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A life in the cancer lane

Drugs companies vs the truths (do we already have a cure?)

Over 10 years of being involved in the cancer circle, having had cancer, experienced others going through it all the way to involving myself with fundraising and helping on the frontline, I’ve had the same discussion many times- is there really a cure for cancer we don’t know about because the drugs companies don’t want us knowing?

Like my last blog, this is something that has struck a cord with me. It angered me for a long time when people suggested this was the case. Why would they? It seems mad and even inhumane to do such a thing but these conspiracies have been around for a long time.
I’ve learned to live with the fact people are entitled to their opinions but I now wanted to look into whether there was truth behind the conspiracy.

It’s common knowledge that cancer drugs are expensive. The development,research, testing, and trials of said drugs account for the price but at the same time, these companies are making hundreds of millions. Cancer could be seen as big business to some. The executives of the companies only want to see profit so I could understand why people would assume they don’t want a cure. This stretches further and further when people would accuse the government of wanting the ‘business’ to thrive as they would be rewarded for it.
I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case though. The cost of treating cancer takes up a large proportion of the budget. The cost alone to the NHS in price rises in cancer drugs is £380 million in a year! How can governments sustain that kind of financial pressure? Even the most cynical should realise the government is keen to reduce the huge cost not increase it!
The financial incentive is clearly on the side of finding a cure not hiding it?
The Government also funds the majority of research too so this further adds to the bill. In my opinion the government isn’t the issue.
The stories I’ve heard about drugs companies would start to make me cynical!
One story I came across was quite disturbing.one particularly well known company had created a new drug, very profitable. The problem was they couldn’t find enough patients to use the particular drug so in order to convince health agencies to buy the drug, they allegedly took patients who didn’t have cancer and made it look like they did, so in other words, made it up!
Very disturbing indeed.
It is also known through research that medical professionals have voiced concerns about drugs taking precedent due to higher profit margins rather than effectiveness.
All this aside can you still honestly believe there is a cure but we aren’t using it?
Take smoking, one of the biggest causes of cancer out there. Yes the government taxes smokers to the hilt but the cost for cancer treatments surely out numbers this! With the smoking ban having been in place for years, the money made has decreased massively. We can see with our own eyes the drop in smokers. You nearly forget how bad the smell is until every now and then someone reminds us! One problem though is that those that did eventually give the habit up, a percentage of those unfortunately contracted the disease, still costing the health service and slowly crippling It in the process.

No matter what, there will always be those that believe a cure is out there. I believe a cure will be found one day. I’ve seen too much to not believe that but I don’t think there is one yet. Cancer has been round for a very long time. If an alternative medicine truely was a cure for every case we would be using it. Research is so important so let’s keep it evolving. We will get there one day, I just know it!

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Alternative medicines and do they work regarding cancer??

This is a topic and that can devide opinion at the best of times, is it better than traditional medicine? It is a great topic for debate and I myself have had my run ins with individuals regarding the subject. I’m not unknown to be quite opinionated especially when it comes to something I’m passionate about and think I know a bit about but even I can hold my hands up and say that I have let other experiences cloud my judgement on certain aspects of this topic. To clear up what I’m referring to, it concerns cannabis oil as an alternative medicine to cancer. Now I’ll go into it more later in this blog post but although I’m more clued in as to what it is and how it apparently works, I’ve had my fair share of heated discussions online about this. I won’t name the individual or website that advertises it but it has really got to me on occasions due to there reckless ways of showcasing it. I’ve been called many names but due to this I’ve actually learnt a lot more about it and am a bit more open minded about it but I’ll discuss that later.

Now, other than the big topic of cannibis oil, there are other ‘alternative medicines’ out there that have been and are being used to treat cancer apparently. You’ve probably noticed I’m very sceptical and have a shield up regarding this as I’m very protective of the NHS and the team of people who put their life and soul into curing me and many others from the disease. Sometimes I feel they are cast aside and not appreciated when people disregard traditional forms of treatment. Everyone is different and everyone has their own right to decide on how they’re treated which I respect but due to an ignorance on both sides I may add, there is a lot of badmouthing about both forms. I may be sceptical but I’ve learnt to be more open minded about it and understand that in some cases patients have no other choice and have nothing to loose. Like everything, it’s not 100% effective always but hope is a powerful thought and if someone believes it will help, sometimes that’s enough.

So what do we consider traditional and alternative? Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery are seen as traditional. Those that disapprove of these methods do so because of the side effects and believe it’s a conspiracy by drugs companies to make more money. Alternative medicines can be simplified into things such as vitamins and supplements, herbal medicine and acupuncture. Those that oppose traditional but are for alternative say this is a much cleaner, safer and effective way of curing the body. Whether or not that is the case it’s still a money making business just like it is for drugs companies with traditional meds. I don’t care what anyone says but if you buy cannibis oil, herbal remedies, vitamins etc your still lining someone’s pocket for the privilege of potentially curing your illness.it isn’t being provided out of the goodness of people’s hearts, or at least not for the majority of the time. I know the work that goes into cancer research and those that do it are dedicating their careers in trying to find cures and better less evasive treatments. Yes drugs companies eventually create said treatments and make money but it works the same for both forms of medicines.
So upon research I come to the conclusion that trying to find some information on the alternatives was particularly difficult. I found that most sites discussed the negative aspect these treatments can have when going through traditional medicines. That’s not what I wanted, I wanted to know how these therapies where seen to be affective against cancer in their own right, not when used alongside common treatments. Perhaps this comes up because it is assumed that these treatments are only used in this way? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case though. Many people are totally against the likes of chemo and radio from the outset so what do they do? How do they go about helping to ‘cure’ themselves? Well here is a few therapies I’ve picked out. Some sound ridiculous, others seem to have a bit of a better background to them.

GERSON THERAPY AND JUICING
This therapy was developed by Dr Max GERSON over 90 years ago. It was based on the idea that if your body’s immune system was strong enough it could reactivate your body’s ability to heal itself without the damaging side effects. Organic plant based foods feature heavily. Juicing also seems quite important with the idea that the food remains in a raw state and consumed that way. Some other things you need to do while on this is coffee enemas ,eating beef liver and taking natural supplements. Now I don’t know about you but coffee enemas and eating beef liver don’t sound like my idea of nice forms of treatment but who am I to say, perhaps it works? I’ve no idea but it’s interesting to learn how some people might decide this is the treatment for them.

PROBIOTIC FOODS
Everyone I’m sure has heard of this. There is that well known yoghurt ad on the tv that tells you about ‘good bacteria’That good bacteria has been proven to be true! There are many different types of PROBIOTIC FOODS and even being fit and healthy, these sound like a good idea to add to our diet. It caught my eye as it actually had a bit of research and proof behind it which made me believe that there would be some hope that it could help. Research has suggested that probiotic supplementation may be able to stop tumour growth. This makes sense due to 80% of your immune system is in your gut so a healthy gut is a healthy body. I’m still slightly sceptical if this would be effective while having cancer but it defiently sounds more promising than the first option!

TUMERIC AND CURCUMIN
I always knew eating curries where good for me in some way. In fact I’m a big fan of spices in cooking and if you look into it quite a few have health benefits. The two mentioned above are no different. It has been widely known for years now that these spices help in the prevention of cancer in our bodies. Explains why many Asian countries have lower rates. It’s not exactly a difficult thing to do either, just add a bit in your food and it tastes good too so hey, win win !

So I’ve mentioned a few alternatives but the main one I want to discuss Is cannabis oil or hemp oil as some refer to it. Many find the idea of medicinal cannabis ‘wrong’ due to our views of it being dangerous for various reasons, me included! I guess I was stuck on the thought of what it does to people, makes them paranoid, violent etc etc. That just isn’t the case though. The oil is made by removing the main ingredients from the plant that cause these symptoms and takes the parts of the plant that have the health benefits. It is made up of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) usually in equal amounts. Many people swear by this, many have claimed it has completely killed their cancers. The claims are extraordinary whereby you can’t ignore. Perhaps it does work but my issue is the research behind it and the badmouthing of current treatments that are used instead. Now I have no idea why the medical profession refuse to acknowledge it as of yet but It isn’t like they are treating patients with no idea of what their doing. The claims from the cannabis oil camp is that cancer research is all about finding more poisons to destroy our bodies and that the research has achieved nothing. They say we should be using what nature gives us to cure our bodies? Most chemo drugs are made from natural products found on the planet. There is obviously more to it, information that anyone outside the medical profession just wouldnt understand. Is it time though to join together and research this a bit more in depth and consider it as a viable treatment option? My fear is politics is getting in the way of it. If that’s the case it would be a terrible shame. If the claims are true the drug should be worth a try. Even if it was given as an option if patients didn’t want the traditional route. Who knows what will happen. I will be more of an open book on the subject from now on but I won’t stop asking questions and fighting the corner of traditional. Yes I may upset some over that, they may choose to call me all the names under the Sun but if that is the attitude we must encounter, we will get knowhere. Would I consider it if I was ever put in the situation again? To be honest I just don’t know. Would I consider any alternative? I think if I had to consider any it would be cannabis oil but it would still take a lot of convincing.

Lets hope none of us have to ever consider any of this but if you do at least you now know that you have every chance in this lifetime to defeat cancer and continue living your life!

AND WHO SAID I JUST CYCLE, I READ TOO (ABOUT BIKES)

For all my cycling friends and for all of you who enjoy a good read. You’d think with all of the cycling I’m doing at the minute the last thing I’d want is to read about it too! Well your wrong,I’m a man obsessed at the moment but that doesn’t mean what I’ve read isn’t fascinating or inspiring my daily routine.

First up is Cycle of Lies, the fall of Lance Armstrong. Yes that guy again. His autobiography was like a handbook of hope and perseverance when I had cancer. In that book he said when he won the tour that he hoped his victory inspired those fighting cancer. All of this gave me hope but when it came out he had cheated I was intrigued to know how and why. I was stuck, I didn’t know whether I still felt the same so I had to read this book to make my mind up!
What intrigued me and probably every other sports fan was how he managed to go all his career without testing positive? Well the complexity of the doping programme he was in was mind blowing. The book goes into detail into how they managed it. Sometimes it was done right behind a closed door to the scrum of the fans and media. The Armstrong bandwagon was that cocky!

What you learn from back then was that in order to win you had to join everyone else in the doping system. Armstrong just did it so much better. Racing the tour was not just a bike race, it was a test according to Lance. It tests you physically, mentally and even morally. He knew what he was doing was wrong but to succeed he had no choice, his downfall was coming out of retirement!
Expo, the main drug the peloton used, boy o boy is it dangerous! Some riders felt the need to overuse it to try and be faster, however it placed them at a very high risk of a heart attack!
All scary never mind the thought that it actually could have caused his cancer in the first place! Armstrong never believed this, that’s why he used epo again when he returned from having cancer but the author suggests otherwise.

The book details Lances personality, his sheer ruthfulness to get what he wanted. It’s not a side I particularly liked the idea of however upon reading it, it didn’t change my mind on him. He was a troubled character but the good he did for cancer awareness and research can’t be ignored. Cancer once came with a stigma because people were afraid to say it. Armstrong and Livestrong helped change that.
It’s a great book, very different to his autobiography but still worth a read.

Next up is Geoff Thomas-Riding through the storm. Geoff Thomas, who is that I hear you say? For all you old skool footy fans out there, he played for England and Crystal palace to name but a few. Geoff Thomas was diagnosed with Leukaemia and when he came through treatment he decided to ride the tour De France, what a legend I thought so it was a must read!
When I started to read this I realised how similar both of our lives had become even though we are from very different backgrounds. Reading about his struggle in riding the gruelling tour was one thing but the direction his life had went after Leukaemia was what kept me turning the pages.
Cancer changed his perspective on life. He vowed to fight it for everyone. When he decided to ride the tour he did it for himself. He wanted to prove he had beaten the illness. I was the same,I had to find a way to prove it and then it struck with me I wasn’t just doing it for myself, I wanted to do it to help others with cancer. Geoff was no different. He wanted to be a symbol of hope for leukaemia patients. He set up a foundation and in the book he explains his reasoning. Seeing patients die around him while he was a patient too drove him on to help them in some way and kept him going through his own dark days!
I can relate to what he went through but if you read this as a non cancer patient you will no doubt be in awe at what he eventually achieved, incredibly difficult as it is but recovering from cancer too makes it all the more extraordinary! As a book about bikes, it’s great getting caught up in the action, the pain staking famous climbs, the 12 hour days in the saddle! His life may have been a fairly privileged one but he hit rock bottom and he bounced back stronger than ever and wanted to prove it. Going back to Lance Armstrong, Geoff explains he too was inspired by him. Yet another example of the good he has done even after the scandal around him.
One of the last quotes I picked up from his book really hit a chord with me. He said people ask him whether he would go through it all again and he said yes. Does he want to – no but he would if he had to.
I couldn’t put it better myself. A true survivor, hero, inspiration. It makes you have a bit more faith in mankind. We all have that ability to be like Geoff. Sometimes we just need reminded!

The last book I will review which I’ve just finished hasn’t a cancer theme but defiently cycling! I heard about this guy through fellow cycling enthusiasts and his expeditions sounded right up my street. I’m sure most of you have read this book or know eniugh about it to know how good it is! Everyone should read it in fact. It’s not just about cycling, it’s about what is possible physically and mentally and how diverse our planet is. We are sometimes too in closed in our own wee world, if this book doesn’t inspire you to go and explore nothing will!
The book in question is ‘The man who cycled the world’ by Mark Beaumont. Kind of explains itself.
Mark had the dream of having the world record of riding around the world unsupported in the quickest time. In the book it explains his background, his personality from a young age and what made him take part In this remarkable adventure. Some of his achievements as a teenager are beyond impressive. From an early age I think his family knew he wouldn’t stop until he completed his ultimate goal! As you read through the chapters you get a sense of the different cultures, amazing landscapes and wide range of people he encounters. You sometimes forget he’s cycling your so engrossed in the adventure.
It’s not often a book really captures my attention but this did. It’s right up there in the top 5. If we think what we would achieve in 194 days and 17 hours I can’t imagine too many of us will have cycled over 18000 miles!
Another example of anything is possible. If your looking a positive, inspiring read give this one a go, you won’t be disappointed!!!

THE ENVIRONMENT AND CANCER

Everybody is health conscious to a certain degree. We are all looking at how we live and how we can improve but no matter what we do, will we be able to completely prevent all illness or injury?
In all honesty the answer is no. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. After having cancer I was much more aware of looking after myself. I’ve never been ‘unhealthy’ but I took more notice of what I was doing with my body in order to stay in good working order. I did the obvious,watched what I ate, did more exercise but the more I studied this the more I began to realise that some things where out of my control!
I’ve explained before that cancer is caused by changes to our genes and unfortunately some of these changes are due to environmental conditions.
Globally 19% of all cancers are attributable to the environment! 1 in 5 is massive! When you really think about it, it makes you wonder what exactly in the environment is contributing to these stats? The two most obvious ones are exposure to tobacco smoke and uv rays from the Sun. We can avoid both of these by taking appropriate measures but others are harder to avoid.

Everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink to materials we use in our jobs. All can contribute to a higher risk of cancer so let’s explain further.
First up is Asbestos. Years ago this was very naively ignored as dangerous but now it’s widely known and we are much more aware of the dangers. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that is resistant to heat and corrosion. It usually affects us due to inhaling the particles and that in turn affects our breathing and is a well known cause of lung cancer. About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos in the workplace and 165000 global deaths of lung cancer caused by air pollution! The more we are aware of stuff like this the better our chances of avoiding it!

If I say the word ‘Aflatoxins’ I bet most won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. To be honest I didn’t either. Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on agricultural crops such as maize, peanuts, cottonseed etc.
Fans of peanut butter should listen up as it can be affected! I was gutted to hear this as I love it on toast for breakfast. Not only is bacon bad but now peanut butter! Eggs better not be bad for you otherwise my choice of breakfast is depleting rapidly!

Ok next up, do you like a lovely coal burning fire on a cold winters night? Well this might make you reconsider doing it more often than not. Burning coal outside on a bbq etc isnt really a concern because your in the open air but the combustion of coal indoors is a different story. Burning coal produces particulate and gas emissions containing chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Having these within a closed space can become a problem! We can help with the risk by having an indoor stove or a well ventilated chimney to reduce air pollution. Some countries like China where they are burning stupendous amounts of coal, is affecting the health of more and more citizens. By taking precautions hopefully we don’t fall foul!

While still in the home, there is a well known cause of lung cancer which some of us may have no control of, could just be down to unfortunately being in a area where it is present. Radon is the substance I’m referring to. The natural radioactive gas is found in many homes however most it shouldn’t be of a concern. Only in small proportions of the population can it be a problem.
Last but not least is Benzene. This is found in exhaust fumes and is a known cause of leukaemia.when in a world full of cars, buses, lorries etc etc these fumes are unavoidable. Regardless of cancer, benzene contributes to many more health problems! Hopefully with the advances in hybrid and electric powered vehicles this should impact on us for the better. Better still, do what I do and pretty much abandon cars and ride your bike, just think if once a week everyone rode to work. How much better would we feel and would our health improve? Without being an expert I think I know the answer.

So there you have it. An insight into how the world we live in and how we live can impact on health greatly. There are a variety of environmental risk factors linked to cancer but there is no need to live in fear. It’s impossible to avoid all exposure to carcinogens but it pays to know what is in your environment and to do your best to protect yourself.

East to west, coast to coast

I knew from the beginning that what I aim to achieve was going to be by no means easy. Months before I set upon my journey I contemplated whether I could do it. I knew deep down I could but how could I get away from the constant daily repetition of riding similar roads and not to get complacent? Well to prevent that from happening I had planned beforehand to organise numerous events to take part in to ‘mix it up’ or keep it fresh. Some I have done, I’ve travelled many miles to compete and take part in sportives all over the country and now it was time to do that travelling on the bike, from my very door. Since completing the length of Ireland ride I always wanted to ride coast to coast, east to west and since I live on the east coast I knew I could organise it fairly easy. So after some initial planning the ride was on. Bangor to Sligo, 140 odd miles. I planned to ride it over two days. Day one would take me to enniskillen 102 miles then day two would be just over 40 miles to Sligo then another 40 back to get the bus.
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I looked forward to the adventure. It was two days of just me, my bike and the countryside around me, the birds singing and hours for me to think and contemplate life, to think about what I’ve achieved and see how far I’ve come. You see the day before I set off it was my 10 year cancer anniversary. I was proud of where I had come in that time. This trip was as much of a celebration and doing it with the thought that 10 years ago this wouldn’t have been possible.
7am, Tuesday 15th August. The weather was great and I was fuelled up and ready. Once I worked my way through the hussle of rush hour traffic and got to the other side of Belfast, the roads where mine and I was alone at last to enjoy this. No more stress, just the open road ahead of me. More people need to get out in the open air, there is nothing better to relieve stress and anxiety. A slight hiccup 50 miles in due to roadworks I was back on track and well on schedule.
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Day one was quickly coming to an end. I arrived at the hotel and was still feeling good. First 100 miler of the year and nearly 7500 on the year. My pints of Guinness that night were well deserved!

Waking up on day 2 the dreaded sound of rain on the window was apparent. I didn’t believe it at first. I knew the forecast but I tried to pretend it wouldn’t happen but right enough as I looked out the window across the Lough it was in fact raining. To say it didn’t please me was an understatement but the sight afterwards of a guy sitting in the outdoor hottub below me at 7am did cheer me up. If he can do that sure me riding the bike for 5 odd hours should be no bother?
I do love a hotel breakfast, buffets are my dream especially when I know I need to fuel up for a big day. When I found it wasn’t a buffet my day was again on the turn.
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I couldn’t avoid it any longer. Off I set in the rain and off into the unknown. This part of the world is like a different world compared to the east coast of Ireland. Everyone works at a much slower pace and are very laid back. I just continued the theme and learned to embrace the typical Irish weather! Before I knew it Sligo and the Atlantic coast was in sight! I made it, no hang on I still had another42 mile in order to catch the bus! 42 miles, no bother. It was for 39 anyway. So close to the finish and then the heavens opened! I could have cried. I was tired and sore. My knees really weren’t thanking me and when I tried to push it on to get to shelter they sighed even more. My hip too and not forgetting my injured left arm were reminding me of how far I’d come but add to that being soaked to the bone just took the achievement out of it. Not until I was changed into dry clothes and sitting on the bus journey home did I appreciate my efforts. I enjoyed it because it was different but I enjoyed it because of what it is all in aid of. I never forget the real reason why I’m doing this and that’s what it’s all about. I’m so close now and I imagine the next time I’m doing a update I will nearly be done. For this trip I’d like to thank the killyhevlin hotel in enniskillen for their help. Back to the grind tomorrow and yet more miles for the cause. For every mile though comes more donations!
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Hoy100 and BikeparkWales

Just over a week ago I embarked on a trip that was to see me take part in an event for Pearl Izumi and ride one of the best mountain bike destinations in the UK. This trip had been months in the planning. Pearl Izumi asked me to pick an event I’d like to take part in of which they’d organise. I could have picked a local event but I wanted an adventure and to get away from the roads I ride every single day. I wanted to break the cycle excuse the pun and give myself something to aim for while grinding out all these miles. In the planning stage I decided to include a trip to Bpw as I might not get another opportunity for a while!
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So on July 1st I set off, got the ferry to Scotland and then proceeded to drive the 4 hours to Cheshire for my Pearl Izumi sportive, the Hoy100. I don’t know why I chose this over others. I guess I was swayed by the fact it was for one of this country’s greatest ever Olympians. I liked the idea of potentially riding it with him! So on the Sunday morning I arrived bright and early for registration then proceeded to meet up with fellow Pearl Izumi team-mate Peter Thomas. He apparently lived not far away and wanted the opportunity to cross paths again, seeing as though we haven’t since the induction day in March!
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The whole event was so layed back so our start was exactly what I needed after a long day of travelling the day before, nice and steady while my legs got into the rhythm! Peter and I chatted away while we scooted through the Cheshire countryside. It was refreshing to be riding alongside him, I’m so used to riding on my own at the minute that familiar company just makes the whole process easier. Dont get me wrong, I love cycling but some days this challenge wears me down and when you’ve only got your own voice to listen to, things can get very repetitive so another voice to listen to is good. The time was flying by as we covered the miles at a generous pace, not intentional may I add, we were just in the zone and making the most of the flat roads and good weather! After a brief water stop we continued. The final few miles I rode alone while Peter rode them at an easier pace. The guy then tells me he rode over 90 miles the day before so not a bit of wonder he wanted to slow the pace down, fair play.

Medal around my neck and burger being destroyed, my sportive was over. Even sir Chris got a medal, God knows why, I’m convinced the person giving out the medals didn’t know who he was haha but sure, I wonder if he’d swap mine for an Olympic one? Maybe not. It was great to represent Pearl Izumi once again. To have a brand like this supporting me through my efforts is amazing so this is the least I can do! So I said my goodbyes and got ready for the next long drive to south Wales this time for part two of the trip!

My mate Richard was coming to meet me at the hotel in order to come riding with me the following day. Richard joined me on my last cycling fundraising challenge as well as raced a season of enduro with me. We often reminisce of our cycling adventures of which we’ll both agree are greatly missed but life goes on, he now lives in London and my ambitions have changed too. It was good to talk to him about my 10000 mile challenge. He rode 6 days with me when riding the length of Ireland so appreciates the magnitude of what I’m doing. Luckily we both arrived within close time of one another so after a quick clean up it was to the pub we went for a few social pints and some dinner and get excited about tomorrow’s antics!
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The day arrived, I was finally going to get to ride the legendary bpw. What a place and what a change to riding the road. Mountain biking is my first love when it comes to cycling and when that adrenilin rush comes surging back I can remember why I miss it. Run after run, the dust slowly covering the bike and myself, I was smiling from ear to ear. Railing the berms and just throwing the bike from left to right, this was what i was after. I nearly didnt want to stop for lunch but my wrist was saying the opposite. After my road crash a couple of weeks back where I wrote off one of my road bikes, I had been suffering somewhat from the impact. Although xrays showed no breaks or fractures, I was still in pain so eventually I had to call it a day with probably 2 more uplifts available. I just couldn’t hold on no more so with my thoughts on long term I decided I had enough fun and was happy with my exploits and headed back to the car while Richard headed for one last run.

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So a week on and I’ve just completed yet another road ride. The trip was amazing, I’ve no idea when I’ll get back to the mainland for another cycling trip but another mini challenge is in the planning! Next up is next month whereby I will attempt to ride coast to coast of Ireland. I’ve ridden the length of the country so I want to complete the set by riding east coast to west coast. It’s a long ride alone but it’s something im keen to complete so watch this space for a run down on my mini adventure!

THE MAN, THE LEGEND

In my last blog about inspirations, I said I wanted to dedicate a blog to my old friend and massive inspiration, Gareth. Gareth went through a incredibly scary period in his life whereby his life was in the balance. To explain further I asked him a number of questions which he kindly answered and now I want to share with you to give you an insight of how amazing this guy is!

TELL ME THE FULL NAME OF THE CONDITION YOU HAD?

Guillain-Barre syndrome (pronounced ghee Ayn bar ray)

GIVE ME A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF WHAT IT IS.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder whereby the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the peripheral nervous system. The initial symptoms are typically changes in sensation or pain along with muscle weakness, beginning in the feet and hands. This often spreads to the legs, arms and upper body with both sides effected. In some instances such as mine, it can result in total paralysis and respiratory failure, requiring mechanical ventilation and treatment in an intensive care unit. The cause of the condition is currently unknown but research has shown that the condition can be triggered by a viral infection, the immune system fights the virus and once destroyed, instead of stopping the immune system continues to fight,targeting the peripheral nervous system.
GBS is a rare and serious condition affecting approximately 1 in 100000 people every year. Globally death occurs in about 7.5% of those affected. Treatment together with supportive care and rehabilition will lead to a good recovery in the majority of cases, however recovery can range from weeks to years with about a third left with permanent weakness or residual effects.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN DIFFICULT BEYOND BELIEF TO WAKE UP AND NOT BE ABLE TO MOVE OR TALK OR INTERACT?

Defiently, it was by far the scariest moment of my life!
I was married to my wife Amanda in August 2014. During the second week of our honeymoon I started to get headaches at night along with a slight numbness and weakness in my hands and feet, we just thought it was either a bit of a cold, tiredness or the effects from the heat in Tenerife. The first week back to work I was feeling really unwell and the symptoms were getting worse so I decided to see my doctor on the Friday. The doctor thought it was a bad flu or viral infection and advised me to give it another few days to see if it would improve. That evening the numbness, weakness and pain were getting worse so I went to the out of hours doctor for a second opinion but they advised the same. By Saturday evening my entire body was aching and I was struggling to walk or stand without help so we decided to go to A&E. I was admitted to the medical assessment unit in the hospital where they could keep me in for observations and tests to determine what was wrong. One of the tests was a spinal tap-biggest needle I’ve ever seen stuck into my back to draw off cerebrospinal fluid. From this test the doctors thought I had viral meningitis and advised that the symptoms would likely get worse before it gets better and bed rest was the answer. I was discharged on the Monday.
As the doctors said,the symptoms were getting worse. Tuesday night was the first time I felt real fear, I was finding it hard to breathe as if someone was sitting on my chest. I remember saying to Amanda not to let me fall asleep as I didn’t think I would wake up again. Wednesday morning I was essentially paralysed from the waist down. We rang the doctor who came to the house. Upon seeing me and making her assessment she said that it wasn’t viral meningitis but most likely GBS. As I was unable to move my legs and already experiencing breathing difficulties she called for an ambulance.
In a&e resus the doctors agreed with the GBS diagnosis and the icu team were brought in to explain the next step and treatment process. I was told that I needed to be put on a mechanical ventilator as a precautionary measure against the respiratory failure for approx 5 days and hopefully by then, with treatment, I would be on the road to recovery. As you can imagine this wasn’t the news that I wanted to hear, and I’ll admit that I was scared…really scared… not just for me, but for Amanda as well. We were only married 3 weeks and this wasn’t part of the plan. The doctors said I would be sedated for roughly 5 days while on life support so not to worry. There was nothing for it then but to get on with it. Sadly things didn’t go to plan…My body didn’t appear to be responding to the first round of treatment. After a couple of days my body experienced respiratory failure and became completely dependent on the ventilator. Since this was going to be longer term I was given a tracheotomy (breathing tubes through the throat) instead of the ventilator through the mouth. This also meant that the level of sedation was also reduced.
I remember bits and pieces during the first couple of days in icu,even while sedated. The main thing I remember at first was the confusion over why I couldn’t move my body. I quickly realised that I was completely paralysed,from head to toes, I couldn’t even blink. My eye lids were frozen in the open position which thankfully meant I wasn’t paralysed in darkness-a small mercy but one I would happily accept nonetheless.
My main frustration was the lack of communication. I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain to someone the feeling of having your ability to communicate stripped away from you and how difficult it is being fully paralysed and unable to speak because of the very machine that is keeping you alive. Thankfully I was able to move my eyes and my wife decided that they could work out what I wanted to say by asking me a series of closed questions and I would respond by looking up once for yes, and twice for no. Slow,frustrating and limited but it was something at least and far better than nothing!

WHEN I WENT THROUGH CANCER I HAD DAYS WHERE I NEVER THOUGHT THE PAIN WOULD END, DID YOU EVER THINK THAT YOURSELF? WHEN I VISITED YOU I JUST SAW THE LOOK OF DETERMINATION IN YOUR EYES NO MATTER HOW HARD YOUR DAY WAS!

We all think we have experienced the worst pain at some point, just think how many times we say “I’ve never felt pain like it” or “there’s nothing worse than…” I can honestly say the pain throughout my whole body was excruciating and something I could have never imagined or thought possible. Except for my inability to move and speak I would have been thrashing about the place and screaming. I couldn’t do this so I had nothing else to do but persevere.
I think the biggest thing that got me through my whole GBS journey (10 weeks in icu and 3 months of rehab) was the support from my family, friends and my faith in God,
It may sound strange but I knew from the beginning that I would get through this and I would be ok, I just needed to learn patience. I completely rejected the possibility that I could die or I wouldn’t recover from this.

I ONLY THOUGHT I HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH WHEN I FINISHED CHEMO BUT YOU LITERALLY HAD TO. YOU HAD TO LWARN THE BASICS AGAIN, ALL THE THINGS WE TAKE FOR GRANTED! WHAT INSPIRED YOU AND DROVE YOU TO GET YOUR LIFE BACK?

Yeah it was difficult-I had to relearn how to hold a pen to write, hold a glass to drink, eat stand and walk. It’s been a long process.
As I’ve alluded to previously, as well as support from my family and friends, my faith was my determination. I knew that I was going to be ok, there was no question of it in my mind, I just needed to be patient and work hard. Don’t get me wrong, there were some low points and plenty of frustration along the way.

I NEVER TOLD YOU THIS BUT YOUR ONE OF MY INSPIRATIONS AND YOU AMAZED ME IN THE WAY YOU HANDLED SUCH A LIFE THREATENING ILLNESS. YOUR SENSE OF HUMOUR AND STUBBORNNESS TO SUCCEED SHOWED ME WHAT WE CAN ALL BE CAPABLE OF. I JUST WANT TO THANK YOU FOR THAT.

Thanks mate, I honestly don’t know how to respond to that…
Your an inspiration yourself, dealing with and battling cancer at 20, not to mention all you do for friends of the cancer centre.

I’VE ALWAYS SAID THAT CANCER CHANGED ME FOR THE BETTER. NOT EVERYONE UNDERSTANDS THAT COMMENT BUT YOU HAVING GONE THROUGH A POTENTIAL LIFE THREATENING ILLNESS ALSO, CAN YOU SAY YOU’RE THE SAME? HAS IT MADE YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE AND ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS EVEN MORE OR WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ALL THAT ANYWAY?

Yeah I completely agree!

I found my faith again through this illness and learnt a lot about myself along the way.

When I was young I had a relationship with God but I lost this in my late teens through some difficult times. Around a year or two leading up to GBS I started to ask questions about God again and got involved with some church type activities but never made any commitment with God.
Sometimes we need a nudge in the right direction, other times we need a kick… I think GBS was my kick from God.
In a&e resus when I was told the news and what would happen, I decided now was the right time to make that connection with God again and I decided to fully lean on him. It was at that exact moment that I knew I would be fine, I felt a peace or calmness and I knew that I could overcome this and anything that was thrown my way.
Since GBS I have said to people that I wouldn’t change a thing. It brought me to God and I learnt how to be more patient and that I had a strength and determination that I previously didn’t realise. It also made my family closer.
With respect to achieving goals, I think it has definitely made a huge impact on that aspect of my life. It’s made me a more determined person and when I set my mind to something I’ll do everything I can to achieve it. I believe I’m actually fitter now than I’ve been for a long time. I’ve taken up going to the gym and yoga 3-r times a week. My most recent achievement was completing the strabane-Ilford half marathon.
I’m sure there will be plenty more challenges and successes to come in the future, watch this space!!

WHAT IS IN THE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE FACING DIFFICULT TIMES?

Never underestimate the power of positivity! In my opinion a positive mental attitude is worth more than any treatment or therapy.
Plans for the future?… Not entirely sure at the minute, just enjoying life with Amanda. In relation to challenges, as I’ve already mentioned I recently completed a half marathon which I’m proud of considering only 2 years ago I had to learn to walk again! Nothing else planned in that sense, especially nothing like what you set yourself! Riding 10000 miles in a year, your a mad man! Going to do the mourne wall this summer, maybe a triathlon Sprint and my dad has mentioned canoeing from portadown to Coleraine, but we’ll see what happens.

MANY THANKS GARETH FOR SHARING YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH ME. YOUR AN INSPIRATION TO MANY AND I WISH YOU ALL THE LUCK IN THE FUTURE!

INSPIRATIONS

Everybody has someone or something that inspires them. It could be a family member,sports star, musician,friend,the list goes on. I can’t talk for everyone else but personally I always strive to better myself, to achieve to the best of my abilities. To push myself and get that feeling of satisfaction that you only get when you know you’ve given 100%. Sometimes I look up to others in order to prove to myself that if I want to achieve what I have in mind, anything is possible if you have the will and determination just like all of my inspirations in life. Don’t get me wrong, I have ambitions and goals that no matter what I will achieve but sometimes when things are hard and your feeling like giving up, you just need to look to those that inspire us and that puts us right back on track!
INSPIRATIONS come and go but some stick with us. They normally come when we are at our lowest and in need of a gentle push back to normality. Most of mine have come about since having cancer. I never needed role models more than when I had the disease. I look at life differently now too since and appreciate just what hard times are and how to get through them. I’ve witnessed others go through terrible times and they inspire me also.
First off I’d like to talk about one role model that is truely there for me. What I mean is, she was actually there on a personal level unlike some of my other inspirations.Kathy Cash was one of the main people who steered me in the right direction after cancer. I was in a bad place,didn’t know where to turn and upon meeting Kathy at my first cancer support meeting, she took me under her wing and from there on helped me through my journey. Words can’t be put on paper how much I look up to her. What she has went through herself but still found the time to help me is unbelievable and I’ll be eternally grateful.
While on the topic of cancer, two more of my inspirations are connected to the disease. The controversial one I’ll leave for now and talk about the other first.
Cancer survivors in General are inspiring me on a daily basis. Any of you going through it or beaten it, hats off to you. Your amazing and are true warriors. Without naming names, you know who you are. There are a select few I have the pleasure of knowing who have fought or are still fighting the disease. When I seen what they went through, my journey is insignificant in comparison! These individuals have been knocked to the floor so many times, been Ill beyond belief and faced turbulent times to the Point Whereby They’ve Nearly Given Up But They Haven’t. They dug deeper than most people know possible and refused to give in. Their drive, determination and desire for life is inspiring in its own right! That is enough to get me out of bed every morning and be thankful for every healthy living second I’m here on this earth. I know what the fight is like so I can understand the battle. My respect is off the scale for all cancer survivors!
The controversial inspiration is the one and only Lance Armstrong! Love him or hate him,what he went through on a personal level when he had cancer is unbelievable. We both shared the same cancer so I read his book to see what I was in for. Upon reading it, it scared the life out of me. If you’ve read his book you’ll know what I mean! As scared as I was it did however inspire me to beat the disease. Even after cancer much of what I achieved in life is because of Armstrong’s achievements. Yes he cheated in a professional capacity and that is controversial but in a sport riddled with doping he wasn’t the only one. He was the only one to nearly have died due to cancer and have lasting side effects and to bounce back and do what he did is the bit I have respect and admiration for. That was as much about hard work and the belief in himself more than anything and that is what I’ve always taken and used in my own life! I will talk more about this subject in a future blog though so watch this space!
On the topic of cycling, this next inspiration is somewhat new to me but blows me away with his life’s work. Mark Beaumont is what can only be described as an endurance cyclist. I’m nearly trying to replicate his goals with my own. There is only so much I can say as I’m currently reading about one of his adventures so all I can say is check him out to see why I look up to him.

http://www.markbeaumontonline.com

His next challenge is to cycle around the world in 80 days! Yes you read that correct. Makes my challenge look pitiful but you never know, maybe one day I’ll try myself haha. On a serious note he does prove what is possible if you put your mind to something and stick to it. Just takes a pinch of belief and determination!

A completely different inspiration but one that many can relate to and that is music. Music is a massive part of my life and one band in particular that guided me through my journey IS feeder and my favourite song of all time. This song resonates in so many ways and I’m going to show you why it lifts me up and gives me hope.

Love in, love out
Find the feeling
Scream in, scream out
Time for healing
You feel the moments gone too soon,
You’re watching clouds come over you,

Torn in two,
You close your eyes for some place new,
Torn in two,

And I feel its going down,
Ten feet below the ground,
I’m waiting for your healing hand,
One touch could bring me round
I feel we’re going down,
Ten feet below the ground,
It’s just the way I’m feeling,

Glow in, burn out,
Lost the feeling
Bruise in you bruise out,
Nurse the bleeding…

So there is an insight to what inspires me and makes up a small part of who I am. It’s so important to not only take pride in our achievements but to recognise that we can’t do these things without help and encouragement. Everyone in life has that role model. Take a minute and be thankful for them.
I have one more inspiration but I feel this person deserves a blog post of their own so my next post is going to go into depths about my friend Gareth, and what an amazing man he is.

5000 miles you say, completed It mate

IMG_20170521_120407_479

Showing the guns in my celebration of hitting the halfway Mark.

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