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

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

 

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

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