Published: 12th Apr 2024 Images: Scottish Cycling

Fiona’s Journey: Recovering from bowel cancer through the power of the bike

April is bowel cancer awareness month, an opportunity to raise awareness about the fourth most common cancer in the UK. We spoke to Fiona Howie about her experience with the condition, and how cycling has been part of her recovery journey.

Fiona had already discovered cycling when she was diagnosed with cancer. Like many people, she had started exercising in her 40s, when the energy and vitality of our younger years begins to slip away, and more effort is required to keep in shape. She started off running, then a friend got her into cycling, and she joined Elgin CC, her local cycling club.

In the summer of 2019 Fiona visited her GP. She had been experiencing bowel cancer symptoms for some time, but still in her 40s, she was naïve to the possibility she could have cancer. Screening in Scotland does not begin until age 50, but whilst the condition is more common over this age, it can affect anyone at any age. At 48 years old Fiona was told she had stage 3 bowel cancer. Her advice to anyone experiencing any of the symptoms is it is never too silly to visit your GP.

Fiona’s treatment involved surgery and chemotherapy. Wiped out by both, Fiona joined her local Breeze rides as a way back into cycling and recovering her fitness and health. She describes feeling incredibly appreciative for the support she found there, not just in helping to regain her cycling fitness; she found getting out the house, being in a friendly and supportive all female environment and enjoying leisurely-paced cycle rides was just the tonic she needed.

She admits there were days she thought she would need to give up cycling; when breathlessness and fatigue made exercising feel impossible. However, she coped by being realistic about her capabilities; allowing the fatigue to work its course and setting achievable goals, progressing towards bigger challenges and adventures. Her advice to anyone in similar circumstances is to enjoy your cycling, persevere but don’t over-do it, allow yourself not to cycle, when you need to. Seek out support from experienced cyclists who can inspire and cheer you on.

Fiona found support through Breeze and has now trained as a Breeze Champion herself, leading Breeze rides for women in her local community, putting back in some of what she got out from attending Breeze rides herself. She acknowledges some of the other challenges of getting older and the struggles individuals may face during middle age and beyond, such as separation and divorce, children leaving home, etc, where cycling may be a helpful outlet. In addition to Breeze,  Fiona is involved in delivering the local Rock Up & Ride project, Get on a Bike, and is a committee member at her local cycling club. She personally knows the value of physical activity, and cycling in particular, and is supporting more people in her local community to have access to the same benefits.

In April 2021, whilst still going through treatment, Fiona and her friends raised over £4,000 for Bowel Cancer UK via a battle of the sexes challenge to see who could be the most active during the month. The day after she was notified she was clear of cancer, she completed a 100km audax. Since then, she has undertaken many cycling challenges and adventures, including Ride the North, the Hebridean Way and a recent trip along the canal paths from Dumbarton to Edinburgh. She highlights her desire to continue cycling for many years to come, being inspired by Granny Mave, who at 85 continues to cycle and raise funds for charity.

Fiona attends screenings and follow-up appointments to monitor her recovery and check there is no recurrence of the cancer. She eagerly anticipates the possibility of being declared cancer-free and awaits her final screening appointment next year. We extend our gratitude to Fiona for sharing her story with us and wish her the best in her ongoing recovery. Here’s to many more years of joyful cycling adventures ahead!

For more information and support on bowel cancer, visit Bowel Cancer UK.

Click here for more information about Breeze, our women’s cycling programme. We are currently recruiting for more volunteers to train as ride leaders to lead rides in their local communities and support more women (back) into cycling. The training is free to attend, and we have courses coming up in Stirling, Inverness, Dumfries and Dundee.

If you have a cycling story you would like to share, please email our communications team on: [email protected]