A few years ago I was fortunate to be asked by the University of Surrey to give a talk on World Cancer day about my relationship with cancer and how I have used exercise to help me in my ongoing dealings with it. (I’ve included the talk below)
Since this talk I’ve had cancer for the fourth time and I am more convinced now than I was then that without a healthy body the treatment would have been so much harder to deal with both physically and mentally.
For me exercise and cancer has become a simple equation, there is science and theory on both sides of the discussion however I believe in probability and sure things and any time there is a win-win opportunity on the table I’m going to take it:
- There’s a one in three chance of getting a cancer in your lifetime.
- If you are healthy (including weight and other lifestyle factors) you are statistically less likely to get certain cancers.
- If you are healthy and you get cancer you are better able, physically and mentally, to deal with that cancer and the side affects of treatment.
- If you are healthy and don’t get cancer then you have also reduced your risk of other illnesses, improved the quality of your life and you’ll probably live healthier for longer.
I’m passionate about and in equal parts frustrated by this, I’ve had cancer 4 fucking times and I can see this as clear as the scars on my body, why do people need their own road to Damascus moment? It’s a win-win people – get up, move a little bit more, eat a little less shit, drink one or two drinks fewer. If you are a little bit more mindful about your health you get a win-win.
I believe our reluctance to this is because generally we and I include myself in this prefer the easy route; we prefer to be given something like a prescription rather than sacrifice or give something up like a takeaway.
Being healthier wouldn’t have stopped me getting cancer but it sure as shit has made getting better afterwards easier and made me better able to deal with it again. I’m also the lightest I’ve been in a decade, my cholesterol and blood pressure is better than it ever has been and my visceral body fat is reducing. In fact on the whole I feel pretty damn good.
Speech for World Cancer day 2014
Thank you very much and I do hope that this evening you can take away a positive message about Cancer there are opportunities for optimism and I hope that tonight you leave here with a slightly different perspective on this insidious disease.
My story starts in 2004; I was working as a personal trainer and a swimming instructor and I was also teaching Inline skating. I was 29 years old, exercising twice a day 6 days a week. I weighed 94kg had a body fat of 10% and was in great shape, my parents would have said I was too muscular but I felt great.
Then one day, being conscientious I was self examining in the shower and I found a lump in my testicle about the size of an M&M – I apologise now if that was anyone’s favourite sweet. So being the health conscious person I am I went to A&E and was diagnosed with a cyst so I left it relieved and calm again. 6 weeks later and my M&M was the size of a squash ball, I went to my GP who suspected a tumour immediately and sent me for a scan and an appointment with a surgeon.
I was diagnosed with Testicular cancer that had spread to my lymph and lung with 30 tumours across my body and only an 85% chance of surviving the next 5 years. The fact is that had I been diagnosed correctly at the first time of asking there is a very real chance that the tumour would not have metastasized into as many places and my treatment and prognosis would have been so much easier, which is why as well as exercise we are also encouraging you all to follow the guidelines of self examination and awareness of symptoms.
After surgery (a right Orchidectomy) to remove the testicle, (the picture you are looking at now isn’t actually that scar but we felt that none of you really needed to see where they removed my testicle, this picture is the result of Para aortic lymph node dissection that I had in 2007) I had 4 times 3 weeks of Chemotherapy of a BEP Bleomycin, Eptopicide and Cysplatin regimen which entailed 5 days in hospital on an IV drip for 20 hours a day then an intra muscular injection on day 9 and day 16 then back in on day 22 to start again so it was quite arduous however after 12 weeks I was in remission.
I was very fortunate due to my fitness and a number of other factors my body fortunately dealt with Chemotherapy a lot better than it could have done. Yes I was tired beyond reason, it’s actually hard to explain the tiredness but for me it was as though every cell was tired. I had no concentration, my brain turned to putty it felt like, no energy or appetite but only two bouts of vomiting. All my hair went and my skin scarred but it could have and would have been a lot worse had it not been for my physical condition.
I also lost 12 kg of weight in those 12 weeks so I came out at 82kg which is very thin for me so I can say the C diet is a very real thing but I would really not recommend, it there are easier ways to lose weight.
After a year / 18 months of what could best be described as ahem enjoying my new lease of life I realised that my body needed to be treated better than I was doing and so I returned to the gym properly, started exercising and eating clean again, not as obsessively as before but certainly with the intention of being fit and healthy.
This was a fortunate choice as 3 years later in 2007 I relapsed with a Rhabdomya Sarcoma tumor in my chest that by the time of removing it had grown to the size of a cricket ball, which was removed through another surgery. This surgery was a LHS full lateral thoracotomy and again because of my strength and fitness I was released from hospital in 3 days after this and was swimming as soon as the wound healed and in the gym shortly after.
In, what is clear to me now, a massive show of denial and proving that I would not be beaten by my cancer I then embarked upon a series of adventures and challenges that would push my body further and harder requiring greater and greater levels of fitness again a fortunate choice to be fitter than I ever have been
As in 2013 I relapsed again this third cancer was a germ cell tumor in my lymph nodes behind my stomach. Another surgery, this time a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection and the removal of that lymph node and 45 others I was cancer free again. This was an 8 hour surgery that has taken me a bit longer to recover from and I still am but since May last year to the start of this year I walked 413km, Jogged 72km, swam 23km and hit over 1700 golf balls.
Why the exercise and the commitment? Why did I have surgery on the Monday and was outside walking just 400m bent over and stooped in pain because Cancer is like an unwanted tenant in the house that is my body and I’ve thrown it out three times but it has a key and could move in again. All I can do is do my best mentally to stay positive and protect my body with healthy living, exercise, the right diet and hope that I’ll be able to throw it out again.
As I mentioned after my second Cancer I became involved in fundraising and challenges to show that Cancer doesn’t have to limit what the body can do. TO date I have organised trips that have raised just under £40,000 and have tested me physically and mentally.
In 2009 I organised and took part in a 4-person trip to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa and one of the seven summits, raising a little over £25k for UCARE. At a little under 20,000ft I stood there breathless but satisfied that despite the nausea and soreness and aches the mountain and Cancer had caused I could still push myself to conquer mountains both literal and metaphorical.
And then in 2010 I took part in a three person cycle ride from John O Groats to Lands End. Just under 1000 miles in 9 days through the most beautiful, hilly and wet British countryside was a beautiful and memorable challenge raising just over £7K for UCARE again.
In 2012 I wanted to raise the stakes, all my previous challenges had been team based where there was support with you every day but now I wanted to test myself on my own so the France Ironman seemed like the ideal opportunity.
The fact that I could do it whilst raising £2k for the Livestrong Foundation was even better. The Ironman a 2.4 mile sea swim, a 112 mile bike ride and then a marathon, back to back was my greatest achievement to date in the field of challenges and left me as you can see rather wide eyed and drained after 15hours of non stop exercise.
Interestingly as it turns out I did have Cancer in 2012 but my body had kept it at bay, which I think is another vote for rest is not best.
So what now?
Since the last time I now find myself needing to accept the fact that I have had Cancer three times and pragmatically there is a chance that it will happen again but to not live in a state of fear about it as I said I am doing all I can to prevent it from happening through exercise and diet and positivity.
Secondly is to feed my body what it wants to be happy and healthy so there’s the Surrey Half Marathon in March and a half ironman in Norway in July and then in partnership with the Sports Park there are a series of smaller challenges happening every month from March until the New Year to show you don’t have to be in a gym to stay fit and to exercise and myself and the team will be challenging our members and the readers of the Surrey Advertiser to complete our cumulative distances but in a whole month.
Learning to live again was what motivated me. Being fit and strong is what has allowed me to live like this