Cycling instrumental in Mary’s recovery following treatment for cervical cancer

woman with bike on cycle path standing in front of signpost
Mary out with her bike close to home in Edinburgh
Since her recovery, Cycling UK member Mary has ridden 1,000 miles, raised money for charity and helped two cycling groups keep riding safely through the coronavirus crisis, but she’s not stopping there 

Mary Payne, 62, is a retired GP from Edinburgh, whose cycling has raised thousands of pounds for an Edinburgh hospice and other charities – despite only starting to ride seven years ago.

“I never had a bike as a child and never thought I would end up being a cyclist,” she says.

That all changed when a shoulder operation meant that Mary, who used to sail, turned to cycling instead, starting out on short rides with a local informal group. It wasn’t long before adventures beckoned and she was taking her bike on trips to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, including a memorable day of cycling with her cousin on South Uist in 2016 which was more endurance than enjoyment:

“There was such a headwind that my cousin said it was the worst day of cycling in his life, which he still maintains!”

Despite that, it was on this trip that Mary decided she was ready for a real challenge. As a volunteer at St Columba’s, a hospice near her home in Edinburgh, their annual charity cycle to Iona seemed like a good choice. After some training, Mary completed the 200-mile, four-day trip in both May 2017 and 2018, raising more than £8,000 for the hospice in the process. She wasn’t finished, though.

“The trip was great fun, but I got much more out of it than just exercise – I enjoyed the social element of riding with others. So I set up a group of hospice charity riders and those training for the challenge and called it ‘Team Amazing’ as that’s what people kept telling us we were.”

Mary was planning to do the charity ride to Iona again in 2020, but she was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the start of the year.

The next five months were spent in a programme of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, with Mary shielding at home during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. As well as affecting her energy levels, the treatment caused pelvic fractures and radiation burns which left her unable to walk well for a period.

After receiving the news that she was cancer free at the end of May, Mary discovered that sitting on her bike relieved the pressure on the affected parts of her body. This encouraged her to consider cycling as the way to regain her fitness and allow her the social contact she had missed out on.

“I was keen to get back on the bike as a safe way of exercising under the coronavirus restrictions, as well as socialising safely with my group – especially with cafés closed and no household mixing was allowed indoors.”

Finding a lack of available information for women on returning to cycling following treatment involving the pelvic area, Mary was able to turn to her oncologist who happened to be a cyclist, too.

Cycling was a huge part of my recovery… I never got down or stressed about what was ahead

Mary Payne, Cycling UK member

“She encouraged me to build up gradually. So I did one mile on the first day, two or three on the second day and had a salt bath before and after to prevent further skin damage. It was nerve-wracking at first, wondering about damage to my skin and with legs like jelly from not walking, but cycling was never a problem.”

After being in the house for months, Mary felt a great sense of exhilaration at being able to cycle around Edinburgh again.

“It felt great to see other things, go places, see Edinburgh, the hills and the sea which I live only half a mile from but hadn’t seen for months. And to see people again of course… the only contact I’d had while shielding was when friends visited my garden.”

By August, Mary had built up enough fitness to go on a trip with friends to Dumfries and Galloway. In September, she managed a tough 38-mile ride in the Highlands, which gave her confidence to undertake a 47-mile ride for the charity Poppy Scotland the following month.

“I managed it and felt a real sense of achievement. That was also the day I completed 1,000 miles since finishing treatment!”

After this achievement, she decided to re-start her fundraising efforts.

“Cycling was a huge part of my recovery and the main way I got physically fit again. A spin off has been the mental health benefits. I never got down or stressed about what was ahead with treatment and just took a pragmatic approach and hoped to survive. Having the trips planned also gave me something to look forward to.”

Keen that the coronavirus crisis would not prevent Team Amazing and another group she was involved in from cycling together, Mary’s next mission was to& make sure that they became organised groups by affiliating with Cycling UK. She completed the coronavirus officer training and now Mary’s Team is up and running.

Reflecting on such an eventful year, Mary said: “It would have been easy to look back and feel negative about the treatment and ghastly things that happened, so cycling’s been good in lots of ways.”

Looking ahead, it’s no surprise that Mary has many rides planned for 2021. Top of the list is a return to Iona and the Celtic Challenge – but she isn’t stopping there. A 200-mile charity ride in Normandy and a trip along the Danube taking in Austria, Slovakia and Czechia are just a few of the trips she has lined up.