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Running, research and the NHS saved my life

2nd Sep 2021

This month, David ran with his 'NHS Heroes' to help beat blood cancer. While the road to recovery hasn't been easy – from being in crutches to Covid – David was determined to keep training until his dream of running again became a reality.

A group of five people pose together on decking next to a river; they wear purple Blood Cancer UK T shirts.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness month. It is also the month that I am finally able to take part in running challenges since Covid – starting with the Leeds 10K Run, and on the following week, my 16th Great North Run (GNR) in a row.

I was excited as it was my first ‘proper’ run for nearly two years due to both Covid and having a knee injury. Because of this, I wanted to find a way of making this run ‘extra special’. I couldn't think of anything better than running for a terrific cause with the NHS staff who helped save my life.

Without the NHS, and research funded by Blood Cancer UK, I would not be here today.

But first, let’s take it from the beginning

I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) in 1997 and was put on watch and wait until having my first treatment in 2003. My final course of chemotherapy the following year almost killed me as I developed sepsis.

I felt lucky and grateful to have survived and so decided to take up running. I made a pledge to myself that if I survived, I would raise funds for Blood Cancer UK.

I trained like a person possessed and in just six months, I transformed from a drained, weakened, fragile shell to a happy, energised person – jumping around with joy after completing the Great North Run and raising funds to help beat blood cancer.

I ran every Great North Run Half Marathon for 15 years and always felt so tired afterwards, which is why I thought a marathon would be impossible.

But in 2019...

After many years on watch and wait, I knew that my CLL was once more progressing.

I was determined to fight back and so, much to my own amazement, I ran my first two marathons that year.

An older middle-aged man - David - runs a marathon wearing a Bloodwise jersey.

My treatment on the clinical trial began in December 2019. I was lucky to have held out long enough to receive one of the new targeted treatments – the fruits of years of research as conventional chemotherapy would no longer have worked for me.

Unfortunately, as a side effect of the treatment, I developed terrible joint pains and had to stop running. I tried everything to get back to my previous fitness level, even speed walking and running in circles around my garden.

The neighbours must have thought I was crazy!

But then Covid came. I had one failed attempt after another to get back into running. This included knee pain, which turned into a stress fracture and left me in crutches for weeks.

The dream of once more returning to a running event is what kept me motivated to train. I also knew that when I returned, it had to be a special event.

This is when the idea of Blood Cancer United was born

I’m still being treated on the clinical trial at St James’s Hospital in Leeds. I’ve met wonderful doctors and nurses, some of which, I’m now pleased to call my ‘running buddies’.

At the start of my treatment on the trial, I met a clinical nurse specialist, Keri. To relieve my apprehension about the treatment, I spoke (a lot) about how running saved my life.

She smiled empathetically and told me she had once taken part in the Leeds 10K Run, and that a few of her colleagues are runners too. 

This is when I hatched a plot to form a running team, but then Covid came.

In January this year, I finally put the idea forward to Keri about a running team.

With her help, we were joined by clinical nurse specialists at the hospital, as well as some friends.

A group of five people pose together on steps outside; they wear purple Blood Cancer UK T shirts.

Team ‘Blood Cancer United’ grew to have 11 runners. Some had never run before, which made it even more special. We were all enthused with the same determination to raise funds and complete the challenge, even if we had to crawl to the finish line.

It would take a lot more than Covid and knee pain to stop us!

Each setback only makes me more determined to run. This challenge was not about me. It was about all the people who have been affected in some way by blood cancer. It was about our running team and all the other fantastic volunteers, Blood Cancer UK ambassadors and fundraisers.

It was about all the people running, cycling, walking, and maybe even bungee jumping to raise funds for blood cancer research.

It was about all the frontline NHS workers who support people with blood cancer, like me. And it was about all the blood cancer researchers, who are only able to continue their life-saving work thanks to the generosity of donations.

Without these researchers, I would not be here today, as the older treatments would no longer have worked for me.

This neatly captures the spirit of these incredible events which we all have missed so much, and which have raised millions of pounds for worthy causes. They are a celebration of the good side of humanity, of resilience, and of the determination we all have so that one day, we can beat blood cancer for good.

An older middle-aged man - David - poses with his marathon medal.

Support team Blood Cancer United

Join David, and team Blood Cancer United, as they help to fund research into developing the life-saving treatments of tomorrow.

Donate today!