By Doreen Russell

The diagnosis of CLL focuses the mind on life time-management !! Places to visit and things to do were placed on my bucket list and prioritised into things that can wait a while and things that need to be achieved whilst energy and health allow.

My husband and I love the outdoors and hill walking; walking the Inca trail and visiting Machu Picchu was high on my list. However following a stage 4 SLL diagnosis in 2007 at the age of 50; I sometimes experienced phases of tiredness when walking 4 miles on the flat was a challenge. Attempting the Inca trail seemed unrealistic. 

In early 2012 my energy levels were better for several consecutive months, so my husband and I took the plunge and booked 24 days in Peru, including four days camping and walking the Inca trail. But then I read on the Internet of healthy peoples’ Inca trail experiences and my confidence evaporated: had I bitten off more than I could chew !!

Not to be beaten, the training started – walking 3 evenings a week even when tired. By April I could comfortably manage 8 miles but 12 miles rendered me extremely tired and I was still walking on the flat.

Holidaying in France in June we started on the hills, now walking 12 miles through the mountains. I was doing well but contemplated the Inca trail; a demanding 4 day hike including a 4000 foot ascent over Dead Woman’s Pass at an altitude of 14000 feet, where oxygen levels are 40% reduced.

The next challenge was to walk 2 demanding days consecutively – off to Wales in August. Pen-y-Fan and adjacent peaks were climbed easily, 13 miles and nearly 4000 feet of ascent, but bad weather prevented consecutive days of hill walking. Time was fast running out and what with work and family commitments we were back to just walking evenings and Sunday afternoons. However I was feeling really well, my stamina was increasing and confidence rising.

Arriving in Peru in September, we were pleased to find the rest of the party (total of 15) were all of a similar age, each wondering ‘can I make it?’ I wanted to just be me and not singled out as ‘special’ so did not share my diagnosis with others; only the group leader was aware. The holiday itinerary was well planned and we did several walks at altitude over the nine days prior to the Inca Trail. At first I did feel heady but was pleased not to suffer from any significant altitude sickness.

The Inca trail walk was amazing. Our guide encouraged us to take our time and enjoy the experience. We had many stops to soak up the spectacular scenery and explore the many Inca sites along the way. At the end of each day I was tired but not exhausted – I was on a high!! On day 4 we walked the last 10 miles. Climbing up to the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu below us was quite emotional. My husband and I had a hug and shed a few silent tears. 

We had done it. So I encourage you – compose a Bucket List and make it happen.