35-year-old Chris Proby from Tymon parkrun has beaten cancer twice in the past two years. In this highly personal blog, Chris reveals how parkrun is helping him to combat isolation and take his first steps on the road to recovery.
On 24 August 2015 I left work to get an MRI scan. I’d been kicked by a football a few days earlier and was expecting to be told my bone was chipped.
The diagnosis was far more serious though – so much so that I never went back to work.
My GP informed me that a large tumour had formed in my leg, exactly where I’d been kicked. The cancer was so aggressive that it had already spread to both of my legs, liver, arm pits and, most worryingly, above my neck to my cheeks and my sinus. It was too close to the brain for anyone’s liking. Long story short, if the ball hadn’t hit me when it did, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.
The guy who accidentally hit me with the football didn’t injure me – he saved my life.
Fighting cancer is incredibly draining – emotionally and physically – but what I hadn’t expected was how hard it would be after I was discharged. You see, when I was in hospital undergoing treatment I had numerous doctors, nurses and specialists caring for me. Whether I was receiving chemotherapy or radiation or any type of treatment I was being monitored closely. Even though I was so ill, as long as I was in hospital receiving treatment I felt like it was either killing the cancer cells completely, or at least keeping them at bay. I felt protected, I felt safe, I felt like I was in this bubble of care, out of harm’s way.
I didn’t actually realise what was about to hit me. I didn’t realise just how difficult it would be on a mental level being home. Very soon after returning home I found out how scary it felt being out of hospital. The treatment had finished, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the cancer would start attacking me again now that my treatment had finished. That bubble of care I was protected in was gone, I didn’t feel safe anymore, I felt vulnerable and it wasn’t easy to cope with. Even though I absolutely hated the thoughts of being back in hospital, I felt safe there.
I didn’t have doctors or nurses fussing over me, checking up on me and I wasn’t receiving treatment, I felt open to being attacked again and it was tough. I had no immune system after all the treatment, so I couldn’t really go anywhere or do anything for fear of picking up something that would put me back in hospital. I wasn’t allowed to go to the cinema, or on public transport, or anywhere busy or with a lot of people, nor was I physically able to either as I was shattered from the treatment. I was effectively housebound.
So although being isolated in hospital for such a long time was finally over, I quite quickly discovered that the issues of isolation weren’t over.
It seemed to go very quiet when I got home. People who had been in touch with me while in hospital understandably backed off to give me a break at home to recover and have time with my family. What I came to realise though was that I was so scared when I was discharged from hospital, I actually felt like I needed more support than when I was in hospital due to that feeling of vulnerability.
I can’t quite describe the immense feeling of “relapse fear” subsequent to being discharged from hospital. All the questions you don’t want to think about start floating around in your mind. Will the cancer return? How long will I make it before it returns? Will I make it to my birthday next year? Will this be my last Christmas with my family? If it comes back will I be able to beat it a third time? How would my family cope, my relatives, my friends? The list goes on and on, and on. The fear of relapse is all too real but it is something that gets slightly easier with time, but of course it will never fully dissipate.
I started to wonder whether cancer is harder to deal with after the treatment is over and you’ve been discharged and sent home? I had to use all my physical and mental strength to get through and win the battle against cancer, twice, but at the same time I was facing a physical and mental battle at home also.
Fatigue, and not having an immune system, have been the biggest factors in feeling so isolated for the past few years. Previously I was incredibly active – working full-time and training with a running club, so I’d be chatting to a lot of people on a daily basis, but that all changed when I took ill.
This is where parkrun came in.
Just over two years after my diagnosis, In November 2017, I walked my first parkrun after hearing about it through some friends of mine on Facebook taking part. I wasn’t allowed or able to jog at that time, but I was delighted to have an event that I could go to and take part in without feeling under any pressure to do well in. Before the event I’d been nervous that parkrun was only for runners, but that fear was quickly banished as I was surrounded by walkers, joggers, people with dogs and pram pushers of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Getting out of bed in the morning and heading off to take part in a 5k has its physical and mental health benefits. It will help improve your mood, you get plenty of fresh air, plenty of friendly conversation, your brain will thank you, your lungs will thank you, and you’ll certainly feel better after getting the exercise in. I got back from parkrun recently and I remember realising how happy I felt after having completed it, and that was after leaving the house feeling just a bit ‘blah’, so taking part in parkrun really did improve my mood and perk me up for the day.
I certainly find it’s easier to go down and do parkrun than to go out myself; there is something about having other people around you at the same time that just makes it that bit easier. Taking part in the parkrun means that I will get to complete the 5k with company, support and plenty of cheering to help along the way. Sometimes I run it, other weekends I like to volunteer, either way it’s just nice to be a part of the event and the atmosphere.
I have missed a lot of conversations, a lot of chatting, and it’s not been easy. I’ve missed my running and just being out and about with bundles of energy, but now I get to go down there and volunteer or jog and just chat away to people and have a bit of fun, so it’s something I consider as a hugely positive aspect of my recovery. I spent months on end in hospital, I was not allowed to go outside, I couldn’t even breathe fresh air, it was so incredibly tough as I just wanted to be free again. I’m so thankful to still be here, to be able to just go out for a run and to breathe fresh air again. My wish came true, I’m back outside living my life.
parkrun has been an important part of my recovery. When I had the energy to go and walk it I walked it, and over the course of a few months I was finally able to jog it and just enjoy myself again with no pressure. It helps me because I get to say hello to people, chat to people, and to be a part of something that I have such a strong interest in. Whether I’m running or volunteering, I always feel happier afterwards, it gets me out of the house and I always enjoy going down there and taking part, and being a part of the parkrun family. It not only brightens up my morning, it brightens up my whole day.
I have improved my time from my 36 minutes last November to about 26 minutes most recently, so hopefully I can improve on that further in the coming months. I did have a little help from my pacer who looked happy to get me over the line in just under 26 minutes, and as you can see I gave it my all. You can’t see from the photo but I had a huge smile on my face while I was catching my breath of course.
Despite being diagnosed with cancer, twice, despite all the physical and mental battles I have been going through since it all began, I still feel incredibly lucky that that guy hit me with the ball, that my leg didn’t shatter, that even though I relapsed I still managed to get back in the clear, and that I am still here today and able to put on my runners and head out in to the fresh air.
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