Later this year, Joni Bousie, a second-year Medical Sciences student, will set off on a charity hike of Ben Nevis in Scotland. At 1,345 metres above sea level, Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK and reaching the summit is a huge effort for most of us. But for Joni, the challenge is more than just a walk up a mountain. It is a personal battle with chronic pain, raising funds for the charity that helped her achieve a diagnosis, as well as the chance to achieve an ambition on behalf of her brother who died two years ago.
Eight years ago, Joni suffered a viral infection which completely transformed her life leaving her unable to complete day-to-day tasks. After a long time searching for a diagnosis, she had two medical devices (called neuromodulators) fitted to treat chronic pain at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) in London.
“In my situation it’s very easy to feel sorry for yourself,” she says, “although when you spend a day in that hospital and see what others are going through it makes you feel eternally grateful.”
Joni’s rehabilitation programme stressed the importance of exercise, with targets starting with just walking to the end of the street then building up to a walk to the local shop and back. “At first I was walking with two crutches, but the second modulator being fitted was game-changing. At that point I started to think about Ben Nevis and climbing that mountain. My brother was an avid walker and always wanted to hike Ben Nevis. My life was never in the balance, but being given quality of life again means I want to make the most of every opportunity, and this hike is in memory of my brother who no longer has that chance.” Two years ago, Joni lost her brother James to glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The National Brain Appeal charity works closely with NHNN, with the charity’s funds enabling the NHNN centre where she was treated to open. The charity also opened the only UK adult brain tumour unit, which provides expert advice to clinicians around the UK looking for guidance on treatment options for rare brain tumours. Her experiences, and the other patients Joni met, means she wants to give something back.
Joni has inspired friends and family members, including a fellow Brookes student, Phil Gill, to take part in the challenge with her. Phil says "Whilst chatting to Joni about her plans for The Ben, I really wanted to get involved and support the endeavour. My experience on the mountains and The Ben will be beneficial for the group and I'm happy to be fundraising again." The others' experience with mountaineering means Joni can concentrate on the task of achieving her goal, which is just getting to the top. Working with a personal trainer as part of her recovery has seen her walk 5km daily with a weighted backpack and involved regular walks at Oxfordshire high points. Getting advice from experienced climbers has also been crucial in her preparation. The changeable weather on Ben Nevis means Joni will need to prepare for all four seasons in one hike and invest in plenty of equipment. Joni jokes about the cost of the kit: “I said recently, imagine the Jimmy Choos I could have had with the expense of all my walking kit!”
“I’m equal parts anxious and excited to get going now and I’m looking forward to how incredible it will feel when I’ve done it,” she says, “Once I’m down from the mountain I might even have to go for a pint to celebrate.”