Taking on this cross Solent swim is a huge personal challenge for me and we will be using this blog to chart our progress towards achieving it. I wanted though to use this post to explain why I have chosen www.planetscharity.org at Southampton as my nominated co-beneficiary of my fundraising. (Planets stands for Pancreatic, Liver And NeuroEndocrine Tumours).
In the summer of 2012, following a couple of admissions to Bournemouth hospital and a huge range of tests, I was told that I had a suspected Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour (GIST), but that further blood tests, scans and Gastroscopies would be required. The information leaflets I was given were from Macmillan Cancer Support and the Cancer word had been well and truly mentioned. I was then referred to the GI team at Southampton and I remember very clearly the first consultation when the discussion went along the lines of there being two options. The least invasive would be that they could establish that I did have a cancer, which could potentially be treated with drugs to shrink it prior to surgery to remove it, or alternatively I could be facing a Whipples procedure. My consultant Neil went on to say that the first option would be his preference, but that if I was facing him as a patient who definitely needed a Whipples then he would be telling me how they were very experienced in that procedure and that I was in good hands with a good prognosis. It later transpired that because of the necrotic nature of the biopsies, it was not possible to confirm or refute the diagnosis of GIST and so things moved at a pace towards the Whipples option.
The operation took ten hours. I remember very little about the first few days, which were spent in ITU feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. I was in hospital for 14 days, during which time I lost two and a half stone as well as various bits of internal plumbing, Pancreas, Duodenum and Stomach and a rather large tumour, and I woke up with what looked like a railway track running from my chest down and round to my hip. Looking at my scar my first thought was that I needed to tattoo some tooth marks around it and make out I was a shark attack victim. It was also at this point that I realized that I would have a long list of drugs to take for life.
Sitting around in hospital for that amount of time, gives you plenty of time to reflect on the fragility of life, this illness for me had come as a complete bolt out of the blue and whilst nobody knows what is around the corner I resolved to recover my levels of fitness and live life to the full.
I had initially been told to expect it to take me around 9 months to a year to get back to my previous levels of fitness and which hadn’t really been on my radar. They were spot on and it did take me almost exactly a year. I also then got the good news that although the tumour had been large it was fortunately benign.
Before my illness I had done the occasional charity fundraiser, such as running marathons or skydiving, and now I am taking the opportuntity to give something back via the Planets Charity. I had long held an ambition to take on a fire walk, so in 2014 my challenge became organizing the Great Ferndown Firewalk. Plenty of people told me I was crazy but the event took place in July 2014, and some good friends took to the coals with me. We had a great time and raised both money and profile for PLANETS.
This swim is a real personal challenge for me. I’ve been a casual swimmer for several years doing a few lengths in the pool for relaxation; I’ve never really been a distance swimmer or an open water swimmer. Now however I’m using it as an opportunity to improve my fitness, as well as hopefully to raise some money for some good causes. Some of those who did the fire-walk with me have jumped at the chance to do this swim as well. Its great to have friends around you who respond to your madcap ideas with a simple “when shall we do it “?