There are times in your life that you reflect on what lies in the past. For me, I had such a moment last year at Christmas when I looked back on a moment that changed my perspective of life forever. I learned an important health lesson which I would like to share with you. But first about parkrun.
parkrun gave me the love of running. About two years ago we started at Mosman parkrun at the Spit Bridge. My wife had heard about the parkrun concept and at that time we were looking to do something fun and healthy with the whole family.
My wife Irma and I immigrated to Australia from The Netherlands eight years ago with our two-year-old twin boys. Irma had always been a keen runner. As for me, let’s just say I needed some encouragement. I guess you can do a 5km run anytime and anywhere but I started to see the fun in showing up on a Saturday morning with the family and join others to start the weekend healthy.
At some point we learned about the Curl Curl parkrun community and decided to try that one out. It soon became our “home” parkrun and I have done 39 parkruns to date in Mosman, Curl Curl and Fingal Bay. My times back then were pretty average. Around 35 minutes allowed most first finishers to eat breakfast and have a second cup of coffee to see me finish. But I had fun doing it and the community feel got to me. I also noticed I started to enjoy volunteering. Usually as photographer and being an amateur DJ, I also enjoy cheering on runners with music when I’m a marshal.
During that time my wife had suggested a few times to do some health checks and have my blood checked. I was 54 and I felt great, I wondered why I needed to do that. The referral form moved a few times between desk and filing cabinet until one day, which was about a year later, I gave in to my persistent wife and went to the doctor.
The blood test results were off the chart! Way too high cholesterol, triglycerides nearly 5 times the maximum, blood sugar alarming. Pre-diabetic, all bad enough to justify a visit to the cardiologist. He had me do a stress test, echo diagram and a CT scan. I was shocked and decided to change my lifestyle overnight. I looked after my diet much better as a result. The short version of the story, I lost over 20kg and started to run every day. Within weeks my times improved to a much more bearable 24:54 and the end was not in sight. Until that day…
I went to my cardiologist for the test results. The good news was that the tests did not reveal anything obstructive. The bad news was that they had found an undefined mass in my right lung and I was urged to have that checked. “To exclude a serious health issue”, as my cardiologist would say.
A second CT scan followed by a PET Scan and a biopsy revealed my greatest fear – Lung Cancer. I had never smoked in my life and never had I thought of the possibility to get lung cancer. It was then that I learned that actually one in every four new lung cancer cases is non-smoker related. As there were no signs of cancer cells in lymph nodes or any other metastasis, I had a rare case of lung cancer Phase 2. Normally patients find out through complaints and symptoms that they have lung cancer. By that time cancer is often advanced and the outlook on recovery is less than rosy. Fortunately my tumour was operable. This was 31 May last year and a week later I was on the table to have half my right lung removed.
I recovered from surgery and went into chemotherapy for three months. That was not a nice experience. I remember doing photography volunteering at parkrun one day after my first infusion. The photos that day were a bit shaky…
The steroids got me hungry as a horse and I gained 10kg back. After some time I started to pick up running again and found myself back where I started at 35 minutes for the 5k. I needed to get used to my new lung capacity. In the first few weeks, I could barely take a flight of stairs.
But I’m on the mend now and I enjoy running again, hopefully back to the daily 9 km from before my operation. Currently I am part of an immunotherapy trial for 14 months which is causing some fatigue but I’m looked after very well. The lesson I wanted to leave with you, and I guess this is especially for the men, is to never take your health for granted. This incidental finding has saved my life. Half a year later, it could have looked a whole lot worse.
If you are over 50, just do a few basic health checks. I would go as far to say that you owe it to your loved ones. I learned my lesson.
parkrun is our highlight of the week and an important part of our Saturday morning routine where we join as a family. After our run we visit out favourite baker to buy the best sourdough of NSW and then enjoy our breakfast with the family at home.
It’s great to be back at parkrun!
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