Why I’m swimming for hope

“What I ask of you, please, is if you can look on Swim for Hope as a bit more than a swim across the Solent. That stretch of water, to me and so many others who have traversed it day after day for cancer treatment, represents a major hurdle. It’s a daily challenge – a nightmare sometimes. For some, it’s the reason they elect not to undergo treatment” – Mike Sizer-Green

Did you know that every year our Isle of Wight Cancer Wellbeing Centre supports over 1,000 Islanders? The team there provides a range of emotional and practical services, and even supports the NHS and other local charities by taking client referrals or sharing its facilities. And our Daisy Buses provide around 20,000 journeys every year for Islanders arriving on the mainland for treatment at hospital in Portsmouth and Southampton.

On 4th September, 40 amazing people (because this year is our 40th birthday!) are tackling a 1.3 mile cross-Solent swim to raise money for local people living with cancer. Three of them – Mike Sizer-Green, the manager of our Isle of Wight Cancer Wellbeing Centre; and Michelle Salsbury and Tammie Faithfull, who are both volunteers at the centre, explain why the challenge represents way more than a sponsored swim:

Michelle Salsbury

I learnt from a young age how cancer can affect a family. When I was 12, my Nan was diagnosed with lung cancer and she came to live with us so I couldn’t hide from it. Five years later, my Stepdad was diagnosed with cancer and had to travel and stay in Southampton for treatment. Since then, other friends and family members have battled cancer. Some have survived and, sadly, some haven’t. Over the past eight years, I’ve tried to do what I can to help raise money for Wessex Cancer Support – from running and singing to directing cars at the Drive-In cinema.

In 2019 I became very unwell and was diagnosed with a spontaneous CSF leak. Put simply, I was losing spinal fluid which was starving my brain. Laying flat was the only way to feel well. I’m a very social person who’s always enjoyed being active. To lose that independence was crippling. After a procedure, I slowly started to gain some mobility and an interest in getting active again. I chose cold water swimming. This was mainly to take on the New Year’s Day dip with Wessex Cancer Support, but I’d also read about the benefits of pain relief. A year on, I wanted a new challenge and this is when I suggested a Solent swim. It all feels real now and I’m overwhelmed at how quickly it sold out!

Michelle Salsbury

Michelle Salsbury

I want to do what I can for Wessex Cancer Support whilst I’m able to. One day I may need their services. They offer much needed support and guidance at a time of need when it’s not always available elsewhere. I know what it’s like travelling for treatment and having the Daisy Buses must lift a weight for those travelling for chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The Isle of Wight Cancer Wellbeing Centre is a lifeline for many and I feel passionate about helping that to continue.

Mike Sizer-Green

I’ve benefitted myself from Wessex Cancer Support’s services, this is my story:

In 2013, I started to experience indescribably painful headaches and a rapid loss of eyesight. When my GP called in a second doctor, I knew there was something seriously wrong. I was immediately referred to St Mary’s Hospital on the Island for my first MRI. I recall asking the radiographer what he’d seen. He didn’t answer and said the consultant would be in touch. But the look on his face said a lot…

Two days later I was told I had a lesion on my brain and was being admitted immediately to  Southampton General Hospital. In that moment my whole world changed. After various scans and tests, I had a nine-hour craniotomy operation. Afterwards, the surgeon told my wife and I that they had successfully removed the bulk of the tumour, but further treatment would be needed at some point. Then, out of the blue, he told me that my heart had stopped beating for five minutes. He had personally conducted CPR and saved my life.

I think it was in this moment that I felt fear. I had so many questions.

Thirty sessions of radiotherapy at Southampton General Hospital would follow, but at the time I didn’t consider how I would get there from the Island every day for a month.

My father-in-law found out about the Daisy Bus. Without it, I would have had to self fund 60 trips from the Red Jet terminal to the hospital and back again. A taxi one-way costs up to £20. Imagine these costs every day on top of the ferry travel, or bus travel or car parking. The Bus was always on time and the drivers so friendly and helpful.

By a strange twist of fate, I now manage the Isle of Wight Cancer Wellbeing Centre and every day I speak to Islanders undergoing treatment. It’s no exaggeration to say what we offer is a lifeline to so many.

How am I now? My heart’s ok and every day I take a range of drugs. It’s just part of life now. I see a range of specialists and have tests every few months. In 2014 I was given 7-10 years to live. Doctors, eh? What do they know?

Mike Sizer-Green

Mike Sizer-Green

Tammie Faithfull

I’m taking part in Swim for Hope because Wessex Cancer Support is an amazing charity which is much needed on the Isle of Wight.

Three years ago I went to my GP with a small lump in my right breast. I was referred to the breast clinic who thought it was nothing to worry about. They did a mammogram to put my mind at rest, and they were right: my right breast was fine, but my left breast was full of early stage breast cancer. The only option was a mastectomy which I had with immediate reconstruction using my stomach to rebuild my breast. It was an eight-hour operation, which I had in Salisbury and took months to recover from.

I work as a massage and beauty therapist and realised that this was the time in my life I most needed relaxation and pampering, but most therapists aren’t allowed to treat those with cancer. When I recovered, I trained in Oncology touch therapy so I can offer treatment to those who need it most. I contacted Mike to offer my services and the opportunity of referral to my clinic free of charge for anyone who would like to book in massage and pampering.

I’m a keen swimmer (although not that familiar with sea swimming!) and I’m excited to push myself to achieve the swim and raise funds for this wonderful charity.

Tammie Faithfull

Tammie Faithfull

40 amazing people are tackling the 1.3mile swim across the Solent on 4th September to raise money to support Islanders living with cancer

Find out more about the event and how you can donate