This time two years ago I was in the middle of intensive training for an Ironman Triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, finished off with a marathon 26.2-mile). I was exercising twice a day, eating well – I was in the best shape of my life and making the most of it by spending quality time with my wife and two sons.
Following completion of the race I went down very suddenly with a nasty bout of pneumonia and sepsis. I later found that body woes I’d credited to the training were the symptoms of a vicious condition attacking my body and essentially breaking down my bones: achy back (too many deadlifts and squats), sore ribs (bench), low mood (life!) and a few infections (again, these things happen). At the hospital they scanned my chest and found a shadow, which was assumed to be scarring from the pneumonia. In Spring 2017 a follow up scan showed the legions actually identified that myeloma was present. Myeloma was not something I’d ever heard of. It creates small holes in your bones and the collection of these weakens your skeleton to a level where it becomes very brittle, this ultimately leads to bone degeneration. I also had lots of paraproteins (abnormal antibodies) which your immune system creates when it’s seriously weak due to the presence of cancer or another illness.
I was told the disease probably seeded itself in me when I began my Ironman training the previous year. The news was a massive shock. On the Richter scale of life earthquakes this was a building crushing, city demolishing, 10. I didn’t feel unwell, I’d just run a triathlon – I felt amazing! I almost started laughing - the idea of the enormity of this illness was too far out of the remit of how I saw my life shaping up. I went home and told my wife, Jenn. The next 48 hours were the worst, especially at night when I had time to think and process what was happening to me – anger, upset, why me? This wasn’t something I could ‘train’ my way out of. This was not only life changing but could be life threatening too.
Within weeks I was in the Countess of Chester Hospital and underwent several rounds of chemotherapy over a few months. This was until I hit another road bump and my back broke late last summer. I had to stop chemo during this time and undergo a back operation. In the grand scheme of things I’ve been quite lucky. I’ve never been sick from the chemo, my hair stayed intact for the first and third rounds of it but I did lose it after the second. Although, this was to the delight of my kids as I looked like their favourite Newcastle FC player Jonjo Shelvey – thankfully they don’t know the full extent of the potential ramifications this condition has.
My paraprotein level had begun to go down but over the last few months it has crept back up and so I’m in the process of having an autologous stem cell transplant. This involves stem cells being taken from my body, then I’m given a big zap of chemo before they’re reinserted. They’ll hopefully regrow in the bone marrow and give me a decent period of remission. I’ll be in isolation for 4 weeks recovering and doing everything in my power to get back on the ball. My bloods are out of my control but eating, drinking and resting are things I can do to try and get out of the hospital as soon as possible.
At the moment my best bet for serious remission is a blood stem cell donor from a stranger as no one in my family is a match. This will effectively give me a new immune system. I have no intention of the 7 years, the doctors have given me, being it. Although, I find myself fighting internally with what they’re telling me and what I’m willing to happen. Everyone has it in their heart to help but then life gets in the way. I’m Peter, I’ve got two kids and a wife and have been given 7 years to live, you could help save my life and others in need of a matching donor by registering as a potential lifesaver – please don’t hold off, every second counts. I truly believe there are more good people out there than bad and I really need your help.
Peter is looking for a blood stem cell donor through blood cancer charity DKMS. This is just one story but there are many others waiting to be matched to their lifesaver. Register for your home swab kit online at dkms.org.uk. It takes a few moments to swab. Make sure you return your swab kit in order to go on standby to help save someone’s life.