A GYM boss who is taking part in a 3,000-mile relay to raise awareness of mental health has opened up about her own personal battle after being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
Lauren Retford, who is manager of Pure Gym based at Stretford Mall, was just 29 when her world was turned upside down following a routine but ultimately life-saving smear test.
She received the devastating news that she had stage two cervical cancer on the day she was due to open the doors of Pure Gym in Stretford for the very first time in April 2015 – and admits she hit ‘rock bottom’.
But four years on, the 33-year-old from Irlam, Greater Manchester, is currently cancer free and a mental health ambassador for Pure Gym in the North West of England and North Wales.
As part of her managerial role Lauren has met six-time Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Sir Chris Hoy in his capacity as Pure Gym Ambassador, including a TV ad campaign he filmed last Christmas.
Lauren, who has a seven-year-old daughter called Zara, is gearing up to play her part cycling in Pure Gym’s week-long 24hr non-stop national relay from Aberdeen to Plymouth to raise a massive £250,000 for Mental Health UK – an event which Hoy is launching and also taking part in.
She and seven members of her team at Stretford received the baton from staff at the Altrincham branch on the evening of June 20 before cycling to the gym at Exchange Quay and then continuing on to the Spinningfields, Market Street and Urban Exchange clubs, wracking up nearly seven miles on the road.
Lauren, who is a cluster manager so also runs the Salford, Eccles, Stockport and Denton branches, said: “The main objective of the relay is for our workforce to come together as one team and raise awareness of MHUK in bridging the gap between mental health and physical health.
“I’ve been regional mental health ambassador since February and it was a role that resonated with me because I feel so passionate about being able to #sharetheweight from your mind and be able to speak up about how you are feeling.
“I had a call from my local hospital informing me that I needed to attend an appointment the following day to discuss my smear test.
“It meant that I was to miss the grand opening of the club that I now directly manage. I was gutted.
“To my horror my consultant informed me that my results had come back from the laboratory and my body was presenting stage two cervical cancer.
“I walked away from my appointment a broken woman. I couldn’t think straight never mind drive home to brief my family on my terrible news. Naturally, I was thinking the worst. I was rock bottom.”
Lauren says the support and reassurance from both her family and colleagues at Pure Gym helped in ‘building me back up again’.
She added: “The good news was that the cancer had not spread any further than the cervix itself. My routine smear test had saved my life.
“I underwent major surgery and had a large part of my cervix removed in the May of 2015. I am four years deep into 10 years of three-monthly examinations which are very unpleasant and during this time I have had a couple of further scares with the re-growth of cells, but thanks to the NHS I am being well looked after.
“But I’m alive and kicking. The anxiety is something that is ongoing and I still struggle comprehending that I am a cancer patient.
“Looking into my daughters eyes is a constant reminder that I have to switch my mental wellbeing into a positive and look to the future rather than reflect on my experiences.
“I utilise the support around me daily and I am not afraid to share how I am feeling, I know somebody within my network will always have my back. It’s important to offload what you’re thinking.
“I had the desire to give a little back to the NHS and I was successfully recruited as a First Responder with North West Ambulance Service.
“It’s a role in which challenges my mental health to its limits as I am often on scene to life threatening critically ill patients or trauma calls. This truly balances my mind and helps me in overcoming my own mental barriers.
“My time with my family is also important to me. It’s a bit strange as I don’t get time to train when I’m working so we enjoy walks with the dog or going climbing with the kids at the weekend – my partner Brad has two boys of his own.”
Lauren says she and her team are looking forward to taking part in the National relay and helping to raise vital funds for such an important cause.
She said: “The locations of Mental Health UK’s offices match ours and equally their values match ours too.
“As ambassador for my region that covers 26 clubs. It starts with Belfast staff using rowing machines on the ferry to Liverpool where our region kicks off.
“We have quite a short stage from Stretford so we decided we wouldn’t stop but instead hand the baton over and pick the teams up along the way and finish at Urban Exchange.
“We’re going to do more fundraising there by having a PJ party with the members a DJ, Sports Massage Therapist, Sculpt Activewear, Chaos Theory, Pulse Roll, KettleBell Kitchen, Smoothie stations and much more!. Each gym has pledged to raise £1,000 and at Stretford we’re nearly half way. Our Region has already raised an incredible £19,000.
“We’ll be cycling for our part of the relay but some of the other clubs are doing different things like leapfrogging, dribbling a football and walking with kettle bells.”
Pure Gym Ambassador, Sir Chris Hoy, will be taking part in the relay, launching it in Aberdeen, before joining the final stage of the relay from Exeter to Plymouth on June 25th.
Lauren said: “He plays a really active part in his role as ambassador and is passionate about health and fitness. He’s a really genuine guy.
“I’ve met him a couple of times – once the Christmas just gone when he was at our Denton gym filming a January TV advertising campaign. I’ve also met him at Altrincham and sat at the same table at an awards ceremony in London.”
Stretford Mall Shopping Centre manager Gareth Wilkins said: “Lauren is a real inspiration to us all. Not only has she overcome cancer but she’s also spoken of her personal battle with mental health and by sharing that experience will help so many people.
“The PureGym National Relay is a great way of raising awareness of mental health as well as vital funds for Mental Health UK, and we wish Lauren and her team at Stretford the best of luck for their stage of the route on June 20.”
You can follow the PureGym National Relay’s progress on the live route tracker on https://relay.puregym.com/, as well as following #ShareTheWeight on social media.
The website will feature updates throughout the week and includes a running total of funds raised for Mental Health UK which is currently at £180,000.