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Breast cancer survivor Lou Rall joined a celebrity fundraising trek to Peru
Lou Rall, 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 while eight months' pregnant. Her ensuing breast cancer ordeal meant that she couldn't devote herself to the thrill of welcoming little Ben into her life because she had to have surgery just a few weeks after he was born. "My friends and family were expecting me to call them with news about the baby, but instead I had to tell them I had breast cancer," she said. Lou's doctors had hoped that a lumpectomy would be sufficient in terms of treatment, but found that the cancer had spread, which meant further surgery for a full mastectomy and lymph node clearance.
Lou and her husband wanted their lives to return to normality as quickly as possible, and she did everything she could to get back on track and settle down to looking after Ben. However, three years later, she felt a niggling pain in her back and mentioned it at a routine check-up with her oncologist. Tests were arranged immediately and they revealed that Lou had secondary breast cancer. "Suddenly there was this new layer of devastation and seriousness; this time it was in my bones so it can't be cut out or taken away," said Lou, who has ongoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy to control the cancer. "Every six months when I go for my check-up it is a reality check and life hangs in the balance, but all the indications are good; I am fit and feeling well but you just don't know what is happening deep within."
Despite the rigours of her treatment, Lou has been a tireless fundraiser for Breast Cancer Care (U.K.). She felt the charity had been there for her "every step of the way," particularly through its online forums for women with secondary breast cancer, which gave her a lot of hope for her own future. This September, she set out to add £2,000 to the £8,000 she had already raised for the charity, when she and five other breast cancer survivors joined a bevy of celebrities on a gruelling trek along the Inca Trail in darkest Peru. The brainchild of A-list pals Denise Van Outen and Fearne Cotton, the trek was televised on ITV2 on 25 October and 1 November. We caught up with Lou when she had just got back.
AL: So how was it?
LR: It was a full-on trip of a lifetime – 11 days of full activity, from early wake-up calls to long journeys, loads of walking every day and then camping out at night. It was quite a challenge but equally it was an amazing time.
AL: Was it as physically gruelling as you thought it would be?
LR: I had prepared myself for the trek pretty well and I'd anticipated that the days would be long and the walking would be tough. The only thing we didn't know beforehand was how the altitude would affect me. I adjusted to it quite well in terms of walking about the town before we got started, but the first strenuous walk began with a steep incline and the group set off at quite a pace. I was very breathless. The doctor took me to one side and said: "The altitude is getting to you." He took my rucksack and dosed me with altitude sickness medication. At the end of that day I finished the walk first! I went from one extreme to the other— I was either at the back, quietly suffering, or I was at the front leading everyone. We did a ten hour walk over two huge passes at altitudes of 4,400 meters, which I coped with very well. But then I came down the hill quite quickly. All of a sudden I came over nauseous and dizzy. I finished that day behind the rest of the group but I was greeted by this sea of pink, cheering me on at the end. There was a really good sense of team spirit – everyone pulled together. Obviously we breast cancer girls were already a good team, but the celebs really joined in and were the same as everyone else.
AL: So tell us more about the celebs – what were they really like?
LR: They were very down to earth, very committed to the cause, very interested in us as individuals and our stories, and what life is like for us all. They spent all day, every day with us, ate with us and camped with us, so it was very 'up close and personal'!
AL: Any particular high or low points?
LR: There was one heart-wrenching moment when a group of children appeared from nowhere in the Andes on one of our longest days. We were all very tired, and some pressure was put on Alexandra Burke to sing. She sang Hallelujah to the children and to us, and it was such a spine-tingling feeling. Another evening, we made it back to camp and between them the celebs had cooked us dinner, which we all ate round the camp fire.
AL: Did you bond with any celeb in particular?
LR: They all gave me immense support, but Denise [Van Outen] probably helped me out the most in terms of pace and we teamed up for one-to-one chats for the camera, so I got to know her quite well. You kind of forgot they were celebs: we were there for each other.
AL: How much did you raise for Breast Cancer Care?
LR: I raised over £5,000 and the total is still going up. Now that I'm back I want to organise a few more local events, and I think when the TV programmes are screened it will raise awareness even further.
AL: How do you feel about what you've done to support Breast Cancer Care?
LR: They have been with me from the start in terms of support and I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of their events, because everything is so well organised. This trip was no exception – a chance of a lifetime. I want to raise funds for the work they're doing now and to secure funding for the future. Breast cancer is still such a big issue. Also, particularly pertinent to me, they are really raising awareness about secondary breast cancer. They have had one awareness day already and are lobbying for better care, for statistics to be logged and made available. When you are told you have secondary breast cancer, you think you have 'had it' – but actually there are many women living a very long time. It might be difficult along the way, but we are still managing.
AL: How did the items that Amoena donated help you?
LR: I'd like to say "Thank you very much" to Amoena. I wore the new 'bionic boob' [Amoena's Energy breast form] on the trek, which was very comfortable. The sports bra was particularly great for the walks. I also used the swimming costume and swimform to jump into the hot springs at the beginning of the trip. The strappy vest top helped me look glam at the gala dinner that was held at the end of the trip, in celebration of our achievements in Peru. I wore it with black trousers and a pretty scarf!
AL: Tell us one of your enduring memories of the trip
LR: That has to be the day we did an eight-hour walk to the Sun Gate, up really steep steps. You just have to keep going, in single file, solidly for eight hours and I was leading the way. The countryside was just amazing – looking down on the river and the town. And the challenge of the walk itself was incredible. The minute we made it to the Sun Gate, with Machu Pichu below and the mountain ranges surrounding it, was really atmospheric. There was not a soul there other than us. That was one special moment.
AL: Well done Lou, and thanks for talking to us!