When Lynn mother Emma Todd-Ward lost six-and-a-half stone in weight and got fit she thought she was invincible.
But taking part in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life gave her a wake-up call when she discovered she was too tired to run.
After several visits to the GP, Emma was devastated to discover she had a fast growing tumour in her left lung.
Two years on, after successful treatment, Emma has entered Race for Life again and will set the other 2,000 participants off when she sounds the starting horn as guest of honour at Houghton Hall.
Although she cannot yet run, she is determined to walk the course and is encouraging women across Norfolk to join her to help raise vital funds for life-saving research into cancer.
“After losing weight I’d set myself the challenge of running Race for Life in 2011,” said Emma, who works as a customer assistant at Tesco supermarket in Hardwick.
“I knew something was wrong because I was suddenly too tired to go to the gym and I had to walk round the Race for Life course.
“I’d had a bit of a cough for six months and a pain in my ribs so I had some blood tests and went for a chest X-ray.
“That’s when I received a phone call from the hospital saying they thought I had TB.
“Then I spoke to another consultant who told me that they were testing me for lymphoma. I can just remember thinking ‘that’s cancer’! I felt poorly but not that poorly.
“I was in shock at first and my first thought was ‘oh my God, I’m going to die!’ It was a feeling of absolute fear and I remember thinking what am I going to tell the children?”
In November 2011, Emma was referred to specialists in Norwich who carried out further tests.
By the time she was officially diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in February 2012 her tumour had grown more than 3cm from the original mass found on her lung.
“It was frightening because my symptoms were getting worse all the time,” said Emma, mother to Sam, 17, and Freddie six. “Within a week of diagnosis I’d been admitted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for a blood transfusion and had started chemotherapy.”
Emma underwent six three-week cycles of chemotherapy over five months during which she suffered infection.
“When my hair started falling out I had it shaved off,” said Emma. “For me it was God’s way of saying I didn’t have to get up in the morning when I felt rubbish which was a blessing.”
Often, treatment for lymphoma comes to an end after chemotherapy. But tests showed Emma was not in remission as doctors had hoped so she had to undergo a further five weeks of radiotherapy.
“I was devastated,” said Emma. “You go through all that believing it will all be OK in the end so to be told you’re not in remission was awful.
“I had to go to Cambridge every day for radiotherapy treatment and the side effects meant I could only eat liquids because I couldn’t swallow.”
In April 2013 another scan showed Emma was in remission. She celebrated by entering the 5k Race for Life in Lynn.
This year she will be guest of honour at the event, sounding the official starting horn to set the 2,000 participants off before joining in herself.
“Last year I took part with a team of family and friends and managed to walk all the way,” said Emma. “Now I’m planning to do it again and I’m telling everyone I meet to do it.
“Without research I might not be here today so seeing thousands of women uniting for the same cause on Race day is amazing and really quite emotional.”
Rachel Parratt, Cancer Research UK’s Lynn events manager, said: “We’re calling on an army of feisty females to help us stop cancer in its tracks.
“Race for Life events are not competitive. They are not about being fit or fast. Instead, they are an amazing way to celebrate life and remember those who have been lost to the disease.”
The West Norfolk event is being held over 5k starting at 7pm on Tuesday, July 22, at Houghton Hall. To enter visit www.raceforlife.org or call 0845 6006050.