Journey's end, four years after being given six months to live

Cancer campaign: On the last leg of her 2,000-mile cycle ride, Jane Tomlinson tells the 'IoS' she now wants to focus on her family
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Jane Tomlinson, the mother with terminal cancer who is undertaking an extraordinary 2,000-mile cycle ride, has told The Independent on Sunday the gruelling journey will be her last fundraising challenge.

Jane Tomlinson, the mother with terminal cancer who is undertaking an extraordinary 2,000-mile cycle ride, has told The Independent on Sunday the gruelling journey will be her last fundraising challenge.

Mrs Tomlinson, who is due to complete the trip from Rome to Leeds, her home town, tomorrow, has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity since being told four years ago that she had only six months to live.

She has run three London marathons and completed two triatholons before the latest challenge. But she will be staying closer to home in future.

"This is the largest and the last fundraising event I'll be involved in because I want to concentrate on my family," she said as she entered the final stages of the journey.

"There is relief in saying that. I'm looking forward to some sense of privacy, which I haven't felt for a long time. It will be nice to close the door and feel that I can get back to my life."

Mrs Tomlinson, 40, is due to be reunited with her husband Mike and three children - Suzanne, 18, Rebecca, 16, and Steven, seven - tomorrow.

It is 35 days since she left Rome on a tandem with her brother Luke, and she has been in pain for much of that time. "She is very poorly and she is struggling," said Mike. "She puts on a brave face and a big smile but she is in a lot of pain and feeling awful."

Mrs Tomlinson was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 26. She had a mastectomy and her lymph nodes removed. In 2000 she was told that she had secondary metastatic bone cancer and was given six months to live. Soon after, she was asked to take part in a sponsored 5km run for charity, and even though she'd never been sporty she agreed.

Her physical challenges, which have also included cycling from John O'Groats to Land's End, have helped her raise more than £600,000 for charity, for which she was appointed MBE.

She said that time apart from her family has been the hardest element of each project, and has made her latest venture particularly difficult.

"Being away from them for five weeks felt like quite a sacrifice before the ride and it feels like a huge sacrifice now." But, she said, "we've raised over £145,000 on this ride so far, so it's been worthwhile, and that money will go to help other families in a similar situation to myself.

"All I've carried on doing is trying to keep myself cheerful," she said. "It is essentially my family that keeps me going but you can't live your life through that, you have to look after yourself first so you can look after your family. That's all I do, that's the principal reason behind taking part in the events - so I can keep going and stay positive for my family."

Despite the fact she has outlived her original prognosis by some years, she is adamant that neither her willpower nor her schedule has contributed to her extended lifespan.

"All these activities allow me to do is remain optimistic and have a positive outlook in the middle of quite a dreadful situation," she said. "One of the things when someone tells you you are going to die is it takes away some of the things you might otherwise have aimed towards, like progression in your work, looking forward to things you'll experience in your children's lives. Taking part in these events has given me something to work towards.

"There are things in your life that you can't change, and if you get sad about them it doesn't allow you to live the best life you could. There are times when it's hard to live with this type of illness and you can get miserable. I just try to hold on to the fact that I've got lots of positive things in my life."

She might be retiring from public view, but her life will still be busy. She returns to her job as a radiographer in the children's unit of Leeds General Infirmary on Wednesday (she still works as close to full time as she can manage), plus she has a series of radiotherapy treatments scheduled in an attempt to get her pain under control.

"It's back to reality with quite a bang," she explained. "My illness doesn't go away - it's progressive and I have to get on top of that." For now, after five weeks living out of a suitcase, she's most looking forward to a change of clothes. She says she's had a great time on the road - seen views, had experiences and met people she would never have done otherwise - but she has no truck with any notion that her illness has given her opportunities. "I don't think having a serious illness gives you anything," she said. "I'd much rather give back this experience and have my life."

Donations to Jane Tomlinson Appeal, Yorkshire Building Society, Commercial Street, Rothwell, Leeds LS26 OAW; at www.janesappeal.com; tel 08451 200829 (Mon-Fri)

Mind power or wishful thinking?

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

A positive outlook combined with a fighting spirit has often been said to be the best way of dealing with cancer. Patients are commonly portrayed as engaged in a "battle" which they confront "bravely".

The reality, though, is that however they face the disease, whether with optimism or fatalism, anger or acceptance, the outcome is the same. The widespread belief that thinking positively prolongs survival from cancer is a myth.

Researchers who reviewed 26 studies of the influence of different psychological coping styles on cancer found no evidence that they affected survival or the chance of recurrence. But that did not mean that mental attitude was not important. A positive outlook can make a big difference to the quality of the cancer sufferer's remaining life.

Dr Mark Petticrew, who led the review published in the British Medical Journal, said: "People with a positive mental outlook are more likely to comply with their treatment, suffer less anxiety and depression and have a better life. They just won't live longer."

Cancer specialists were divided yesterday about Jane Tomlinson's achievement. Michael Dixon, a breast cancer surgeon at Western General Infirmary, Edinburgh, paid tribute to her tenacity and self-belief. "Lots of us get into positions of adversity and some cope with it better than others. I am always humbled by my patients' ability to cope."

Although not everyone could run marathons or cycle across Europe, there were other ways of coping, he said. "Everyone can be a hero in a little way. We have loads of patients who should be dead and are not. I am sure it is partly due to their determination."

But a London cancer specialist, who declined to be named, was more sceptical. "I think it's a curious thing to do - leaving your husband and family behind at this time. I think the children probably need their mother more than the cancer community does."

He said there was a widespread belief that a positive attitude was helpful but specialists were reluctant to emphasise it for fear of adding to the burden on patients. "We can't say it because patients who don't feel that way and can't do these things will feel even more of a failure. She has found an amazing way of taking her mind off things with amazing benefits - but with difficult consequences for her husband and family."

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