Liz Hayes received a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 49, just weeks before her wedding. Now 56 and cancer-free, she says she struggled mentally and physically throughout treatment. To help others facing mental health struggles in their own lives, she and her friends are swimming across the English Channel.
Hayes is one of six members of the Thames MARVELs swimming group, named so because the word “marvel” can be spelled with the first letter of each of their names. Liz is represented with “E” for Elizabeth.
The group was important for her recovery from breast cancer. She says she didn’t have enough energy to do much during treatment and early in recovery, but swimming was an activity she could tackle.
She explains, “I would go to yoga and halfway through I would have to stop, it became too much. Swimming was one of those things I did and had a go at as soon as I could. It really helped, as the chemotherapy had made me so exhausted to the point where I couldn’t think straight. Not being able to do simple things really knocks your confidence, you can think things will never get back to normal ever again. So getting back to swimming and being able to do that really did keep me sane.”
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A few years into her swimming regimen, Hayes met a triathlete who encouraged her to take on longer distances. Now, she and her swim group are tackling the 21-mile stretch between England and France, relay-style. In the process, they set a goal of raising £10,000 for the Charlie Waller Trust. That’s named for a 28-year-old actor who took his life after suffering from depression. It teaches young people, their teachers, and their families about mental health, wellbeing, and the importance of talking about their struggles.
Struggling with wellbeing is something Hayes understands.
She says, “Cancer diagnosis and treatment caused me to lose faith in myself completely. You get so crushingly tired during chemotherapy that you can’t think straight, stand up for long or remember the simplest of things. The swim training and the Thames MARVELs has helped me to recover my strength and my confidence, and I’m hoping the channel crossing will be the final piece of the jigsaw to make me feel back to ‘normal’.”
The team had planned to finish the swim by July 11th, but unpredictable weather can shake up schedules. The forecast will dictate the exact date. Either way, it’ll be an adventurous undertaking. Hayes says a friend with experience swimming the channel told her they’d likely get seasick on the boat while waiting for their turn. They’ll also have to get used to different conditions the sea can present.
The MARVELs’ website says the women will “attempt to swim in costumes (no wetsuits allowed) across the busiest shipping lane in the world, encountering jellyfish, unsettled weather, flotsam and jetsam, choppy waters and tide changes as they go.”
Before they’d even left on this daring swim, they’d already met their fundraising goal and then some, ensuring mental health services will be available to more people in need.
To donate or learn more about the effort, check out their Just Giving page.