Beat The Beast Challenge

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Having successfully operated on the Cholesteatoma it was time to focus on the Brain Tumour. I was blessed with a wonderful oncology and neurology team from the NHS at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. My Oncologist fought hard to get me accepted onto a trial being run by the European Institute of Oncology because she had strong hopes that while they couldn’t shrink, kill or cure the tumour, this particularly robust line of treatment, being offered by the trial, might just about buy me enough time to see the children into High School and a little bit older before my demise. She knew that such a robust line of treatment could damage the brain and we had a very frank discussion about the fact. In the end, the fact that it might extend my life by the same again, out to 6 years in order to see the children into and approaching the end of High School meant such a lot to me after spending all those years away in the service of the Nation. I wasn’t meant to be able to hang around for long afterwards anyway so decided, to hell with the brain damage, let’s go for it.

I was accepted onto the trial and then given the hardest line of treatment. No gaps, no rests, we were going to hit this tumour as hard as we could, not to cure it, kill it or shrink it, we couldn’t do that, but to put it to sleep to buy me and the children some time. I went into brain surgery, in which they managed to remove 40% of the tumour as well diagnose the tumour officially as a Grade 3 Anaplastic Oligodendroglioma. The other 60% of the tumour was far too deep into the brain and now known to be far more aggressive and harder to treat than at first thought. I then went straight into a full 6 weeks of brain-focused radiotherapy followed by an entire year of discomfort with 12 monthly cycles of chemotherapy. The expectation was that they were going to have to pull me from the trial after 6 months of chemotherapy because it was just too punishing on the body, especially so soon after brain surgery and radiotherapy. I was determined to beat this beast of a disease, to sail through every treatment gateway with my colours flying and guns blazing so set about finding ways to reinforce my treatment and made it through the treatment.

The 5 Fs:

Food – There was so much in the media about the importance of food in strengthening the body to resist or even attack a cancer and that there are even certain foods that will themselves attack the tumour. That sounded good to me so I dived head first into Dr Google and came out with an eating plan that consisted of acid alkali diet, reinforced with a raw vegan diet, reinforced with the continual grazing of fruits and vegetables that we knew would attack the tumour. But I got the balance horribly wrong and ended up needing an entire course of treatment to put out the fire I had lit within my body. However, after a succession of trials and errors, with the assistance of the NHS, I settled on a diet that would help me to reinforce the treatment I was being given.

Physical Training (Ph sounds like an F!) – “If exercise were a pill it would be one of the most cost effective drugs ever invented” Dr Nick Cavill. There was a large amount in the media about the benefits of exercise in healing the body. As I had kept my physical training routine going after leaving the army, and with a border collie that needed lots of exercise I also continued with my pre-work early morning and post-work evening long walks so I felt that I had the physical training element covered but also re-discovered the emotions of fear and anxiety so took to the hills and mountains that were on my doorstep in central Scotland to find peace from the fear and anxiety that plagued me so. However I over did it and once again had to learn the lessons from the process of trial and error to settle on a physical training routine that was sustainable and would help to reinforce the excellent treatment I was being given.

Faith – From childhood I always had a strong faith and turned to my faith for solace. I found periods of deep prayer, reflection and meditation on my own in St Modoc’s church in Doune deeply fortifying and would return home feeling so very much stronger. But with God’s help I also developed a belief, a hope, a faith in myself, that I really could beat this beast of a disease.

Family and Friends –I have already spoken of the encouragement I felt from the love and support of family and friends by involving them in my journey from the start and knew that they would be of huge benefit to the children and I on the treatment journey. But what I had never expected, after being cast out from the house as well past my use by and best before dates, was to find the love of a good woman whose seat I accidently sat in on a train. Despite being of no health, no wealth and no earning potential, Allie fished me out of the deep dark river of despair and carried me through the finishing gate to an MRI that saw the tumour that couldn’t be shrunk, killed or cured to have completely disappeared. I have a long way to go but the expectation is that I am completely cured of the brain tumour.

Focus – I started the original challenge to beat my beast of a brain tumour driven by a desire to spend my last few days of life breathing hope into the lives of my children while doing all that I could to improve the lives and life chances of as many people as I could by taking on challenging activities designed to help me to beat my beast while encouraging those that could do to sponsor me with every single penny going to the 5 charities that I supported: The British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, Help for Heroes, The Princes’ Trust and the World Wide Fund for Nature. To have a reason to get up every morning and keep fighting rather than to curl up under the duvet and wait for the lights to go out was a very powerful motivation to carry me through those dark days that inevitably gripped me from time to time.