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

 

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Marathon 22 done, 23 here we come…

It was my second Greater Manchester marathon. The atmosphere was amazing and although I wasn’t as fit as last year and my running was disjointed I had an absolutely wonderful time.

One thing I’ve learned from running the marathon twice, in 2015 as a fit runner going for a time and last weekend, as a more relaxed runner just looking to get round, is that marathons just hurt. Regardless of your targets for the race. When racing a marathon and going for a time you strain every sinew and try and extract every last ounce of speed. It hurts! At the end of the race last year my sprint finish was more hobbling, less running. I broke myself last year a little, but it was worth it. I knocked 38 mins of my PB and finished in 4hrs14.

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Hobbling to the finish last year

Last weekend I didn’t have the fitness to run the full 26.2 miles continuously, so it was very stop/start. I had struggled to get any momentum in training. So I strained every sinew, not to extract every last ounce of speed, but just to summon every last bit of determination (and everything else I had) just to finish. It’s amazing how breathless you get when your body is in crisis and you’re trying to place on foot in front of the other. I finished in 5hrs24 and I learned that no matter how fit or unfit you are marathons just hurt!

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With my dear mate Fay before setting off

But no matter how tough it was I never lost my joy. That was in part because of how great it is to run with my mate Fay. No matter what we always have a laugh. Even if I’m joking about the various ways in which my body was malfunctioning, the knee that went into spasm or the feet that just didn’t stop aching. There are serous things in life, like illness and the cancer treatment I’d have the day after this race. Running isn’t like that, it’s a luxury, a joy.

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Having chemo the day after the Greater Manchester marathon, my 22nd full marathon

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t in great shape. I’m just lucky to be running. In the last year I’ve lost many friends to cancer. Losing people like Ric and Max, two of life’s loveliest blokes, makes me more determined than ever to do as much as I can to raise awareness of cancer symptoms, issues and of course funds.

Lining up at any race start line is a privilege. My own cancer could stop me running at any point. I feel lucky to be taking part at one of the biggest marathons in the country for a second year. But I’m truly blessed to still be alive three years after being told I might not last 6 months. Three very important years with my three young daughters Skye 11, Isobel 6 and Heidi 3 and my wife Louise. I truly am a lucky guy!

It was great to see so many friends in Manchester during the marathon, runners and spectators alike. I was especially pleased to see John, a bowel cancer patient like me, and his wife Jude on the course. I was struggling a little at that stage and when I saw them I got a little emotional. I was reminded of why I’m running- to try and help other patients. The joint Lymm Runners and Red Rose Road Runners water station at the 8 mile marker was amazing. I have many friends at both clubs and was given a rousing reception. It gave me a huge boost and sustained me through the next few miles.

My body started to break down more and more towards the end of the race, but I always like to finish strong. Despite my physical condition I was raise my pace in the straight. Cheered on by a huge contingent from my club Charlton Runners near the end I spent every last ounce of strength, summoned my last drop of resolve and attempted to muster a finish worthy of a great bloke and like my mate Eric. He’s another bowel cancer patient and is sadly not doing so well at the moment. I dedicated my race to him and did my very best. I hope I did him proud!

I’ll definitely run the Greater Manchester marathon next year, if I’m well enough. It’s an amazing race and the biggest we have locally. It was wonderful to be greeted by people I’d never met. Very kind indeed. There was also a spectator that called me ‘Ben’s Bowel’. It’s amazing that people have heard about me and know about what I’m trying to do.

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Was pleased to have the chance to talk to That’s Lancashire about bowel cancer awareness month in the week.

This was the first of three marathons I’m running this month. Today I’m running the Temple Newsam Marathon on the outskirts of Leeds. Next week I’m running the London Marathon with Louise, my wife. It’s going to be tough, but I’m determined!

We are fundraising for three amazing cancer charities: Beating Bowel Cancer, Mummy’s Star and the Rosemere Cancer Foundation. Please click on the link to donate, any donations would be gratefully received:

http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/bensbowelmovements

Scanxiety

Scanxiety: Noun [skan-zi-etee]: Uneasiness waiting for ones scans after cancer treatment (thanks to Heather Von St. James for providing a succinct definition).

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Love my family. Us with the Mayor of Preston, Cllr Margaret McManus

I think it was my friend Julie that first made me aware of this term. Up to then I’d always thought it was just me that got ridiculously anxious waiting for scan results. It doesn’t matter how positive I am or how much I do to distract myself I’m still vulnerable to doubts and worries ahead of finding out if my treatment is still working.

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Louise and I got very muddy at Tough Mudder. It’s all in the name I guess.

It’s silly really over the last 34 or so months, since my treatment started working, I’ve had probably 10 scans all of which have shown that my cancer is stable and hasn’t spread. Recently though a courageous cancer affected little lymph node has been gradually increasing in size and has doubled over the last year. Courageous, because while it has carried on getting bigger, it is in a cluster behind my vital organs and has doggedly clung on to all cancerous cells it contains. It hasn’t bothered any of its friends, by allowing the cancer to spread.  Despite the fact my treatment has still been effective, waiting for results just never gets any easier.

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I’m really proud of all I’ve achieved, but I couldn’t have do any of it without the amazing people at Rosemere!

 

In the past getting bad results have left me in a state of shock and shaken the very foundations of my existence. When Louise and I were told that my second course of chemotherapy hadn’t worked and I wouldn’t be cured my hopes and aspirations for the future evaporated in an instant. I worried a great deal about my wife and three young daughters. For a few days, at least, I was sunk. It was horrible and those feelings never really leave you. Like most emotional pain it dims over time, but rears its ugly head from time to time.

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Proud of my eldest, Skye, walking Snowdon with us!

I suppose there are some parallels to be drawn between cancer scan results and running. In sport and with cancer; results are the ultimate reckoning. Running in a race can be tough. When you’re running at your limit, any niggling little injuries or lack of training is exposed. The clock never lies. But scan results are even less compromising. Just like running everything you’ve eaten, all the exercise you’ve taken, the chemo sessions you’ve put in all come out in the scan report. If you get bad scan results your treatment options at best change, or at worst decrease. There’s always an another race, another training cycle in running. But scan results are new, final and definitive.

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Marathon medal number 21 🙂

I’ll try and concentrate on the positives though. Since June 2013 my treatment regimen of Cetuximab and Irinotecan has been working. Since that time I’ve run 21 full marathons, including three ultras (and numerous halves and 10ks). In September I also tackled an 11 day 500 mile Scotland to Wales National Three Peaks cycle and Tough Mudder Challenge.

 

It’s perverse, but even with terminal bowel cancer I’m in the best shape of my life. I go to the gym on average 3 times a week, run 3-4 times a week and try and fit in a cycle ride here and there too. In a way cancer has been great for my sporting career and great for my fitness. Facing my own mortality has made me tougher and more motivated than I’d ever thought possible. I often wonder if  my pre-cancer self would recognise me now.

And this last course of treatment has gone well. I’ve not taken any breaks for races. My body has coped admirably with the side effects and my blood levels have remained good throughout. I feel strong and healthy, so really it’s hard to imagine anything bad coming out in the scan results.

Fingers crossed. Hopefully all our prayers will be answered and we’ll get positive scan results that show stable disease and allow me to carry on with treatment.

 

To read more about scanxiety and coping:

http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather/scans-anxiety-scanxiety-my-biannual-checkup-in-boston.htm#ixzz43WkOpo8J

http://www.curetoday.com/community/tori-tomalia/2015/02/10-tips-for-coping-with-scanxiety

 

Ben’s Bowel Movements on facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

I’m on twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

 

What an adventure, but now what have I let myself in for?

Been a while since I started writing this blog and I’m about to tackle my next big fitness challenge, so it felt like the right time for a bit of a recap. As many of you know I have been battling bowel cancer for more than three years. During this time my family and I have been through a lot. I’ve had two major surgeries and almost 60 fortnightly doses of chemo. We’ve certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, but this hasn’t been a depressing or hopeless time. We’ve always done our best to stay positive and fill our lives with happiness.

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I love my family. My wife and daughters give me strength and make me smile.

Two years ago I was given a terminal prognosis. My life was turned completely upside down. Life can be cruel sometimes and in an instant all my hopes for the future evaporated. My wife and children are my life, so being told I wouldn’t have the long and happy marriage I yearned for or the joy of seeing my beautiful girls blossom into young women and one day have families of their own was heartbreaking.

I adore my girls!

I adore my girls!

But I still wanted to achieve something with my life. Up to that point, the first two years of my cancer adventure, it felt like I’d let cancer take the lead. I didn’t want cancer to define me any longer, so despite my illness I pushed myself to start running again. I desperately wanted my life to mean something and running 6 marathons in 6 months seemed like a great way to start. I couldn’t stop at 6 marathons and I have now run 17 marathons over the last 17 months. Along with my friends and family, and thanks to the generous donations of lots and lots of people, I’ve raised more than £30,000 for cancer charities. An amazing amount of money and far beyond even our wildest dreams. When we started we’d hoped only to a fraction of that.

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Winning the Manchester Evening News competition to start the final wave of the Great Manchester Run and meet Paula Radcliffe was an incredible honour, one of the greatest things I’ve done. I feel very fortunate to have had opportunities like this.

The past year or so has been wonderful. We’ve done some amazing things and met some fantastic people. As well as raising money I had also set out to promote awareness of bowel cancer symptoms and hopefully make my family proud. With any luck I’ve managed to do some or all of these, but one thing I hadn’t planned was the effect all this exercise has had on my health. It sounds silly now, but I wasn’t really thinking about my health when I started running marathons. I quickly noticed how exercise helped me psychologically and lifted my mood (endorphins are awesome). After a while I also started to see that exercise helped me tolerate chemo and fight cancer too. The fitter I am, the better I can tolerate chemo and there’s also research to suggest that regular exercise can stop cancer growing or spreading. My oncologist believes my fitness helps me fight cancer too, which is fantastic.

I love being able to get out in the fresh air. I know how lucky I am. Many people in my situation are sadly unable to be active.

I love being able to get out in the fresh air. I know how lucky I am. Many people in my situation are sadly unable to be active.

Fundraising and fitness challenges were a remote prospect when I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in March 2012. It came as a huge shock to me and my young family, but it galvanised us and we remained positive, even when I was given my terminal prognosis almost a year later in February 2013.

Picture with my daughters Skye and Isobel just after my bowel surgery

With my daughters Skye and Isobel just after my bowel surgery in March 2012. I hadn’t realised at the time just how thin I’d become.

Our wonderful Oncology team at the Rosemere Cancer Centre put me on a new treatment which fortunately started working and my health began to improve. I started running again and was determined to try and help the charites that had support my family and I during my cancer adventure.

Louise and I with The Indian Uncle I Never Knew I Had (aka our Oncologist)

Louise and I with The Indian Uncle I Never Knew I Had (aka our wonderful Oncologist)

On Sunday 2nd August I completed my 17th Marathon in 17th months over the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. I still love running, but the time is right to mix it up a little. So I’m planning to walk/run the National 3 Peaks in September and rather than drive I will be cycling the 450 miles between them instead.

A very wet, but awesome day running the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It was very tough, but I loved every minute!

A very wet, but awesome day running the Yorkshire Three Peaks. It was very tough, but I loved every minute!

But it doesn’t stop there. After I’ve finished my 10 days of cycling and walking I’m tackling my first Tough Mudder in Cheshire the day after. I can’t wait! This is something I have been planning for a long time. Training for it and preparing between chemo treatments is hard. This is certainly a huge challenge to take on and the biggest I’ve taken on so far. 11 straight days of activity is going to be gruelling, but I’m determined to do it! I want to carry on challenging my mind and body and redefining what I can expect from life and what it means to live with terminal cancer.

I've loved the cycle training, including this ride in the Lakes.

I’ve loved the cycle training, including this ride in the Lakes.

I’m raising money for three amazing cancer charities. Mummy’s Star, an incredible charity, supporting women going through cancer during pregnancy.

With Steve Marsden, one of the Mummy's Star trustees, during the Mummy's Star Three Peaks day

With Steve Marsden, one of the Mummy’s Star trustees, during the Mummy’s Star Three Peaks day

Beating Bowel Cancer campaign to raise awareness of bowel cancer and have supported me and my family during our cancer adventure.

Beating Bowel Cancer have been a great support to us all. We were bowled over to be given an Achievement Award to celebrate the fundraising work we've done over the last year.

Beating Bowel Cancer have been a great support to us all.
In April we were bowled over to be given an Achievement Award to celebrate the fundraising work we’ve done over the last year (Louise and I with patron Freya North and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Sir Christopher Pitchers).

Finally, the Rosemere Cancer Foundation supports the centre where I receive chemo every fortnight and have give me and my fellow patients great support.

I've been receiving treatment at the Rosemere Unit for more than 3 years. I'm very grateful for the care I've received there from the amazing Doctors, Nurses, Staff and Volunteers.

I’ve been receiving treatment at the Rosemere Unit for more than 3 years. I’m very grateful for the care I’ve received there from the amazing Doctors, Nurses, Staff and Volunteers.

As I’ve said, it’s very daunting, but my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude. I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to do this. I wouldn’t be embarking on this challenge without the excellent care I’ve received at the Rosemarie Cancer Centre, based at the Royal Preston Hospital. The doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers there are amazing. Thanks to them and the treatment I receive every fortnight my last scan showed that my cancer hasn’t grown or spread. I finished my most recent course of treatment last week, so I’ve got a scan on Thursday, which sort of puts things in perspective really. It’s a worrying time waiting to find out what my cancer is up to and it reminds me that plenty of people would love the chance to do things like cycling and running, but can’t because of cancer, or other illnesses. I’m doing this challenge for them too!

Any donations are gratefully received. Thanks so much for all your support!!

Ben’s Epic National 3 Peaks Cycle Challenge schedule
1. Thurs 3rd September: Walk Ben Nevis
2. Friday 4th September: Cycle 1 Fort William to Tarbet
3. Saturday 5th September: Cycle 2 Tarbet to Mauchline
4. Sunday 6th September: Cycle 3 Mauchline to Annan
5. Monday 7th September: Cycle 4 Annan to Langdale
6. Tuesday 8th September: Walk Scafell Pike
7. Wednesday 9th September: Cycle 5 Langdale to Preston
8. Thursday 10th September: Cycle 6 Preston to Chester
9. Friday 11th September: Cycle 7 Chester to Llanberis
10. Saturday 12th September: Walk Snowdon
11. Sunday 13th September: North West Tough Mudder

Giving page: virginmoneygiving.com/BensBowelMovements

Facebook: facebook.com/6marathons6months

I’m on twitter too: @ChemoDadRuns

Hooray for chemo?

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago when I was recovering from treatment. It’s funny reading it back the morning of my scan results. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with chemo. It’s horrible stuff. It’s really nauseating and tiring and after more than 50 doses I occasionally find it difficult to feel happy about going for treatment. On those occasions I’m really grateful for the nurses who soon perk me up:

Nafisa treated me last time.  I'm so grateful for all the care the nurses at Rosemere give me.

Nafisa treated me last time. I’m so grateful for all the care the nurses at Rosemere give me.

I always seem to forget what chemo is like. It’s probably a measure of how much we manage to pack into the time between treatments, but it’s always a surprise how much it knocks me out. I don’t think I dwell too much on treatment and how nauseas and tired it makes me. If I did I probably wouldn’t want to go. 
I ran to the hospital for the last dose of chemo from that course. A novel way to travel ;)

I ran to the hospital for my chemo appontment. It was the final dose of my most recent course of treatment. I’ve never run to have treatment before, but I always run the morning before chemo. It was a novel way to travel 😉

I ran to the hospital for my chemo appontment. It was the final dose of my most recent course of treatment. I’ve never run to have treatment before, but I always run the morning before chemo. It was a novel way to travel 😉

I was really frustrated this week. Being stuck in bed for days is tedious. I’m an active person and when I’m not stuck in bed I’m out running, cycling and lifting weights in the gym. I know how lucky I am. I probably get more exercise than anyone receiving cancer treatment has a right to expect, so I should probably be more laid back about not being able to train. I should be more kind to myself, but I know my level of activity gives my cancer a battering. According to Macmillan’s Move More report, bowel cancer patients that get 6 hours moderate intensity exercise a week can reduce their risk of dying from the disease by around 50% and, generally speaking, the fitter I get the more I can tolerate chemo. I know exercise helps me, so I feel extremely motivated to train as often and as hard as I can. There is a fine line between dedication and obsession though and this week in my frustration I may have lost sight of where it is.
I was out running and going to the gym days after I wrote this. I should have had more patience with myself!

I was out running and going to the gym days after I wrote this. I should have had more patience with myself!

I think anyone would feel the same. It’s great having the chance to watch movies and TV shows, but there’s only so much you can watch before you start to go bonkers. I wonder how other cancer patients manage. 
I love the running and the beautiful sights I get to see when I'm out pounding the streets. It's one of the things I miss when I'm in bed after chemo.

I love the running and the beautiful sights I get to see when I’m out pounding the streets. It’s one of the things I miss when I’m in bed after chemo.

No matter how difficult or annoying it is for me it’s much harder work for my family, especially my wife Louise. It’s not easy for her caring for me as I languish in bed. I lose count of the number off times she makes the trip up and down the stairs bringing me food, drink and helping me to feel less isolated during my time convalescing. She has a job and three children to feed, take to nursery and two different schools and extra curricular activities. It’s a struggle for and I honestly don’t know how she manages. When I rise from my slumber she’ll apologise for the state of the house, but I just think It’s amazing how she’s kept us going and all fed and the girls in clean clothes each morning.
She’d never say or even suggest it, but I still feel a bit of a burden. I also worry about the impact my being in bed has on the girls. It can’t be easy for them to see me in bed and so weak. 
Ran my 15th marathon yesterday. Feel so lucky to be able to run! I hope my results are good, so I can plan more marathons!

Ran my 15th marathon with my friend Fay yesterday. Feel so lucky to be able to run! I hope my results are good, so I can plan more marathons!

It is funny reading this back today of all days. I don’t think cancer treatment is something anyone ever actively enjoys. It’s interesting to read back and see how frustrated I get sometimes and how worried I get about the effect it has on my family, but as I often say chemo is better than the alternative. Sometimes I don’t want to go for treatment, but I know how lucky I’ve been to have treatment options and I’ll never complain about having chemo. Lots of people would love to be in my situation and be receiving treatment. It has prolonged my life. Our Oncologist gave me 6-12 months to live 28 months ago, in that time I’ve done so much. I’ve run 15 marathons and with our friends and family we’ve raised more than £30,000 for charity, but the best thing of all has been celebrating two birthdays with all three of my daughters. I’ve lived long enough to have lovely, proper conversations with my youngest, see my middle daughter start school and my eldest approach the end of primary school. I know that treatment (and my exercise) has given me so much more life. If this is my life- to go for treatment every fortnight I’ll happily take it.
Out for a walk with my girls. My eldest recently took off the stabilisers on her bike. Very proud!

Out for a walk with my girls. My eldest recently took off the stabilisers on her bike. Very proud!

I may have the occasional grumble or frustration with treatment and side effects, but right now I just want to hear the news that my scan results are positive and that my cancer hasn’t grown or spread. I yearn for nothing more than the opportunity to have more treatment. No matter how tough treatment can be booking my next chemo appointment is going to be fantastic.

Time and making the most of it

It’s amazing to think that I’ve outlived the life expectancy I was given when we received my terminal prognosis in February 2013. I was given 6-12 months and now I’m 7 months past that. It feels great to have what is in some ways extra time, but it comes with its own pressures. In my situation, living with terminal cancer, trying to make the most of time is very important. People tell me that all the time and to be honest I generally try to live that way.

 

Love my princesses!

Love my princesses!

This theory is sound, but in practice it’s much more difficult to achieve. It’s not easy packing as much into life as I can. Much of my time I spend in bed recovering from chemo. Lately, my side effects have been unkind and I have been more poorly than usual. This is hardly time spent living life to the full. But even if I was packing as much into each moment as I can, how do I make sure I’m living life to the full anyway. What is the measure of a life well lived? Such things are impossibly subjective. Besides, going out and living life to the full is quite selfish. I’d inevitably end up doing things only I, and not my family, want to do. I’ve already done this with my fitness challenge.

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Running is an inherently isolating and quite selfish pursuit for a father of three with terminal cancer to undertake. I hope the girls understand in time why I’m doing this.

Running so many marathons is quite a self-centred activity. I’m trying to do lots of good by trying to make my family proud, raise money for charity and awareness of Bowel Cancer, but I wanted to attempt to run 6 marathons in 6 months, because I wanted to challenge myself and achieve something memorable. My family and friends have given up whole days to cheer me on and help me in various ways and I’m very lucky.

I've had lots of support from my family while I've been running marathons.

I’ve had lots of support from my family while I’ve been running marathons.

An existence fixated on living life to the full could become quite hedonistic and devotion to pleasure has never appealed to me. Anyone that works so hard trying to enjoy themselves can’t be having much fun. Victor Frankl said: “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Had a fab fun summer with the girls!

Had a fab fun summer with the girls!

Such an outlook could only have a detrimental effect on family life and I worry about this. Certainly, a lot of hedonistic pursuits involve adult, grown up things and my family are everything to me. I’d never do anything to endanger them or jeopardise my relationship with them or my wife. But it amazes me what people say. I guess there’s a lot of received wisdom around expectations of how people, me in this case, should behave when confronted by a life threatening condition. When I received the bad news last year a friend told me if he had a terminal illness he would be tempted to go and enjoy as many experiences as possible, even sexually, and tick off the things on his list. I certainly don’t feel pressured to do the same. My desire has always been to spend time, and have experiences, with my wife and girls. But even if I stuck to packing in wholesome, family orientated experiences with Louise and the girls I can’t live a reckless life constantly chasing fun with my family, because my daughters need structure and stability.

There's a time and a place (Disneyland!!) for fun, but my children still crave normality!

There’s a time and a place (Disneyland!!) for fun, but my children still crave normality!

 

It’s almost impossible for the responsible father with terminal cancer to live life to the full, but I still feel under pressure to squeeze as much into my life as possible and I worry sometimes that I’m not making the most of my time. I have been blessed with this extra time. It’s now been 7 months since we passed the upper limit dictated by my prognosis last year and I don’t want to become complacent. I do want to pack in as much as I can, but I also want the girls to have as normal a life as possible. Disneyland is great, but sometimes children need and indeed crave the boring and routine.

What passes for normality in our house.

What passes for normality in our house. We have to fit in fun around family life and not go crazy trying to chase fun.

 

I am worried about time and my use of it, but I am obviously very grateful for the opportunities I have to be with the girls and make memories with them. There are milestones I have lived to see, like birthdays and my middle daughter Isobel starting school. But the most important thing that time has enabled me to do is build relationships with my children, especially my youngest Heidi who has recently turned 2. When we got our bad news last year I remember Louise saying she hoped I would live long enough for Heidi to remember me.

Heidi was tiny when we went to Disneyland in May 2013

Heidi was tiny when we went to Disneyland in May 2013

We received the prognosis when Heidi was approaching 6 months of age, so there was a point when this was a remote possibility. Last year when we went to Disneyland, before I started my current treatment regimen in June, I remember making videos with Heidi while Louise and the other two went on rides. At the time I was desperate to record me talking to her, so that she might just remember me. A vain hope really, considering she was only 9 months old. Back then she was so young there were only mere suggestions of her personality.

 

With Princess Jasmine

With Princess Jasmine

Now, having lived for longer than we thought I would, being remembered by Heidi is looking a little more likely. She is developing and showing signs of the person she’s going to become. I’m so lucky. Like any parent of a young child I’m really excited to get to know my toddler, especially as I didn’t think I’d have the chance. She’s very affectionate, loving and kind, but she’s also quite mischievous and headstrong. There’s no doubting her feelings for me. I know she loves me. Relationships with children are honest and their affections are pure. When I’ve been in bed all day after chemo or when I’ve been on a long run she calls out my name, toddles over and hugs my leg. Louise tells me that when I’m out Heidi asks her “Daddy run?” She’s not only pleased to see me, but wonders where I’ve gone when I’m out.

Love being with Heidi and seeing her grow. 2 is such an interesting age!

Love being with Heidi and seeing her grow. 2 is such an interesting age!

Of course all three of my daughters love me lots. I’ll never take them or their love for granted. That they love me so much is still a surprise to me. It’s magical and amazing. They are life’s greatest blessing and I thank God for them every day. Having this time with them is incredible and I want to enjoy life, but not to the exception of all else. Raising money and awareness is great and making memories for the girls to savour when they are older is good, but I need to make sure I’m not fixated on creating a legacy and forget to enjoy them now.

Need to make sure this lot are at the centre and not pushed to the periphery

Need to make sure this lot are at the centre and not pushed to the periphery of my life!

It’s a tension that lots of parents have to contend with. Most parents need to make sure that they have a good work/ life balance. Whereas I need to make sure I don’t die wishing I spent more time with the girls and less running marathons. I want them to love fitness as much as I do, but if the only memory they take away from me running marathons is that I meant I spent lots of time away from them, then I will have failed. They need me now too and there is a fine balance to strike and I’ve not always got it right. I’ve almost finished my six marathons in six months now, but during my next fitness challenge whatever that will be, I’ll do my best to make sure they remain at the centre of my life.

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities:

 

Great North Run 2014, didn’t think I’d be here again…

The Great North Run is a very important race for me. It was the first long race I did. My dreams of running marathons were born as I trained for, and ran, it in 2011. Taking part again on Sunday felt like I’d come full circle. There are lots of things I thought I’d never do. I say it all the time, so much so that it has become a bit of a cliché, but there was definitely a time when I thought Louise and I wouldn’t get the chance to take part in a Great North Run together. It’s another milestone reached, despite terminal cancer. I feel very fortunate!

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I was very excited to be running a half marathon with Louise and so proud of her effort on the day and her determination in training!

When I was diagnosed in March 2012 my fitness was a huge conciliation to me. Knowing that I ran the Great North Run in 2011 gave me courage to fight the disease. My doctors told me that being fit and healthy meant I would recover from surgery more quickly. This kept me going, in fact I used to wear my 2011 Great North Run finishers shirt a lot at the start of my cancer adventure. It was my shirt of choice as I recovered from surgery and went for treatment, a symbol of my resistance and determination to run again

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My Great North Run shirt was a symbol of my resistance and my determination to run again!

I wouldn’t take part in another race for more than two years after the 2011 Great North Run. A lot happened in the intervening years. Immediately afterwards I was very tired, so fatigued in fact I struggled to resume training. I put this down to the fact that I had run my first half marathon, my longest distance yet. Likewise, my poo was loose, but that was ok as it was obviously runner’s trots. Also, I was losing weight too, but that was fine, because I was training hard and I was becoming more lithe, great for a runner. But I definitely knew something was wrong when I started to get pain in my tummy before Christmas. Then in March 2012 I was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer.

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Didn’t realise how ill I’d become around the time of my diagnosis. This was shortly after my Bowel surgery in March 2012

I ran the Great North Run this year for Beating Bowel Cancer. They’ve been a tremendous support to us and are one of the four cancer charities we’ve been raising money for. I ran just for them, because they work tirelessly to promote awareness of Bowel Cancer symptoms. If I had been aware of the symptoms I would not have dismissed mine.

I ran the Great North Run in a pair Beating Bowel Cancer bum shorts. They're a great awareness tool that get people thinking about poo and Bowel Cancer symptoms. Unfortunately I found myself at the butt of everyone's jokes. I had no choice but to turn the other cheek! There was a pair of runners in a donkey costume, so at least I wasn't the only ass!

I ran the Great North Run in a pair Beating Bowel Cancer bum shorts. They’re a great awareness tool that get people thinking about poo and Bowel Cancer symptoms. Sadly, I found myself at the butt of everyone’s jokes. I had no choice but to turn the other cheek! There was a pair of runners in a donkey costume, so at least I wasn’t the only ass!

People can be cured in 90% of cases if Bowel Cancer is caught early enough and knowing the symptoms is the key to early diagnosis. More info on symptoms can be found on the Beating Bowel Cancer website . If you have any symptoms please don’t ignore them, visit your GP.

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I met Mark Flanagan CEO of Beating Bowel Cancer in the GNR charity village. It was wonderful to meet him and Gemma Ali, one of the Fundraising coordinators. They and others at the charity have been very supportive of my efforts. I’m grateful for their praise and encouragement.

When I ran it on my own in 2011, Louise walked me to the start where it felt like a party was taking place. She made her mind up then that she wanted to be part of it herself one day. I know how hard it has been for her to train for it. She always prioritises my training over her’s. Also, sometimes I’m so tired from treatment that Louise is unable to leave the girls with me. Other times she’s too busy in the house or looking after me and the girls to go out.

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She’s not always been much of a runner, so to stick with her training through all these obstacles makes it quite an achievement. I never thought I’d ever see Louise run a half marathon and I think she surprised herself. Now, knowing that she’s capable of a half marathon I bet she’ll have a go at another half and then who knows? There certainly won’t have been many husbands more proud than I on Sunday in South Shields.

We did it!

We did it! Was very proud of Louise at the finish and of course Grace and Tony too!

It was an incredible day. Louise and I ran with my sister Grace and our friend Tony. The atmosphere was amazing. It’s a real festival of running and a celebration of all the different charities and causes being represented.

The Red Arrows at the GNR is always an amazing sight!

The Red Arrows at the GNR is always an amazing sight!

There are 56,000 runners each with their own stories, motivations and reasons for running. Passing over the Tyne Bridge with thousands of others is still one of the stand out sights and best feelings I’ve had in running.

About to run across the amazing Tyne Bridge.

About to run across the amazing Tyne Bridge.

Countless spectators cheered us runners on. The support was fantastic, just like in 2011, with people lining the whole 13.1 route. We got round in 2hrs37 (taking off time for breaks). Grace found it a little tough, but despite having trouble with her knee she didn’t stop running. I was really proud of her.

She's a tough one my sis Grace!

She’s a tough one my sis Grace!

Ben’s Bowel Movements. Running 6 marathons in 6 months in support of Cancer charities: