Claisebrook Cove parkrun, March 23rd, 2017 saw me complete my 106th event, and a time of 22:12. Although still approx 2 mins off my PB, I was still happy with my time and knowing a good cup of coffee and breakfast was about to follow with my closest friends, parkrun had again succeeded in bringing my Saturday morning to life.
Being part of a local running group in Perth, all of whom run parkrun on a Saturday, I have really surrounded myself with like-minded people, enjoying every aspect the running community brings, Health, fitness and most importantly friendship.
Celebrating our 18th wedding anniversary the following weekend with a stay at Crown Towers, was just amazing and something Sherrie (wife) and I had been looking forward to for some time. It was on our departure Sunday morning I knew something didn’t feel right, although it wasn’t something I hadn’t felt before. Having suffered from indigestion/reflux for a number of years, I felt I knew what was going on and by tomorrow morning the pain would have passed and all would be forgotten.
This time it was at the persistence of Sherrie to finally have someone take a look and get some medication to once and for all, sort it out. At this point, although I was keen to just go home and sleep it off, Sherrie diverted the drive home to the hospital, seek advice and get the ball rolling.
I was advised to visit my GP the next day for an endoscopy referral as it sounded like possibly a stomach ulcer and although my head was saying to sweep it under the carpet and get on with my day, I decided to see it through and book a time with the GP (I also wasn’t brave enough to challenge Sherrie again on this matter).
An endoscopy was not carried out, but for some reason, and even my doctor cannot explain this next part, he sent me for an ultrasound. With nothing specific on what he was looking for, but I guessed if it was serious enough, something would show up. Having a busy work schedule coming up, I was all for just getting this over and done with, take the tests and move on, so I headed off for the ultrasound at my local radiologist clinic.
A young sonographer carried out the scan and appeared to still be in training, so I felt like it was taking forever, close to an hour and normally these things are over in 20 mins. In fact, young sonographer was being very thorough and had clearly seen something that needed some investigating by someone more senior on hand including the GP on duty.
Her good work uncovered that I had fluid under my right lung which at this point sparked concern with the GP on duty, who contacted my personal GP, and requested I have an immediate CT scan of the abdomen. Saying I was slightly nervous at this point was an understatement, but what was I to do? What was my choice? Just to hope the CT scan found nothing and life goes on.
At 8am the very next morning, my mobile phone rang and although I did not have the surgery number in my contacts, I knew the first 4 numbers so I turned to Sherrie and said: “It’s never good when they call so soon after a scan, is it?” Having answered the phone with bated breath, it was the call I did not want. I was asked to drop in and meet him at my earliest convenience, but preferably immediately.
Have you ever watched a Hollywood movie and the doctor turns to the patient and says “I’m very sorry to tell you this news, but…” You feel the pain, even on screen. Your heart literally sinks, you break out into a sweat and without notice, a grown man was brought to tears. I recall his words like it was yesterday: “I’m very sorry to say, but your results have come back and your CT shows you have a mass tumour on your chest and one on the left side of your neck”. They had a fair idea from the start I was dealing with a case of Lymphoma (blood-related cancer).
I was referred to Hollywood Private Hospital under the care of haematologist/oncologist Dr Chan Cheah to carry out a biopsy and determine what they are dealing with. There are many subtypes of Lymphoma but being one of the more common cancers in Australia, treatment plans are usually successful if detected early enough.
After the biopsy, the results took 9 days to return – this was the longest 9 days you could ever imagine, however, the outcome was final …….. I am now faced with the biggest battle of my life, as we ( I say we, because I was not on this journey alone ) underwent a treatment plan for one of the rarest types of Lymphoma ( stage 4, Lymphoblastic Lymphoma ) – an aggressive form that requires an aggressive treatment plan, consisting of 8 cycles of chemotherapy, 12 x lumbar punctures and 20 x rounds of radiation, followed by a low dose chemo maintenance programme for the next 2 years.
My family and friends of the running community immediately came to my support and aimed to keep me in a positive space. Suddenly team #4WALLSIE was created and a fundraising campaign for the Leukaemia Foundation was started. I could not believe how this snowballed and support came from everywhere. We raised $15,000 for the Leukaemia Foundation – this was just the start of how people rallied to support. My work friends also held a fundraising evening themed WALLSIES WONDERLAND. A very competitive industry coming together for a common cause to support someone when they are down. ……..these 2 events that lifted my spirits to push on and beat this disease.
First and foremost, Sherrie was my rock and was by side every step of the way, no matter how painful the journey became, she did not waiver her commitment to being by my side, But, what would my kids think? How would they handle what was about to become a journey they didn’t see coming – Liam (22), Brayden (19), Aimee (17) and Imogen (14) were all used to seeing their Dad either suited up for work or in his running gear taking part in regular Perth events, with parkrun just being a Saturday ritual. I had only participated in a half marathon 2 weeks prior to being diagnosed so the surprise to everyone was evident.
With a gruelling 10 months to follow, not only facing the challenge of my body being inundated with chemicals, and the infections that followed felt worse than the cancer itself – multiple Pic line infections, pneumonia, infection of the bowel and retinal bleeding (bleeding behind the eyes, limiting my vision to 50% ). All the things I did to pass my time, such as read, phone, TV were no longer available to me as I couldn’t see them.
Despite this sounding very unpleasant to say the least, there were times in between cycles I was up and about and trying to exercise. Doctors encourage exercise, but emphasize listening to your body and to pull up when you feel it, and you are no longer in a position push through the pain barrier, and to be sensible and always remember “something is better than nothing”.
This is where parkrun helped me so much in my recovery, I loved running and I missed my friends. Every opportunity we would still participate, even if it was walking, I would be there. Sometimes I was unable to even walk the 5km, but being amongst the parkrun family was just what I needed. If not participating in the run, then volunteering it was. Again, a great sense of achievement as you cheer on others.
Going from a PB of 20:54 to jogging the first 200m before walking due to extreme short breathlessness can play with your mind, but there then comes a time to let go of the competitiveness, just do what you can and enjoy every second and every single step of it! After all, what are the options? Staying in bed? Laying on the lounger? NEVER!
I have now completed 128 parkrun events, that means I participated in 22 events during my treatment (not including the ones I needed to turnaround early so did not finish). I truly believe participating in events like parkrun offer a genuinely positive outcome to your lifestyle, health, fitness and friendships. We have met so many amazing people through the running community and I know during my journey this has majorly contributed to my positive outcome of remission – People power!
I still have a long road to follow on this journey and even though my running remains difficult due to the treatment, I will still participate in some way, even if walking or volunteering, it’s FREE and the coffee and breakfast afterwards is the big winner.
Interestingly, the indigestion that sent me to the doctors in the first place actually had NOTHING to do with the final diagnosis. I went to the doctors with one thing and came out with something totally unrelated. I am a big advocate for “early detection” – if something doesn’t feel right, or you can feel something that doesn’t belong, without delay, visit your GP. Early detection can save your life – it saved mine.
Now, I treat life like driving a car, the rear vision mirror will show what you have passed, you can learn from it, but it’s just a memory so you can no longer control that. Look out front where you can control what happens directly in front of you, the NOW, not too far ahead. Life can take a turn unexpectedly so, love life and enjoy every single second………
These two photos show how lucky we are to have access to defibrillators at parkrun. 30 seconds after the first photo was taken Tanya went into cardiac arrest. Out for her regular Saturday morning run at Blackbutt parkrun, Tanya Barlow felt ‘a bit dizzy’ so sat down and that’s all she remembers. Luckily Blackbutt…
Mitch and his father never considered themselves runners, until they discovered parkrun. That lead them all the way to Hamburg to achieve something that neither thought would be possible. Wind back to October 2015 and I would loudly and proudly announce my disgust for organised running. There was nothing worse I could think of…