In October 2018 I completed my 50thfull Ironman triathlon at the tender age of 65 at the World Championships in Kona Hawaii—my third time there. It was very special as my oldest son Alan had also qualified and we raced if not together at least unusually in the same world championship race! Alan qualified in Thailand late in 2017 and I qualified at Ironman UK this year—not one of my greatest races but I qualified---unfortunately I already had an idea of what lay ahead !!
Rewind the calendar to 1stAugust---I am diagnosed with Advanced Prostate Cancer !!!!
So earlier in the year about May time I noticed that I was peeing more than normal especially at night. I thought maybe a urine infection for which I was tested but negative. One of my best mates from college years who lived in Orkney was diagnosed in January with the same---I went to his funeral in early May ! So with that in mind I requested the doctor take a blood sample as I suspected something more sinister. He did perform a finger test but felt my prostate was ok. The next week I am informed my PSA(Prostate Specific Antigen) is 19—a normal reading is under 1.This is a very good indication that something serious is up so I am referred to a prostate specialist who doesn’t think my prostate feels normal. Fast forward I have a bone scan which is negative but an MRI shows a shadow outside my prostate. I have a biopsy, which proves most uncomfortable as I have a narrow pelvis opening apparently, which then confirms advanced prostate cancer and aggressive---not what you want to hear but I am there with my wife Dot when the specialist confirms the diagnosis. I have to say that if I am going to be ill a better person to look after me you could not find ! Surgery is not an option so I am referred to an Oncologist Specialist Dr Ian Pedley at the Newcastle Freeman hospital(he proves to be a super personable chap).
So I see Dr Pedley who thinks hormone and then radiotherapy is the right way to go. I ask –what if these little b’stards have spread despite a negative bone scan? He sends me to London for a PET scan(only 2 of these is the country and both in London).The results of this confirm hot spots also in my right hip and lymph glands in my abdomen. That’s even more shitty ! Anyway we commence the hormone therapy---first a month of Becalitamide to wipe out my testosterone, an implant into my stomach area which lasts 3 months of Zoladex to stop me producing testosterone, daily Zytiga pills to stop the cancer cells absorbing testosterone and finally Prednisolone a steroid to mitigate any side effects. Testosterone apparently feeds the cancer.
So since really end July training completely screwed up and certainly when you have biopsies down there you don’t even want to look at a bike seat for weeks. I manage to keep a bit of running going after a sensible healing period and swimming. My oncologist is aware of my ‘hobby’ ! –he sees no reason why I should not race in Hawaii. Having said that no testosterone means you are effectively stuck in 6thgear all the time---my aim for Hawaii is to a) get to the start line and b) just finish within the cut off of 17 hrs.
Now we have the other issues! Cannot get travel insurance for this condition neither does my private health insurance cover travel in USA now due to the unpredictable costs. Should I inform Ironman ? Well I decide just to wing it but be careful. We go to Hawaii via Paris and Tokyo as every time we’ve gone via Los Angeles we’ve either lost baggage or missed connections or both ! It’s a bit more hassle with long layovers but proves altogether much more pleasant.
First event In Kona—the Ironman practise swim the weeks before the main event. Dot does it too with virtually no training in 1 hr 35 mins—I take 1 hr 29 mins----but you know you should sight every 10 strokes –well I peed about every 10 strokes ! Our apartment overlooks Ali’I Drive in a perfect location with great views out to the swim course—I sleep on the couch as I’m up every hour to –yes—pee. As for the race my strategy is to just take it easy---I’m out the swim in 1 hr 28mins, no rush, complete the bike in 6 hrs 45 taking it easy but when I get off to run just nothing in the legs at all---it’s going to be a long jog/walk and so it proves at over 6 hrs---I come in at 15 hrs 15 mins and easily the toughest Ironman I’ve had to finish. I tried to push a few times but did not feel too good and backed off reminding myself the object of the day was to finish! About 1 km from the finish line our Alan joined me—he’s finished in 9 hrs 30 mins –wow. Anyway the benefit of finishing down the order is you get a great welcome from the crowd—and I have a personal catcher in thee Simon Ward—coach extraordinaire !! I actually don’t feel too bad afterwards after a horizontal rest ---but too late for a beer as all bars closed !
Next morning I’m fine---up for breakfast overlooking the swim start and a huge Bloody Mary !! After lunch I get a shock as I pee fresh blood twice but then its clear. We go to the awards but after an hour I have to leave as I cannot pee and I am in agony. We get back to the apartment and I pass a blood clot and can pee. The journey home is not very pleasant for obvious reasons. I have been updating my oncologist who has arranged for me to see my prostate surgeon the next day. He decides I need a bladder scan and an investigation by camera up you know where as a result of which I am booked in for a TURP’s operation which basically reams the urethra out and reduces the restriction. I have the operation again not nice and I get complications through blockages in my urethra and bowel afterwards resulting in two emergency re-admissions. As of today—I am still not sleeping much and in discomfort most of the time. I’m finding I’m getting up at 5 am ,having a coffee and going for a 40 min early morning walk---this keeps me ‘regular’ as I cannot really run or bike at present after the TURP’s operation.
Today I start have my first radiotherapy session—the first of 20 very day for 4 weeks Saturdays and Sundays excepted. In theory that should kill the tumour and shrivel up my prostate. The doctor says when we get that out of the way we’ll then investigate the other areas.
What I do not understand is that at 60 we get a ‘Well man check-up’, a bowel cancer test every 2 years and even an aortic aneurysm scan---do they check PSA levels –NO—and it kills more men that breast cancer does women. I even had a full health check 4 years ago and my PSA level according to the doctor was slightly raised at 7.2 –no emphasis at all. Two of my close mates have been tested on my prodding—one was 5.2 and the other 4.5 and both have the cancer and are having their prostates removed in early December.
Aa a final note other mad things I have done in my life—played rugby at a good level until the age of 36(good decision to pack in then before any serious joint issues !). Quite often in Ironman races especially in USA the supporters shout—‘you are looking good’ – to which I reply –‘it took 20 years of playing rugby to look like this and it bloody hurt ,the last time I looked good was when I was born’ !Done lots of fell running/adventure racing eventually culminating on my 4thattempt in a successful Bob Graham Round (42 peaks in the Lakes in 24 hrs—took me 23 hrs 54 mins).A Marathon des Sables 6 years ago in Morocco(7 marathons in 7 days in the desert).Triathlon X in the Lakes---voted toughest ironman distance in the world(last official finisher 19hrs 48 mins in a 20 hr cut off ).My 50 Ironman’s have seen me race from Japan to Australia, from Canada to Brazil and UK to Italy besides many others.I only got into triathlon as we had Foot and Mouth disease amongst the farm animals and going into the hills was forbidden. At the same time my brother in law had founded Ryton Triathlon club in Ryton near Gateshead—thougtht I’d give it a go---swimming crap and not been on a road bike since I had a paper round as a kid---but my running was strong. Funny now my running is crap, swimming pretty good and biking strong!
So as I look ahead what of the future---well I’m determined to train through my radiotherapy probably with lots of gym work to regain some strength, some running and certainly swimming which I started yesterday. I will leave off the biking as I do not want to further irritate an already pummelled prostate and anyway I have two weeks booked at Club la Santa in Lanzarote in February which will get my biking on track again. To be honest I’ve not had a break from triathlon training for 17 years so this episode has made me rest which cannot be bad. Exercise however is good for cancer recovery—as much as you can take—I have no problem with that. As for returning to Ironman races---well there is the unfinished business of Ironman Estonia for which I have a deferral from this year so watch this space !