Before October 2019 my only trip to hospital was for indigestion after an indulgent Christmas. You hear about things like this happening to other people, people you don’t know. Then when you’re sat in front of a team of consultants it doesn’t really feel real. It only feels real now over a year later at the end of treatment.
Cancer I could take. I was up for the fight, the pain, the months of hospital and poison were fine. I know hard work, rigor and struggle, albeit never like what was to come. My leg though. That was the kicker. I could face chemotherapy, that was temporary. Seriously though, my leg. All of it. I had an idea the diagnosis was coming but my mind hadn’t gotten as far as amputation.
The risk that I’d lose the sport and adventures that are so much a part of me are what hurt and scared me the most. It was going to be a long time until I could swim, cycle, run, climb or do anything really. The home gym I’d ordered in the first week of lockdown felt slightly redundant.
I would obviously get cancer the moment the country locked down in the midst of an international health emergency. All I wanted was to hug and to be hugged. Needing to open up while the world was closing down. Standing two meters and a nation away from the people I care about most wasn’t how I’d have chosen to start this journey.
In October 2019 a blood clot formed in my left arm during a half marathon. Upon investigation a tumour was discovered at the top of my right femur. At the time, then again after extensive imaging I was reassured by multiple consultants the tumour was benign and advised against a biopsy. At the end of February 2020 my femur snapped in half on a rogue night out in Scarbrough. Multiple anaesthetic block’s later, a five-hour ambulance trip, and 12 days in a traction splint orthopaedic surgeons put my leg back together in Glasgow.
After months of reassurance, cancer was still the last thing on my mind.
I knew they had sent the tumour to pathology, but I honestly couldn’t have been less interested. When the clinical nurse - who still has to put up with my nonsense now - called me in for an urgent meeting I knew it wasn’t going to be great.
I’d had twelve hours to prepare so I had started to come to terms with losing my hair and chemo. I didn’t really know what it was, but it would be fine. The consultants kept mentioning surgery. After a couple of minutes, I figured it out. The twenty seconds between my calculation and the surgeon confirming my assumptions felt like hours. I could feel myself falling through the floor. Like scene from a Hitchock film.
The ground had swallowed me whole and there was no coming back. Life was never going to be the same again
Both me and my partner, whom I don’t think I’d have survived without, were numb. We then had to systematically call all our friends and loved ones and tell them what was coming. We were never so far away but so close to so many people. We were never alone.
Through the first two cycles of chemotherapy, I took quite a battering.
The adrenaline coursing through me those three months helped me prepare myself physically and mentally for what was to come. Training most days to build up my left leg up, organising a leg funeral, I was the most creative I’d been for years. I was ready though. No one believed me when I’d say I was excited. I wanted it over with.
Those months let my imagination run. I’d realised I was going to do so much more with one leg than I would with two. I’d drag myself up a mountain if I wanted to, I was going to get back into competitive sport. This wasn’t the end it was the beginning. Terrifying and exhilarating.
I couldn’t think of anyone who’d be better with one leg than myself.
I was awake for about three hours between from June 18th - 20th. I know for my partner, my family, my friends those days were unimaginably awful. When it happens to you, you’re in control and know how you feel. I don’t know how any of them coped because I wouldn’t have. After 14 hours of surgery, I took another day to wake up.
When I woke, I wasn’t myself. My girlfriend thought I’d had a personality transplant. Then, deep within my bag, was the book I’d made. It was a mixture of pages hyping myself up, telling me about the fun things to come, photos, poems, and passages that had been read at the leg funeral. It was crazy, within seconds I’d remembered I was actually really stupid, and I was back.
The next four cycles of chemotherapy were a war of attrition. It felt like it would never end. The gains I’d made pre surgery were slipping away. The motivation was gone, I didn’t have the strength. We came close to ending treatment a few times. The medical team worried about what the treatment was doing to me now and in the future. My skin was paper thin, I couldn’t move. At one point I watched all the live coverage of the tour de France. The idyllic French countryside rolling by was an escape from the beige walls of the Beatson.
On separate occasions my kidneys stopped, my bone marrow stopped, my lungs swelled with fluid and my ears started bleeding. In the early days my bi-weekly dose of lighter chemotherapy would put me in a shivering fit to the point that I could feel my bones ache from shaking. It wasn’t great. Every extra round was to keep me alive though. If I was going to have kidney failure in my 40’s I knew I’d have to get there first.
I needed to take as much as my body could take so that if anything did come back, I wouldn’t have any regrets. Osteosarcoma is rare and aggressive. It was something horrible that could happen to anyone. My actions then, as much as they hurt would alleviate my anxiety moving forward.
The fear still casts a long shadow behind me. I’m not out of the woods yet. I can’t let it scare me into inactivity. We keep moving, we don’t stop.
If I do get hauled back in at some point, I can’t let myself regret anything. I’m more motivated than ever, what comes next will be more interesting than what came before it.
It’s June 2021 and six months since I finished the heavier part of my treatment. The end of treatment should have been a cause for celebration. I had never looked or felt more ill. I still wasn’t me. It’s only now I’m starting to look and feel a bit more like myself. This is the start of the fun part though. As the country starts again so am I.
I’m making my early moves in para-swimming, para-triathlon, wheelchair racing and there’s an outside chance I could be throwing a discuss at the commonwealth games. I’m moving my focus creatively, developing a range of accessible homewares, and have started writing about the relationship between disability and architecture. This is what I was excited about. We made it.
I’m still very much alive and I’m just getting started.