Why I'm cycling London | Paris 2015
Life has had its ups and down over the past thirty years.
Life has had its ups and down over the past thirty years.
Like many others before me and after, I have benefited from all of the great work Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research has given me, as have my family and friends who have seen my life develop over the past thirty years. It’s gone from strength to strength.
I have always been positive about everything in life, about the outcome, a believer in fate knowing it happens for a reason. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the square mile of the City of London. Born in 1974, I schooled, worked and married in the square mile. My dream as a young boy was leading the mighty Arsenal out, and in 1984, at Arsenal v Newcastle, I was picked to be mascot. We won 2-0.
I started secondary school in 1985, getting into the odd scuffle, the odd bruise just like any other kid my age. Mum was a bit concerned when she noticed several bruises, but put up with my excuses of school sports and the odd rough and tumble… but she was not prepared for what was to come.
Sunday morning, I used to have a little job in Petticoat Lane on a shoe stall. £8 per day, all the bagels I could eat and coffee I could drink. Mum gave me that little nudge to wake up just like most days. I woke up, startled, and knocked my arm ever so slightly on a radiator, no harder than a tap. What happened to my arm was extreme. It was black, red, hard. Mum and Dad were horrified. The following morning I went to see a great doctor at the local health centre. A nice chap, Canadian, extremely sympathetic and would always put me at ease. In and out, this will be a doddle. How wrong I was. A quick look and he started filling in those colourful blood count forms that we have all become accustomed to.
Weeks after my first hospital appointment I remember being at school and being called to the headmaster’s office. I remember summing up what I had done wrong to end up there. He was a big burly man, Scottish and tough. “Come in Scott, sit down. Your dad has just called and wants you to go home straight away.” I did not need any second request to leave school early! All I kept thinking was dad was a bit sly and has got me off school to take me horse racing, something I loved.
As we walked through the doors of the hospital, you can’t help but notice that smell that only hospitals have. As we turned a corner I saw a sign for the “Haematology, Knutsford Ward” - a place I was going to be visiting quite often over the next few months. A quick introduction and I was told I was having a bone marrow test. Is that not something I have seen on dog adverts? Weird. Oh well, let’s see. Within 30 minutes I was on my way home, done.
Over the next several months, mum and dad started to look tired, worn out. They had stopped me from playing any contact sports (my cricket and football careers went out the window). I didn’t know for a long time what was actually wrong with me, and I was keen on joining the army cadets with my friend Mark.
“Dad, I am going to meet Mark so that we can join the Army cadets.”
Dad was quite blunt about it. “No you’re not.”
“I am,” I answered. That went on for a few minutes until he said that word.
“You can’t join, you have leukaemia.”
It was a bad word. I’d heard it before in the hospital, read those leaflets, saw those posters. I just ran off to meet Mark. We had a good chat and if I am honest, I think he knew before me. He was a good friend during that period and has been a great friend since.
I knew what it was called but not what it really meant. More trips to the hospital. One of my earliest treatments was two weekly injections which I could do at home, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I remember the smell of those alcohol wipes. The injections were fine, it was just the smell.
I gave the bone marrow test a go without anaesthetic. Dr Steve Kelsey was doing it -- a young man who I can only assume is at the top of his game now. He was someone I felt entirely comfortable with. I remember him telling me, “If you’re sure, Scott, I am going to start.” Crunching, cold, drippy, tunnelling were the terms I would use how it felt. I would not be that brave again! I was still having those two weekly injections but guessed they were not working.
Towards the back end of 1987, my health concerns had developed but it was a case of enjoying Christmas first. But there was a question of tests that family members, including my younger sisters Dawn and Michiela, had to have first. “I wonder what they could be for.” It’s not all bad news. Those family tests were successful, or at least one of them was. Mum, Dad and I sat in a room, quite comfortable sofas, and quite colourful if I remember. It was a week before Christmas.
“Michiela is the perfect bone marrow match for Scott”. Everyone looked elated by the news. I was going to have a bone marrow transplant. Christmas was really good that year.
My chemotherapy plan started and was going well. Slightly sickly, but guess it does that to most people. My platelet levels were low also so had to have a top up. It used to make me really cold when I had the transfusion so used to have plenty of extra blankets to hand to keep me warm. My hair slowly but surely started to fall from my head. It’s never really grown back properly but worked well for the job I had later in life and saved on haircuts.
A couple of weeks passed, it was Sunday afternoon. The room I was going to be in was 100% isolation from everyone for some time. A place no nasty bugs can get me! It was a little bit like a glass cell, separated by a sheet of glass and a curtain. A young man was on the other side of the glass. He was unlucky and did not make it. I was not able to eat what I wanted and dairy products were off the menu and that included chocolate! What was I going to eat without chocolate?
Michiela was being admitted and had a few days planned in the ward. I could see her through the glass. Mum and Dad told me she went through some pain while they were taking bone marrow from her. I would be forever grateful for what she has done for me but as the big brother still keep her on her toes.
The bone marrow transplant was a bit of an anti-climax. My doctor uncapped the hickman line and started the process of delivering bone marrow. Days, weeks and months passed and I was getting stronger and stronger. I was piling on weight and feeling great about the future.
As time went on I was being released for the odd hour, allowed into the fresh air of the hospital grounds. The smell and noise was amazing. Those odd hours went to a day, a few days, weeks and so on. Things were looking great and I was still schooling through the hospital teacher. I even had time to write a fundraising newspaper that sold for 10p in the Royal London Hospital… the talk of the hospital at one stage!
During my release periods I did catch shingles and pneumonia. Not nice and that kept me in hospital for a further three weeks for each illness. I still have to take penicillin.
“Scott, you can start going back to school, take it easy at first, a few days a week maybe.”
I was really dark, hardly any hair and all I kept thinking of was being taunted at school. Hold on, I have just been through the past 18 months. This is the least of my worries! I made some great friends.
In 1994 I joined the 2nd Battalion The Royal Green Jackets and served on operational tour. A dream, if you remember I mentioned at the start. When I was told I could not join the army cadets, I surpassed that. My medical was eventful, as you can imagine, but that is another story.
Life is a lot different now. I am 40 years old, I have only grown a foot and half since I was 13 years old. I have an incredible wife Ell who has seen me buy two bikes and an exercise bike and she supports every part of the challenge I am embarking on - London to Paris by bicycle in four days. Some say it is fun, and I am so hoping it is. I am looking forward to it!
So why am I doing this? A great question and, as cheesy as it may sound, there are several reasons but most importantly it's the research and science involved in treating me and others like me. Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have made sure that those that are diagnosed and their families have the support throughout their own journeys. Researchers, doctors, nurses, mums, dads, brothers and sisters need our help and support.
Your support and donations are really appreciated.
Thank you so much