1. What’s your story behind taking part in RAB 2021?
In 2018 I turned 52 and was training to ride Lands End to John O’Groats with Threshold Sports. In April 2018 I was due to go to a Prostate Cancer UK Charity evening where you pay the charity to get your PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level tested. I was too busy at work to go and so the organiser had texted me; “Make sure you get yourself tested as we always find someone”. The next day I rang my doctor and got myself a PSA test.
Two weeks after the test I received a call from my GP to go and see him! “This result is too high for someone your age so I am going to refer you.” In my naivety, I did not think too much about this but within a week, a letter landed on the doormat calling me into my local hospital telling me I was on a Fast-Track Cancer Investigation. I was going to be referred for an MRI scan and probably a biopsy. I still wasn’t particularly worried as I was feeling fit and what I thought was symptomless. Within 2 weeks, I had the MRI scan and was back in front of a consultant for a biopsy by mid-July.
“Will I be able to ride my bike on the weekend?”
“No, you will give yourself septicaemia if you ride your bike, you won’t be able to ride your bike for at least 3 weeks.”
“Hang on, I am riding Land’s End to John O’Groats, you are going to muck up my training!”
“You do realise cycling raises your PSA and gives a false result?”
“No, why would I know that?”
We agreed to defer the biopsy until at least 10 days post ride.
I went for another PSA test 12 days after RAB, the level was higher and I was still naively thinking this is obviously because I cycle a lot.
I got referred to a Clinical Nurse specialist on the 17th December 2018. It was the classic; “I am sorry to tell you, you have got cancer” situation. It gets worse, well it was never going to be good. The nurse then told me my treatment was going to be Radical Prostatectomy, i.e. having my prostate ripped out.
“You want to remove my prostate?” I was a bit stunned at this point.
“Can I ride my bike?”
“No, no, you’ll not be able to ride your bike again.”
I looked at her, “I will not be able to ride my bike again?”
I am no expert but I was looking at her in disbelief. “I won’t be able to ride my bike again?” I know I had just been told I had cancer but none of this made sense.
I asked again and got the same answer. I left the room in a state of shock, not at having cancer, but at being told I was going to have my prostate ripped out if I wanted to live and that I was never going to ride my bike again.
Through my wife’s employer we had private medical insurance and I managed to get an appointment with Mr Doherty, one of the country’s leading prostate surgeons. He explained to me in layman’s terms that I had stage 2 prostate cancer and there was a need to remove my prostate.
“Get it done and crack on with the next 30 years of your life.”
“When will I be able to ride my bike?”
“I would say about 3 months after surgery.” This was more like what I wanted to hear.
He told me I’d had this cancer for at least two years.
Before I left, he asked me what symptoms I had?
“None really, I have a bit of a slow flow when I pee but I thought every 50 something-year-old man did?”
He raised his eyebrows and said, “Is that it? You have dodged a bullet!”
21st March 2019 I had my prostate removed. Three months passed and my PSA test was less than 0.1% i.e. “It is suggestive of a cure.” said Mr Doherty. That was as good as I was going to hear and it was good enough for me.
So why am I riding RAB 2021? Basically, so I can prove properly the Clinical Nurse Specialist wrong. I class myself very lucky, with the outcome, my wife seeking out who to obtain a 2nd opinion from, having the wherewithal to follow it through and the private medical insurance. I am very fortunate.
2. How has your story challenged you in any way, physically or mentally?
LEJOG in nine days, knowing what lies ahead is daunting, not so much the nine days but the preparation in getting fit enough to do it. I have gained weight, I drink far too much, I am 3 years older.
3. You’ve completed RAB before, how did it make you feel crossing over the finish line and reflecting back on the previous 9 days?
Land’s End to John O’Groats passed and I was the fittest I had ever been in my life. When I look back, it was the single biggest physical challenge of my life. Someone asked me on the ride what I was thinking about when I was riding. I thought about the finish line for nine days solid. The fear of failure was immense.
4. If you had to give advice to future RAB riders, what would it be?
Avoid hills at your peril. Ride as many hills as you can find and then find some more and go and ride those. Test your clothing, make sure you know what to wear and when to wear it, watch the weather forecasts on the ride and when in camp make sure you are organised, you should aim to be amongst the first groups away each morning to not be in danger of the cut-off and broom wagon. I am no athlete, at all, I needed to make sure I stacked things up in my favour, being organised is the easiest way to help yourself.
I have survived cancer. I’m very lucky. Here is to keep on dodging bullets for another 30 years.
By John Connor
Editor: Brooke Palmer