A hiking-loving student is now re-learning to trek long distances after life saving surgery to remove a cancerous lump from her leg.
Erin Turner, 26, from Stirling, Scotland, used to hike regularly as well as dancing and playing a variety of sports.
Originally from Invermere, a small town in British Columbia in Canada, Erin moved to Scotland in September 2019 after studying Scottish History at university.
She would walk around nine miles a day prior to her diagnosis.
‘In Canada, I lived in the Rocky Mountains so I grew up hiking and then, when I moved to Scotland, I joined some hiking clubs,’ she says.
‘When the pandemic hit, I spent a lot of time walking on my own which I loved because it’s so calming for me.’
As well as that, she was a competitive dancer for twenty years, until she injured her knee – and started hiking more.
‘I’ve always found calm in physical activity, it’s my safe haven, she says.
In January 2021, Erin found a small lump on her right thigh that she initially thought was due to an injury, but it just kept growing.
‘[The GP] told me that she didn’t think it was suspicious, but she jumped into action and immediately sent me for urgent testing with an orthopaedic surgeon,’ Erin says.
Within three weeks, Erin received a phone call with her results – her lump was cancerous and she needed treatment.
‘The woman told me that she hated doing this over the phone, but that she needed to tell me before I came in because things were going to happen fast from here,’ she adds.
Erin was in complete shock and was alone in Scotland, so called her family in Canada and talked about it.
‘My mum stayed with me for three months and then when she went home, my dad came out for another three months,’ she says.
She started her treatment in early May.
‘I kept saying it was my lucky day because it’s Star Wars Day,’ she says.
Erin underwent chemotherapy and radiation before having surgery to remove the lump.
‘The treatment was really intense, and it wiped me out so I had a break after it until my surgeons deemed my body well enough to handle the surgery,’ says Erin.
She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, spending four days every three weeks in hospital.
After her first round of chemotherapy, she lost her hair which was devastating.
‘I’ve always had curly hair and it felt like I was losing a piece of my identity, especially as I didn’t know how it would grow back, but it’s grown back even curlier,’ she says.
Erin had her operation on September 30 2021, three days after starting her Masters.
‘Waking up after surgery to hear my surgeons tell me that they had got everything was the best news I’d had that year’, Erin says.
‘I was determined to continue with the course, despite everything I was going through.’
Due to the pandemic, remote learning was an option as she couldn’t physically be in class.
‘Studying helped to keep me occupied while I recovered and I was able to physically join my class on October 18,’ she says.
Erin is still recovering and says not being able to go hiking has been tough.
‘I was devastated when I couldn’t walk much after my surgery,’ she says.
‘It was a very small part of muscle that was removed from my leg, but my brain has had to reconnect all those pathways of movement.’
She added: “Sometimes my brain will think I’m going to fall over when I put weight on that leg which has made my balance difficult to control.
At first, her leg would give way and could ‘barely’ walk around in her local area.
Now, she’s able to walk to her classes – a 25 minute trip.
Erin’s working with Teenage Cancer Trust on their Cancer and Exercise campaign to shine a spotlight on how exercise can be beneficial for mental health and wellbeing after cancer treatment.
She hopes that sharing her experience will help other young people with cancer feel like they can exercise and move in a way that works for their body.
‘Fitness and activity have always been a huge part of my life,’ she says.
‘As an adult, hiking became a frequent hobby of mine, and walking was something I loved to do just to clear my head. I find it really calming.’
For Erin, having the charity be so active in talking about fitness after major life changing events – such as cancer – is ‘really cool’ and really important because of how much fitness means to her.
“You have to do fitness on your own terms and listen to your body,’ she says.
‘As I recover, I’m walking more and more – It’s a very slow process but I’m getting back to normal in my own time.’
For more information, visit teenagecancertrust.org/information-about-cancer/cancer-and-exercise
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