‘I’d felt unwell for a year, feeling tired and with a persistent cough. Despite hospital checks, scans and tests, I was convinced it was just a virus and would eventually clear up.
The news in January 2008 that I had Hodgkin lymphoma, stage 3B, was a shock. In just a few moments, I went from being a happy 46-year-old, to not knowing what the future held for me. I had no idea what to tell my wife, Maria.
Up until that point, I kept asking questions about my health. Now I stopped and just listened. I started to feel like something stronger than me had taken hold.
I was put on a six-month course of ABVD chemotherapy, given fortnightly. I found this fairly easy to cope with and was fortunate to have very few side effects. But after a couple of months I began to feel unwell again and feared the treatment wasn’t working. I was very short of breath and couldn’t climb the stairs at home without stopping every couple of steps for a rest. It was decided that the bleomycin in the treatment was probably the cause, so it was removed. I got my breath back and finished treatment in August 2008. I was told that I had responded well to treatment and felt that the worst could be behind me.
I had follow-up checks every three months, then six months, then annually. The advice at the sessions slowly changed from checks to make sure I was clear of the original problems, to longer-term health advice. This included staying fit and eating healthily. There was also mention of longer-term effects of chemotherapy on the heart. I knew from regular checks that I had slightly high blood pressure, and eventually I was put on blood pressure tablets. Although I felt fine, I wanted to take a longer-term view of my health.
My wife Maria and I wanted to take more control, and although we had enjoyed hiking and gardening as exercise, we both felt there was more we could do. At the same time, I became a Lymphoma Action buddy, as I felt I was doing well and hoped I could encourage others going through treatment.
From reading, I knew that raising my heart rate was good, so a couple of years after finishing treatment, I decided to do some gently running. I wasn’t going far, maybe a mile or so, but to my surprise I enjoyed it - I’d hated it at school! Friends mentioned an organised event called Park Run, which is a regular Saturday run of around 3 miles. My first Park Run time was 32 minutes and I was in 102nd place. Mo Farah wasn’t going to be too worried, but I was pleased.
As the evenings lengthened and the weather got worse, I found the running less appealing, but I didn’t want to give up exercise. Maria and I decided to join the gym at our local leisure centre. I told them about my lymphoma and the treatment I had had, and the instructor put together a program. I started in a very gentle way, gradually building up.
I had been a regular gym user in my twenties (now 30+ years ago) and could remember what I could do back then. To my surprise, I found that with a bit of effort, I could still do many of the same exercises. I did have to be careful around some weak areas (I’d had a hernia operation), so was always careful not to overstress that.
We had a holiday in Utah and Nevada to look forward to, and this exercise made us both feel and look better. Maria and I started to look more closely at our diet, and began to eat more healthily. We ate fewer cakes and desserts and better main courses. We both noticed improvements and enjoyed what we were achieving together. We still socialised as much as we wanted to, but tended to limit some of the excesses when we were out with friends.
I feel as though my cancer days are long behind me, but I am still very mindful that all of the original advice is important and would seek help if I was worried about anything. But the healthy lifestyle has given me a more positive mindset and improved me physically.
No-one knows what is waiting for them in terms of health, but I feel that keeping fit will have good benefits all round. I feel great and perhaps most surprisingly, being ill has been a catalyst to a healthier lifestyle for me.’