Photo by John Cameron at Unsplash
I love this community, which is why I am still here nearly nine years after graduating from C25k and several weeks after having to announce my retirement from running for health reasons healthunlocked.com/couchto5...
The keen eyed amongst you will also have noticed that I have failed totally in my effort to move more into the background on the forum, as I hate seeing questions go unanswered and I still get inspired by all the new runners discovering their true potential and want to offer encouragement. If I can still offer advice,then I hope it will be received in the manner in which it is offered, despite me now being a non runner. As I said, I love this community.
This is the first of a series of posts that I hope to write, written very much from the perspective of someone living with cancer, but reflecting on the similarities between that journey, the journey of becoming a runner and also the journey of life. Each of those journeys can have its daunting challenges but each one can have its joys and triumphs, if approached with positivity.
I followed this community from the outset of my starting C25k, picking up tips, finding answers to queries and revelling in the support and positivity that prevailed then, as it does now, but it was not until I had reached W9 that I felt moved to write my first post, exposing the truth of the addictive nature of C25k healthunlocked.com/couchto5....
While I had used other forums, generally to ask for advice in respect of IT software and hardware issues, which was very much on an informational transaction basis, I was not, and am still not, a social media user, but this forum was different, being a place of discovery and, for many, wonder at their own long hidden capabilities. The enthusiasm was infectious and I soon felt I had a new family of like minded folk around me in this community, as I learned to become a runner.
An active and inclusive community makes all the members and contributors realise that there are others out there with just the same fears and insecurities as them. It strengthens resolve and accountability as well as encourages, educates and creates a feeling of being part of something bigger than just ourselves. This forum is just about the most positive, supportive, inclusive and welcoming place that any new runner can stumble across………it is the secret for success with C25k.
When, five years ago, I was diagnosed with aggressive, locally advanced prostate cancer, I posted here to help publicise the symptoms of prostate cancer and was overwhelmed with the support that has continued to be forthcoming over the years. At the same time, wanting to know as much as I could about my condition, I also looked in on one of the HealthUnlocked prostate cancer forums.
While you would not expect a cancer forum to be as uplifting as this one, simply because of the subject matter, the forum I looked at gave me one of my darkest nights since diagnosis and taught me a powerful lesson in making sure that responses on any forum take into account a wider readership, not just the original poster being replied to. The OP in this case was worried that his Gleason score of 7 would reduce his life expectancy significantly. Gleason score is the measure of aggressivity of prostate cancer, as defined after testing of biopsies. Anything over 6 is considered to be cancer and 10 is the top of the scale. The sole respondent did a great job of reassuring the OP, by saying that 7 was relatively low and that he should count himself lucky, as anyone with a score of 9 or 10 would have a very much reduced life expectancy.
My Gleason score was 9.5.
Having believed that I had come to terms with my mortality after initial diagnosis, I found myself having a sleepless night worrying that maybe I was in denial of the truth about my condition. It was a very black night.
The following morning, I pulled back the bedroom blinds to be met with a crystal clear blue sky and a swift swooped exuberantly past the window. In that instant I thought, “Well, he is back again and who knows, maybe I will be back again next year.” I realised that in fact absolutely nothing had changed about me or my condition since I had read that post. I could wallow in despair or I could continue to live the rest of my life as happily and fully as possible. While I need to know possible outcomes and maybe prepare for them, I will only permit myself to worry about them when they actually occur, not that they may occur, otherwise life can be a totally unnecessary misery. This can be applied to life in general, not just to those with critical illnesses.
The HealthUnlocked prostate cancer forums, can and do offer good advice and support, but I would suggest to anyone needing advice about cancer to look at the communities and forums run by the major cancer charities, such as Macmillan and Cancer Research who have well moderated sites with access to qualified specialist nurses and are available to family and friends, as well as those who are living with a cancer diagnosis. There are also many charities dealing with specific cancers and also local ones, who provide wonderful services and make you feel part of a community, even if it is one you would rather not belong to.
Many of these charities, along with the hospice charities, receive large donations to their funding from the running community, by organising charity fundraising runs of all distances, which many on this forum have taken part in over the years. From all those who are living with cancer I say a very big thank you.
When I was last hospitalised, about six weeks ago, I realised that the NHS is also a wonderful community, with staff at all levels from porters to consultants all working for the best possible outcomes for patients. It also suffers from huge inefficiencies and wastage, but if only we could apply that overarching aim to do the best for all, to our own civil society, then perhaps we could live in a happier, less fractured world. Our party political system is designed to divide and rule us, by offering us disparate views of the way forward, creating electoral campaigns around these divisions and then, after one side has “won” by getting more votes than the other, our new leaders invariably say “ ….And now it is time to unite the country behind our vision”. A vain hope, that might well have been better addressed by finding common ground and consensus in the first place.
I will avoid getting political, but I think we can all agree that community, whether virtual, local, or national is hugely important for our well being. By becoming a runner you enter the wider running community and can take part in events from parkrun to those wonderful charity events that I already mentioned. My parkrun has regular work parties to maintain the tracks in the grounds of Killerton House, enabling even greater involvement with like minded folk.
In a book by Rob Hopkins, From What Is to What If, he mentions the suggestion that depression might be far better understood and treated if it were called disconnectedness. Many depressed people find great solace, not only in running, but in being part of a community. Nothing is worse than being given medication and left alone to your own devices.
By and large, runners are a very welcoming and inclusive band and if we all continue to support one another then we can continue to spread the word that running is good for everyone and actually change social norms by others seeing runners as being normal folk, not just slim, trim, young gazelles.
MEDICAL UPDATE.JUNE 30 2022
Many have very kindly inquired about my progress and I am happy to tell you that things are moving along quite nicely at present.
Earlier this week I saw a physio as I wanted to check out what was safe for me to do and what was best avoided. I was surprised when he said that there was no real reason why I could not start running again. I stopped because the increase in pain in my back seemed to coincide with running, but it may not have been directly responsible and might just have been the progress of the disease. The vulnerability of my spine, which is riddled with cancer metastases, means that I am very unsure about this advice, but who knows, I might just go for a walk with my running shoes on and try a few short intervals.
Also this week I had my second Radium 223 injection, which is aimed at halting progress of bony metastases. This has coincided with an increase in pain, but I am getting pretty competent at balancing the analgesics to enable fairly normal activity. Recently I managed a 9 mile walk and a few ebike rides of about 16 miles, so am keeping fit to a degree, although I do have to have longer rest periods than in the past.
I am enjoying this summer and I hope that you all are doing the same.
I might not be doing it, fellow community members, but keep running, keep smiling.