Triple cancer survivor takes on #LifeCycle from London to Japan

04 February 2019 | Healthy living, Supporter stories

Patrick McIntoshPatrick McIntosh is cycling from Twickenham Stadium in London to Japan to raise money for and awareness of cancer prevention. 

I've had three types of cancer: bowel, prostate and skin. Since my diagnosis, my bowel is 17 inches shorter, I no longer have a prostate, and I've had many skin growths removed from my face, hands and back.

Some might say I’m extremely unlucky but it’s quite the contrary – I’m incredibly lucky. I gave blood in 2012 and tests found that my iron levels had fallen off the cliff. That led to a whole train of events that resulted in me finding out at the age of 58 that I had bowel cancer. The doctor told me that I shouldn't even have been standing up – I'd been bleeding internally. Doctors operated almost immediately, removing parts of my large and small intestines, stomach muscles and five lymph nodes. 

I thought my journey with cancer was over and seven months later I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in three days. However, after more tests in spring 2013, I was diagnosed with very progressive prostate cancer and underwent a seven-hour operation to remove my prostate along with more “pipe work”, muscles and lymph nodes. At the same time, I was diagnosed with skin cancer, which is ongoing but I get regular check-ups to keep it under control.

At first, the doctors thought that none of the cancers were connected – it was all, as they said, simply bad luck. I have since found out that I have Lynch syndrome and Muir-Torre syndrome, inherited disorders from my mother’s side, that increase my risk of getting certain types of cancers – if you like, it’s spelling mistakes in my genome. My brother also had Lynch syndrome and died of cancer one and a half years ago, but thankfully his children don’t have this genetic defect. My mother and grandfather also died of cancer and my sister has had similar cancers as me; she is still with us.

Cancer affects so many people. A good friend of mine was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the same time as me. We were the same age, had the same level of fitness, the difference was I was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer, whereas he had Stage 3 cancer. Sadly, my friend died a year after diagnosis. This made me even more determined to encourage people to get tested early and to change their diets and lifestyles. I am convinced that my survival is thanks to my early diagnosis, and that changing my diet and lifestyle helps keep it at bay. I have a defective genome so why would I want to antagonise it with alcohol, unhealthy eating and inactivity?

Shackleton's footsteps

For me, exercise is key. I’ve always been quite fit and adventurous, climbing mountains and sailing across the Atlantic. My family had hoped that after having cancer I’d take it easy. However, having three different types of cancer has pushed me mentally and physically – testing my limits. I thought to myself, I'm still alive, so I should do something to help other people make it. While I was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer it was just before the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole and that's when I hit on the idea of trekking to the South Pole. I thought I could do something that would really grab the public’s attention and raise awareness of cancer.

My wife wasn’t overly impressed when I announced I was going to trek to the South Pole. However, she has always been incredibly supportive and I couldn’t do any of this without her. Fast forward to 2015 when I stood at the South Pole, having pulled a 45kg sled for 120 nautical miles over rough ice at 4,000 metres above sea level in up to minus 50 degree temperatures. 

Now I am taking on a new challenge. I’m a huge rugby fan so I thought why not cycle to Japan in time for the Rugby World Cup! So, I’ll be cycling from Twickenham Stadium to Japan: over 7,000 miles and more than 50,000 metres of ascent, crossing northern Europe and Russia. Thankfully, I have my friend Glenn who will be following me in our camper van.

More and more people are likely to live until they are 100, so I am trying to get the message out that we have a choice whether to remain fit and healthy into old age, or not look after ourselves and suffer later. 

Life after cancer

Why am I doing this? Well, why not. If my challenge gets just one person to listen and decide to go get tested early then I think it’s worth it. There is life after cancer.

Please get checked, eat well, exercise, stay positive and don’t forget that you can sponsor my challenge.

Patrick and Glenn will be leaving for the #LifeCycle challenge in the spring. We will be following their journey and all the exciting adventures we’re sure they will encounter along the way.

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Patrick McIntosh | 04 February 2019