‘Yes it is cancer but the good news is that it is curable and we’ll start the treatment plan on Friday’
The words I was told on my follow up with the consultant confirming that I did indeed have Hodgkin Lymphoma and that I was about to embark on a life-changing journey.
After working within the fitness industry as a personal trainer and health mentor for over 12 years, I kept a strict focus throughout this time on staying active, playing competitive sport and maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious foods, having quality sleep for good durations and drinking plenty of water daily to keep well hydrated.
I had never smoked, never used any form of recreational drugs and drank minimal units of alcohol.
At the ripe old age of 30, I had just been diagnosed with cancer, a blood cancer that I’d never heard of before, and now I turned my attention to how we would get rid of it. A new battle had come before me.
The reason I titled this passage ‘0.5%’, was because at the start of 2015, I completed an online questionnaire from my employer asking questions about lifestyle choices I made and physical activity I did. After filling in all of the information as honestly as I could, the result based on my age and choices I’d listed, had given me a ‘0.5%’ chance of being diagnosed with a serious illness. Just 6 months later in November, Lymphoma had taken over and changed my whole life.
After being diagnosed in mid-November, the consultant introduced me to my Lymphoma nurse who gave me a ‘tour’ of the facilities where I would be having my treatment.
She explained the importance of the chemotherapy and explained that I would be receiving 6 cycles, that didn’t sound so bad until I realised that 2 separate treatments made up a cycle calculating I would be having 12 treatments with each treatment being fortnightly. We calculated that my last treatment date would be the 2nd May 2016. This was one of the hardest psychological challenges I faced knowing that Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, My Birthday and Easter would all have come and gone and yet I’d still be receiving treatment for my cancer. I’d completed a few distance runs before, never a marathon, but this was a real long haul challenge and I had no idea how it was going to go.
I received my chemotherapy every other week, and with my PICC Line in place, I had line care and cleaning the Friday before the Tuesday I undertook treatment. I got into a regular pattern on visiting the hospital on a weekly basis.
Throughout the entirety of the treatment, the emotions that I experienced including the highs and the lows, offered great challenges to me.
I had to find ways to maintain my motivation to keep going on those harder days. I was inspired by 2 individuals – Sway and Stiliyan Petrov.
After attending the Lymphoma Action (Association then) support group in Colchester, a very kind lady shared with me the latest issue of the Lymphoma Matters magazine, the personal article within this was an interview with the UK rapper Sway (Derek Safo) and his story with Lymphoma.
Sway has written a song about his Lymphoma journey titled ‘The Sea’ and I listened to it almost daily. It gave me great hope that I could too beat this cancer and get back to living a fulfilling life again. After sharing this find with my brother, he arranged to meet with Sway’s agent and kindly collected a signed CD album, which included ‘The Sea’, with a personal message to me from Sway. This was such powerful motivation and I once again had belief that I could beat it.
As a fan of football, I was used to playing every Saturday morning which a local church league.
Unfortunately, many chemotherapy side effects such as PICC Line damage, nausea and energy-draining fatigue, I was unable to keep up this passion during treatment. I watched each game my team played every weekend desperately wanting to get back out there and play again.
As an Aston Villa supporter, I kept a very close eye on the story of Stiliyan Petrov. Petrov was Villa captain for a few years and after a game against Arsenal in March 2012, he complained of a fever that was shortly later diagnosed as Acute Leukaemia and retired from football. I followed Stiliyan’s progress and how he beat the Leukaemia over the year and watched him return to full health again.
He returned back to football and re-joined Aston Villa’s pre-season tour of Austria in 2016. It was such a powerful story to read as it gave me belief that I could follow in his footsteps and one day I too could get back on the pitch myself.
I wrote a letter, including one of my Villa football shirts, to Stiliyan to congratulate him on his return to health and beating the cancer but also thanking him for how much his story had given me the final piece of inspiration to get through my final treatments and rebuild my fitness level.
On completion of my final treatment I started to lightly increase the intensity of my exercise routine.
I had always tried to stay active throughout my treatment even if it was just a light walk one day to cycling the next. My belief that physical activity can have huge benefits throughout cancer treatment really helped me manage the chemotherapy side effects. Having a strong base fitness level prior to the diagnosis I believe made a huge difference to how I managed the chemotherapy side effects.
I completed my last treatment on the 2nd May 2016 and a year on, on the 5th May 2017, our church team had reached the church league cup final.
I’d built my fitness back up enough to complete 45 minutes of the game. The team went on to win 2-1 and I received a winner’s medal. The medal was not only for the footballing triumph but for me it was my medal for beating my Lymphoma. I found that after working so hard to beat my cancer, once the treatment process was finally completed, I felt a little ‘empty’. I wanted a form of recognition and this little medal meant the world to me. My teammates never knew just how powerful having that medal truly meant to me.
Stiliyan had responded before then with a personal message signed onto my football shirt. Both this shirt and my medal are framed on my wall as a reminder of the time I won my greatest challenge and I use them to remind myself of when I was at a very low stage and where I am today.
I’ve since completed my Cancer Rehabilitation Through Exercise and Lifestyle Guidance qualification, with the aim to support others through their treatment with my experience and knowledge.
I have since had the pleasure of presenting talks on this subject for the Lymphoma Action ‘Live Your Life’ workshops.
For World Cancer Day in 2018, I offered Personal Training sessions for a donation to the Lymphoma Action (Association then) and raised £700. I hope to continue contributing to this amazing cause.
Would you like support or guidance on living with cancer and how physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can really make a difference?
Please get in touch I’ll be very happy to help
Ben Durham was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2015 and has since had the pleasure of presenting talks on this subject for the Lymphoma Action ‘Live Your Life’ workshops.
For World Cancer Day in 2018, he offered Personal Training sessions for a donation to the Lymphoma Action (Association then) and raised £700. He hopes to continue contributing to this amazing cause.