Cancer survivor Gill Charlton from Chorley to compete in Invictus Games

When Gillian Charlton, 42, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018 while she was still serving as a soldier at Fulwood Barracks it was a complete shock. She never had any health issues and was at her peak fitness when the diagnosis came.

By Emma Downey
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 3:45 pm

Fast forward three years, where she will be using all the strength she acquired from beating the disease into competing in the Invictus Games next month.

Deriving its name from the Latin word Invictus meaning undefeated or unconquerable, the games, now in its fifth year, is an international sporting event for wounded, injured or sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans.

Describing the moment her life changed, the Farthings resident said “I had just been selected for promotion, then life stopped.

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Photo Neil Cross; Gill Charlton with Harry at the Invictus Games

"Following my treatment I expected to get back to ‘normal’ immediately."

However, almost a year later, Gillian realised that achieving that ’normal’ wasn’t quite as straight forward as she had expected, with cancer claiming a large chunk of her identity.

Felling extremely fragile, Gillian had stopped all training and was consistently returning to the doctors harbouring fears that her cancer had returned.

She also found that she had to adapt to the hormone therapy tablets Tamoxifen she is required to take for 10 years post treatment, side effects of which include fatigue and bone pain.Learning of the Invictus Games and the concept of sports recovery, she decided that this was her chance to try and change those negative thought processes.

Photo Neil Cross; Gill Charlton training in her garage for the Invictus Games

“I had been plagued with dark thoughts, convincing myself that the cancer will return and I will have to leave my children.

"Becoming involved in Invictus demonstrated to me that I don’t need to go back to that ‘normal’ but that I can rewrite my script.

"I nearly cancelled. I nearly gave up on my recovery. I cannot explain how thankful I am that I didn’t."

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Photo Neil Cross; Gill Charlton with Linford Christie

“It was incredible. Knowing that I had overcome a 40-year mental block was hugely empowering. My goal is to fully overcome that fear and dive into a pool and swim a decent length, at the Invictus Games.”

Gillian has found training over the past two years difficult. During lockdown she trained in her garden and bought a house and moved her family – her husband Mark and their children Ned and Gene from one side of the country to another to undertake a new military assignment.

"We were announced as a team in 2019 before Covid hit and put a halt to it. Now I am back training again.

"It has been difficult to get back to training and my fitness level.

Photo Neil Cross; Gill Charlton training in her garage for the Invictus Games

"For me it's about raising awareness of breast cancer."

Gill is currently training at All Seasons Leisure Centre in Chorley who have supported her with a membership.

"I'm really excited to be competing. I have been training for three years in - two of which were in her garage during Covid.

The Invictus Games will take place on Saturday, April 16 until Friday, April 22, in the Hague in The Netherlands.