“She needed a hero..” A 26 mile journey of empowerment

FINDRA is about women being empowered to take on the challenge, to go forth and conquer the world whatever stands in your way. We meet Fiona MacDonald, cancer survivor and newly motivated walker, on her journey from diagnosis to finishing the MacMillan Cancer Mighty Hike. Check out the ‘Empowerment’ pants on the outside – superhero style!


My journey began on Monday 28 March 2016 at approximately 2.35pm when I was told:  “we got your results back on Friday and they have confirmed that you have breast cancer”.

Once heard, the diagnosis of cancer can never be forgotten.  Whatever your prognosis, whatever your hopes, whatever your personality, the second you know that you have cancer your life changes irrevocably.

"That's what we're aiming for" The Mighty Hike finishing line awaiting walkers after 26 miles

“That’s what we’re aiming for” The Mighty Hike finishing line awaiting walkers after 26 miles

In the days and weeks that followed life became a whirlwind of clinic appointments and hospital visits, this was the easy part, the difficult part was talking about what was going on and telling people, this is not a journey you can go on without telling people.

Known for being of strong character, my resolve was now well and truly being put to the test…..and there were many times I just wanted to crumble.  I wanted to hide under the duvet,  run away from the world but more over I wanted to turn back time to when cancer had not touched me directly.

As a Professional Coach I spend the vast majority of my working week empowering others to: achieve their goals, come out of their comfort zones, face their fears and be the very best they can be.  I was now faced with having to take a taste of my own medicine and self-empower in order to navigate my way along this journey.  

It’s always good to have a team behind you

Ironically during one of my conversations with a specialist nurse when I explained my decision to not tell my, then 11 year old, son that I had cancer I was told that I was “dis-empowering” him……I still don’t understand the logic in that comment or what the perceived benefit was, particularly on the day I was having my surgery!!!!!  I certainly did not allow this somewhat misplaced comment to influence my decision….the strong Fiona was still there, I had not caved in after all.

As I’ve said following a cancer diagnosis life changes irrevocably and there is much in my life that has changed in these 18 months since my diagnosis, all be it, all very subtle and most people will probably be completely unaware.

Everyone handles a diagnosis in their own way, at the time I just wanted to get on with the treatment plan and talk about it as little as was required – there are lots of support groups and help available, these were not for me, at that time!  I didn’t want to hear anyone else’s story and I certainly didn’t wish to speak to strangers about my own experience.  

"she needed a hero so that's what she became"

Fiona shows off her ’empowerment pants’. “she needed a hero so that’s what she became”

December 2016 my sister tells me about MacMillan Cancer Support’s Loch Lomond Mighty Hike – 26 miles hiking around the eastern coast line of Loch Lomond, my favourite place on earth…..I am no fitness freak, exercise does not play a pivotal role in my life, but hey I have conquered cancer, I can do this!  And so it began…..along with my sisters and one of my nieces I signed up for The Loch Lomond Mighty Hike!

MacMillan was great in providing a substantial training plan, which I embraced fully…..this brought on physical challenges, these are easily overcome, however once again I had a mental challenge to conquer.  Did I experience the same desire to hide away from this as I did when first diagnosed?  Absolutely I did…..however knowing the journey I’d already traveled, there was no way a 26-mile hike was going to beat me!  I can do this! I will do this!  Self-empowerment was working, and my strength of character was being put to the test once again.  

Scotlands Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond is one of the most stunning places in Scotland with astounding views everywhere you look.

Undertaking this challenge did prove therapeutic in “dealing” with my cancer journey – I was now in a place where talking about it didn’t seem so alien – however, it was a very subtle way of communicating it to the outside world.  “Just Giving” allowed me the space to “tell my story” and gave people the opportunity to learn of my journey in their own space, allowing them to react in their own way, eradicating the need for me to deal with their reaction……a cancer diagnosis affects everyone who is in your life, and everyone reacts differently.  Dealing with others’ reactions was not something I handled particularly well…..people mean well, however some of the things that were said to me in various conversations had me baffled, everyone becomes an expert, everyone knows someone who knows someone and people feel compelled to tell you their “story”, all with best intentions I’m sure, however I really was not interested – this was my story, my journey, it was not identical to anyone else’s – very individual, and the story of others did not help me.  

I was very diligent in the training I undertook, walking many miles, did I enjoy it?  In honesty I can’t say I enjoyed much of it, however, I was always focused on the end goal; fundraising for MacMillan Cancer Support whilst providing me the opportunity to tell my story.  

The day arrived; 3 June 2017 and off we went to Drymen to join 1,200 fellow hikers.  The event was exceptionally well organised by MacMillan and Action Challenge Events, the weather was kind however the hike was tough – very tough!  Once again my mental resolve was put to the test but I reached the finish line, I raised £900 for MacMillan (as a family we raised £2,000) and hopefully through telling my story I have alerted men and women to the importance of knowing their own bodies to ensure early diagnosis of this un-discriminating disease.  

Macmillan Mighty Hike finishers Fiona MacDonald and family

Fiona finishes the Macmillan Mighty Hike with her sisters.

I am still no fitness junkie (I never will be) however I am determined to keep walking and intend to give myself a walking challenge, once per year.  Already, for 2018 we are planning to do one of Breast Cancer Care’s Pink Ribbon Walks, a modest 10 miles through the streets of Glasgow at night – that will surely be easy peasy!!!!!  Amazing, when I started training for the Mighty Hike, walking 2 miles was a huge achievement for me, and now I think of walking 10 miles with a huge amount of ease!  

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy reading “Lessons learned from long distance adventures” for more female empowerment.

1 reply
  1. Trish Dixon
    Trish Dixon says:

    Fiona, just brilliant. For those of us to take on challenges that are activities we enjoy, the demands cannot be anywhere near as great as taking on those that we would not naturally chose.. You have faced up to challenges you never wanted and met them head on. That is true determination and fighting spirit. Nice work Fiona


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