At the age of 10, I was diagnosed with bone cancer, and in that moment my childhood came to an abrupt halt.
For the next few years, my life was consumed by hospital stays, chemotherapy, and multiple major operations. I felt totally isolated from my friends; I couldn’t carry my bag between lessons, I couldn’t participate in PE or outdoor games and I couldn’t walk to town after school. My disability became something which separated me from everyone I knew. All I wanted more than anything was to feel ‘normal’.
When I was 12, my family heard about a charity called Over The Wall. They offered free activity camps where children like me could relax, have fun and try out some new activities. So that summer, I found myself arriving in Dorset being greeted by a team of volunteers wearing face paint and singing songs, calling themselves the ‘Green Team’. It was at this moment that my mum probably started to panic…
She needn’t have worried though, because I can honestly say that that first week at camp changed my life. The timetable was packed – from archery to swimming, arts and crafts to drama, horse riding to kayaking. It was the most fun I’d had in years, and the first time since my diagnosis that I felt truly included in every activity. But it was also much, much more than that. Because for the first time, I felt ‘normal’ – no one judged the way I walked or asked questions about my crutches. I felt like Molly again, not Molly who had cancer. My confidence sky-rocketed.
Each year I returned to camp and every time I gained not just new friends but also more and more confidence in myself and my abilities. One of my biggest achievements to date took place at my first Midlands camp, aged 15. We were attempting the high ropes – a series of physical obstacles gradually getting higher and higher off the ground. It was a huge challenge for me, both physically and mentally; not only was I very unsteady on my feet but I was also terrified of heights. I remember the incredible patience and support I received from the campers and volunteers around me, and somehow I pushed myself to finish the entire course. I can’t tell you how proud I was. I spent the rest of the week grinning from ear to ear, telling anyone and everyone what I’d achieved.
The thing is, those achievements at camp really help you to conquer fears in the real world too. Every operation, treatment, or injection became just that bit easier when I remembered those high ropes. If I could do it at camp, then why couldn’t I do it here, too? Even now, when I come across a new challenge, I think back to those high ropes and remind myself just how much I am capable of achieving.
I’m now a doctor, a food blogger and a wheelchair athlete. All things I’d never have dreamed of having the ability or confidence to do as an unwell 10 year old. Wheelchair racing, and my passion for sport in general, is a particular testament to what Over The Wall has given me. I spent my childhood being embarrassed of my disability, and in particular the walking aids I relied upon to get around. Experiences at camp showed me that being disabled didn’t mean I couldn’t be active, and I’ve since tried everything from swimming to wheelchair basketball to wheelchair racing. Two years ago, I entered (and won!) my first ever wheelchair race – the King’s Lynn 10k. I used it as an opportunity to raise money for Over The Wall, and knowing I was supporting them made crossing the finish line all the more special.
I can never thank Over The Wall enough for what it has given me; without it, I might still be that scared little Molly whose life had just been turned upside down by cancer. For me, camp will always feel like home. It is the place where I first felt truly accepted for who I was, and it is a privilege to now be able to return as a volunteer to give that gift to other children like me.