‘A dream through my darkest days’: breast cancer survivor wins at fitting fixture

  • One of the winners at a British Eventing fixture dedicated to helping beat breast cancer said her victory “could not have been more fitting”, as she herself is a breast cancer survivor.

    Caroline Simpson, who underwent a lumpectomy, mastectomy and chemotherapy 10 years ago, won the BE90 section C at Epworth Horse Trials (2) on 9 June with her own Irish sport horse Rineen Kings Clover (Buddy).

    The fixture was first “turned pink” in 2022 in aid of breast cancer research after Cheryl Gibbons, who runs the event with her husband John, had a breast cancer scare and a friend of hers was diagnosed with the condition.

    “When I realised I’d won, I asked the organisers if I could do a little speech,” Caroline told H&H. “I said that 10 years ago, I was really poorly with breast cancer but I never gave up riding; it was that and competing that was the light at the end of my very dark tunnel.

    “It was saying ‘Don’t let this disease define you, and this is what a breast cancer diagnosis looks like 10 years later, I’m winning my section’. A lot of people came up afterwards and said ‘Thank you for sharing that, it’s a real inspiration’.”

    Caroline was diagnosed in autumn 2013 and started her treatment the next spring.

    “I remember vividly the doctor saying ‘I’m sorry but you’ve got cancer’ and I was absolutely dumbfounded,” she said. “I went into it very positive and thought I just needed to get through the lumpectomy, but that was just the beginning.”

    Caroline also had to have the mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery, and the chemotherapy was a struggle.

    “I had a real needle phobia, and because of that and because I wanted to keep riding, they fitted a Hickman line into my chest,” she said. “But I was very sick; I had a bad reaction and it felt like pitchforks being prodded into me and I ended up at A&E needing morphine. I lost my strength, I lost my hair; at one stage, I lost the will to live! But I didn’t.”

    Caroline kept riding through her treatment, as and when she was strong enough.

    “I couldn’t lift the saddle and needed a really high mounting block, but he was as quiet as a lamb while I was going through the treatment,” she said. “They just know; he got it.”

    After the treatment, Caroline decided to sell her horse as he was “talented but very quirky”.

    “I said I was going to take a break – then two days later, I bought Buddy!” she said. “And I’ve never looked back. He’s the kindest, sweetest, gentlest horse who wants to do everything for you. He’s my best friend.”

    Caroline said she and Buddy hack, hunt and go on beach rides. And although eventing is their first love, she nearly did not enter Epworth at all.

    “I’d entered Belsay but they were forced to abandon as they were under water so I only rang Epworth the week before; it was all a bit fortuitous,” she said. “He went nicely in the dressage and doesn’t normally go clear showjumping but went really well, and he’s a machine cross-country so I knew he’d be inside the time.

    “It was an S-shaped showjumping course and I’d been practising those at home the day before, and he had been a bit sore a few weeks ago but he was fine; it all came together on the day.”

    Caroline said it was particularly gratifying to win at such an event, at which competitors were encouraged to wear pink for breast cancer awareness or blue for prostate cancer.

    “It’s a numbers game; one out of two of us will be affected by cancer. I’ve had it and I’m more likely to get it again but I’m not going to let it stop me living my life,” she said.

    “And even if we can raise a bit of awareness, about not buying your head in the sand if you get a lump anywhere, it’s all for the greater good.

    “I lost my hair, my strength and my dignity, but never lost my drive to spend time with my horse which was one of my greatest therapies. It was the thought, dreams and wishes of days like this that kept going through my darkest days in my battle against cancer. Ten years on, I have beaten cancer and am winning my section – at an event that couldn’t be more fitting.”

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