Bowel Cancer Awareness Month 2017 banner

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, so to mark it Martin has written about his experience of being diagnosed, and how sport helped him through treatment.Martin at the finish of the European Long Course Triathlon Championships

Martin is 59 and has worked in the financial services sector for most of his career. He was diagnosed with lower colorectal cancer in February 2016, and has since undergone a year's programme of treatment including radiotherapy, surgery, and chemotherapy. Martin is expecting to have his stoma surgery reversed on 18th April 2017. Going forward, Martin plans to dedicate more time towards his passion for sport and, in particular, triathlon.

I'm writing this from my hospital bed following major surgery...

My father died from lung cancer at the age of 63. I was 35 at the time, part of an ill-informed generation unaware of the devastating impact of smoking and drinking. Despite my father's death, it took me another 10 years to give up smoking, and increasingly I turned to sport as a surrogate for the artificial high of drink and smoke.

My first triathlon was a short distance event in London in 2008, at the age of 50. My passion for the sport ignited with the pride of crossing the finish line and has intensified ever since, representing the GBR age group team at World and European championships, including Beijing 2011 and more recently Geneva 2015.

Following a 6th place Ironman distance race at the European Age Group Championships in Weymouth last September, I was diagnosed with lower colorectal cancer in January. As you would expect, the impact on those around me was seismic. In contrast, the effect on me was unexpected, despite the prospect of the condition being terminal. While the extent of the cancer was being assessed, my focus on a positive outcome was never in doubt.

In the scheme of things, the prognosis from the tests was 'good'. An eight-week combination of chemoradiotherapy, followed by a ten week window before major surgery, and finally six months of curative chemotherapy. Triathlon, especially long course, had taught me that big goals take years of investment and this 'new' challenge was relatively short. But the biggest disappointment was that chemo would take my immune system so low that I could not risk infection in the water. My 2016 triathlon goals had been wrecked and, crucially, just as I was moving into a new age group.

As I began dismantling the race programme I had set up for the season, I noticed the Fleet half-marathon scheduled three weeks into my chemo treatment. I was determined to continue my fitness and following medical sign-off, achieved a 1hr 38min time that gave me renewed determination to work through the cancer. This was the new challenge: continue my spinning classes at the Arena Fitness Centre in Camberley and keep my training as focused as possible to fight the condition.

The treatment was tough but strangely similar to the fatigue that my Ironman distance training had generated. I was also undergoing many tests including cardiorespiratory that produced fascinating data for my triathlon records. Interestingly, there is much evidence that suggests fitness is a significant tool in the fight against cancer. My surgeon was keen to test me before and after treatment, and while not under entirely scientific conditions I took great satisfaction in my 'after treatment' data being better than the first!

Then an opportunity. The chemoradiotherapy treatment finished in late April and the Shropshire standard distance European qualifier was four weeks away. My surgery was scheduled some weeks later. The prospect of a qualifying place seemed totally unrealistic but I felt the need to give myself a shot. To my amazement, the swim felt effortless, which set me up beautifully for the bike, but the run was brutal in the arid, windless country lanes that typify Shropshire in the summer. But the chance of a qualifying place provided an incredible motivation to push and the prospect of sticking one in the face of cancer was even greater. I finished 5th, with a place in Kitzbuhel, Austria, virtually guaranteed.

Now, as I lie here with five 'stab' wounds across my stomach and a temporary stoma protruding from my belly following a truly successful 8-hour operation, I want to take this opportunity to thank the glorious sport of triathlon for giving me the energy, courage and belief to beat this horrible disease.

Questions about bowel cancer? Join our Bowel (colon and rectum) cancer group and start a discussion today.

Join our Online Community to talk to other people affected by cancer

Read more on our Community News Blog