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'Cancer never stopped my mum doing anything, and it's made me open to a challenge'.

Byline: By Lydia Whitfield South Wales Echo

When Cathy McLean's husband Tony asked her how she wanted to spend her first free weekend after completing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer - she said she wanted to be outdoors.

And a weekend spent cycling the Millennium Coastal Path around Llanelli was enough to get the 51-year-old director of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Wales hooked on double pedal power.

So much so that Cathy and husband Tony Pelham have since completed two marathon charity tandem rides for cancer charities, the most recent a 310-mile, five-day trek through Lithuania and Poland to raise funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Three years ago, Cathy, couldn't have imagined taking in the lovely lakes and rolling countryside of that part of the world as she was in remission after breast cancer.

And although she now laughs that she was 'a grumpy git' during chemotherapy, there's no getting away from the fact that breast cancer has taken its toll on Cathy's family. Her mum Margaret had her first mastectomy in 1961 and a second in 1996. She died of bone cancer in June, aged 87, while Cathy's elder sister, Margaret, 55, is waiting for reconstructive surgery since a mastectomy in May.

'I had such good care throughout my treatment,' says Cathy. 'I just wanted to give something back.'

Last year, Cathy and Tony, who live in Old St Mellons, Cardiff, completed 'Bike the Nile' on a tandem for Tenovus. And this year they joined 500 cyclists on the Great 500 Marie Curie Cancer Care Challenge of five different routes to converge on Warsaw in the charity's largest overseas fundraiser.

'I was expecting Poland to be freezing cold and a bit grim,' says Cathy, who is originally from Liverpool and has lived in Cardiff since 1977.

'But it's a beautiful country and the sun shone throughout our tour. All the vibes about the place before we went were negative but it was a real revelation.

'The only disappointment was the food there is wholesome with no spice or garlic, so the first thing we did when we got back was go for a curry!'

Tony, 61, a regional financial controller for Dutton Forshaw, has always been a keen cyclist and Cathy took it up seriously nearly 10 years ago.

'Chemo really knocked it out of me,' says Cathy, who also has an older brother, Alan, 58.

'I was off work for five months. I really can't describe how ill I felt and for me to be off work is very unusual. Tony asked how I wanted to spend the weekend after finishing chemo. I wanted to be outdoors. So we hired a tandem in Llanelli and were out all day on the Millennium Coastal Path. I got hooked.

'If we were both on our bikes, Tony would disappear ahead of me because he's a more confident cyclist than I am. But on a tandem we can have a chat and a real laugh. It's so sociable.'

The couple were among 76 cycling from Villnes to Warsaw route on the Marie Curie Great 500 challenge.

'Everyone had a cancer story. There were blokes who had lost their wives, or fathers cycling with sons, stepmothers and stepsons.'

They were part of a nine-strong Welsh party of cyclists, covering up to 74 miles day.

'We were on small roads sometimes. Other times we headed onto quiet wooded roads. We visited Augustow, an area described in the Rough Guide as 'one of the least visited parts of Poland'. We couldn't believe why, as it's got rolling countryside surrounding the lake and is ideal for bikers and hikers.'

The final hours of the ride were exhilarating and the Welsh cyclists raised more than pounds 40,000 for Marie Curie's hospice in Penarth.

'You're always on a high after doing exercise and having recently ridden 310 miles, I feel really well and really healthy,' says Cathy, who has three stepsons, Mark, 33, Andrew, 32 and Stuart, 24.

'In a way we have been brought up knowing about cancer,' says Cathy, who was six when her mother was diagnosed. 'It never stopped my mum doing anything. She was a very strong lady and back in the '60s, no-one talked about cancer. It was almost a guilty secret but I have always been very conscious about checking myself for bumps.'

When Cathy found a lump in her right breast in late September 2003 she went to the doctor's the next day. Within three weeks she had a lumpectomy at Llandough Hospital followed by six sessions of chemotherapy over 18 weeks and four weeks of radiotherapy at Velindre Hospital.

She says, 'I had a stack of cancer books in my house which are now a kind-of legacy I've passed onto my sister Margaret, who is 55. Mum had a real guilt complex when I broke the news that I had cancer. But because I only had to have a lumpectomy and not a mastectomy, her guilt wasn't as bad as when Margaret had her diagnosis.

'Mum felt so guilty about Margaret's mastectomy as if it was something to do with her. Breast cancer hasn't brought me and Margaret closer because we've always been incredibly close anyway but we talk a lot more and our priorities have totally shifted. I think the reason Tony and I raised pounds 23,000 on our first ride because people knew how fit and healthy I was and felt if I could get cancer, anyone could.'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 7, 2006
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