“So sorry man, I forgot everything up there, maybe next time”
I sent that text to one of the two guys who helped me get into condition to walk up on the stage at Pure Elite in Margate in April, literally minutes after coming off stage. I had competed in the transformation category, something that is unique to Pure Elite that showcases people who have transformed their bodies after weight loss or gain, or through illness or injury – a category that suited me almost as much as having a big bushy beard.
I didn’t do badly; months of meticulous preparation; understanding of what my restrictions were, wrapping myself in bubble wrap (figuratively – this isn’t a new age training method) and good old fashioned hard work placed me 2nd, earned me a pro card and chance to do it all again at the world finals in November.
This was more than I ever expected, in fact at points in the last 5 years it would seem unlikely I would even be at the arena to watch the show, let alone walk on stage.
The journey to the stage was a long and storied one – I came through four serious operations to get to where I am today. In chronological order I had:
2012 – A grapefruit sized tumour removed from my pelvis, had grown off a nerve sheathe in my lower spine into my pelvic structure, some luck involved though as remarkably it wasn’t a malignant aggressive cancer and was benign.
2013 – My lower intestine closed up through scar tissue from the surgery to remove the aforementioned mega tumour I had taken out through my stomach. I was admitted to hospital with hours to live through renal failure brought on by misdiagnosis and dehydration.
2014 – Two operations to remove lung cancer from my left lung and the lower half of the lung and surrounding lymph nodes.
So yeah, I have been through the ringer; there are days where really, given where I am now, that this seems like another life. I can count the surgeries I have had, but I have lost count of all the invasive procedures, the scans, the tests, and screenings. I am only 2 years in remission, so I am still under heavy monitoring which means several trips to different hospitals every 3 to 6 months.
There are hundreds of articles, features and blogs about what people do in the gym and the kitchen leading up to shows; for me what I do in the hospitals and doctors is the biggest part in the lead up to shows. Seeing my consultants and specialists is like being a contestant on a TV talent show. You sit there waiting for their chair to spin around after they look at your x-rays and then wait for either a thumbs up or a big red cross.
Last month I had my monitoring for my pelvic area and spine. This one is done up in the grim North, Robin Hood country, I go for a lengthy session in an MRI tube, usually around an hour and half to 2 hours with repositioning and injected dyes. Some people are bothered by the noise or the enclosed space, I don’t really have that choice anymore. It’s boring and it drags on for ages, to the point where you lose track of time, but it is necessary. The worst part is waiting for the report of the specialist. It takes up to a month, but I get a letter that uses lots of big words usually indicating things are slightly worse than last time in terms of long term damage where the tumour was – discs in my back mostly – but it is an even trade-off for not having a tumour in there.
My lungs are checked every 3 to 6 months depending on how the last appointment went. This is straight forward in comparison. Go to Leicester, sign in, get an x-ray, wait to see the consultant, get results that day. Not easier though in terms of the stress. When I have to wait for results I walk away and get on with life, getting the results on the same day – one misplaced smudge, or slight change and suddenly everyone gets very worried.
I have gone on my own to these appointments, and things have gone awry, I never go alone now, even the slightest concern is like a sucker punch, so you phase out and don’t listen properly – focusing on one minor detail. I always take a wingman to be a second pair of ears.
I am going in next week, I’m nervous, but I feel good, and I look healthy. I am waiting for the hopeful green light that I am well and I can carry on doing what I am doing.
I have decent support from my G.P, I am waiting for a tiny bit of surgery on my wrist where I have a lump (Suspected benign tumour on a hair folicule) in July. Just a day operation thankfully although I am already planning rest days around it! If I am off kilter or under the weather they always listen to me and if necessary I am given blood tests to check things are good.
Since earning Pure Elite Pro card status I initially felt like the black sheep as I am truly outside of the mould of what you would expect someone with this card in their wallet (it only falls out by accident I swear!) to look like. I carry heavy scarring from my misadventures and weaker muscle groups from surgical procedures but after being treated so warmly by a lot of people I am honoured to be a “Pro” because where else can a cancer survivor compete and be judged on their fitness journey so fairly? My genuine admiration for the transformation category is always right at the surface when anyone asks about my experience competing at Pure Elite; I would love to see other cancer survivors get up there, it is life changing!