A mountain still to climb


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Debbie Mitchell could barely walk two years ago when she first met Cancer Society supportive care nurse Angelique Ensor. She’s gone from walking frame to 5km walk, thanks to the inspiration and motivation she gets from the people she meets at a weekly Cancer Society walk. 

Twitches up and down Debbie’s right leg were the first sign something wasn’t right.

“I thought it was sciatica. It wasn’t. The cancer was in my hip and in my lower spine and the tumour was all around my bowel and bladder nerves.”

Debbie has stage-four breast cancer. She’s not taking a second of the time she has for granted. Friends would say she’s the “crazy one”, she says; a practical joker. But things have changed.

“I take life a lot more seriously. I still have a lot of fun; I think you’ve got to. But I had to slow down.”

Joining a weekly walking group run by the Cancer Society provided a way for Debbie to get active again after surgery.

“My counsellor had suggested it quite a few times because I enjoy walking. But there was one problem — I was on a walker. Eventually I plucked up the courage to go along.”

Walking for wellness

The Walk for Wellness group meets every Monday morning at Pilot Bay in Mount Maunganui. Cancer Society nurse Angelique Ensor provides support. It’s a chance to increase fitness — and to enjoy a cuppa and chat at a café afterwards.

Debbie’s since ditched the walker, something the staff at the cafe were quick to notice. 

“The girls there are really nice to us and they’ve seen the progress that I’ve made. The first time I went in without my walker, I got big cheers and claps.”

An early morning walk part way up Mount Maunganui has been a highlight for the group.

“We walked up with torches, and we sat there and had orange juice and watched the sunrise. My goal is to get to the top.

“Talking to the people there, they’ve all been through it basically. They’ve all started off not being able to walk around the mountain, and just got further and further. And I know one day I’ll do it. It may take me a bit longer, but I’ll get to the top.”

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Going the distance

Completing a five kilometre walk as part of the Tauranga Half Marathon proves how far Debbie has come.

“It was a really hot day. I was supported by five different people along the way. There was a big hill in it — it was huge! It never looked big when I went up and down it in a car. If someone had offered me an oxygen tank, I would have taken it. It was just so hard.

“When I got almost to the top, there was a person standing there with a big smile on her face. That was Angelique, and she finished with me. I was really amazed that she did that for me. I never expected it.”

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