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Hatti on top of Iceland and vitiligo

It all started over a glass of wine with my best friend and inspiration, my sister Tess. She had just returned from a weeks trek in the Sahara as a 40th birthday challenge. If she could do that where should I go to celebrate my 40th which is in the summer 2007?  It would have to be somewhere a bit cooler, the sun is not a friend these days.

After a few weeks research we came up with the perfect place, Iceland – Ice and Fire- A 6 day trek in the volcanic region of Southern Iceland. Tess, always up for adventure, said she would join me and my long suffering husband Jon said he would take a weeks leave from the RAF to take the kids to Cornwall in our old VW. All I had to do was start training…..

Deciding to raise some money for charity as I went gave the challenge another angle. The Vitiligo Society seemed to be the obvious choice – a 50 50 split with Skye, my friends 4 year old little ray of sunshine who has severe physical disabilities and learning difficulties.

So after nearly a year of preparation we arrived in Iceland. After a night in Reykjavík, and a long coach journey to the South, we laced our boots and set out to walk to our first night stop, a remote shepherds hut. The 5.7 mile walk was via the 1500m Mt. Sveinstindur. This was to prove to be my first real challenge and first ever panic attack. Everyone marched off and after a solid start I soon realized that I couldn’t keep up the enthusiastic pace. How was I ever going to manage 5 solid days if I was struggling on the first afternoon? With Tess’ encouragement and a slower pace I made it to the top. What a view! And my first lesson learnt - I could do it, but at my pace, which wasn’t too far behind everyone else.
Our first night in the hut was cozy, very much back to basics with no electricity, no running water except the river outside and all 15 of us mucking in and preparing meals and washing up in the river by torch and candle light.

Day 2 saw us walking alongside a raging river, through the river….brrrr icy cold glacial water….. and amongst huge landscapes covering a distance of 12.2 miles. The group settled into a rhythm and allowed you to be part of it or alone. It was a great time to think and recalibrate you mind. Our night stop was another remote shepherds hut.

Day 3 was another climb. I duly took my place at the back of the line , paced myself and despite some scary moments when I looked down, I made it to the top with no problems, except that my cheeks ached from the huge grin I had on my face. From the summit we dropped down and walked along the top of a fire gorge covering 12 miles to our next stop. Luxury - this hut had a shower -and a queue of 15 of us!! It was day 3 that made me realise that we can sometime gets so caught up in the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey.

Day 4 was a 12 mile circular walk taking in some amazing waterfalls and our only rain. My feet hurt this day but I had no blisters which was a result.

Day 5 took us to our last night stop which was a large lodge with other trekkers. It was almost a disappointment to have to share with anyone else as our group had bonded so well. We walked another 12 miles through lava flows and mountains and ended the day in a hot thermal spring with a beer.

Day 6 and our last climb before the bus back to the capital. The view was amazing and time on the summit alone gave me a good chance to think about what I had achieved and why I was there. I sat alone for an hour, and when it was time to walk back down I left all the bad things behind me and walked into a future of possibilities. I had shared the journey with my best friend and proved to myself that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.

Having the excuse of fund raising allowed me the opportunity to talk to family, friends and acquaintances about Vitiligo and its impact on my life.

I had heard of the condition but knew very little about it until 2 ½ years ago when during drug induced menopause and HRT I started developing white spots on the insides of my wrists. After a few visits to medical professionals I was given the diagnosis and told to accept it. Easy to say when its not happening to you but post hysterectomy the spread of my patches , which increased on a weekly basis, had such a profound affect on me mentally that I didn’t see how I would ever accept it. I was suddenly feeling so well after my surgery, so why was this happening to me, was I being punished? Jon and the kids were such a support and claimed that they didn’t notice it. That made me angry at times as I saw it every time I looked in a mirror. I went through all the emotions that you talk about in your book. Having lost both my parent to cancer I was aware of all the stages of mourning and I realised that I was mourning the loss of my colour.

Now I don’t see the patches so much, maybe because they are so widespread on my hands and face, but when I do it’s in a more accepting way. I have learnt a lot about myself on my journey in the last year and also a lot about other people. Some I have met are great and have empathy and understanding, some are ignorant. Now though, I have the strength to believe in me for who I am and not for how my skin looks.

The walk in Iceland was amazing and made me realise how lucky I am. I have a wonderful husband and children and a secure family unit. I hope that the money I raised will help the society help others, especially younger people starting out on their journeys in life.

I did my walk as an early 40th challenge. I will definitely be celebrating in May and as they say ‘Life begins at 40’ I will be looking to the future in a positive way.

Thank you too for all your support in the early days of my struggle and allowing me to realise that I was not alone in my feelings.