Race Day: Anna & Sophie vs 13.1 Miles

Sporting Their Christie Tops!

The day that Anna has been dreading had arrived. Race Day. Sunday, May 22nd – Manchester. The stage was set for her first ever half marathon. Sleepless nights, despairing days. “I hate running,” she would say to herself as she laced up her running shoes for another practice run. Her only motivation to continue doing them was the knowledge that she was raising money for an amazing cause – The Christie, where I receive my cancer treatment. The primary source of solace for her comes in the form of a vow… a vow to never run again once she crosses that finish line. Half marathon achieved; Anna Running Corp dismantled. All aspirations achieved and no interest in drawing up any news ones within the confines of awful running, the worst activity known to man (according to Anna).

With a start time of 8:40, it was an early wakeup. The alarm wailed at 6:00. Anna was up straight away, but I was not so eager. Neither was Lucy. The two of us refused to rise to Anna’s ‘I want to be on time’ game. We performed a dirty protest… the sleeping kind, we aren’t animals. Well, Lucy is, but you get it. By the time we got out of bed, it was 6:30. We had all agreed to leave at 6:45 the evening before. Anna wasn’t impressed.

We left at around 7:00 in the end. The sat-nav kindly informed us that we would be getting there at 7:53. That meant that Anna had plenty of time to meet her partner-in-crime Sophie (who is also Maid of Honour at our wedding) and make their way to the start. Any tension was dispelled – things were going to work out. We decided to bring Lucy the puppy along to see the city. After establishing herself as a beach girl in Whitby, we knew we had a difficult task convincing her that city life is worthy of consideration. It is a mountain that we must climb with her, though, as Anna and I usually live in London in normal life. This cancer malarky led us to move back in with my parents, in the much-smaller town that I grew up in. Lucy was then purchased for me by my lovely family as a surprise gift to help support me through the awful journey. She is now 8 months old and very much likes having a garden to run around in and fields to go walking in. It’s a huge problem as we won’t have either of those things once we’re in London. Also, due to her tiny size, she’s a little scared of cars. There are a lot of cars in London. Lucy won’t approve of any of it if we don’t start trying to convince her now.

Warming Up Against a Bar Window – Totally Normal

We arrived at roughly the time the sat-nav told us we would. Anna jumped out of the car and went to meet Sophie. My mum, dad and I found a parking lot and didn’t question its credentials. There were white lines, other cars and a machine to pay – it seemed legitimate as they come. Unfortunately, it wasn’t legitimate. Or I am assuming it isn’t legitimate. My dad returned from the parking machine and informed us that it cost just over 25 of his well-earnt-British pounds to leave his car on this piece of land for half a day. Now, I wish I could say there is nothing remarkable about this car park which would make it cost such a price but there actually are plenty of things that are remarkable about it. Here are some of the things that the car park did NOT offer for that price, making it remarkable – A barrier, a surface free of crater-sized holes or EVEN CCTV cameras (other than the cameras making sure those who entered and left had paid). Perhaps the fact that Britain has the second most cameras per person in the world, losing the title only to China, makes those who run it think that they don’t need to bother buying their own (stats supplied by random people in the pub and not verified; also the ‘China’ part of that fact may be British government propaganda to make us look better). Or perhaps, the company that own and manage this car park are just a bunch of money-grabbing twats. They can’t even pay someone to clean up the excessive amount of broken glass which was strewn around the place like spilt glitter on a carpet. Remarkably rubbish, but we paid for it. The joke is most definitely on us.

To be fair to the car park company, one of these problems actually seems endemic in the entire city of Manchester – broken glass. I studied for my undergrad in Manchester and lived in the centre of the city in my final year. It has always been the nearest city to my parent’s house, so when I was younger it would be where we’d go to go shopping, see bands live, etc. What I’m getting at is that I’ve spent a lot of time there in my life. Perhaps my memory is getting worse, but I do not remember the city having this much of a problem with broken glass when I frequented its streets. It is EVERYWHERE. I’m wondering if the local council have started trying to charge households for recycling glass or something. There must be some incentive driving people into yeeting their every bottle on a public walkway as opposed to putting it in a bin. It doesn’t even have to be a recycling bin. In fact, you don’t even have to put it in a bin, just don’t actively smash it on a public walkway, turning it into a trap for any innocent dog, child or adult that happens to be strolling down the road, not realising it is punctuated by jagged fragments. As me and my parents made our way to the spectating spot that we had picked out on a map, I feared for Lucy’s paws as we navigated the walkway – more glass fragments than concrete, and decorated with half-eaten food and rubbish. Lucy was a huge fan of the half-eaten food and rubbish, and my mum had to wrestle a couple of chicken bones out of her mouth over the day. Occassionally she’d pick up a bit of a polystyrene case which was left on the floor and proudly run along like she’d won the lottery. Good job shes cute because she’s also absolutely disgusting.

Mum Offering a Supporting Hand – Just Before Mile 2

We saw Anna and Sophie twice at our little viewing point – once just before mile 2 and again around mile 7. They were running side-by-side and were smiling ear-to-ear both times. They were enjoying it, no matter what they claim to the contrary. Both were sporting The Christie shirts, and Sophie even had a temporary tattoo of their logo on her arm. I’m hoping she will consider making it permanent in future but I suspect she won’t. She isn’t that committed to the cause. Despite it being quite overcast as they ran, the weather was proving near-perfect for running, remaining largely warm but with a cool breeze. The two stuck together all the way until the end, and the next time we saw them was on the run into the finish, with approximately 200 meters left to go. We cheered at them as we saw them emerging around the corner, and could see the smiles on their faces widen as they spotted the finish line in front of them. Music was banging, people were cheering and the voice of a woman announcing finishers was ringing out. They had done it. We made our way through the busy crowd to meet them.

Sophie’s Boyfriend Scott and Their Dog Narla – Surprise Support From Below a Bridge

Anna’s aunt, uncle and cousin were also waiting at the finish. Maureen, Anna’s aunt, also received treatment at The Christie for cancer. It was really lovely to talk to her about what an amazing place it is. There’s so much benefit in talking to someone who has beaten cancer and who understands the difficulty of going through chemotherapy. I have an incredible amount of respect for anyone who has withstood all of the struggles that come with a cancer diagnosis. The fact that I know they must be a strong person to be able to do such a thing then allows me to feel good about what I am doing. In turn, it makes me acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I must be quite a strong person too. I haven’t survived, but I’ve made it through twelve rounds of chemotherapy. There’s a lot more coming my way so I need to try and celebrate every win. Finishing twelve rounds of Folfirinox is a significant win, no matter what the results of the scan are on Thursday. Celebrate it.

Anna and Sophie got to celebrate a significant win today too – they finished their first (and last, so Anna claims) half marathon. They also get to celebrate raising money for an incredible cause. Anna in particular has two people close to her who sing the praises of The Christie, and for good reason. Raising over £1,500 for them is incredible. It was great to see so many other participants running for them too. The hospital truly deserves it for everything it does. I’m so grateful to Anna and Sophie for choosing to raise money for them.

13.1 Miles Later

Being around all that running got me riled up and desperate to run myself. I’ve not been getting out of the house much these past few days. My body has been fighting back against the infection(s) and I’ve felt incredibly tired. After spending the day walking around Manchester, watching large swathes of people pushing themselves physically, I decided to try and get out running again once I got home. It’s funny when you get motivated to do something in this way – you watch people do something and convince yourself it’ll be easy if you just get out and do it too. It rarely is.

Between the age of about 8 and 13, I used to skateboard. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may have remembered that I used to play the guitar a lot too at this age… Yes, Avril Lavigne must have been inspired by me to write her hit song Sk8er Boi. You’re welcome, Avril. I was never very good at skateboarding, unlike guitar, but over time I managed to learn a few tricks. Enough to go out with my friends and have fun without totally embarrassing myself. Me and my friends used to sit and watch professional skate videos together, where professionals would do mind-bending things on a skateboard and make it look incredibly easy. That is what is so impressive about people who are that proficient at a skill – you can watch them do it and be fooled into thinking it is easy, but you don’t appreciate how many different things the individual is accounting for to manipulate something in such a way. Skateboarding is one of the best examples of this I can think of. We’d get ourselves amped up watching these people throw themselves down huge sets of stairs, doing tricks that I couldn’t even do when slowly rolling along on a pavement. You’d then go outside, feeling incredibly motivated and ready to do whatever it takes to land that damn trick. You step on your skateboard, give yourself a small push so you’re slowly rolling, pop the board and the same thing that always happens happened – you’d enthusiastically gesticulate with your legs in mid-air whilst the board spins a bit, falls, and your feet land clumsily back to the ground either side of the piece of wood. You remember that it just isn’t that easy.

I felt that familiar feeling as I set off running in the early-afternoon heat. Witnessing so many people running a half marathon gave me a false sense of my current abilities as a runner. I headed out thinking that I’m only doing 5 – it’ll be easy! I used to routinely run a lot further than this and wouldn’t struggle at all. Of course, the run was horrible and my body just wasn’t playing ball; I knew it within minutes of setting off. My heart rate was rocketing despite my lungs feeling fine. Your body just isn’t the same on chemotherapy, and the infections a few days prior probably weren’t helping.

Things aren’t normal for me at the minute from an exercise point of view; they may never be again, with me needing a major operation, more chemotherapy, and maybe other procedures that I don’t know about yet. Who knows what I’ll be like in the end. I’m used to loving going running and being quite good at it. I’m not used to having to walk several times whilst running 5K – I’m not used to having to walk at all when running. I am used to pushing myself, though, and despite feeling absolutely crap, I forced myself to keep going for an extra kilometre. It isn’t a lot, but it’s something. Hopefully I’ll be able to enter a half marathon and push myself like that again soon. Maybe even a marathon, but I’m sure that is a while away from where I am right now.

As I ran along a familiar country path next to an overgrown patch of land, I remembered my mum telling me that the only time she has seen a snake in this country was in this area. She said it was dead with some of its body poking out onto the path, I believe. Running along, I looked into the overgrown wilderness and wondered how many snakes may be in there. That overgrown mess is their entire world. Nothing else matters. Their life is hunting, resting and trying to find a mate. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. They don’t care what is outside of this area – it is totally irrelevant to them. Every day is a fight for survival. One of those days they don’t come out on top of that fight, and they die. I wondered if I’d ever see one as I ran along. For a second I convinced myself that there was one ahead of me. As I approached, I realised it was just a stick. Shame, maybe next time.

The Overgrown Area Next to the Path

I thought about cancer and how arduous it all is. The long spells of treatment, the constant berating of statistics and the palpable uncertainty that hangs over everything in your life. I almost felt jealous of the snakes in their little wilderness. Then I wondered if we are in our own little wilderness and some higher power is looking over us, pitying how simple we are with our cancer, climate change and petty wars. Maybe they’re juggling much bigger priorities with much deadlier consequences. Suddenly I felt a bit better about the whole cancer thing. I’m still managing to run a bit, how bad can it be?

Anna and Sophie are still taking donations. If you would like to donate, their page can be found here. A big congratulations to both of them for challenging themselves and for absolutely smashing it! Can’t wait to support you both at the next one (hehehe)!

Scott and Narla Playing Where’s Wally?

A Pain in the Mouth

The Chemotherapy Diaries

I’ve written many of these Chemotherapy Diaries posts now, so I have an established process. I tend to write 2 per cycle. The first one is usually easy as I write it straight after treatment day and have a lot to say because this is the most eventful day in the 2-week chemotherapy cycle. Then, in week 2, I try to write another post. My process here is to read back the week 1 blog post and get a feel for the vibe. I then square this off against how the rest of the cycle has felt, and that sets my tone for the new blog post. Today, I read the last one back, and I think the tone is staying the same, which should be a good thing. The problem is that I feel like there is more to instinctively write about when I read back and feel very differently from the original post. So, if you get to the end of this post and think “wait, did he speak about chemotherapy in this post?” Probably not… chemotherapy has been, sort of, fine, dare I say it.

There has been 1 stand out symptom this cycle – mouth ulcers. Usually, I may get 1 or 2 in a cycle and, although uncomfortable, they are manageable. I have some special mouth wash issued by the hospital, which burns your mouth and then leaves it feeling very numb. When faced with standard mouth ulcers, it has been very effective at relieving pain. My mouth ulcers were King Kong-ian this time, though. Not only were they large, but they were also right at the back of my tongue on both sides; the perfect spot to consistently and very, VERY painfully catch on my teeth. They wreaked havoc in my mouth from Thursday in week 1. It was only on Monday that I started to get any relief from them, and it was welcomed with open arms. Before that, I had been through every stage of grief about 3 times with them. Then I had a harrowing experience with some chilli oil.

Sunday night, I was feeling good. I’d had a lovely weekend, seeing friends visiting me from London and enjoying myself (despite the mouth ulcers). I had spent Sunday afternoon out with Anna and my friend Cam, having a roast dinner in a restaurant and relaxing. The whole thing lulled me into a false sense of security that I had a normal life. Scanning around for recipes to make Sunday night, I set my eyes on a coconut and lime potato gratin from Ottolgenhi’s Flavour cookbook (a fantastic cookbook, by the way – I really recommend it for anyone looking for impressive vegetarian recipes). As is standard with this cookbook, it took a good 2.5 hours to make; the recipes are always worth it, even when they have rogue ingredients that require a trip to your local Amazon store. By the time I came to eat it, I was absolutely starving and ready to reap the fruits of my labour.

I was about to find out that I am not as clever as I think I am, which may not surprise my friends and family reading this. The recipe requires you to make your own chilli and garlic oil by frying red chilli, garlic and some spices in oil. The instruction is to do this with 150ml of oil, use around 60ml of it for the recipe and save the rest for other things. “I’m only going to do 60ml of oil and not 150ml,” I said to myself, feeling like I’d broken out of the matrix. I didn’t think about how much more intense the chilli heat would be when a lower volume of oil was used. As I ate the final product and felt good about it, I realised after about 3 minutes that my tongue and, specifically, my ulcers, felt like I had dowsed them in petrol and was chowing down on a plate of lit matches. I tried water, vanilla yoghurt, milk, mouthwash, more water and repeated for about 20 minutes before things started to feel stable again. It was a stark reminder that chemotherapy is king and that my happiness is a slave to it. I had some toast with jam on, sulked and went to bed.

Besides the mouth ulcers, the cycle has been good since mid-way through week 1. Before that, it was still better than the average cycle, but I still felt tired and a little bit crap (a technical term used by the doctors). Week 2 has been particularly good, with me feeling better than ever. I baked my first Victoria Sponge cake for my friend Finch’s 30th birthday. As you can see below, my decorating skills are akin to a 5-year-olds art skill. That may actually be offensive to 5-year-olds. If there are any reading this feeling victimised, I apologise. Although the cake was really delicious, I did not realise what a pain in the arse they are to make. I had to add 6 eggs individually, whisking in between and alternating them with an additional tablespoon of flour. It was like a practical exam, something I hadn’t experienced since my driving test. I kept forgetting whether I had just done an egg or flour as I whisked and was getting flustered. So, despite it being delicious in flavour, I won’t be rushing to bake one again. The next time I can think of will be for my birthday, as it happens to be on a treatment day. There is nothing cooler than baking your own birthday cake to take to the chemotherapy ward, giving it to the nurses and reminding them that it is your birthday. Is it weird if I ask them for a slice and bring my own candles? Who cares, I’m doing it.

I also had another go at the oat, cranberry and nut cookies that I failed at last time. They turned out much better, but they finally proved that I am not a fan of pistachios and don’t care to admit it. They’re just pretty average, in my humble opinion. I also made some cranberry and chia flapjacks. Flapjacks are becoming my favourite thing to make for mornings before I go running. You just feel like they’re little buttery balls of energy. They’re probably helping me in my pursuit to put on weight too. All of the baking is probably helping out in that regard. Finch’s birthday cake definitely did – I’ve never used so much butter, sugar, cream and jam. You start to see why this stuff is bad for you when you bake it yourself. Ignorance is bliss; stay as ignorant as possible, especially if you have a sweet tooth.

Oat, Cranberry and Nut Cookies (Left) and Cranberry Chia Flapjacks (Right)

So I am walking towards the next treatment day feeling positive. The oncologist told me that exercise should help me cope better with the chemotherapy symptoms, so I will happily attribute this cycle being so good to the running and use that as an excuse to do lots more of it. I have another call with the oncologist tomorrow. During the last call, he said we would arrange the scan for the week of February 7th, but I have had a letter through from The Christie arranging the scan for February 28th. I assume this is probably because the team have decided to extend my chemotherapy to 6 months instead of 3. That means that the scan is less time-sensitive now, and so doing it slightly later is probably better for determining the next steps after I hit the 6-month mark in May. It will be good to confirm this with him, though, as I was surprised by it when I first opened the letter.

3 more months of chemotherapy give this series more longevity, which is good. Here’s hoping to have lots of uneventful cycles where I can talk more about baking than any of the horrible symptoms I am experiencing. My pessimistic side says this is unlikely to be the case, but you never know. Today I had my blood appointment at The Christie. All went well. The wait was just over an hour which is a little on the long side, but I try not to complain about such things. I am receiving world-class treatment and not paying a penny for any of it, a luxury that many don’t have. I then met the infamous Nigel, the main subject of my ‘Inspiring Stories from a Pancreatic Survivor‘ post. His lovely daughter Julie who introduced me to him, arranged for us to meet at a garden centre near their house. I managed to resist pressure from Anna to buy another plant whilst there. There isn’t any room left in our bedroom anyway – our window has already been turned into a conservatory. It was really lovely to finally meet them, and it was plenty of fun, as I knew it would be.

Anna’s Conservatory aka Our Bedroom Window

Finally, I absolutely smashed my 5K today. Up to now, I’ve been running them in about 35 minutes. I ran it in just under 30 minutes today, which is a huge improvement. I started running and just felt determined to push myself for some reason. Once you tap into that part of your brain, the rest is history. The next thing I knew, I was letting out a scream as I hit 30 minutes, stopping the activity on my watch and looking down to see 5.07km. It felt incredible and was totally worth the dirty looks I got from the elderly people across the road. I let out a big smile at them, and they probably thought I was a murderer, but I didn’t care. It was a celebration, and they were invited. Let’s hope the upward trend continues (in week 2 at least – I’m not expecting miracles during week 1).

My Pancreatic Cancer UK Top Came in Time for My 5K

Exercise & Me – Written for Pancreatic Cancer Action’s Blog

The below article can be found here on Pancreatic Cancer Action UK’s blog. It’s the first of 2 posts that I have written for them which will be released this month. I’ve copied it below for your ease, but be sure to check out PCA; they’re an amazing charity set up by 14-year survivor and general veteran of pancreatic cancer, Ali Stunt. I have spoken to her on the phone and her knowledge and attitude are inspiring. I hope you enjoy the article!

Exercise & Me- Why Exercise is Key to Healthy Wellbeing

As part of our Jog Jan for Pan Can event, ultra-marathon runner and pancreatic cancer patient, Dan Godley, reflects on how exercise has impacted his life.

Dan Godley

My name is Dan Godley, and I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 28. A week before I first went into hospital with severe abdominal pain, I had competed in the Maverick Adidas Terrex ultra-marathon. The distance was 35 miles in the unforgiving Peak District, starting and ending near the picturesque village of Bakewell.

Two weeks prior to this, I had also competed in the Brighton Marathon, an event which made the news as the organisers accidentally marked the course incorrectly on the day, resulting in the marathon being over half a kilometre longer than the official marathon distance. This is a cardinal sin in the world of marathoners and can cost professionals valuable qualifying points by affecting their finishing time.

Fortunately for me, I am far from being in this category, and the news greatly pleased me, as my time was four hours and three minutes. I could now claim that I would have completed it in under four hours if the course was the correct length (probably). I added that to my excuse that it was far warmer than it should have been during an end-of-September marathon, and I felt vindicated.

I’ve never been the fastest runner, but I have discovered over the years that I seem to have a good mind for exercise. My biggest achievement has been completing two separate 100km ultra-marathon events, one of which was the GB Ultra Scotland route in 2020. It was supposed to be a 100-mile event, and my brother and I had trained rigorously throughout lockdown in preparation. To our dismay, the event had to be cancelled just days before it took place. As we had trained so hard (and spent money on the accommodation), we decided to travel up and do the first 100km of the course anyway, deciding that the full 100 miles would be dangerous without proper support from organisers who knew the route. Our parents drove with us to support us throughout the day, something which proved to be rather pointless, as we struggled to see traces of society anywhere in the scarce Scotland wilderness. It was just beautiful scenery and pain all day. We loved it.

Dan Godley

Exercise has provided so many benefits to me over the years that I feel I could write a book on the subject. It started out as a way of winding down after work. I would look forward to running home from the office in the evening, plotting new routes to explore and watching my time-per-mile slipping down. Then I started liking and buying myself the attire. Running shoes come in all sorts of obnoxious bright colours. Each pair I bought, I grew a little more in confidence, before finally peaking when I bought some fluorescent orange Nike trainers. They were designed so cars would easily see them at night. I wondered if they ever caused a car crash because they blinded a driver, but I never saw such an event take place. I do run with headphones in, though, so I could have been oblivious to it.

Once I started entering events, I felt a wider range of benefits. Knowing I had a marathon or ultra-marathon in the coming months motivated me to run five times a week, and I started to mix my training up. Hill sprints on Monday, slow run on Tuesday, tempo run Wednesday etc… Some days were hard, some days were easy. It may be raining, icy, or boiling hot, but I would be out there running. It made me feel hardy mentally, and I felt myself being able to focus more at work, as well as push myself further in challenging situations.

There were benefits to my relationships, too. I felt more relaxed and positive when I was regularly exercising. My training time was for training, and then my free time was to relax. I had earned it, so I felt like I could enjoy it so much more. My friends and I would cook each other nice meals and I wouldn’t feel guilty about eating seconds of dessert. My mind was relaxed, and I’d feel comfortable in company.

I used to go out a lot on weekends and have late nights drinking. The weekend would run away from me as I spent lots of money, stayed out late, and woke up feeling awful. With a structured training plan and a motivated attitude to exercise, I didn’t feel the need to waste my weekends like this. I felt comfortable only having a drink or two and leaving early. “Why are you leaving so early?” people would ask. “I’ve got a 100-kilometre ultra in four weeks”, I’d smugly respond. It would usually gain the respect of people, but where it didn’t, I knew what brought me more happiness and was better for my body.

Exercise & Me, Dan Godley

Since my diagnosis, I have struggled to exercise to the extent that I had before. I’ve been getting into more mindful types of exercise, such as yoga. It has shown me another side of exercise that is far less intense, but just as rewarding. Learning new positions and perfecting my breathing provides plenty of benefits for my body, and it helps me sleep soundly at night.

Learning about the more meditative properties of this type of exercise has also helped me process elements of the cancer diagnosis that bother me. It helps me synthesize what is going on with me, and better process the worrying thoughts. I have also started getting back pain as a side effect of the chemotherapy type that I am on. The yoga helps me tackle the pain, and it is far more manageable when I find the time to do at least 20 minutes of it in the morning.

I also find myself thinking about new content for my blog. It was launched in response to my diagnosis, and I find that the perfect time to write is just after a yoga session. My mind feels calm, and my body is relaxed. The blog helps me fill some of the void that the more intense exercise has left in my life: Having a structure to follow each week and challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone. Until the day I can say “I have beat pancreatic cancer”, and return to my strict exercise routine, I’m going to continue exercising in any way that my body allows.

By Dan Godley

How Much Do I Share?

The Chemotherapy Diaries

There are some new challenges of chemotherapy seeping in. I assumed (perhaps naively) that I would understand the lay of the land by session 4 and that the difficulties would be mostly known in my treatment routine. It had even occurred to me that I might run out of things to write about… that is proving to be a preposterous thought. It’s becoming a game of ‘How much do I share?’ as more distressing and frankly disgusting symptoms start bearing their ugly head.

A reality of pancreatic cancer is that you have to get used to discussing some pretty unsavoury topics. I am referring specifically to toilet habits. Your stools are some of the best identifiers that you have pancreatic cancer. A primary function of your pancreas is to create enzymes that help break down fat in your food. When you have something inhibiting the functioning of your pancreas, such as a cancerous tumour, it will stop producing enough of these enzymes. The result is that you cannot digest fat easily, and your stools may float and/or appear a bleached colour. Originally, processing fats was only mildly uncomfortable for me, and I would have a similar feeling to indigestion as I lay in bed at night, which would remain until I got out of bed in the morning. It then became extreme after about a year of mild symptoms, which eventually led me to A&E. Of course, I did not realise that this was the problem at the time, I thought it was a mild food allergy or something.

I can’t remember when I first got asked the question ‘Do your stools float in the toilet bowl?’ by a doctor, but their foresight was bang on. I had not noticed until the question had been put to me, though. I didn’t tend to spend too much time studying the toilet bowl, surprisingly. Knowing these symptoms can ultimately be the difference between life and death, though. The earlier you can identify a cancer in your system, the better your chance at survival. It is especially true of pancreatic cancer, so I thought it worth mentioning here. The below post from Pancreatic Cancer Action details the main symptoms of the Less Survivable Cancers group. They’re worth knowing – I am an example of someone who was blindsided by a diagnosis and could have benefited from understanding these symptoms far earlier than I did. I only became aware of them after my diagnosis.

Back to chemotherapy treatment cycle number 4. At the beginning of your treatment days, the nurses ask you a series of questions that they then numerically rate based on your answer. “Have you had any diarrhoea?” For the first 2 cycles, I gave a confident and smug “No!” By cycle 3, it was a meek “a little bit on day 7,” which is my off weekend Saturday. When I get posed the question on Saturday about cycle 4, I am not sure where I’ll start, really.

For the first 6 days, everything was pretty good. I had to convince myself to not run on the first Tuesday after treatment. While walking the dog with my mum, I was boasting about how good I felt. My little puppy Lucy was running after me as I jogged ahead. The oncologist’s words were sitting heavy in my mind, though – “Don’t do strenuous exercise in the first 7 days of treatment. Your body has enough to deal with processing the chemotherapy drugs, and you don’t want to give yourself chronic fatigue.” The little jogging game with Lucy was as far as I should push it, I thought, secretly plotting to run at this stage in cycle 5 if I felt this good.

Thursday rolled around, and I had the session with Pancreatic Cancer UK. The session was on Pancreatic Enzymes and Diet. In the ‘Adjusting to Life With a Less Survivable Cancer‘ post, I spoke a little about it. As I mentioned in the introduction, the pancreas does not function normally when suffering from some form of ailment. To supplement the suffering pancreas, Creon is prescribed to take with meals, food and fatty drinks, like those with milk in. This tablet contains pancreatic enzymes to help your body break down the fat. You take these tablets with every meal, eating them at regular intervals to ensure a distribution of the enzymes throughout the digestion process. We’re conditioned to think taking large amounts of pills is bad because it is with things like paracetamol. Creon is a different beast. I probably consume approximately 25 of these pills a day. You really do have to swallow them constantly when digesting something containing fat. There was a rather comical moment on the call where another attendee started listing foods one by one and asking if he needed to eat Creon with them. “I like to eat half a chocolate bar in the middle of the day sometimes. Do I need to take Creon with that?” He asked. The nurse politely repeated what she had already said many times, in many ways, that they must be taken wherever fat needs to be digested. “What about a packet of crisps?” he followed up. It was rather comical, but I was trying to hold my composure on camera. I really wanted him to start listing all the foods he likes to eat individually, but he stopped there. Shame.

Perhaps I boasted too much on the call with Pancreatic Cancer UK that the chemotherapy was going well, that my symptoms weren’t proving to be too bad. “My diet hasn’t even been impacted. I’m eating as normal generally,” I boasted, not realising fate was being baited right behind my back. It was ready to strike.

Friday, the diarrhoea started and didn’t really stop. There was blood by the end of the day, and I was on the phone to the chemotherapy hotline. I know this is disgusting, but it’s just the reality of chemotherapy, unfortunately. I spent most of the day in bed. It really was exhausting dealing with this stuff, and I felt terrible. On top of feeling drained, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. It all came out as my fiance sat talking to her mum Kathy on the phone. It is strange how many times I have bared my soul on FaceTime to Kathy; I’m not sure why that scenario is the catalyst for me to do so. After my endoscopy, the true extent of the trauma only came out later in the day when Kathy asked me on Facetime how I was doing. Before that, I had been a closed box to Anna and my mum – only skimming over the horrific details.

“I just don’t know what will happen. I can’t confidently say I’ll be alive in 5 years, and what will I have gone through if I am. All of a sudden, I don’t feel like I can plan for any future.” The words were flowing. I didn’t even realise they were bouncing around my head, but they must have been because I was reeling it off like a script. It’s challenging to keep your head in a positive place when something is happening to your body that is so abnormal. I felt tired, dehydrated and bored of it all. Anna and I sat crying together after the call for a few minutes, then relief. We were laughing again 10 minutes later. We don’t stay down long.

Saturday, I thought things were better, even if I still felt terrible. Some friends from London came to visit, along with my best friend, Luke. We had a great day – lunch, dog walk, board games, bed. I even had 2 pints with lunch, something I haven’t done in a long time. It all felt… normal? It was exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, Saturday night, there was more blood. Another call to the chemotherapy hotline and a lapse in positivity. It was Ok, though, and by Sunday, I felt good again; other than being tired, but that is part and parcel of chemotherapy. Tiredness becomes as reliable as your shadow in the sun.

This week is going better. The sun has been shining, I’m getting back to being active, and my mum and I are doing yoga every morning. Today I went running again and hit the 5K mark! I walked for a few minutes at around the halfway point to give my body a bit of a rest, but ran other than that (albeit, slowly). Yesterday’s run provided me with a baseline, so I wasn’t quite as shocked by how my body responded to the exercise today. It’s yet another microcosm for the way I seem to process things. The event happens, and I respond negatively; then, after sitting on it, I work through that negativity and recognise the positives, allowing me to build on it. Yesterday, I felt disappointed that my body felt slower and more lethargic. Over the rest of the day, I felt more optimistic for having managed to run again at all. Then today, I better understand the parameters of my body and realise that I can still hit targets so long as those targets are adjusted for my new reality. That then allows me to push myself again, and feel good about things. Maybe one day I’ll be able to curtail the initial emotional and negative response. Maybe.

100 to 1

I woke up feeling somewhat determined today. Despite my last Chemotherapy Diaries post claiming that everything was perfect this cycle, it went pear-shaped over the weekend. But that is for another post. Today was the day that I stopped wallowing in my own self-pity and actually did something. There was a sign this morning that it was the perfect time to do so.

An unexpected ring at the door this morning produced a package for me from Waterstones, a well-known chain of bookshops in the UK. I hadn’t ordered any books so naturally, I was surprised. It turns out that my future mother-in-law and keen blog supporter Kathy had sent me a book called ‘The Daily Stoic‘. The book has a page for every day of the year containing a quote from a famous philosopher and a small paragraph reflecting on it by the author. It is a wonderful idea and a great gift – thank you, Kathy! Today’s wisdom is titled ‘Reboot the Real Work’ and contains the following words from Ryan Holiday, the author.

“As we get older, failure is not so inconsequential anymore. What’s at stake is not some arbitrary grade or intramural sports trophy, but the quality of your life and your ability to deal with the world around you.”

Ryan Holiday – The Daily Stoic

There couldn’t be a better call to arms, which is phrased so well. It feels almost too relevant to my headspace this morning. It provided the lift I needed to shake off a tough few days, forget the hardships and refocus my energy. “Today is the day I run,” I said to myself.

The day started off with 30 minutes of yoga with my mum. We use an app called Down Dog, a cost-effective way of avoiding paying for yoga classes, but it has its shortcomings. It seems to enjoy cycling through 3 core moves as a means of moving between sections, which is fine, but when I am spending 50% of the workout listening to the exact same tone of voice tell me to do the exact same manoeuvre that I am also struggling with, I start to lose my zen a bit. “Focus on your breathing, Dan,” I told myself, “not how much you want to punch the iPad,” as I made my way into a forward fold for the 200th time. One of the primary benefits of yoga is supposed to be the meditative quality you achieve through focusing on your body, steadily breathing and paying attention to every cell. I’m working on that part of it, apparently – it gave me more mental anguish today. But I did it.

Next up was the big event, the run itself. I told myself that I wouldn’t come home without doing 5K. The thought even crossed my mind that maybe I’d feel great and do 5 miles. I said as much to each member of my family that I crossed this morning with veiled confidence. “I guess if I feel ok, I may go up to 5 miles, but we’ll see.” It was met with smiles and adulation. I felt important; it was fantastic. Armed in leggings, shorts, thick socks, a thermal layer, running top, gloves and a snood, I was ready. It was more clothes than I would usually wear in the -5 Philadelphia winter. It was more clothes than I wore when I ran in an actual snowstorm there, where I spent most of the run doing my best impression of Bambi’s first steps. It wasn’t graceful.

I didn’t manage 5 miles. I didn’t even manage 5K. I only just made it 1 mile before having to walk. It seems I underestimated the effect that chemotherapy has on you, despite complaining about the impact that chemotherapy is having on me weekly in my blog. Isn’t the human mind an incredible thing? My initial feeling was disappointment, but it quickly faded into something else… gratitude? I’m not sure what the exact emotion was, but I had run again, and there was a new baseline to work from. It felt good to be out again. I reminded myself of the quote from the morning and told myself that I had achieved something today, even if I struggled to call it an achievement at first. My previous fitness goal was to run a 100-mile ultra, and that thought hung heavy in my mind. Struggling to run a single mile felt alien to me. But I haven’t run a single mile since September, during a 35-mile ultra-marathon. Things are different now.

The sun was shining as I approached home from my warm down. I swung home, grabbed my fiance and my little puppy Lucy and went walking for 30 minutes. My clothes were already sweaty, and I had my runners on, so why not. It’s quite a sight to behold watching the small and very beautiful Lucy running at almost full speed to keep up with us walking. She is a delight. The day had not stopped its prophetic tendencies yet, though.

Upon opening Twitter this afternoon, I saw the following post from Pancreatic Cancer Action. I’m not sure if Blue Monday is specifically today’s date of 17th January or just every Monday ever. Some of those reading this will likely argue that it is every Monday ever. I had completed almost every tip that they had suggested. The only one I have not technically done, but had spoken about, was ‘Book something to look forward to’. Anna and I had spent the walk talking about booking a weekend away for my birthday in March, though, so I had shown some intent.

Those suffering from Blue Monday know that plenty of others are with you. I like to find things that help me gain some perspective when feeling low. It isn’t always good to goad yourself with people who have more significant problems than you yet are dealing with them much better than you, but it offers valuable perspective if you can stomach it. Scanning Twitter a few days ago, I started looking at Chris Johnson (Gotthegiftofit). I would explain his motive, but his bio does it better than I could: “Living with terminal cancer (GIST & Secondary Liver). Running marathons, cycling coast to coast and climbing UKs highest mountains for Children With Cancer UK”. I already had an incredible amount of respect for this man, but the below post is the one that blew me away.

What an incredibly powerful message and mentality. The fact is that life is unpredictable. Things change quickly, sometimes in a way that can feel irreparable. I know that I have spent a lot of time recently mourning a life I used to have, one full of exercise, work ambitions and social plans. Those things felt lost to me, which made them feel even more desirable. In my mind, my previous life was perfect, and I longed for it. Our brains can be deceitful things that refuse to give us any rest. The reality is that things happen, and where nature looks on with indifference, we humans assign emotion and meaning to them. Our overall focus should always remain the same – to maximise our enjoyment in the situation we are currently in and strive to be as happy as we can for as long as possible. You cannot control everything in the world, but you can control your response to it. My situation may suck, but my response to it doesn’t have to. So today, I’m choosing to be happy with my achievements and appreciative that I have a life that I know is worth fighting for. Blue Monday 0 – Dan Godley 1.