During my time in this trade I’ve been asked to get involved in a variety of exciting ‘weird and wonderfuls’ – from zoo keeping to zumba, and one is always braced for the next suggested challenge.
But as Weekend’s storied gaffer encouraged me to pound the pavement and do a ‘light bit of running’ for a worthy cause, I couldn’t help but notice just how cold that cold morning was. Icicles-in-the-beard territory. Frostbite creeping up my good typing hand.
Still, the cause was a fantastic one that was close to my heart, and it was time for me to put my best foot forward.
“Absolutely,” I said, “will you be joining me?”
I looked around. She’d already scarpered.
‘Oh well,’ I thought and smiled. ‘Here goes nothing’...
I hate running – have for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I completely respect its value in the exercise pantheon, and doff my cap to all enthusiasts. But since my teenage years it hasn’t been for me. Until now.
As part of its inspirational range of fundraising ideas, Cancer Research UK is encouraging willing participants across the country to get involved with the Run 56 Miles Challenge.
This one pretty much involves what it says on the tin, with entrants challenged to get their ‘fit kit’ on and tick off the target mileage over the course of February.
Crucially (very crucially for a kebab-guzzling juggernaut like myself), pressure is not at all on to whack this impressive distance out over the course of two or three stints. Rather, runners are encouraged to split the distance over the course of the month – averaging two miles each day.
Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Let’s find out shall we...
Thirteen years ago my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Following a successful course of hormone treatment and radiotherapy, the cancer appeared to have gone. However, seven years later it returned, this time meaning a radical salvage prostatectomy.
There was no detectable evidence of cancer immediately after the operation – my mother, in particular, was relieved.
Three months after the prostatectomy however, it was discovered from blood tests that some cancer had returned, but at this point signs were faint and no tumours could be located. Monitoring was required, but it was expected that it would be a long time before it grew once again to a locatable point and could be treated.
However, my family’s story was about to take another turn. At the height of the Covid pandemic, my mum – who had dutifully accompanied my father to London for his surgery, and had, to my knowledge, never been seriously ill in her life – was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer. Stage T4.
She’d been a smoker for many years, and never complained of any injustice in her condition. However, the following 12 months saw her undergo a rigorous course of treatment including several rounds of chemotherapy, and a fight that left her almost perpetually exhausted.
Still there was no complaining, and her heart was set on only one prize – to meet the grandchild that my partner and I were determined to soon try for, and to be able to say hello before, sadly, saying goodbye.
Karen Mary Morris – my mum – died on August 28, 2021. It would have been her 68th birthday on Monday.
With each other for support, my dad, my partner and I did what she would have wanted, and carried on. And at this, we did mightily well.
Now though, it was time to once again focus on Dad’s wellbeing, and a check-up only a couple of months after my mum had passed revealed that his cancer had progressed beyond the expected level. Following scans, three tumours were identified in his lymph system, but these, doctors said, could be dealt with. It wasn’t his first rodeo. Dad nodded, and got on with it.
Following a recent round of stereotactic radiotherapy sessions, his prognosis is strong, with leading medical experts confident he can look forward to a good many years of quality life with his granddaughter, Matilda, born only a year after my mother lost her battle. Her middle name is Karen. Sometimes – particularly when cross – she looks just like her.
I hate running. But I hate cancer more. So it’s time to get the trainers out.
My story is not at all an uncommon one, with one in every two people in the UK being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Some of the planet’s best minds are committed to its obliteration, and spend every waking working minute in diligent pursuit of this goal. And they need our help.
I’m not an Olympic athlete. I couldn’t climb Kilimanjaro – I probably couldn’t even manage Snowdon. I couldn’t row half way around the world or stare down a polar bear in a trek through the Arctic tundra. I’ve never swam the Channel, walked the Silk Road, or cycled from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.
But I don’t have to. There are many ordinary ways to contribute to the extraordinary effort against cancer, and help in the fight against a disease that has already taken far too much from far too many.
I’m a normal bloke, but I’m going to slap on my short shorts every day in February and do my bit to raise funds so that one day, maybe, we can all look cancer in the eye and proudly shout that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and sons and daughters are yours no more.
To paraphrase the immortal Forrest Gump, from this day on, if I’m going somewhere, I am running!
The challenge begins on February 1, and we’ll be keeping you updated on my progress. Wish me luck folks – we all know I’ll need it!