Day 24 has been one of the hardest I have had in a very, very, very long time. But has also been one of the best I have ever had!! Today I struck a Coin or to be more precise I completed the 14 mile Stuc A Chroin Hill Race Route including two mountains, Beinn Each and Stuc A Chroin thus totalling a 5,000 foot ascent over 14 miles.

I was doing it on my own with no Marshalls and routes marked out as for the race. I had a route map that Sue Harvey of Harvey’s Maps had kindly given me and a more detailed map as a back up, a compass and a GPS Satnav. This was now day 4 of this 12th month of chemotherapy and the pills were fizzing away in the back of the nose. I was questioning whether or not I really should attempt this but then Mum and I pulled in for a quick pitstop at the Loch Lubnaig cabin and ran into a dear friend who was manning a shift in the café. It is a brilliant loch side location and well worth a quick visit with children or on the way to Strathyre and the best bit is that you might get to bump in to the delightful Lucy Cameron and savour her wares. All home baked and delicious. The inevitable Mocha and a flapjack followed a quick catch up and we left to get to the start point and I was so buoyed by Lucy’s enthusiasm that it was definitely a go – the weather report was good, the flapjack was good and I knew that the only way I was going to feel good was to try and tackle this monster of a route.

The expansive view from Stuc A Choin.
The expansive view from Stuc A Choin.

I confirmed that Mum was happy with my planned route and the reporting plan so she knew roughly where I was and when to call for help if I failed to report back and turn up. No more prevaricating. It was 1015hrs and time to go. As I started the route I quickly realised that there were no footpaths carved in to the mountain so this was going to be a long haul over tough elephant grass, through mountain Heather, through peat bogs and up a number of very steep, rocky climbs. Apart from the occasional sheep path this was going to be very tough underfoot and I had a long way to go. As I started the steep ascent from the bottom of Glen Ample up rough ground towards Beinn Each I had a twinge in the back of the nose that was so often the start of another type of aura that I first had then had frequently for some time until recently.

When first diagnosed with a brain tumour I was informed that 80% of Brain Tumour patients develop epilepsy. I immediately stated that I would ensure that I remained in the 20% that didn’t develop the disability. And for a while all was good; until I travelled to London to see an Oncology specialist who was an expert in a certain type of brain surgery and I wanted to know if it would work for me. It had been a long journey from Stirling and not stressful but tiring as one wrestles with the enormity of London, the mass of people and the idiosyncrasies of the underground. I arrived at my appointment in time and was looked after well so was hopeful when I went in for my consultation but saddened to hear that the size and type of my tumour was just not compatible. As we talked an underground train was passing and making that high pitched metal against metal scrapping sound. Suddenly I started to hear my old callsign being called through the door “Hello Tango Two Zero Alpha this is Zero Over” I started to smell and even be able to taste a very strong metallic taste in the back of the nose and throat, Then a sensation like a hive of bees started to work their way up the left side of my body and work their away around my head always under the skin and very busy. My head felt as if it was being compressed by the weight of bees “Tango Two Zero Alpha this is Zero Come in Over!!”

“Enough!! I exclaimed at the consultant. What sort of tricks are you playing on me and why are you? How did you know my old callsign?” The sensations eased and slowly cleared. Slowly I regained control of my thoughts and was able to understand the consultant. “There are no tricks Archie. What just happened?” Once I explained what had happened the consultant confirmed that I had just had my first partial seizure (aura). An appointment with my epilepsy consultant followed back in Edinburgh and he confirmed the diagnosis. I was now having these auras when conducting physical exercise but even worse as my old callsign had been replaced by the song ‘New York, New York’ which I have no problem with other than when repeated for the entirety of a 20 minute run!! I was prescribed a type of drug on trial but asked to hold off on taking it until such time as the epilepsy became more of a problem. I was by this time on my own raw vegan diet trial and didn’t want to be taking drugs when I could deal with the partial seizures as they passed quickly. I had already surrendered my driving licence. Then I woke up face down on the loo floor paralysed from the neck down. There was nobody in the house. What now? Slowly though the movement came back down my left side. Just enough movement so that I could try and pull my trousers up. I needed to get help but not with my pants and trousers round my ankles!! In trying to get up I managed to break the towel rail. My right side was not working at all well. Somehow I managed to get downstairs without falling and collapsed in to the sofa after trying to get a glass of water and managing to throw it around the kitchen. My right arm was just dangling uselessly so wedged the cordless phone into my lap in order to make a phonecall with the left hand. I couldn’t make it work and it was only after the third attempt that I realised that I had been trying to call for help on the television remote!! Eventually I managed to get next door and ring the bell before collapsing on to the step. Jen and Chas were outstanding and could not have been more concerned or more helpful. Thank goodness I had managed to pull my trousers up!! The ambulance arrived and whisked me away for a battery of tests. It was a seizure. So I now started on these new drugs but the auras continued and gradually strengthened into episodes like the one I told you about yesterday and other strange stories to come on other days. So I was put on to Kepra and this has with only a very few exceptions, mainly extreme tiredness, brought the partial seizures (auras) under control.

The Cairn at Stuc A Choin
The Cairn at Stuc A Choin

So should I have been attempting to climb two mountains over 14 miles in the Scottish Highlands? I had experience on the hills and was confident in my ability just not in the fragility of the epilepsy and in my strength and fitness to sustain such a challenge during my final course of chemotherapy.

Well after just 5 minutes of the ascent I had the answer. The fizziness behind the nose cleared, my eyes focused and the fog lifted. I was going to crack this challenge. I was sensible and conducted a review every two hours knowing how much light I had, how long it would take to cover the distance up and down hill and how I was feeling. I was feeling physically tired but more and more determined as I reached each stage in the route that I had plotted against time as a reporting point so Mum knew where I was in case she needed to call someone, and I was able to make an assessment as to whether I should go on. On, on and on I pressed with jelly legs as I pushed up hill with frequent and careful navigation cheques. I needed to be at Stuc A’ Chroin in 4 hours in order to get back before last light. After all (when I was planning my timelines the record for the entire route as a marked fell race was 2 hours!!) At 4 hours I was at Bealach Glas but was only 1 km from Stuc a Chroin and as I wrestled with turning back in accordance with my planned timelines I realised that there was a quicker way back to the road which was on well marked forestry tracks once I had completed the ascent and descended down from the mountain back in to Glen Ample. That would buy me a further hour of light on the difficult rough descent from the mountain with a route back to the start along good forestry tracks that I could do in torch light. I had just completed Beinn Each, I was cooling off rapidly in the stiff breeze in the mountain tops, I needed to warm up and just couldn’t leave without finishing the second mountain. I went for it. I phoned Mum to let he know that I had bloody done it!!and here was my new route off the mountain. Love you and see you in three hours!! It all worked like a dream. Sore feet from the constant tumbling over rough grass on the descent but I did it. 8 hours and 15 minutes of tough walking, 14 miles and 5000 feet with another mile walked in order to finish with a Mocha and a flapjack from Lucy’s cabin. I had to let her know that I had made it. Mum met me there and gave me a huge hug with great relief etched on to her face. The best bit, apart from the mocha and flapjack? I didn’t have one aura – not one – didn’t even think about it once I had worked up a sweat and completely forgot I was on chemo. I even forgot I had a brain tumour and it didn’t even rain the entire time I was on the mountain- not a drop. What a day.

So the challenge and it’s numbers in total since the start:
Days completed: 24
Total Miles Cycled: 112
Total Miles Walked: 101
Total Miles covered under own steam: 213
Total Height Gained under own steam: 9,361 feet
Mountains Climbed: 4
Days of Conservation Activity: 2 1/4
Organ tunes learnt and performed: 5
Salmon Caught: 0!
People Met and Hands Shaken: 99
Pots of tea shared: 3
Pills popped: 124

If you see me around do please give a cheery hello and shake my hand or toot your horn and give a cheery wave to show your support and encourage me on.
Thank you all for your incredible comments and support. Please continue to spread the word.

Thank you

Yours aye