“I was a real tom boy and, to be honest, still am! From the age of 11, I wanted to be a lorry driver. I was fascinated by them and cars in general and couldn’t wait to be old enough to drive. For my 16th birthday, my mum and dad paid for me to go on an under 17s driving course. By the time I was 17, I had saved enough money to buy, tax and insure my first car and, a month later, had passed my test.
“Then did it all again when I was 21 for my HGV licence. It’s fair to say when I want to do something I do it and, at 23, I was driving 50ft articulated lorries all over England.
My passion for driving is matched only by my love for children. When I had my two children, my priorities changed and that’s when I switched trawlers for toddlers and, eventually, had my own pre-school in Devon called Little Treasures.
When my children were 10 and 12, we moved to Manchester. I thought it would be a good experience for them to see what it’s like to live in a city (they had only even known rural country villages). They adjusted brilliantly. They were big into footy so had a great time living in a big football city.
The move also gave me the opportunity to get more involved with children with special needs. I’ve always enjoyed helping people who are less fortunate or who just need a bit of extra help and so started working as a teaching assistant in a special needs school before providing respite care for 10 different children.
I’m no saint though. In fact, I was a bit rebellious as a teenager; I thought it was exciting to do things you weren’t supposed to! So this made me an ideal candidate to try smoking at a young age.
I was 13 and at the park behind my house. I can remember spluttering and thinking it tasted disgusting but, due to my rebellious teenage personality and the need to ‘look cool’, I soon managed to get it going as a habit.
Smoking became a massive part of my every day life and, for nearly 40 years, I was smoking around 20 a day. I had always enjoyed smoking – or at least that’s what I thought. In hindsight, I can now see that I had brainwashed myself into thinking I enjoyed it and that I needed it.
During the last 10 years of smoking, I did try and give up. I tried patches. I read the Allan Carr book. I also tried their clinic. Looking back, I can see now that I was trying to give up physically but hadn’t realised how much more there was to it.
When I turned 50, I realised enough was enough. I needed to give up. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task but, knowing what you know of me you won’t be surprised to hear me say that once I set my mind to something I will do it! I was prepared to put in whatever time, research and effort I needed to give up and be happy not to smoke.
“I was a bit rebellious as a teenager; I thought it was exciting to do things you weren’t supposed to! So this made me an ideal candidate to try smoking at a young age.”Like so many, Leigh started smoking when she was a teenager
I set about it like a project. I started researching the internet and reading books, ready to rise to the challenge. I looked at classic habit times and gradually starting changing them into a good habit. For example, instead of having a cigarette at break time in work, I stopped taking my cigarettes with me and started having a banana and a yogurt. After dinner, instead of going straight the backdoor for a smoke, I would go on my laptop and find a stop smoking support group – Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s Quit Support site was my lifeline!
Get the help and support of others quitting smoking with our online Quit Support forum.Read More
I also looked at my diet to identify foods that were good at getting your endorphins going. I had read that all the time smoking had suppressed the neurotransmitters and before actually giving up, you need to reboot them. I also started exercising.
It was then that I first noticed a pain in my back. I thought it was muscular so started swimming but it wasn’t helping. I decided to go to the doctors and was sent for an x-ray. They thought it was a chest infection but, after antibiotics failed to clear it up, I had a second x-ray and then a CT scan. Around the same time, I had my last cigarette. It was 18th November 2016.
I had been thinking about taking up running as another way to get those endorphins going and did my first run along the sea front on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t run that far but still I did it! And then I did it everyday that followed. When I was out running, it was my time and I was free from any negative thoughts or feelings.
My friend and colleague, Yvonne, was chuffed. She’s a fellow runner and asked if I wanted to do a park run on New Years Day. I couldn’t think of a better way to start 2017.
I loved it and was hooked. I set myself a challenge to run a 10k by day 100 cigarette free. As luck would have it, day 100 was a Sunday and there was a 10k in Oulton Park. We signed up there and then.
Then everything changed.
I got the results of my CT scan. They had found a tumour. It was like a bombshell. I was so scared knowing there was a chance I was going to die. I started crying. My mind was racing, full of scary thoughts and all the people I’d have to tell, worrying how they were going to react.
They were wonderful though. My mum, who is 81, travelled 5 hours on a train and my work colleagues rallied round.
I soon found out the tumour was only 1.5cm in size and they were able to operate within the month. My first thought though was ‘What about my 10k?!’. Fortunately, I was still able to complete the run and used the opportunity to raise money for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. I was then able to have the operation five days later. I had keyhole surgery to remove my top lobe and I was home three days later.
“I did feel that my lung cancer was self-inflicted but I also know from personal experience that any addition is not easy to stop for most of us.”
Leigh smoked for many years after starting as a teenager. She tried several times to quit
Recovery was slow but I was determined to keep exercising so started going out for short walks each day. I also decided that if I signed up for another 10k it would give me something to focus on and work towards so I signed up for the Great Manchester Run on 28th May.
Tragically, six days before the run, we had the terrorist attack in Manchester. I went to the vigil, which was the most emotional thing I have ever been to and this made me even more determined to run for Manchester.
I will never forget that feeling of ‘how lucky I am’. I cried with the relief of what could have been such a different outcome.
I did feel that my lung cancer was self-inflicted but I also know from personal experience that any addiction is not easy to stop for most of us. We all deserve to be given the support and treatment we need regardless of how we got it. What a cruel world it would be otherwise.”