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

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.