By Sophia Hatzis | Digital Content Producer
When Kirsten Blake first registered for Brisbane Coastrek in December, her goal was to get her body moving. She’d done charity walks before, so when she saw Coastrek was on the beautiful Sunshine Coast - proudly supporting The Fred Hollows Foundation - she jumped at the opportunity.
After some strong encouragement, she convinced some old school friends, her sister, and her partner to join her for the 30km Coastrek challenge. They made two teams, Stroll Sisters 1 and Stroll Sisters 2.
But just a few months after she registered, Kirsten was hit with a cancer diagnosis.
“I just went in for a routine mammogram that you do when you turn 50. I got called in fairly soon after that to have a biopsy done. I pretty much knew at that point that it was breast cancer,” Kirsten says.
She was in and out of appointments for the next two weeks. Finally, her condition was verified by a surgeon. It was breast cancer.
“They give you enough information to get you through, but they don’t really tell you everything that’s going to unfold. It’s sort of been a matter of living day-to-day with it and coping as things come up. In my first appointment with my oncologist, I knew it would be four and a half months of chemotherapy treatment," she says.
Kirsten was determined, despite her cancer diagnosis, to take part in Coastrek. She carefully planned her treatment dates to give herself the best possible chance of participating.
“I knew treatment would be every three weeks, and I tried to plot the start date that would coincide best with the 26th of July,” Kirsten says.
Her doctors encouraged her to keep exercising. So Kirsten persevered, training with her fellow Stroll Sisters on the Sunshine Coast when she could. She couldn't stick to the training schedule the team had decided on before the diagnosis. But they altered their goals to make it work.
For Kirsten, walking with her girlfriends had major benefits for her mental wellbeing. She lived for the next time she could walk.
"We'd planned walks together three days a week initially. When Janie and I started back in December, we were struggling to make 3km together. But we planned it out. We knew if we could increase by half a kilometre every time we walked, that by the time we got to July, we would have at least done a 20km walk and that would have stood us in good stead. That was our initial approach, but that came crashing down when chemo started for me.
“Our regular walk was down to Mooloolaba Spit and around to Alexander Headland beach. I remember so many times we’d be walking and we’d go, 'It’s such an amazing day, we’re so lucky'. It helped with the mental side of things.”
When the big day came - Friday the 26th of July - the Stroll Sisters were there together. Ready to take on the challenge, rain, hail, or shine.
“We didn’t stop talking the whole time and had lots of laughs. There were a few times along the trek where people recognised me and gave me some encouragement," Kirsten says.
If you’d asked Kirsten on the weekend whether they'd be taking on the Coastrek challenge next year, the answer would have been “no”. But some rest, recovery, and reflection, has changed that response to a resounding “yes”.
“Doing things together with a group of girls is the most cathartic experience. We’ve already planned to have three teams next year. The bond of friendship, you can’t beat it, you can’t break it,” Kirsten says. “I learned ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”
Teams Stroll Sisters 1 and Team Stroll Sisters 2 have won our Most Inspiring Team prize for Brisbane Coastrek 2019. Both Kirsten and teammate Lena Astbury – who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) after she registered for Coastrek– overcame unbelievable physical challenges to train and take part in the event. Congratulations Stroll Sisters! You’ve won four spots on a full-day canyoning and rock climbing trip in the Blue Mountains, thanks to our friends at World Expeditions. You've also won four Camelbaks thanks to our friends at CamelBak.