It all started in the autumn of 2004, when I was only 27 years old and I started getting a really bad pain in my lower back.
I thought nothing of it at first I just thought it was because my job at the time involved a lot of heavy lifting so I started taking Nurofen Plus, The pain went away for about 2 weeks but then came back but this time it was much worse and it wasn’t just in the lower back it was in the upper back too. So I went to my local walk-in centre to see if they could help, I waited for 6 hours before I was seen then they asked me what my symptoms were, they did a chest x-ray and took a sample of my blood, I waited for the results and they told me not to worry and gave me some painkillers.
As I left the centre I thought to myself that this can’t be right so I rang my mum (A retired GP) who was in Australia with my Dad visiting my sister who was living there, She explained that she was coming home the next day and said she would arrange for me to see my personal GP.
We spent the following week seeing two doctors, After seeing the first one we asked for a second opinion which led to being booked to see a specialist in three months time, upon hearing this my mum insisted that I was seen straight away as she had a feeling that I had cancer although she didn’t tell me so as not to scare me, within 48 hour I was in West Middlesex Hospital where I saw a specialist whom my Mum had contacted herself, there I had a chest x-ray and blood samples taken, both results came back very abnormal and the specialist wanted to admit me to hospital the same day, I spent the weekend under observation with codeine as my painkiller…(Not really helping a great deal).
Monday 15th November 2004, I was told I had testicular cancer stage 4, Myself my parents were told that I would die, Sadly for me there was no way I could have known about the cancer earlier as there was no lump to feel in my testicle. The primary growth there was so tiny that even when scans showed it up the doctors themselves still could not feel it, I was also told that I was too ill to freeze any sperm and they mentioned the test would take between 3-4 days and they didn’t think that I would make it that long and recommended that I start the chemotherapy treatment straight away, that day I was transferred to Charing Cross Hospital London and put on a 3 and a half week course of chemotherapy.
The doctors there later said they hoped that I would have a 50/50 chance of survival, I was then put on a new course of chemotherapy this time it was 5 months of seven 3-day courses of chemotherapy intravenously. As well as being admitted to hospital for some of these I also had two emergency admissions for complications (Infections), By the end of these I had been able to stop taking morphine for the pain, but the bad news was that all my hair had gone including my eyebrows and eyelashes….not a pretty sight,…but less hair gel…so every cloud. After that stage my veins had become so inactive a Hickman line had to be
By this stage I had had a Hickman line in for several weeks and I was feeling ill for a lot of the time, I had a lot of nose bleeds and for about two weeks. In April I moved to the Dacie Ward at the Hammersmith Hospital for a 3 and a half week course of high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, this was a important part of my road back to recovery but there was huge risks involved too, so much so that I was in isolation and every visitor had to wear gloves & aprons and had to be checked by a nurse even before seeing me, Before being admitted I was met by one of the main doctors who ran me through the procedure that would having and also letting me know the risks that were involved, the funny thing was, if you could call it that, is that during the meeting her phone rang just at the moment she said “that there was a high risk that I wouldn’t’ make it as the treatment I would be receiving was so strong and intense”, so after she finished with the call she said “right where was I?”, I replied err, you mentioned something about me possibly dying..ha ha ha (yes I did laugh)
Being in the Dacie ward was possibly the worst 3 and a half weeks of my life because I couldn’t eat for the majority of the time due to the insides of my mouth and my tongue being completely covered in ulcers, this was one of the side effects of the intense chemotherapy cycle that I was on, it effected me so much and made me feel SO BAD that I had to be given a drug called Valium for three days because I was feeling so low, depressed and anxious, Not being able to talk properly and eat for this amount of time is unbearable I can tell you that for sure, after the 3 1/2 week cycle I was moved out of isolation and given a few days to recover from the treatment and more importantly I was able to EAT…. YIPPPPEEEEEEE, I can tell you that I first bit of food that entered my mouth tasted like the best thing ever!
In July I was back in Charing Cross Hospital for a major operation to remove all the glands from the back of my abdomen and one testis. this was tough time as being in and out of hospital for this long was getting to me and going back was hard even if it was only for just over 1 week, the day of the operation happened to be on the 7/7/2015, the same day of the London bombings, I was told that the gentleman that did my procedure was helicoptered out from the hospital after my operation and taken to central london to tend to those that were affect by the bombing.
A week or so after the operation I went back to see my Professor in outpatients and he was able to tell me that all the glands showed dead cancer and that he was going to continue just to watch the shadows in my lungs and liver as hopefully they were dead too.
To begin with I had further CT scans and was seen very frequently but it is more than 12 years since my diagnosis so follow-up is every 12 months.
My family, close friends and girlfriend at the time were incredible supportive during my entire treatment, this was invaluable in my mood, my sister even moving back to London to live and work here permanently which is wonderful
MY TIME AFTER CANCER & BEYOND
Since leaving the Dacie ward in 2005 I had a number of weeks for my immune system to build up, my Professor was waiting for a particular surgeon to perform a very specialist operation on me and didn’t want anyone else to do this procedure, So in July 2005 I was back in Charing Cross Hospital for a major operation to remove all the glands from the back of my abdomen and also one testis. I went back to see my professor in outpatients and he was able to tell me that all the glands showed dead cancer and that he was going to continue just to watch the shadows in my lungs and liver as hopefully they were dead too.
Since that time I have continued to have appointments with Professor Seckl and then further with one of his registrars, this was all to follow up on how I was recovering from the operation and to continue with blood testing, X-Rays and ultrasounds, all this would be of course due to the effect the treatment had on my immune system, these appointments were pretty frequent, then they spread to every 3 months then every 6 months then every 12 months.
Before the illness as you know I was working in a members nightclub in London’s West End as an assistant general manager/bar manager, I was sharing the responsibilities with someone else, since being in treatment I learnt that the nightclub had gone into administration, the owners and the general manager had been very generous to me during the time I was off work, I was a very very hard worker and I had been a big help to the company in their previous ventures but they didn’t have to do this for me, it made a big difference to me and my financial situation and for that I am very grateful indeed.
So I was out of hospital and I felt like I wanted to get back to work because being off for that long is pretty boring, In November 2005 I went back to working in the club, pretty much 1 year since my diagnosis and I tried doing a few shifts there a week and it was apparent I was unable to stand and be on my feet for periods of time that were over 20-30 mins, this was due to one of the side effect of the chemotherapy, this was going to be tricky as most of my work was on my feet and not sat at a desk, so I had to do a lot of office work to make up for it, something of which i was not a fan of but i was back to work and in another world from the hospital room.
As time wore on there I was receiving information that the club had gone into full takeover, it was being bought by someone else, I was also told all this would be happening in a very short space of time.
I was gutted, I had a meeting with one of the owners who confirmed it, there was nothing I could do as most of this happened when I was in hospital, so I just had to get on with it while I was there, I then found out that the new owners didn’t want to keep me on, I was unaware why this was but everyone has their reasons, I was a bit pissed but then it’s not great for your sole to dwell on things too long.
So I had to find a new job, I had received some form of redundancy pay which was good, so there I was looking for a job for the first time in since 1995, you see most of the jobs I have had in the past I have been poached for, so there was no need for a interview as they already knew how I worked, I looked to contact a number of people I had worked with before I was sick, but since being off and the clubs insolvency many of my friends had moved away or moved out of the country, So It was time to look in other areas of the hospitality industry, I did a lot of agency work doing private functions just to get some money together for rent and food etc, Then got contacted by a nightclub in London called Heaven, It was a huge club between Charing Cross and Embankment that was massive with the gay community, they were looking for a consultant to help them design and open a brand new private members club with a separate entrance from the main club itself, I was working really hard with designers and suppliers to make this a really amazing venue, something on the same lines and club that used to be big in New York called Studio
54, a place that you would go only if you knew where it was, the entrance would just be a door with a gold sign with the name on the club engraved on it and a buzzer for entry, this was going well and the owners were happy with how things were developing, about 3 month in to the planning I had a meeting with one of the senior managers, they told me that they had underestimated the costing of the build and opening of a brand new venue and decided that they were going to stick with the bar design but have the room as a addition to their existing club, this was another tough blow to the as I had put so much time and effort into this project and I was so excited to be working in the club scene again but it wasn’t meant to be, so I went back to working for agencies again, then in June 2006 I heard about a job opening at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant called “Maze” which was in Mayfair for a position as a bartender, having not worked in Michelin stared restaurants before I was intrigued, I went for the interview at the Gordon Ramsay head office and was successful in getting a trial shift, I got the Job and was there from June 2006 to 2012, A lot happened personally while I was in this job which was really hard to handle as it was a very tough restaurant to work in, you see as it was Michelin stared there was a lot of pressure on you as a member of staff to deliver top class service, so went something happens of a personal nature you have to always be professional, you say few can’t hide behind a computer screen of a telephone, in this industry 99% of your time is customer orientated, so you can’t lose focus at all, you really have to be on the ball 100% of the time, my relationship was struggling by this stage, We had been together since 2002, and were planning to get engaged and spend our lives together, she was truly amazing throughout my entire cancer treatment right from the first A & E appointment, visiting me pretty much everyday, sometimes even staying overnight when it was aloud.
It was a very hard time for her as she was seeing someone that she loved going through so much pain, I guess she needed other people to talked to about this and chat about other things so it didn’t completely take over her life, I became aware that she and someone that she was working with had become very good friends and had been spending a lot of time together, I was fine with this as she needed to confide in other people during my treatment and use it as some kind of release for her, we broke up in 2006 and it was an incredibly tough time for me, the reason for the break up is very personal, but I will say it completely broke me at the time.
When this happened I left and went to live with my sister for a while as she very kindly let me stay with her, It was a rock bottom time, hard to explain when you have been given a new lease of life, things should have been so much better then they were 6 – 12 months ago, but it was tougher as you can’t do anything when year sick but with personally issues you have a hand in how they pan out, so dealing with them is a lot hard then what people realise, So within less then a year of my operation I had lost my job and my 4 1/2 year relationship was over, I was not in a good place at all. So what next, the last thing a cancer survivor would do, I started smoking again, I used to smoke before I was in a relationship, but to go back to it after coming out of cancer was crazy, you might think but I was in a dark place and I needed to get out, I was struggling to keep my head up, I didn’t have a huge group of friends I socialise with as I was working a lot, and some of the ones I did I lost contact with after my cancer, the few friends that I did have were invaluable during this time as I was hitting a new low in my life and couldn’t find the way out, so that support structure was truly golden, after a few months of feeling
low and very depressed I pulled through, How did I do this ?, well I had an epiphany and release that I was feeling low and depressed and I was unsure as to why this should be happening and that I needed to sort myself out and get back on my own two feet.
This was all after I had moved into my own flat but was still struggling with how I was going to cope, one evening as I was smoking a cigarette it suddenly hit me, WHAT THE FU*K AM I DOING ?, I flicked the cigarette out of my finger and said “right, things need to change and they need to change now !!”, so with that in mind I thought about what had happened and how I could make things better, I thought what made me happy when i was younger, My school days were really not that nice as i was bullied a lot, the main thing that kept me going was SPORT and the great outdoors, So that was it ,I had the answer to make my life great again, All I needed now was a plan.
By now it was mid 2008, so sport was the solution to getting back into life and I had thought of getting back into triathlons and duathlons, something I used to complete in when I was younger and I was keen to get back out there, so with that in mind I began to run and cycle a few times a week, not a huge distance to start with just a few miles and then I would slowly built it up, my aim was to enter a duathlon in September 2008 called the Jekyll & Hyde. It comprised of a 10km run followed by a 20km cycle on road, followed by a 5km run, all one after each other with no breaks.
I was feeling pretty good though my training that I had done and was managing to get out of London for a couple of long cycle rides which was nice, I wanted to also give back to the cancer community as a “thank you” so I started a Justgiving page to raise money for Cancer Research UK, as my professor who headed my treatment was funded by them, I contacted a printing company called Blade Printing and they very kindly offered to put the website address for my Justgiving page on my running kit and triathlon suit, so my first race went better than I thought and I was back in the zone.
I like the buzz sport gives you when you are competing and also I like the zen it gives you when you were training and at one with nature, I was enjoying being active again and while I was working at Maze one of the security told me about this chap called Rich Roll because he knew I had been running home after work at 3am and I was keen to change to a better diet, Rich Roll is a ultra endurance athlete and is also a vegan something of which I was interested in, I’m always interested in trying new things and seeing if there is any difference in diets etc, so I started on a completely vegan diet going 100% straight away, another thing Rich Roll planted a seed which was ultra-running, this is running distances which are over the marathon distance of 26.2 mile, sometimes a lot further.
So it was now late 2011 and I had all ready complete in lots and duathlons, triathlons and a couple of half marathons and some cycle sportive, but I wanted to have a go at running a full marathon, earlier in 2011 with the help of my cousin I set up a testicular cancer awareness campaign called bustinyourballs.org with the main focus being on “EARLY DETECTION”, it took a while to build the site as I wanted to do it right and take my time as once it live to the world it doesn’t look great if you change it a lot in the first 6 months of it being live, so it important to get it right the first time and then maybe somewhere down the line you can give it a facelift.
To spread the word of the site during my sporting events I wore the logo on my kit where I thought it will get the most attention, since my first event back in 2008 I have event I have competed in 6 Duathlons, 8 Triathlons, 2 Half Ironman’s, 4 half marathons, 2 Marathons, 5 cycle sportive, 1 x nutty November, and 2 mad may idea (running 10k everyday for the whole month May and November) ultra marathons – 1 x 50 miles, 1 x 55 miler, 2 x 65 miler, 6 x 100 milers, 2 x 145 milers, 1 x 184 miler, 1 x 368 miler.
Many people think that I’m crazy competing in these sort of distances and thinking that it is not good for my body, then I explain the reason I run and compete in these type of events. I’m always looking for way to challenge myself away from the norm and exploring the possibility of human endurance, I love the sense of freedom that running gives you and the fact that it really just takes you the move yourself.
I have some VERY VERY BIG running plans for the future and I’m sure many of them will shock &people, but there is one think I know for sure and that is THAT THE MAGIC ONLY HAPPENS OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE.