The day we took on an Olympian …and won!

Yes this happened. Yes it was nearly a week ago. No I’m not over it yet.


Hunt relay

Photo courtesy of Bex. Angelic, I think you’ll agree.

Picture the scene – rank amateur event rider turns often-bonkers horse towards show jump, to find she is not alone. Turning into the other showjump in the warm-up, the one right next to the one rank amateur is jumping, is none other than Tina Cook.

If that means nothing to you frankly who even are you.

Ok that’s a bit harsh …but it’s like being a boxer and leaping from foot-to-foot (in that funny way boxers do) opposite Muhammed Ali, or running with a rugby ball towards Paul O’Connell. Actually it’s nothing like that, that would be terrifying.

She rides for Team GB. She’s won individual bronze and team gold at the actual Olympics!

But this story gets BETTER…

My team-mates and I, who for the purposes of this competition were collectively named the Jam Tarts, arrived at the Crawley and Horsham Hunt Relay at the All England Showjumping Course, Hickstead, not without a degree of trepidation.

Team mate one (Cassie B), was riding a very-young-and-not-always-entirely-brave-but-very-well-meaning pony for a friend, which she hadn’t sat on in a few months.

Team mate two (Bex), was on board the sweetest-looking ginger pony, which she’d brought out of retirement especially for the occasion, and she therefore wasn’t entirely sure what might happen.

Team mate three (me aka. the rank amateur) had Bonkers McGraw (Gigi) as my steed – who can be brilliant and also can be bonkers. Having not left the yard all winter my money was on bonkers.

Upon arrival I found out from my fellow tarts that Tina Cook had been spotted on the premises (not a surprise as she has a daughter in the local pony club). But that she was wearing breeches. We laughed that she might be competing against us in the relay, and I fantasised at length about jumping alongside her while the theme tune to National Velvet played in the background, and our photo appearing on the cover of Horse and Hound – under what merit I’m not sure …I don’t think I’d thought that far ahead.

Having discussed tactics (try not to fall off, jump all the jumps. …high octane stuff), I arrived back at my little lorry to find bonkers pony in a muck sweat – the very sound of other ponies walking past and the fact she was on the lorry meant she was sweating to the point of frothing. Lovely.

Having offered to help me tack up, my boyfriend sensibly retreated to the front seat at the sight of bonkers pony bursting off the lorry, eyes rolling, nostrils flaring and hooves clattering not unlike the steed of a Ring Wraith from Lord of The Rings. Terrifying. I honestly didn’t really want to get on.

But get on I did, and thankfully as soon as my bum was in the saddle it was like someone had pressed the ‘be calm not mental’ button. She behaved impeccably all day, thank gawd.

It quickly transpired that not only was Tina riding on a relay team, she was riding against us. I didn’t play it at all cool and got very overexcited about this.

As our two teams (theirs was called The Good, the Bad and the Olympian… excellent) walked into the arena, I showed bonkers pony one of the fences – when one of my team mates incredulously asked what I was up to I told them I was showing her the fence, like they do at the Grand National.

“If it works for AP McCoy it can work for you,” came a voice from behind me.

Yes it was Tina. She was obviously lovely and amazing and rode impeccably because off-of Olympics. But the most amazing part is that hunt relays are a team event, and by some miracle (and some excellent tactical riding from Cassie B), the Jam Tarts prospered. Jammy indeed.

The one where I got a bit of a fright

Alt title: why GPs are amazing and you should probably find one and hug them right now.

Balcombe-Viaduct-1282-Edit(This photo’s only relevance to this piece is that it’s pretty and it’s where I live)

Two months ago I went to the doctor with a stabbing tummy ache that wouldn’t budge. Like any sensible person I went online and self-diagnosed – in this instance I had decided I had an ovarian cyst. Don’t worry this isn’t going to get gross, graphic or talk about girly parts, at ALL. (NB. Never Google your symptoms, it nearly always says you are dying).

I had my abdomen scanned and it turned out I was right (I should clearly be in the medical profession) – but the doctor told me not to worry, to take pain killers and bugger off, because it would be gone in a few days (she was very nice and did not use those words). But I was booked in for a follow-up scan two months later, just in case…

The afore-mentioned follow-up scan was the week before last. And the doctor that did it was not nice to me at all – cold and unfriendly, she wouldn’t answer any of my questions and just told me to go back to my GP. I considered putting in a complaint – rude and unnecessary, I thought. But it turned out there was method to her (mean) madness.

I got a call the next evening from my GP, which I picked up on the hands-free in the car. She told me to pull over before she spoke to me. A bit OTT I thought, but health is her game, so my safety is of interest I suppose – I pulled over.

She told me the scan had come back looking ‘sinister’. I can’t actually remember a lot of what she said, but she kept using the word ‘sinister’ and wanted me to go to hospital ASAP. She repeated the words ‘try not to worry’ a lot, but was talking in very urgent tones, and saying that I was on a fast-track and would be seen as soon as they could possibly see me.

I interrupted her near the end to ask what on earth she meant by ‘sinister’? – Cancer. She meant Ovarian Cancer.

So I phoned my nearest and dearest and told them the score, while still pulled over by the side of the road. They all tried not to sound terrified, as did I.

And all credit to the brilliant NHS, everything did move very fast. I had a CA125 blood test the next morning, and was told that if my levels came back high it didn’t mean I had Cancer, and if they came back low it didn’t mean I didn’t – but that if they were high it was more likely I did (I think – I still don’t really understand this bit in truth).

They came back high.

Then I got a call to say I had a scan booked in at the hospital a few days later and a consultant’s appointment there two days after that.

So my mother made immediate plans to drive down from Herefordshire, and Eoin (my boyfriend) and I booked the days off. And in the meantime I kept busy, and filled all my time with work, or horses, or something – because every time there wasn’t something there was Cancer.

Royal Sussex County Hospital

The scan came around and the lovely, chatty woman at the hospital in Brighton was talking me through everything that she was doing, before she suddenly fell quiet. It felt like ten minutes of silence but it was probably more like two. Mummy was holding my hand and rubbing my arm and I think we were both trying very hard not to cry.

But then she did break her silence to say she couldn’t see the cyst, which was confusing, and that we should wait to see what the consultant said. With this in mind we all felt optimistic, but still pretty terrified, about the possible outcome.

In the waiting room for the consultant, who was running late (not his fault – he had masses of people to see before us), we ran out of polite things to talk/joke about. We are British after all, and it is always best to laugh when you think you might cry, as it’s so much less awkward for all involved.

So we fell silent for a good 15 minutes. In this time I went over in my mind how I would react when they told me I had Cancer – that I wouldn’t cry or make a scene, because that would just upset everyone and not be helpful.

We went in to the consultant’s room and straight away he apologised. He said not only did I not have Cancer, but the irregular scan that my GPs had picked up on never looked like Cancer, so the whole hospital visit – and week and a half of worry, and parental phone calls, and days off, and journey to and from Herefordshire – should never have happened.

Having made sure he was absolutely sure, which he was, he called my GP while we were still in the room. Well not her herself, the practice. He told them what he had told us – and asked them what they thought they had seen.

They had seen an irregular looking cyst, with an odd-looking membrane around it that they thought looked dangerous, sorry, sinister.

Am I cross with them for putting me through it unnecessarily? GOD NO.

My GP was absolutely professional, supportive and kind throughout. And if it had been the other way round, and they had seen something they didn’t feel happy with, DIDN’T refer me to the hospital, and then missed something – that would have been far, far, far worse.

I do not mind one iota that they were careful, precautious, thorough – because GPs have to be experts in a million and one things in the human body. So no, they didn’t see what they thought they saw, but if there was even a teeny weeny weeny chance that it was something bad, then they did exactly the right thing, and I am very, very grateful.

So here’s to them, and to GPs the country over, for being simply brilliant.

And I would also like to say a very heartfelt thanks to all the people I know who it turns out have had Cancer, (some of which I never even knew about), and have fought it like absolute champions, and won. And also those who have lived through the less positive end results …because they are all amazing and unspeakably brave – and without exception were very happy to support me 100% if this story had turned out a little differently.

So this week – Macmillan Coffee Morning week – eat cake, raise money, and as cheesy as it might sound, enjoy every single day. I will be doing all of the above.

….I hope this blog in no way trivialises what is a truly horrendous ordeal that I cannot even begin to understand. This was the tiniest drop in the ocean, and I still wouldn’t wish it on anyone.