Cancer survivor Lyndsey Procter loves nothing more than hitting the gym. Recently, she took up weightlifting and can now deadlift an astonishing 80kg – more than her entire body weight.
“I absolutely love deadlifts – they make me feel strong and in control,” says the 38-year-old sales account manager from Burnley, Lancashire. “It may sound corny, but they make me feel alive.”
The buzz of a good workout will be familiar to many, but Procter has more reason than most to feel this sense of elation.
Only six months ago, she could barely move. Diagnosed with Stage three stomach cancer, she underwent major surgery to remove her stomach which resulted in an enormous scar across her body. She endured months of exhausting chemotherapy which left her unable to lift her head from the pillow.
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Her nightmare began in 2019 when she developed some unusual symptoms at meal times.
“Every time I ate or drank I could hear a loud gurgling sound and at first I laughed about it,” she says. “A couple of months later, I developed a slight pain in my abdomen as well as heartburn and indigestion. I visited my GP who sent me for a test where a tube was placed up my nostril and down my oesophagus. But they couldn’t find anything wrong.
“A couple of weeks later, the gurgling was still happening so I went back to the GP and I was sent for a barium swallow test where my oesophagus was scanned but still, they found nothing. I thought I was going crazy. I kept Googling symptoms and was worried that it might be cancer but my GP said I was far too young.”
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With no answers as to why she was in pain and her symptoms were getting worse, Procter was sent for an endoscopy in January 2020. It was then that her world shattered.
“The consultant said to me: ‘We’re not going to find anything’ but they did,” says Procter. “When I woke up from the endoscopy, he said: ‘I’m really sorry but we’ve found a blockage’. My sister was with me and said: ‘Do you mean a tumour?’ and he said: ‘Yes'."
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I found out that the previous tests months earlier hadn’t looked far enough into my oesophagus to find the tumour. I was really angry about that. But I was only in my mid-thirties. How could I have stomach cancer? I didn’t understand but I was determined to be positive about it.”
Two weeks later however, Procter was given bleaker news. “I met my surgeon who said: ‘This is really bad. You’re at Stage three and borderline Stage four because the cancer has gone through all the layers of the stomach.'
"I was terrified. It was like having a death sentence handed to me and I thought: ‘I might actually die.'"
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Procter began chemotherapy in mid-February 2020 and was due to have surgery weeks later. But then the pandemic hit.
“I ended up having eight cycles of chemotherapy instead of four and it was brutal,” she admits. “There were times when I couldn’t walk across the room to get to the toilet. I was exhausted.
“Then in July I had a 10-hour operation and the surgeon said it was the biggest operation a human could go through. He had to break open my rips and deflate my lung to be able to get to the stomach. Then he had to remove three-quarters of my stomach and attach it to my oesophagus.
“They took 40 lymph nodes to test and found that three were cancerous so this meant the cancer had spread. I would need more chemo."
“Recovery was really hard," says Proctor. "I remember one nurse in the hospital helping me to walk about 15 steps in the ward and it was like climbing the biggest mountain ever. When I finally got home, my sister moved in with me for a while and I could only manage to eat very small amounts. Even half an apple caused me pain.”
But it was as she was recovering last year that a friend told her about Battle Cancer, a free fitness programme exclusively for cancer patients.
“I’d already vowed to get fit again but when my friend told me about this programme I got in touch with Pete Williams who runs it and he said I could come along. I started in June 2021 and had two sessions a week.
“It was a bit daunting at first. I was nervous about my surgery and my scar but my doctors had given me the green light and when I arrived at the gym I was put at ease straight away. One of the great things about it is that you’re working out with people of all ages who have been through something similar to you.
“Although my friends and family were brilliant throughout my cancer treatment, none of them could really understand what I’d been through. So to be able to chat to people who did was great for my mental health and the workouts were good for my physical health.”
Procter was taught new techniques with kettle bells, bar bells and deadlifts and has slowly built up to an impressive 80kg.
“I absolutely love the fact I can deadlift,”’ she says. “To think that only a few months ago I could barely walk and would have to catch my breath even after a few paces. Every time I’m lifting weights now, I think about what I’ve been through and that pushes me to try to lift even more.
“My surgeon told me there’s a 50% chance of the cancer recurring in three years so I’m trying to remain positive that I’m in the other 50%. I’m not going to let it beat me.”
Follow Procter’s journey on Instagram @lyndseys_stomach_cancer_fight.
To find out more about the Battle Cancer Program in partnership with WHOOP, please visit battlecancerprogram.com.