Cancer and the inner athlete

I am particularly average at sport, my most notable sporting achievement before cancer was a first place in the Chester and District Shot Putt aged 13. I was quite good at Basketball until I moved up a year and I realised that my ‘gifts’ were less to do with my Jordan like ability and rather more to do with that I was tall for my age.

Since cancer I’ve pursued a number of athletic endeavours, initially because I wanted to prove to the world that I was still a man and capable of these things. Then over time I wanted to prove to myself that cancer hadn’t robbed me of all of my feelings of accomplishment. More recently though, around cancer 3, there’s been a manifest change. Now I do these things because I want to and god that’s a liberating feeling because by the same token it means if I don’t want to do something I don’t.

Since 2005 I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, cycled John O Groats to Lands End, completed Ironman France, ran the Green Man Ultra, swam the length of Lake Windermere, walked from London to Brighton 67 and next year I’m going to cycle across the USA.

Having cancer hasn’t turned me into an athlete, if that were the case after four times I would be making millions playing sport not spending hours watching it. What it has taught me about my body and mind though means I can achieve more than I ever thought possible.

Lesson 1: Suffering is shit. I don’t enjoy pain or discomfort, I am the first to reach for the painkillers and I see no nobility in ‘suffering’ through. Fix it, make the pain stop, work a way round it, but I am not martyring myself for exercise or a challenge. Exercise should be fun and if I’m not in the mood for one thing I’ll do another. If it isn’t fun, I will look for the reason and change it and more often than not it will because my motivations for doing it are wrong. Having fun is a great benefit of exercise, that’s why now I don’t exercise if I don’t want to. Besides exercise is icing on my cake, if I’m eating healthily and active generally then it’s the least of my worries.

Lesson 2: Speed is relative. I wasn’t built for speed, even less so now. I am a glacier – once I get moving, I’m inexorable, it’s not pretty, it’s not elegant but as long as I can go at my own pace I’ll get there. If I have to ‘race’ I’m awful, I hate the idea of pushing myself to break down – Cancer has already done that to me. My body has been good to me and I want to treat it well and I can do that by pushing at my own limits not someone else’s. When I did the Ironman I knew when the cut offs were and I trained to be inside them. My aim was finish the race and I did in just over 15 hours and loved every minute of it. The Green Man is a beautiful 44mile Ultra in Bristol with a cut off time of 12 hours, I trained to do it in 12 hours, I did it in 11:59 and loved every step of the way.

Lesson 3: Fuck’s sake, enjoy yourself. I love the ‘journey’ (thank you reality TV for ruining that word for me) but with challenges like these and even cancer I am not goal oriented, I am process oriented. I love the miles or hours ticking past the feeling that every day or every step I am getting better or healthier. The other ‘advantage’ (see Cancer and the positive pragmatist blog) to this lesson is that sometimes goals get missed, sometimes because of health or accident but they do and if you’re goal motivated then disappointment looms large, however process motivated means that you’ve still gained and enjoyed every day.

Achievements like these or your own personal goals are not beyond the grasp of most people. Depending on your desired outcome I am convinced that a person can achieve nearly anything with a base healthy lifestyle, the application of a limited period of specific training and an inexorable will. In fact I am so convinced by this I’d be willing to prove it (documentary film maker?)

I don’t believe for one second that I am special as I said at the beginning I am particularly average but I do believe that average people can do exceptional things.


Cancer and the positive pragmatist

I was going to start this blog with: “It’s an odd thing to write this knowing that I have had cancer 4 times” but as I read it back it occurred to me it’s not actually odd, it’s not even improbable, in fact in my heart of hearts I knew I’d have cancer again, not immediately but at some point after my third I knew.

That’s not to say I laid awake worrying or letting it get in the way of life but there was and is an acceptance, just like there is now after my fourth. With that acceptance comes relief and freedom it allows me to enjoy every moment, to suffer no fools, to give my all to and to not waste time.

12 years I’ve been living with cancer and after the tears, anguish, treatment, hopes, setbacks, luck, medical treatment, love and therapy I am the most content I have ever been. I have lots of things to worry about in my life but I’ll be fucked if one of them is going to be something I can’t change. That’s not to say I don’t pray that I’ll never be ill again but if I am then I’ll play that hand when it’s dealt and I’m sure as hell not getting up from the table.

This view has evolved over the last decade and was cemented in 2013 after my third diagnosis. This was the hardest for me to deal with, the first was met with despair, the second shock and after that in 2007 I started to have hope that it would never happen again and when that hope was smashed it gave rise to something else and the positive pragmatist was born.

“It’s not the despair, I can take the despair it’s the hope I can’t stand.”

Whilst the optimist and the pessimist debate the glass and what’s in it, I’m drinking it because that’s my glass and I’m thirsty. I had cancer, I needed treatment, I wanted to get better, I trust my doctors so let’s just fucking do it, I’m not getting better by myself and if I am ill again, the same will apply.

I’m positive but not optimistic, I don’t have rose-tinted glasses and my unicorns don’t shit rainbows but I’m not negative. I am realistic enough to know that sometimes life is shit and nothing I can do will change that however being prepared and accepting of this is liberating. It means I can look for the bright side without expecting it and in my life I am generally never disappointed.

That’s my glass and I’m drinking it.