The Power Of Exercise
At the start of May 2017, I was a sub-elite athlete training to take on one of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons and qualified with a Good for Age Time for an over 60’s man for the 2018 London Marathon.
Everything changed after prostate cancer
By the time 9th May arrived I’d been told I had prostate cancer and within 10 days I found it that it was incurable and I may only have 2 years to live. It still leaves me sat here shaking my head. How on earth did that happen to me? Only 5 weeks earlier I’d run two marathons a week apart as training runs for the ultra so how can this be true?
The first question I asked was, “I guess that means I won’t be running the ultra-marathon then?” and closely followed by, “Will I still be able to run?” The answer to the first question was “Absolutely not!” but the answer to the 2nd question was “Yes, but you’ll be a lot slower due to treatment side effects.”
Cancer had robbed me (or had it?)
It was soon obvious that I was going to be the shadow of my former self as far as running was concerned and my negative mindset back then was very much that “Cancer had not only robbed me but would ultimately, most likely, shorten my life expectancy.”
However, running is a passion. I’d traveled the world as a runner. Now, all of a sudden though I’d gone from just behind the fast runners to just ahead of the slow runners and I found that emotionally a major challenge.
Tackling the London marathon
I decided to go ahead and take up my London marathon place but was advised not to run for more than two hours in training due to the bone damage.
Training runs were pretty grim as I would often get to 2 miles into a 2 hour run only to find that treatment-related fatigue would see me having to stop and walk back to base, often in floods of tears because “Cancer had robbed me.”
I got to the start line though in April 2018, the hottest London marathon on record, and I finished!
I still couldn’t shake off the thought process that kept telling me that “Cancer had robbed me” though and even in early 2020, nearly 3 years post-diagnosis I was still struggling and blaming everything on the cancer. Then the 2020 health crisis came along, running club stopped, races stopped and the only runs were lonely ones and I really wasn’t in a great place.
Keep on running (I still love a challenge!)
At the end of April, my amazing wife challenged me to think about setting myself a target to try to get into a more positive mindset and between us, we decided that I should try to run at least 5 kilometers every day in May.
I survived that and we rolled into June and I decided that I’d keep the streak going but I knew I’d struggle with maintaining 5k every day so I alternated longer runs with short 1.5 mile plods around the block. Then July came along and I kept going.
Then, amazingly 100 straight days arrived on 8th August 2020 and I’d run over 330 miles in 100 days whilst living with treatment for stage 4.
And guess what?
I feel stronger, I’m more confident, I’ve lost weight, I’ve got a (little) bit faster and more importantly I’ve stopped blaming cancer for its impact on my running and I’ve just got on with it, I'm mentally in a much better place.
Yes, I'm still slower but I've got nothing to prove any more apart from the fact that whilst you still can you certainly should. I’m convinced that if I can stay as fit and active as possible that it will extend my prognosis and that's a better place to be.
My vital message
The message for readers is that exercise is so vital for the physical and mental wellbeing of those living with and beyond cancer. It doesn't need to be running though. Anything that gets your heart rate elevated is good and we should all be doing at least 30 minutes of strenuous exercise every week and at least two sessions of strength work to help maintain muscle mass.
Keep on keeping on (KOKO) folks!
Do you feel heard and understood by your doctor?