I was a latecomer to running at the age of 45 and I only started because the Company I worked for sent me for a medical the outcome of which was that I was borderline clinically obese and my blood pressure was so high that I’d be on drugs for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something about it naturally.
The giveaway re my weight should have been my children calling me Mr Blobby (younger readers Google it)!
I decided that running was the way forward; it also turned out to be why my cancer was diagnosed when it was.
I was a founder member of Styal Running Club in 2006 and was co-erced into running my first Marathon at age 50 in 2007 in Amsterdam. Afterwards I said “never again”. I said that another 18 times!
It turned out that I was a pretty decent endurance runner and I went on to run 19 marathons before my diagnosis including all 6 of the World Marathon Majors which I ran in an average time of 3:27 in my mid 50’s.
I’d heard about this amazing ultra-marathon called Comrades and that went onto my bucket list in my early 50’s. It’s a 56 mile ultra in South Africa with 6500 feet of climbing from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and it’s a truly iconic race. I had my first attempt in 2015 but didn’t finish due to injury so I went back again in 2016 and completed it in 9 hours 46 minutes. Not too shabby for a 59 year old!
Comrades has a special medal for completing it in back to back years and so another attempt was booked in for 2017 and that’s when I “Ran Into Cancer”
I’d had a niggling groin strain from February 2017 but still managed to run the Paris and Manchester marathons a week apart in April in sub 3:50 but then the groin was unbearable so I booked in to see a sports injuries Doctor on 8th May thinking that a cortisone injection would sort it out. We’d pre-arranged an MRI scan and it was obvious that the Doctor saw something untoward. He sent me for a chest x-ray and blood tests there and then and told me he’d booked me in for a CT scan the following day. Well, you don’t need those for a groin strain and a deep sense of foreboding overtook my Wife and I.
On 9th May I was leaving my running club at 8pm when my mobile rang but I didn’t recognise the number so I didn’t accept the call but, when it rang again, I decided I’d better accept the call and it was the Doctor calling to tell me that he was 99% certain that I had prostate cancer but I needed further tests to confirm this. I drove home in floods of tears to tell my Wife and told her she needed to find another man to look after her because I was going to be incapable of doing so. In hindsight, I’m surprised she didn’t kill me there and then. Instead, she held me tight and told me that we’d get through whatever lay ahead together, as a team and she’s been my absolute rock.
10 days of scans and biopsies followed and then the urologist told us that it was confirmed but, even worse, it was incurable and I may only have two years to live.
We were utterly devastated. I was 60 years old and may not get to see my 3 year old Grandson become a 5 year old let alone a teenager and I may never get to walk my Daughter down the aisle.
A treatment pathway was agreed and we felt a little better when that got underway but you can never escape the dark days/nights when the black dog of despair takes over and all you can think about is death.
I was warned that the treatment would emasculate me as a man and as an athlete. The treatment you see, removes male hormone so I effectively became a menopausal woman and a lot more sympathetic to the ladies!
Fatigue, hot sweats/flushes, reduced muscle mass and bone density, weight gain (thanks steroids!), erectile dysfunction and loss of libido were now my life.
I went from being one of the faster runners at my club to struggling at the back of the pack but, eh I’m still running for now.
If I weren’t a runner I’d have found out even later but the cancer was already in my pelvis, hips, ribs, spine, neck and skull and they think I’d had it 10 years and I’d had no symptoms until the “groin strain”
Just imagine how angry I felt when I found out that I’d had a right to a PSA blood test from age 50 but didn’t know anything about it. If I’d known, I could have been diagnosed much earlier and cured. This simple blood test is the only way to get the diagnostic process started apart from developing symptoms but most men don’t have symptoms, like me, until it’s too late! So I now spend lots of my life raising awareness to help save men from having to go what I’m going through. I am also a fundraiser for Prostate Cancer UK as I want to see a robust screening test developed as well as new drugs that might extend my life. My Son is at 2.5 time’s greater risk due to my diagnosis and I’d like him tested when he gets to 40 in 3 years’ time.
Yes, I still run! I’ve decided that exercise is a vital part of taking control of my cancer rather than letting the cancer take control of me. This month I’m attempting to complete the MacMillan Lake District Mighty Hike, a marathon hike around Ullswater and, a week later, I’m attempting to complete Race To The Castle, a 100km ultra-marathon over 2 days (I’m no longer strong enough due to my treatment to do it in one, or as a run, so I’ll be taking the full two days and mainly walking but it’s still a long way). These events are my 2021 fundraising challenge and I’ve already raised over £7,000 taking my fundraising since diagnosis to over £40,000!
I’d urge everyone living with and beyond cancer to see exercise as a vital part of their treatment regime and to do as much as you can. We can’t all run marathons or climb mountains but there is something that everyone can do as far as exercise is concerned even if its chair based. As I say quite often, we have to keep on keeping on.
I’m delighted to say that I will get to walk my Daughter down the aisle on 30th August and I’m reasonably confident that I’ll see my eldest Grandson get to ten years old and who knows how much more of his life I’ll share but I’m doing my best to stay around!