Tony Collier, Christie patient and fundraiser
When you hear those awful words ‘cancer’ and ‘incurable’ and it’s you that they are talking about, it’s incredibly tough. No one, other than fellow cancer sufferers, has any idea how indescribably difficult it is. Your world simply falls apart, you are terrified about the future, you don’t understand anything because you can’t focus and you just don’t know how you are going to get through the next five minutes let alone the day.
What made things worse for me was that I went to see a doctor on 8 May this year because I thought I had a groin strain from running and was due to run an ultra-marathon in South Africa on 4th June involving a 56-mile run and 6,500 feet of climbing in very warm weather. I thought that a cortisone injection might sort it out and enable me to compete in the ultra. I had run two marathons a week apart in April, and as far as I was concerned I was superman - super fit and indestructible!
An MRI scan showed something untoward and the doctor sent me for more tests immediately. At 8pm on 9 May the doctor broke the news to me that he thought I had prostate cancer that had spread to the pelvic bone.
Within 2 weeks this was confirmed and I knew that the cancer was widespread throughout my bones. I knew that if I didn’t respond to treatment it was likely that I might only have two years left.
Given that I only passed 60 in February, and was super fit, it would be fair to say that I was totally shell-shocked and my wife and I pretty much fell apart.
Over the following weeks, The Christie became our second home, with weekly visits and lots of tests.
I had descended into a horrible state of fear, depression and deep concern for the future, often having feelings of total and utter terror.
However, the incredibly dedicated team at The Christie gradually brought us back to a state nearer normality.
The doctor, nurses and other members of The Christie team helped bring clarity of thought and focus. They gave my wife and I a huge amount of reassurance that we desperately needed. And, whilst things will never be quite the same again, we know that I am in the best hands - safe and caring. We also received support from the Maggie’s centre at The Christie and from Macmillan nurses.
Much of the support I have benefited from is only available at The Christie because of the hospital’s charity, and thousands of amazing fundraisers, who make the additional services possible.
The Christie charity raises money for research, patient care and treatment, education, and extra patient services.
The Christie’s involvement in clinical trials meant that I was one of the first people to benefit from the findings of the STAMPEDE trial. This meant I had access to an alternative, potentially more beneficial treatment regime and was, at least for the time being, able to avoid chemotherapy.
I have also benefitted from the alternative therapies that are funded by The Christie charity. One of the major side effects of prostate cancer treatment is the loss of testosterone which leads to horrendous fatigue plus hot flushes (now I know how the women feel). I was guided to try acupuncture, which is offered to help patients with these side effects, and immediately after the first weekly session felt so much better and able to cope with day to day living.
Over my life, I’ve done massive amounts of community work. In recent years as chairman of Altrincham and Sale chamber of commerce and the Altrincham town centre neighbourhood plan, both organisations are heavily involved in the regeneration of Altrincham town centre. I’m also secretary of my running club, which involves giving up a lot of my time. However, there I was after a cancer diagnosis, the beneficiary of the work of others. Work that may well prolong my life, but will certainly make it more bearable.
Having seen first-hand the work of The Christie and knowing about its work from friends and family members affected by cancer, I felt that I wanted to give something back. I also needed a challenge and an aim to get me back out running, so I decided to enter the Manchester half marathon.
Doing this gave me some focus and I asked The Christie charity if I could run it for them and raise some funds. I felt pretty comfortable that I would be able to reach the target of £100 but have since been staggered that, with gift aid and off-line donations, I have raised nearly £5,000 with more to come! No pressure then!
Having recovered from a stress fracture of the pelvic bone where it had been weakened by cancer, I got back to running. My oncologist had warned me to expect to be a lot slower due to the lack of testosterone, and I found that it was taking 20% more effort to run 10% slower than pre-treatment. However, I was determined to run this half marathon and there was a lot of money resting on it.
I managed to build up to 10 miles in training, albeit tediously and painfully slow. I took the view that if I could do 10 miles then surely I could do 13.1 on race day. It seemed like a plan!
In 2016 I ran the Manchester half marathon in 1 hour 39 minutes and my best ever time was 1 hour 31 minutes. My ambition for the 2017 race was to finish in one piece without killing myself and, maybe, 2 hours 10 minutes would be possible.
The race morning was an untypical sunny and warm autumn Manchester day, which immediately made things tougher. I decided to run with the sub-two-hour pacemaker (roughly 9 minutes per mile) and see how long I could last. Amazingly, I found myself feeling comfortable running at 8 minutes 45 seconds per mile and pulled ahead of the pacemaker, but always with the thought that I would probably have to walk a bit once I got past 10 miles. Remarkably, I didn’t have to walk and eventually crossed the line in 1 hour 56 minutes feeling totally elated.
The run gave me a massive mental boost with the thought that I had achieved something that I knew, even to me as an ultra-marathon runner, was going to be really tough. At the same time, I knew that I had done a huge amount of good for an amazing charity that helps me and so many other cancer patients. I hope that my contribution has, in some small way, contributed to furthering the research that will one day help to eradicate this insidious disease which affects the lives of so many people.
And finally, prostate cancer is often a silent symptomless killer. I would urge all men to get themselves regularly tested from their mid-40s onwards until the time when regular screening is introduced.
You can find out more about supporting The Christie charity on the website.