Happy Cheeky Santa Dash day…

We are very excited to be holding our 3rd annual Cheeky Santa Dash today. It’s been a long journey to get here. There were times when the Cheeky Santa Dash was the furthest thing from our minds. Back in June I had my third surgery. Minutes before I went down to the theatre my surgeon told me my tumour had grown and she’d have to remove part of my diaphragm too. It was very scary.
Days after my op.

My operation was complex and took 11 hours. I was kept asleep overnight and spent the next 5 nights in intensive care. I eventually went up to the ward. At first i made great progress and it looked like I might go home two weeks after my operation. I sadly got a huge infection in my lungs and I had a chest drain inserted into my right lung. It hurt and would often brace my right side to progress the site. By the time it came out i had developed a hunch. My right shoulder was a lot lower than my left one. 


Soon after I got out of hospital.

When I was discharged from hospital after 7 weeks my physio told me I wouldn’t run be able to run for 6 months, because of my body was so misaligned. That was 4 months ago. For the last few weeks I’ve been running on the treadmill to build my fitness up. It’s been hard work and the damage to my lungs is taking ages to heal, but I’m feeling strong and I’m getting fitter with every workout. 


My last run, just days before my surgery back in June.
It’s by no means been plan sailing. The surgery had been a success, when went to see my oncologist about our next steps w were given the devastating news that cancer was back and worse than before. We started chemo again straightaway and haven’t looked back. We are hopeful treatment is working, but that’s something we only need to worry about after Christmas when my course finishes.


Our recent trip to Disneyland and our first trip three years before.
Getting back into the routine of having chemo every fortnight has been hard. My body has felt strange and weird. But amongst all the healing and chemo we’ve done our best to have a normal family life. My first fitness goal wasn’t to run or get to the gym, it was to be fit enough to enjoy Disneyland Paris with my family. We had a great time. 

Some of the people that have helped us promote our Cheeky Santa Dash. Clockwise from top left: Becky from That’s Lancashire, John Gillmore,  Graham Liver (both BBC Radio Lancashire) and Beccy Barr from BBC North West Tonight.
Through all of these ups and downs we had to put the Cheeky Santa Dash to oneside. We had great plans for making the run bigger than ever, but after the struggles we’ve had this year just staging the event is a huge huge success. 


Some more: Mike Stevens from BBC Radio Lancashire, below Laura Pratt 2BR and my good friend Cathryn.
We’ve only really had two weeks to organise and promote it and we’re very grateful for these media organisations and our friends and family for helping us to get it off the ground and promote it.


Last year’s Cheeky Santa Dash.
I’ve been really lucky to have the support of a local media outlets and have done a number interviews this week. It’s been tiring, but great fun. I’m really grateful to That’s Lancashire, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC North West Tonight, 2BR and Blog Preston (and probably others I’ve missed) for all they’ve done to help us promote our Cheeky Santa Dash. 

Today represents so much for us. It’s been a hard year, but we made it through and I’m still here. We get to have another wonderful Christmas together and celebrate with our friends while running around Avenham Park in bum shorts to promote awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and raise money to support three brilliant cancer charities.


Merry Christmas everyone!

 Our Christmas Tree has been up a more than a week and I don’t even care…

This year I decided it would be great idea to try and make the most of Christmas. After the year we’ve had, with the discovery of a new tumour, complex surgery, complications and an eventual 7 week hospital stay, I want to take every opportunity to have fun with the girls. We can’t take anything for granted with my health, so every bit of quality time with we have as a family is very important. 

Putting our tree up last week


We’ve had a tough year, but I feel very lucky, because my health is still reasonably good and I’m mostly pain free. I might not be as fit as I was a year ago, but I can still walk for miles and go to the gym. There are fellow cancer patient friends of ours who don’t have that luxury and others, many my age with young children like ours we’ve lost to cancer.

Had a lovely afternoon at Manchester’s Christmas markets in the week

Over the years friends of mine have had to celebrate Christmas early, because their health has deteriorated. One spent Christmas in a local hospice. Even though he was away from his family Max still did his very best to make the most of his time and have the best Christmas he could. Max wrote a lovely blog about his experiences. If I have to spend Christmas in a hospital or hospice in the years to come I hope I have the same dignity and grace as Max. 


When the end comes it always seems to come very quickly. The suddenness with which my friends have deteriorated and were taken from us is shocking. It reminds me, after having good health the last couple of years, that a cancer patient with disease as advanced as mine can never know when they’re celebrating their last Christmas. It makes me feel that it might be prudent to enjoy this one as much as I can. 


Not that I need much encouragement. I’ve always been a huge huge fan of Christmas. I was always a big kid like that. Years ago when I was well enough to work my colleagues used to give me a Christmas countdown throughout the year. When the time came I’d bounce around the libraries I worked in with sheer joy and spread Christmas cheer with every enquiry or book issued. Having children of my own just added to my enthusiasm and becoming a Christian a few years ago deepened my love of Christmas and understanding of the reason for the season.  

I love Christmas, but not everyone feels the same way


Becoming a parent is the best and most rewarding thing that’s ever happened to me. When my children were born my life changed forever. Like any parent I’m devoted to them. Their welfare and happiness is most important to me. I naturally want to protect them from anything that might make them sad, but it’s tough when you’re the very thing that makes them vulnerable. 

Elf Yourself is hilarious!

That worries me. I can’t lie to my children or hide anything, after all they see what’s going on and every fortnight I have ‘special medicine’ and spend days in bed. Just like any other parent all I can do is my best. A lyric from a favourite song of mine goes ‘the most that you can spend on any child is time’ and that’s just what I’m going to do this year. I’ve no plans to go anywhere just yet, but I might not be around for my girls in future years. Right now I’m here and for the first Christmas in five I won’t be having chemo or a scan, so we are gonna rock this Christmas and make some fab memories. We won’t achieve that by getting stressed in the shops, just so we can spoil the girls rotten on Christmas Day. Family, faith, fun and food are what’s most important to me this year! 


Christmas also means for us Cheeky Santa Dash, our annual festive fun run where those taking part wear Beating Bowel Cancer’s bum shorts. 

My friends Fay and Shenaz at the Cheeky Santa Dash

It was touch and go whether we’d manage to organise the race again this year. I’ve struggled a little since getting out of hospital and resuming treatment, so I’m really excited we are doing it again. 

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To sign up online: https://cheekysantadash2016.eventbrite.co.uk/

For more details and regular updates: https://www.facebook.com/cheekysantadash


Merry (early) Christmas everyone!! 🙂

On The Wright Stuff today/ RIP Eric

Louise and I are looking forward to appearing on The Wright Stuff later this morning. We’re always grateful for the opportunity to share our story and try and help others by promoting awareness of bowel cancer and symptoms by talking about our experiences of living with the disease. 
Early diagnosis is crucial with all cancers, especially bowel cancer. In 90% of cases patients can be completely cured, if bowel cancer is caught early enough (Read more about bowel cancer symptoms). We hope that by talking about our cancer adventure we might make others aware of the symptoms. If we manage to reach just one family and help stop them going through what we have, then we’ll have succeeded.


We met Matthew Wright at Beating Bowel Cancer’s parliamentary reception in January he’s a lovely bloke who’s done a lot to promote awareness of bowel cancer and symptoms. It’s great to see someone with a public profile using that platform to do so much good. 


But sadly while we are really excited to meet Matthew again and go on his show it’s going to be quite a bitter sweet experience for us. 


The same afternoon we met Matthew in January we we also met a lovely couple Eric, a fellow bowel cancer patient, and his wife Jean. Eric and I bonded over running and our experiences of bowel cancer. At the time Eric’s disease was advanced, but his spirit was undulled and he was just so positive. Eric inspired me with tales of his running adventures. He was unable to run himself, so in April I dedicated the three marathons I ran to him. I also wanted to run the Snowdonia Marathon this year for him. Eric took part in the race years ago and talked enthusiastically about it. Unfortunately, cancer intervened and I had surgery instead. 


We kept in touch and he started a new treatment, which seemed to work for a while. He battled bravely for months and even as his health began to deteriorate his positivity held strong and he enjoyed a lovely early Christmas with his family. He sadly passed away last month. Jean had messaged me to give him a call, but I didn’t get there in time. Cancer is cruel! I’ll miss him loads. 


God bless you Eric. If I run one marathon next year I hope it’s Snowdonia. You provided such a great example to me and should my health fail I hope I’m as positive and dignified as you buddy.

Joy…

Wrote this on Monday while having treatment. I felt really euphoric and grateful…

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Sunrises like this make running at 5am worth it

Can’t beat this feeling. I’m sat having chemo watching some of my favourite music videos on Youtube. I’m enjoying a nice sleepy buzz from the from the huge dose of Piriton I had earlier. They give it to me to stop me having an allergic reaction to the treatment. It knocks me out and I often joke that the nurses administer it just to shut me up.

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The nurses at Rosemere are amazing!

It’s a gorgeous day outside, but I’m not sad to be indoors. The windows are open and there’s lovely  gentle breeze blowing softly in. The atmosphere in the chemo room feels light and airy. It’s a joy to be here. I’m sleepy and could feel vulnerable, but I’m safe and cared for. I love spending time with the nurses. They never stop smiling. Who wouldn’t want to spend time amongst such cheeriness. I also don’t mind being here, because it feels like I’ve already done my work today. This morning, before treatment, I ran 6 miles and have been to the gym. It’s always important to me to fit in exercise before chemo, because it might be a few days before I can do it again.

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Such a beautiful sunrise. I love the peach and orange hues

This morning felt extra special though. I usually run at 5am with my friend Simon. Running at this time of day we’ve seen all kinds of weather, especially in the winter when it’s so dark I’ve used a head torch. Just as it was starting to get light again the clocks changed and plunged us back into darkness. We’ve not been for an early run recently, so it was a surprise to be running in sunlight all of a sudden. This morning’s sunrise bathed the world in a beautiful warm, deep orange glow. It was a joy to experience the world as it was waking. It felt like God crafted such a breathtaking sunrise just for us. There were lots of people around later in the morning when I was on my way back from the gym. I was stopping to take photos while they went about their mornings travelling to work and school. I couldn’t believe it that no one else was stopping to appreciate this daily miracle.

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Love running with my buddy Simon

That’s the great thing about retiring from work on ill health grounds. I’ve got the time and opportunity to appreciate the commonplace. I guess it’s also the cancer and the connection I have with my own mortality. It’s not unusual for people who’ve had their existence threatened to find joy in creation and the natural environment. The musician Wilko Johnson was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around the same time as me back in 2012. He has talked about how he’d never felt as alive as when he’d been told he had incurable cancer. A self confessed ‘miserable so and so’ all his life, he felt intense elation when sunshine hit his face as he left hospital upon hearing the news.

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Even when you’ve been told you have cancer and may die there’s still so many things to be grateful for. That was definitely how I felt 5 mins into my run yesterday. It had been a rotten day. For most of it I’d been struggling with pain from a blockage in my stoma. I’d missed an exercise class I’d been looking forward to for ages and a lunch with friends. I was in a stinker of a mood and was getting cross with my family, so I took myself off for a run after dinner. It was a lovely evening, the sort to be enjoyed with a nice glass of wine, but instead I was out running. It was exactly what I needed. Running in the sunshine melted away all my grumpiness. And as the light started to fail the sunset was just as breathtaking as today’s sunrise. It was a joy to behold. I felt like God knew I was in a funk and put the sunset there to lift my spirits.

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A breathtaking sunset on Sunday.

Finding joy in the banal and everyday, like a sunrise or sunset is what I try to do these days, there are so many blessings to count. Even if it rains the rest of the week at least I’ve had a lovely day today with a warm, sunny blanket wrapped around me during treatment. I’ve also had great company from nurses and fellow patients, some beautiful sights to appreciate and the energy to run too. I feel fortunate.

 

We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Thanks so much for all your donations so far.

Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

I’m on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

First DNF, but still having new experiences…

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Just about recovered. and getting serenaded by the blokes in the van.

Whenever they ask at the hospital or pharmacy if I’m alergic to anything I always say ‘no, but I’m open to new experiences’. Louise has long since tired of my daft jokes, but I just carry on telling them regardless. They’re like a sort of defence. A way of coping with all the medical hullaballo and  showing I’m still buyoant and meeting all the challenges cancer throws at me. Mind you, I don’t know  what I’d do if I actually discovered an new allergy.

But life throws lots of things our way and we’d find it harder to cope  if we didn’t have a sense of ownership. Being able to achieve any sort control is important, even if it’s only an illusion.

The same applies to our appointment this morning with the surgeon who’ll be operating on my liver and to a lesser extent the marathon I didn’t complete  yesterday.

It’s my first DNF, the first marathon I Did Not Finish, so one of those new experiences I joke about. At around the 3 mile mark. I had agonizing abdominal spasms and had to stop. It was very frustrating, but it was the right decision- I couldn’t carry on. I sat on the grass by the docks in Preston and struggled to speak. It must have been  worrying for my mate Sam who was running with me.

Eventually the pain lessened and I was able to walk to meet Louise who’d come to picked us up. I’ve had stomach cramps like this before, so I don’t think it has anything to do with the cancer in my liver. It’s a strange, the pain spreads throughout my abdominal muscles and winds me. It’s never happened during a marathon before, but I’m glad Sam was wih me.

My stomach muscles still feel a little a little vulnerable. There’s a twinge there and I’m not sure whether I can trust my body. I’ll take it easy though. I won’t be hammering it in the gym until I’m right again.

But running isn’t life or death and our visit to Royal Blackburn Hospital this morning is far more important.  We’re both pretty nervous. It’s our first meeting with the surgeon. It’s been more than three weeks since we found out my cancer has spread. It feels like a long time to wait before speaking to someone about surgery. But we feel lucky I’m able to have surgery and it’s going to be great to get some answers today.

 

Waiting for our appointment.

It’ll be my third surgery, but my first since I  started running marathons. It’ll be another fab first. I hope to recover more quickly than my last surgery four years ago. I’m tougher, fitter and stronger than ever before and what a great experience it will be to run a marathon once I’ve mended.

We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Thanks so much for all your donations so far.

Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

I’m on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

…and twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

Marathon 24; London here we come…

Today Louise and I run our second London Marathon. We are very excited to be doing what thousands of runners dream of and what I personally grew up hoping to tackle. It’s a wonderful opportunity and we’ll savour every step we take.

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Me and my beautiful family

Sadly, though we are running it under different circumstances to those we originally envisaged. We received some bad news last week. A scan we had, to investigate the possibility of radiotherapy, has revealed growth in my disease. There’s a tumour on the scar tissue from my previous liver op.

There was also a hotspot in my bowel, but I had a sigmoidoscopy (camera up my bum to look at what’s left of my bowel) in the week and it looks clear. It’s not all bad and as I’m so fit our oncologist (the Indian Uncle I Never Knew I Had) is pursuing surgery, which I might not have had otherwise. There’s always a positive to be found!

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At the gym after my sigmoidoscopy 

It’s a been a bit of a shock, but we’re feeling very optimistic. It’s funny how in an instant I’m suddenly not bothered about my aching post-marathon legs and blisters. Also, we are very lucky to have had the scan, which showed up this tumour. PET CT scans are expensive and the last one I had was more than 3 years ago. This type of scan shows up everything and we could have discovered I was riddled with new tumours, so this is a great outcome. How blessed we are to have found this tumour at an operable stage!

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This is just a bump in the road. I’ve always been aware that something like this could happen, which is partly why I’ve worked so hard to get stronger and fitter. My fitness will help me recover from surgery and if my body burns off all my muscle as I mend, then I’ll just build myself up again.

We are positive, but it’s still put an entirely different complexion on this weekend. Not just that, but our whole lives too. The day after we get back from London I’ve not only got chemo, but an MRI scan as well. This scan will give my surgeon more detail ahead of my operation, so it’s very important. Hopefully soon after we’ll get a date for surgery.

Getting this news hasn’t altered my immediate plans. I’m feeling great and I’m not in any pain. I ran a marathon last weekend and I’m obviously running the London Marathon too. There’s plans to run another marathon in May and I will carry on for as long as I can until the surgery. Afterwards, I’m hoping to make as speedy a recovery as possible, so I can resume my fitness activities and challenges as quickly as possible. 

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In a way the London Marathon now serves a different purpose for us. Two or three weeks ago we were relishing the challenge of running our second London Marathon, it’s also one of the highlights of our fundraising year. We are still excited, but it now provides us with an opportunity to escape some of our worries. At least for a day.

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Not really my pace band, but couldn’t resist a joke

It’s going to be a blast just running London together. It’s a great race- as much a celebration of causes and humanity as running and there’s no one I’d rather share it with than my beautiful wife Louise. These last few years have been hard and the last couple of weeks, in particular, have been some of the toughest we’ve faced, but Louise continues to share her joy with us, her family. She keeps us afloat, both emotionally and practically. She does an amazing job of looking after the girls and I. It’s not easy, I’m in bed 3-4 days every fortnight recovering from chemo. But despite the difficulties we face an infectious smile is never far from her face.

She’s the love of my life. She’s clever, beautiful, kind and hard working and I can’t for the life of me see what she sees in me. Perhaps if I don’t tell her, she won’t notice.

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Love Louise!

The London Marathon is my third and final marathon of April. We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Thanks so much for all your donations so far.

Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:

www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

I’m on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

…and twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

Dead last is greater than did not finish…

There’s a maxim that’s popular amongst runners it goes “dead last is greater than did did not finish, which trumps did not start”. My 23rd marathon brought this to mind yesterday. The Temple Newsam marathon was tough and, as my interest in this quotation implies, I finished last. That was a first for me. In a way it’s nice after 2 years and 23 marathons to still have new experiences, but it still hurt and it taught me a valuable lesson.

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About to start

 

It took me 5hrs55 and I struggled! A lot! It was a really undulating trail marathon, so a lot different to the pancake flat city streets of Manchester last weekend. Soon after the start today I knew I was in trouble, but I managed to dig in and stuck at it doggedly until I was done.

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That I finished at all has a lot to do with Helen, the tail runner. She accompanied me throughout the race. Having company on a long run is great. It raises you spirits. It’s not for nothing that Alan Sillitoe wrote his famous story, “the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. Running is a solitary experience and it can be very hard on the mind, especially when things aren’t going well.

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When the race started my legs felt heavy. I tried running for a few minutes, but there was nothing there, no energy and no spring in my step. As I began to walk, and was passed by the only runner behind me, my heart sank a little. My expectations for the race changed. I had wanted to get around in a decent time, while maintaining my streak of not finishing last in a race, but this switched in an instant and I was forced to rethink my plan.

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This streak was something I took a lot of satisfaction from. No matter how much I’ve been battered by treatment or how tired and weary my body has been, from running and training in the gym, I always managed to finish in front of others. I was very proud of this. But from an excess of pride comes arrogance and hubris. I have always tried to be humble about my achievements, but where running is concerned perhaps I’d started to feel entitled, like I was too good to finish last.

 

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I was sad when that runner passed me, but now I’m pleased for him that he did and stayed out in front. He was better than me. It was a great reminder not to take myself too seriously. I’m no better than anyone else. There probably aren’t many people running a marathon a month alongside chemo every two weeks. But that doesn’t mean anything at all in a race. Not one thing!

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With Helen after the race

I might have finished last, but I made it back before the 6 hour cut off for the race. It was by no means my slowest marathon and if I’d entered a bigger race with more participants there would have been hundreds behind me. But I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself or gotten to meet and spend almost 6 hours with Helen, a lovely fellow fitness nut and optimist. We had a great laugh. Besides, if I wanted not to be last I could train harder, or run fewer marathons. No one gets anything for free and as Oprah Winfrey has said: “running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it”.

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Getting a lovely post race massage from my talented daughter Isobel

Anyway it’s onwards and upwards to the London Marathon next week. A truly wonderful race and I’m very excited to take part for second year with my lovely wife Louise. I’ve not run marathons three weeks in a row before. Chemo every fortnight makes running hard and I’m pretty much running at my limit. Last weekend was tough, yesterday’s race was tougher still, but I’m determined!

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Running London with Louise in a few days. Can’t wait!

Thanks so much for all your donations so far. We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and Rosemere Cancer Foundation.

Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:
www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

 

I’m on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

…and twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns