Real Runners: Tom Pearce, running with cancer.

One runner's inspirational story on how running has helped him deal with cancer.

My name is Tom and this is my ‘running story’ and battle through cancer treatment.

My foray, which quickly turned into a true passion, for running, came back in 2009. At that time I was 3 stone heavier and feeling that I had to make a lifestyle change. In the Sept of that year I went for my usual annual company medical, only to be told what I had fully expected and indeed had heard many times before…”your BMI is a little high Tom, “you should do more exercise Tom”, “cutting down on your alcohol may be a good idea Tom”.

For some reason, unlike in previous years, I decided I would do something about it. I had heard that one of the best ways to burn off calories was running. I also felt that it would probably suit me well as it was going to be something I could do anywhere, anytime. After a relatively short period of time I noticed the pounds falling off, and without having to make a change to my diet as well this is great I thought to myself!

Around 3 months after starting, I remember a particular run where I went out and didn’t have the usual ‘out of breath’ feeling, it was then that the passion started. I truly felt alive when I was out there pounding the streets. I entered my first race; The Taunton Half Marathon, with my brother-in-law in April 2010 and managed it in 1hr 54mins. Whilst it was tough, I had such a sense of achievement, which I wanted to experience again and again. So that was it, I was hooked. I entered many more races after this and to date have completed 7 10k’s, 25 half marathons and 3 full marathons (half marathon PB 1hr 27mins / marathon PB 3:11).

Don’t get me wrong, it is not all about getting the times down (although I must confess to chasing the numbers a bit!), but just being around other like-minded people is something I really enjoy. For me, the process of preparing and training, is as rewarding as participating in the race itself. Being able to stand on the start line, knowing that you have done everything you can to ‘hit that PB’, or just to know that you are injury free and will be able to enjoy it is such a wonderful feeling. Every time I come back from a race I feel that same sense of achievement and physical well-being. When I did the London marathon in 2011, it was such a thrill. I loved every minute of it, with the crowds, the atmosphere and most of all seeing that finishing line on The Mall is a memory that will stay with me forever.

I guess I have always been someone who has enjoyed pushing themselves a bit, and as strange as it sounds, I like the physical feeling of ‘hitting the wall.’ Knowing that this is where your mental ability to get through kicks in. “I’ve felt this before and I got through it, so I can do it again” is a phrase, which often runs through my mind at a time like this.

Then, in December 2013, my life changed forever. Only days after completing the Florence marathon (3hr 11mins) and generally physically feeling great, I went to see my doctor. I had some very mild symptoms, which I thought I would get checked out. I genuinely never thought this would be anything at all to worry about, and so when I was then told that there was a strong chance it was cancer I simply could not comprehend what I was hearing.

At 39 years old, with no family history and otherwise ‘fighting fit’, surely they must have it wrong I thought. A few days after this appointment I had a series of CT and MRI scans which confirmed my worst fears. I did indeed have stage 3 bowel cancer. I remember one of my first thoughts at the time, other than the obvious “will I die?”, was “how will this affect my running?”

After seeing a number of specialists in the preceding days and weeks it quickly became apparent that the treatment that I would have to go through would result in a permanent colostomy. The thought that this was going to be with me for the rest of my life was incredibly difficult to accept at first. I set about looking into how this would affect my ability to run. After meeting some wonderfully inspirational people who really helped me with advise on support bands, gear etc, I quickly realised that this needn’t stop me living the life I had been living up until that point.

Initially I had a 5 week course of radio and chemo therapy (in January 2014). Whilst it was tough towards the end, fortunately physically I managed to deal with it. I was so pleased to be able to keep up my running through this period, as it really helped me focus on something other than cancer. Even for just an hour a night, with the iPod on, wind in my face, cancer was not the topic that dominated my thoughts!.

Then, following this first stage of treatment, which was essentially intended to reduce the size of the tumour, I was left alone to recover. From this time (which happened to fall on my 40th birthday!) until the surgery which was on the 22nd May I decided to run as much as I could. I entered 4 half marathons and over the period clocked up 560 miles in training. When it came to the day of surgery I thought to myself that I couldn’t be in better shape to ‘get through it’. Fortunately I was right and the surgery went well. I will never forget coming round from the anaesthetic and looked down to see ‘the bag’ greet me.

The recovery process from surgery felt very slow and every day I desperately wanted to don my trainers and get out there and feel ‘that feeling’ again. I was then dealt another major blow as it was discovered a few weeks after the surgery following a CT scan, that the cancer had spread to my liver. My oncologist moved things along very fast and I was lying on the operating table once again on the 16th July ready to have over half my liver resected. I have to admit that physically and mentally this was a tougher experience, however I never lost sight of the fact that I would get ‘up and running’ again soon!

As I write this, I am now one month post the liver surgery and have managed to do 3 or 4 light runs (5k each). Admittedly they have been the toughest runs I think I have ever done, but then as my liver grows back, feeling more tired than usual is normal I am being told.

My final stage of treatment will be a 6 month course of chemotherapy which is due to start on the 26th August. I am really hoping that my body can cope with it and that I will be able to work and more importantly run.

Running has not only been something which turned my life around back in 2009, but has unquestionably been my saviour throughout my cancer treatment so far. I am still counting on it to help me through the rest of 2014 with the remainder of the treatment. I know that even if I have to stop for a bit, I will be back again in 2015. I already have 2 races booked in!.

I can honestly say my biggest regret in life is that I didn’t start running much earlier.

If you would like to read a little more about my story then please visit www.runthroughcancer.com. This is a website I set up soon after my diagnosis in the hope that maybe someone else like me may come across. If it only helps one other person by giving them some hope that life DOES go on after being told you have cancer, then it’s been worth it.


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Hi Tom - hope you're well

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early January. Despite my partner's objections it went like this: surgery 16 Jan, back to running on the 19 Jan (albeit short and easy) and the Great North West run in Feb - running kept (and keeps) me sane. I don't know how I would have coped without my running; the chance to be on my own to consider everything and think of nothing. I took my running for granted before the diagnosis but this year I have challenged myself to complete a race at least once a month

I was 'lucky', I weathered my radiotherapy well with only minor side effects but I truely believe that regular exercise helped in my recovery. Wishing you all the best in your recovery - there is life after cancer


Posted: 27/08/2014 at 07:53

Hi Tom, I also wish you well.  Like Constable I was diagnosed with breast cancer, 3 years ago age 47.  Like you was in the peak of health.  Double mastectomy, lymph nodes out, then 5 months of chemo (FEC) and some very short slow running.  Without a doubt running kept me going, it was something else to focus on, my first tentative run was fantastic, for the first time in months I was something other than a cancer patient.  My fitness undoubtedly helped me cope physically and mentally with the rigours of cancer treatment.  Running also helped shift the focus for recovery which is a difficult time, the assumption that you are 'getting back to normal' ha ha, but getting back to running and racing, that was a much more tangible goal.  

Like Constable I race a lot more now (very slowly!) including two successful VLM ballot entries in a row - retribution, somehow.

Good luck and keep spreading the word.  It takes courage to 'come out' about the less savoury realities of treatment.  I feel truly lucky that my cancer was in a part of my body easy to isolate and treat.  Cancer treatment is still largely a matter of cutting off, frying or poisoning.  But early diagnosis is ABSOLUTELY key, get ANYTHING suspicious checked out, if it is cancer it's not going to go away.

Wishing you both good health.


Posted: 27/08/2014 at 14:18

Hi Constable / Hi Stilts,

Thank-you both very much for your support and sharing your own stories. It is clear that you have both been through a lot and it is great to hear that you have used running during and after your own cancer treatments. I am also a firm believer in that having an underlying fitness helps you get through those key milestones (radio therapy, chemo therapy and surgery) through the treatment.

Constable, I also know what you mean about those close to you who sometimes are reluctant for you to continue to run through treatment, but as you were advised, I also have the same feedback from my oncologist which was that provided I didn't 'push through any walls' and listened to my body I would ok to keep going.

Early diagnosis for sure it critical (often this is easier said than done but you are absolutely right). In my case the symptoms I had were what I considered to be very mild...thank god in the end I did get it looked at properly and now have a good prognosis. I wish you both all the very best and a happy and healthy life. I am trying to keep my own website up to date with new content (www.runthroughcancer.com) and would be delighted if you continue to read. Once I get myself fully back to fitness then I plan on challenging myself to many more races so may see you there!.

Tom


Posted: 27/08/2014 at 14:42

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