The start of my journey into triathlons started on the 24th January 2009 the day I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. First bit of advice if you having an endoscopy always go for sedation, however being aware meant I knew that something had been found, and I had no doubt what it was when the endoscopist asked for the biopsy kit. Having been symptomatic for a number of months, seen by my GP who made a diagnosis of helicobacter for my symptoms, something I had never been convinced about, I knew this was not good. Not being sedated meant that I could ask that question, but I will always remember the photograph taken via the endoscope which I knew to be an oesophageal cancer, so the question was somewhat mute. I was told that it wasn't good. Not good meant adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus, T3N2M0. Treatment was oesophagectomy and chemotherapy epirubicin, cisplatinin and capecitabine (ECX).
Earlier this year I was training for Ironman Australia when unremitting back pain and an array of other symptoms made me visit a Dr. I was diagnosed with diffuse large B cell lymphoma with a large mesenteric mass 41cm x 15cm x 8cm. I have been very active for as long as I can remember and did my first triathlon in 1995 and first marathon at 18 years of age.
Jo was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer in summer 2014, aged 39. She has since undergone a hysterectomy, had chemotherapy, and been on an angiogenesis inhibitor drug. Following a recurrence in summer 2017, Jo had further chemotherapy and is now on a PARP inhibitor with the aim of managing her cancer.
Exercise was an important part of life before my diagnosis - I was committed to my regular fix of exercise, be it running, cycling, swimming or a gym session. It was a welcome escape from the whirlwind of daily life, juggling work commitments and a young family.
In March 2017, at the age of 30, I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer. I had major surgery in April 2017 to remove four tumours and my colon, leaving me with a permanent ileostomy. I remained in hospital for three weeks, where I was nil by mount for ten days post-op with ileus bowel (my digestive system 'shut down').
Let’s take the last bit of the title first. It’s no fun being diagnosed with a lifelong or life-threatening condition at any age, but being diagnosed with an old man’s disease at 50 is right up there. The average age of a prostate cancer diagnosis is 72, so there were men in that waiting room older than my father.
Much of the advice given for men with prostate cancer is therefore aimed at men a generation older than me. While I’ll admit that most men pretend they are still capable of the things they did in their twenties, I was asking questions that people hadn’t heard before.
At 26, my right leg was amputated above the knee. I had bone cancer and chemotherapy hadn’t worked; the tumour had grown and taken over not just my knee, but surrounding tissue and blood vessels too. Drastic surgery was needed to try and save my life. And that – I thought at the time – was the end of my sporting life. There would be no more dance classes, no more horse riding, no more hiking.
And for the next seven years, I didn’t do any exercise. I was too busy trying to get back to normality – walking with a prosthetic limb, and working, and starting a family. But sport – which had once played an important part in my life – was missing, and I felt its absence keenly. I craved the adrenaline rush of a cross-country gallop or the salsa beat of a nightclub, but told myself those sensations were gone forever.