Day 139 has seen a tale of the value of the bonds of friendship unfold as I ran 5.13 miles, walked 13.2 miles including 2 hills in snow and attended two beautiful choral concerts.

The Wonderful Jim Miller
The Wonderful Jim Miller

My 5 Fs plan was devised as the key principles on which to form the foundations of my challenge to Beat the Beast of a brain tumour. Focus on these 5 Fs and I had the foundations of a successful challenge. The 5 Fs were:

  1. Food – We truly are the product of what we eat and certain foods have particular restorative and protective properties and some will even attack the individual cells of the brain tumour.
  2. Physical Training – I know, I know, but it sounds like an F!! I firmly believe in the healing power of a strong body which strengthens the immune system. I figured therefore that good doses of physical exercise would help the body fight the disease through a strong immune system. Remembering also that the tumour wants to take my motor and cognitive functions, surely sports and other activities which force the cognitive and motor functions to coordinate and work properly could even train the brain to work around any degradation rather than succumb to it. Could I train the left side of the brain using activity requiring the coordination of cognitive and motor function to such an extent that should the tumour in the right temporal lobe try and switch me off, the left side of the brain will then kick in like a backup generator!?!? I had after all been able to train the brain to take on the balance function through visual reckoning after having had my inner ear removed. It was hard work but my balance is largely restored – as long as I keep my eyes open!!
  3. Faith – As a man with a strong faith I have always sought solace at times of trouble. However it was all too easy to blame God for my predicament. Instead I realised that through prayer, meditation and reading I could draw great strength from the wisdom of God’s word, thus helping in developing and maintaining a positive mental attitude focused on healing. Furthermore, as I have progressed on the challenge, by keeping my eyes, ears and mind open, I have felt and witnessed God’s hand at work in some of what I have done, or experienced, in the nature of messages sent to me and in the wonderfully courageous and inspiring stories of the people God leads me to nearly every day I leave the front door.
  4. Focus – It is all too easy to dwell on what might have been and on what might not now ever happen. I shouldn’t worry about the future. Instead I need to focus on healing combined with living life to the full and making the most of this time with family and friends while trying to slate the thirst I have to do something worthwhile. I needed to find a true focus that would fulfil me thereby settling the mind and thus improve my healing chances.
  5. Family and Friends – I have been blessed with two of the most delightful children I could ever want to meet, coupled with a large, warm and loving family. On top of that I am also blessed with a strong and supportive group of friends both in Doune and beyond. Like a leech I feed on the positive energy such a supportive family and group of friends brings and always feel so much stronger after spending time with them. Despite my prognosis the children have a future and as such became a priority for me to ensure that my diagnosis would not tarnish their future. I needed to give them the best life I could and the best opportunity for the future. My greatest concern was that the children should not suffer as a result of the disease. Instead could I encourage and inspire them to succeed and be happy in life? It this 5th F of Friends and Family that has proved to be so very important and relevant to me over this journey over the last 9 months.
Karen and friends up the hill
Karen and friends, up the hill

As I started out on this journey I, after some deep thought, I decided that I had to tell the story warts and all in order to ensure that all understood what this journey was to be truly like. To understand what was truly meant by the word challenge as I set out to try and Beat the Beast while still fighting to get my balance back post surgery to remove the Cholesteatoma in which I lost my inner ear, and then ploughing through the discomfort of brain surgery and a full course of Radiotherapy and 12 months of Chemotherapy all following hard on the back of surgery without a break. To understand what was truly meant by the word challenge when I was fighting to find the will and the energy to get that mattress off my back and get out there to live life to beat the beast while I was struggling through the discomfort and disconcerting moments triggered by a mind and body readjusting to post treatment and the management of epilepsy. But then in telling the story warts and all I found that I felt a need to make apologies as I learnt of some supporters who had sat at their kitchen table at various times, read a particular post and then burst into tears. Clearly a reaction that I had never intended. I was seeking to help people to understand what was meant by the challenge so that they would appreciate the magnitude of this undertaking, the complexity of the demands of the challenge, and that I was really seeking, through the 5 Fs plan including in very bold letters my FAITH, to make the impossible possible. But it was after making those apologies, I discovered that this journey was about far more than just I. That I had unwittingly, and just by telling the story as it unfolded before me, attracted a number of supporters who had come or been brought to the challenge by meetings with me in which I often felt the hand of God at work by the very nature of the selective meeting or by a friend of theirs who saw some hope for their friend in the story I was discovering. I found the fact the some found hope, inspiration and encouragement in the story one of the most powerful drivers for me in keeping me moving forward on the challenge journey. Yet there were times when I so nearly stalled and came crashing to the ground. I started to wobble on quite a few occasions but had to find the will and the energy and determination to continue, if not just for the saving of ‘I’ but for the continued encouragement of others. There were times when I discovered that ‘I’ was simply not strong enough to sustain this journey on my own. I needed a strong team yet there is no ‘I’ in TEAM. There is however an ‘I’ right in the very middle of Family and Friends, and Faith, and it was on these wobbly occasions that I relearned the value of Family and Friends in becoming the anchor in the storm, or the ship on whose shoulders I could sail through the choppy waters. I relearned the value of the stability provided by true friendship. Friends who respond to your pleas for help or who sense, even before a plea for help is uttered, that some help is needed to steady the ship and step forward with wonderful offers of support.

Scald Law Cairn
Scald Law Cairn

So on Thursday morning whilst going to the church to pray and practice the organ I saw a man, standing respectfully studying the War Memorial. Not familiar to me in the village, he caught my attention so I went to see if he needed any assistance. He didn’t. He was just paying his respects and learning a little of the social history of the village through the memorial. Then I learned that he was 68, but certainly didn’t look it!! So we had a great chat as he waited for his brother to come and pick him up on his bike. I gave him a flyer and very much hope he looks me up and comes to join the journey. Post prayers and organ practice it was time to prepare for the weekend. A friend made by a chance meeting on a train just two months into the challenge journey in which I unwittingly sat in her pre-booked seat, sensed that I was struggling, that I was disheartened by my slower run times than that pre surgery, that I was becoming disheartened by the weight of administration created by the changes in recent months and keeping me off the hills. Sensed that I had become frustrated by the difficulty I was finding in being able to re-establish my routine that worked so well at the start of the challenge. Sensed that I was frustrated by the lack of challenge activity brought about by the 8 week enforced rest to allow my ribs and liver to heal post my fall in the Ochils. Sensed that I needed a friend. Allie got in touch and knowing that I dearly loved choral music suggested that I came to Edinburgh to join her for a concert of Bach’s Magnificat by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the Queen’s Hall. But it was in the evening so following the invitation came ‘Archie I want to prove to you that you are running much faster than you think you are. That all that mud and undulating terrain you run over with the wee hills in them will slow you down. So bring your trainers and come for a run with me along the waterfront.’ I did and by jingle she was right. Allie drove me hard in the bitingly chilly wind and through the light sea spray along a flat course of 5.13 miles. She stayed just ahead of me as an encouragement to draw me forward to make me run faster. To push harder. To beat the beast. As we started to head back towards Newhaven harbour, time suddenly stopped. Much like the stop start of an old cinematic film from the 1920s, all around me seemed to freeze, move, freeze, move, freeze again, and then move again. I knew then as the metallic smells and tastes were drifting into my mouth that a seizure was approaching. In the early days pre-surgery and pre-anti-seizure medication, I suffered many partial seizures such as these mid-run and just ran them off without a care other than the irritation of this strange feeling and the resultant but temporary weakness in the legs. But after having suffered the gagging reflex seizure in which to draw breath was an impossibility until the nursing staff were able to inject a drug to bring me down off the seizure that brought home the reality of the risk of a ‘Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy’, the stronger partial seizure that seemed to envelop my very senses with toxic metallic tastes and smells that started to make every breath that little bit more challenging, as the throat constricted, perhaps as a natural form of defence against this poisonous substance causing the tastes and smells, became concerning, very concerning. So as I ran along with Allie, with whom my friendship had strengthened after I had offered to escort her up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh to start to provide her with more confidence in the hills, and as a break from her PhD studies, I suddenly found myself crying out to Allie to slow down, to make her aware of the partial seizure bubbling through just in case, and as I did, the very person that I first sought to provide stability for all those months ago was running along beside me providing the comfort of her company and its resultant stability as I ran. So I kept running, past the Alien Rock climbing centre which had earlier been part of the flickering cinematic film as the traffic flowing past started and stopped as the seizure built. Running back along the harbour front and back to the start point. 5.13 miles in a time of 48 minutes and 58 Seconds. That set a pace of 9 minute and 32 second miles!! She was absolutely right. That was a 29 second per mile improvement. I was running faster, just forgetting to take account of the terrain. The seizure had passed and I felt suitably buoyed.

Saturday saw me have a chance to return the favour by being the stable platform for Allie as we set off into the snow to tackle the 5.2 miles of Scald Law and Carnethy Hills in the Pentlands. I had selected and prepared the route on the map. I had made packed lunches, including of course the infamous veggie pick and mix bags with the surprise delight of a couple of brazil nuts! We set off and tackled the heavy going of the ascent through snow that had drifted shin deep in places, with the occasional surprise dip hidden below knee deep snow up to the ridge approaching Carnethy Hill. I selected the route as best I could on a zig zag up the hill side and broke the path carving footsteps into the snow, where I could, with my own boots. It was heavy going to lead but on a compass bearing and with clear visibility I was able to lead us up to the ridge and onto the summit. I was now in familiar terrain having spent many years exploring the Pentlands when based in Edinburgh, so delighted in being able to confidently and safely guide Allie on this route. It was hard and hot work but she managed beautifully. The descent from Carnethy Hill before the climb back up to Scald Law was a little trickier but with careful route selection and, where I could, through the provision of a stable footprint to use in the descent, I was able to provide Allie, a little nervous in the descent as the light and occasional snow shower drifted down around us, the stability she needed to successfully negotiate this route in the hills. We summited Scald Law, threw on a warm layer and stopped to admire the view. A few photos later we started to strip off the warm kit before tackling the descent back to the valley floor to trace it back down to the start point and the car. I turned and saw just below us a group of walkers having lunch in a break on their walk. As I quietly studied them as I packed away my fleece, before I knew it I suddenly felt a pull to go and speak to them. It was, as was so often the case in this people-oriented challenge, I am convinced God’s direction, a pull that I simply couldn’t resist. It was a large group of 7 walkers so took some courage to just bowl over simply to interrupt them and talk to them about the challenge but I had to go. I apologised to Allie and bumbled down to them as I pulled out a couple of flyers from my trouser pocket. As I arrived I got an almost immediate sense that I had understood God’s direction properly. They were the most engaging and welcoming group of walkers one could ever hope to meet and then I realised why I was told to speak to them. They were on this hillside as a group of friends to the most amazing and courageous Karen. Karen is fighting Lymphoma and was looking amazing despite fighting through the post Chemotherapy blues in which the body really struggles to readjust, yet what was wonderful was not only that Karen had such a similar approach to fighting her disease but that she appears to be succeeding, was so full of hope and here, surrounding me with their wonderful energy, was the stable platform on which Karen so relied to help her beat the beast. Again I was reminded of the value of friendship in our respective battles and like a leech I fed off of their energy before setting off, post photo, for the car and a celebratory Mocha and a flapjack at the Flotterstone Inn. While waiting for our coffee, I met Amy who at just 3 years old told me that she is from Edinburgh and was out for a walk. It was fun but she had stuck her hand in a nettle. It was really painful and is covered in spots, but it was worth it because she got no less than 3 chocolate biscuits for being brave. I was so impressed with her bravery that I then got to see her painted fingers. ‘Did I think they were pretty?’ she asked. Thank goodness the coffee arrived! 
Then to make the walk even better, later in the weekend we spotted this visitor post on the Challenge page from Stan who we met with Karen.

The interior of St. Cuthberts
The interior of St. Cuthberts

‘Archie it was a pleasure to meet you today. The group I was with felt very humble after our picture together. I really admire your attitude and with that mate anything is possible.’

Stan, thank you but it is I that was humbled by the generosity of your friendship as we met you and your party of friends on Scald Law. It was a delightful meeting and with the support and stability provided by friends like you, Karen, I and many others striving to Beat their Beast really do stand a good chance of making the impossible possible.

A quick change and we were off to St Cuthbert’s Church for the Jubilo Concert of the Dona Nobis Pacem. We were given the tickets by a friend of Allie’s from her church, St Paul’s and St George’s, who was singing in the concert. It was a wonderful evening of choral and orchestral music in which, despite what had been a tiring few days, I felt greatly emboldened throughout the concert. It was only after the concert when Ann, Allie’s friend, and now a friend of mine, reminded me once again of the strength of friendship. During the Dona Nobis Pacem by Vaughan Williams a certain sentence is sung: ‘O man greatly beloved, fear not, peace be unto thee, be strong, yea, be strong’. Quietly, after the service, Ann let Allie know that when she sung that line, she looked over and sang it to me. Hearing that brought a tear to my eye because by singing it to me she in effect prayed it for me and that will explain why I felt so emboldened through the concert.

Sunday saw me attend the service at St Paul’s and St George’s after a good 2.5 mile walk through the city. During the service I was left, after the excellent sermon, with a realisation of what I was witnessing these last few days. The sermon hinged around the wonderful story of a young teenage school boy saved from meningitis by the earnest and spontaneous coming to prayer of his friends. It was undoubted that it was the prayer that saved him as they showed their true faith and belief in God, but what struck me most was the stability of the platform from which he was healed created by the bringing together of his friends. And to reinforce this point further we sang this hymn on leaving:

‘Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great high priest, whose name is love, (I know that this refers to Jesus but on Sunday, for me, as we sang it, this was referring to friendship. As I thought about them, in my mind I changed the remaining words of the hymn slightly…)
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is written on their hands,
My name is written on their heart,
I know that while on earth they stand,
No power can force me to depart,
No power can force me to depart.

(In referring to friendship I do intentionally confirm that I very much count Jesus as standing with me and amongst my friends.)

As I sat, writing this post, I started to struggle more and more. No seizure came, but my eyesight went all skewy on several occasions, my insides seemed to gently vibrate and I found myself searching fruitlessly, with a frozen brain, for, of all things, the space bar on the keyboard. But I persevered and with the support of a friend who reassured me and just stayed close by and even made me lunch, I beat the beast and finished the post.

So the Challenge in numbers since the start:
Days completed: 139
Total Miles Cycled: 659
Total Miles Walked: 711.2
Total Miles Run: 102.3
Total Miles Paddled: 7
Total Distance Cycled, Skied, Run and Rowed in the gym: 29.9
Total Distance Swum: 2,740 metres
Total Miles covered under own steam.1,651.1
Total Height Gained under own steam: 37,091 feet
Mountains Climbed: 5
Hills Climbed: 22
Days of Voluntary Activity: 8.5
Organ tunes learnt and performed: 5
Salmon Caught: 0!
Bats Found:0!
Curling Matches played in: 8
Curling stones placed on the button (the centre of the target): 3
Weight Training Sessions: 12
Weight shifted: 10kgs lifted over 318metres or 6360kgs moved over ½ a metre,
Aerobic Circuit Sessions: 7
Press Ups: 506
Pull Ups: 88
Sit Ups: 771
People Met and Hands Shaken: 407
Pots of tea shared: 29
Prayers joined on the top of a hill: 2
Prayers joined in the street!: 4
Prayers joined in a Train Station: 1
Prayers joined in a Café: 1
Pills popped: 804
Days until Driving Licence (lost to epilepsy) possibly Returned: 730 (Re-set as a result of yesterday’s seizure)
And most important of all – Money Raised as at Day 126 – £6,710.77

Considering I started this challenge 6 months ago very quietly with no target beyond a fiver, thanks to the brilliant advice from a friend of mine, I am absolutely thrilled and again thank you all. That is £53.26 for each and every day that I have managed to find the will and energy to do something worthwhile and my goodness it has been worth it for my peace of mind, for my healing and for the five wonderful charities you are supporting through your generosity. Long may it continue. May I also ask however that if you are not sponsoring me to please consider it for as much or as little as you can afford. My rate of revenue raising has slowed from £70.00 a day to £60.00 a day to £53.26 a day so please sponsor me and encourage your friends to as well.

Thank you all for your incredible comments and support. Please continue to spread the word.
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 for joining me on my own personal journey and encouraging me to walk, cycle, climb, paddle, sport and do good deeds each day to ‘Beat the Beast’ while helping to improve the lives and life chances of so many more people through sponsorship. The Five Charities that I have selected to support are:

  1. Cancer Research UK – My Father Succumbed to Lung Cancer; a couple of friends are currently fighting cancer and I am fighting a brain tumour. Let’s Help to Beat Cancer Sooner.
  2. The Prince’s Trust – Inspiring and preparing disadvantaged Young Lives for success.
  3. British Red Cross – helping those in need around the UK and the world whoever and wherever they are.
  4. World Wide Fund for Nature – For a Living Planet and a Future Where People and Nature Thrive.
  5. Help for Heroes – Support for our Wounded and their Families. To learn more about my story that brought me to this point, how I plan to ‘Beat the Beast’, what activities I plan to do within the challenge and why, please see my welcome video on this page.

How to Sponsor Me

The Beat the Beast Challenge is self funding through my own contribution while keeping costs to a minimum with voluntary support and corporate sponsorship in kind. Therefore the entirety of every penny donated will go directly to the 5 charities listed above.

Please sponsor me by completing a standing order form either through your own personal internet banking or by completing a hard copy standing order form in your branch of your bank and then handing it in to the teller.

It is entirely up to you how much you would like to and are able to sponsor me for so do please give as much or as little as you can. Every penny will be very gratefully received.

While I hope you will encourage me to keep going by sponsoring me for every day I survive and am able to find the cognitive and physical capability to complete a day’s task designed to improve my chances of ‘Beating the Beast’ or improving the lives of others, 5 days a week, four weeks a month, for as long as ever I can. Any One off Cash contributions will be most gratefully received and distributed in exactly the same manner to the five charities as the sponsorship. Any one off donations can be made by BACS or cheque.

Thank you for having enough faith in me to sponsor me.

Yours aye