with nine friends and two more as support crew, climbed inside a London Bus costume, dressed as everyday heroes and spent six hours 32 minutes and five seconds sweating side by side along the iconic London Marathon course, while trying desperately not to trip each other up.

group of people running the London Marathon dressed as a bus
Jackie and her friends ran the London Marathon dressed as a bus

Having run – or more accurately marched – around the course on a healing but angry stress fracture in my left foot, I should probably be resting right now.

But, I’ve already turned my attention to the 10k I’m running with 99 others in a few months, followed swiftly by a trek of 24 peaks in 48 hours in the Lake District with my husband Duncan.

 INSPIRATION: A shock diagnosis changed my entire outlook on life – here's what happened 

Organisers say that if you think of the three peaks challenge as a hard six out of 10, this challenge is a solid nine. Should I get through it all relatively unscathed, I’m rewarding myself with a trek of the Sahara Desert later in the year. And then a party – or possibly even a festival of life – if I have any energy left to organise it.

Challenging myself

It's not all about lycra and sore legs, I promise. Doing something new every month of the year (most recently a Take That concert), learning new skills, camping, afternoon tea, pulling a pint, going searching for alliums, it’s all on the list – a list that reminds me of all the things I have to live for, that I once thought I was going to lose.

photo taken in the arctic circle
The Arctic circle was a special place for Jackie to celebrate her ten years clear

I should probably add that I’m neither skilled at any of these things nor fast (I have a pelvis full of metal and a body rearranged by cancer to thank for that). But, what I am is a woman determined to repay even a fraction of the kindness I’ve experienced over the last decade. Kindness that has left an imprint so deeply embedded within me that it will never fade.

Repaying kindness

When I went through cancer treatment, kindness turned up in so many.

 It was in the nurse who snuck my mum hot water so she could have tea while visiting me in the hospital (the mum who was always by my side and always up for anything, including helping me cut out 200+ fondant pills to cover a cake I later took into the chemo ward on the last day of treatment to share with nurses).

Kindness was a safety pin sellotaped to a card by a client to help me ‘hold it together’. Kindness was Duncan dancing around in my cancer wig before helping with a ceremonial burning.

Kindness was reconnecting with old friends. Kindness was there in the knowing eyes of fellow patients in the various waiting rooms. Kindness was a constant and unwavering companion. 

I’m a self-confessed ‘endurance try hard’ because I move my body not just to reclaim control of that body, but to give back to the charities that helped me find a way to smile through serious illness.

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

I vowed to raise £100k while on treatment and my team challenges across the decade – from running the marathon on my wedding day to spending 29 hours and five seconds on a spin bike for my 40th birthday – have now raised nearly £150k thanks to the kindness of friends, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances, professional contacts and strangers.

Kindness is all around me even now. The group of strangers adventuring in the Arctic circle were knitted together with kindness.

 READ: I raised over £3,500 for charity and found being kind life-affirming – and infectious 

That London bus was built with kindness by Frankie (who also made my wedding dress), transported with kindness by my parents in a giant hire van and filled with kindness by a team of people who have always encouraged and believed in me when I thought I had nothing left to give.

Group of people dressed as a bus running the London Marathon
Jackie and her friends running the London Marathon

Throw in 700k spectators and 50k runners, shouting, cheering – and sometimes hugging – and it was kindness that paved the London streets on marathon day. And kindness is what is filling up my 10k team right this minute.

So, when I’m not inflicting painful challenges on myself this year, I’m also making a point of thanking everyone who has touched and enriched the 42 years of my life so far – while paying forward the kindness they’ve shown to me.

At a recent charity fashion show event for Breast Cancer Now, the specialist nurse who greeted me in the waiting room on that dark diagnosis day came bounding up to me with the biggest smile. I hadn’t seen her in a decade.

Woman sitting in a tent in the arctic circle
Jackie said kindness keeps her going

She explained that the pink heart I made for her (in my ‘can’t control cancer, best make things out of felt’ phase) still hung on her wardrobe even now. It was my tiny thank you. My tiny gesture of kindness. A gesture she hadn’t forgotten.

Cancer taught me a lot when it was busy stripping away all I knew about myself. It taught me that when the currency is kindness, we’re all millionaires. Right now, thinking about this massive milestone and all the people who have walked, run, crawled, swum, laughed and cried alongside me, I feel like the richest woman alive.

February 21 will always have a special place in my life – determined as I am to see as many of them as possible – and I promise to always mark it in two ways. First, I plan to spend it somewhere I’ve never been before (preferably where I can feel my fingers next time mind). And second, I plan to raise a glass of something lovely to kindness.

Because whatever we face in life, kindness always wins.

Support Jackie's fundraising efforts here - she's raising money for Breast Cancer Now, NHS Charities Together and Willow Foundation

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