Fit to fight the battle

Physical health and mental attitude can be your strongest weapons in the fightback against cancer. This is a story of how diet and personal fitness can help you make a good recovery from surgery and respond better to immunotherapy. It's from my own personal experience, which I'd like to share to encourage others, and it would be great to hear of others experiences too.

From November 2017 to March 2018 I had three operations to tackle the melanoma that had grown in my leg. The last one, a lymph node block dissection, was a major operation to try to contain the melanoma spreading further. We all thought the job was done, but a CT scan in September 2018 showed the melanoma had metastasized to my lungs and pelvis. I began immunotherapy treatment in November, and have completed four rounds of combination infusions of Ipilimumab and Nivolumab. I’ve now started on a 28-day cycle of single Nivolumab infusions.

I consider myself very lucky, after all this, I’m actually in very good shape. The body has an amazing ability to bounce back from illness and injury, but I believe you can help it further by your own actions.

I believe there are three elements that are inter connected and really important to help in this battle with cancer. They are:-

  • Diet
  • Fitness
  • Attitude – including goals small or large

I don’t believe in preaching how anyone should spend their lives, all I know and will share is based on my own experience. I’m convinced that I’ve been able to deal, both physically and emotionally, with the trauma of a cancer that has got progressively worse because of factors that are in MY control.

The CT scan that I had last month showed that the lesions in my lungs had reduced in size in some cases and stabilized in others, same for the pelvis. The immunotherapy appears to be working. I need to help it, what can I do?

Keep myself as healthy as possible, eat a decent diet, exercise and stay positive.

For me to stay sane I need to keep moving, doing things, and never let the fact that I have cancer influence what I do. Don’t use cancer as an excuse, leave it in the background somewhere, that’s my philosophy.

I’d been a regular gym goer and swimmer since the beginning of 2017 so I was in decent shape heading into the cancer treatment later that year. I’d also decided to get stricter on the diet, so from the beginning of 2018 I cut out eating meat almost entirely, turned to a mainly plant based diet plus fish, and cut back on alcohol. I wouldn’t advocate anything specifically for others, just to say that any steps to improve diet are good ones and worth taking, don’t give cancer the fuel that it craves.

I should thank the doctors and nurses who’ve looked after me, through the operations stage of my treatment because they forced me to press on. The lymph node dissection particularly, left me in a lot of pain, but they insisted that I get on my feet and keep moving. It took around six weeks to get back to a proper mobility, it was a very painful process, I had a large seroma that had to be drained constantly, then got infected, and I ended up back in hospital for a week. But they had got me on my feet very soon after surgery and that was the start of forcing myself back to normality and being encouraged to return to the gym. 12 weeks after feeling like I’d never be able to walk, and could hardly move my leg, I was now on the treadmill in the gym working out as normal. It’s easy to forget now just how painful the aftermath of that operation was, but my recovery period was relatively short compared to some. I wanted to get back on my feet so I kept pushing, I couldn’t exercise but I could eat better, as I did, and therefore prepare my body better, and also I had a goal.  

I’d got tickets to see the Rolling Stones! I didn’t want to miss it! The tickets were too expensive to waste too! Two weeks before the concert it was looking like a tall order as I’d have to do a lot of walking on the night. But through desire and hard work to be ready, I got there, and everything worked out fine.

Now that I was getting mobility back I was encouraged once again by the Consultant to get back to the gym and I did. It was hard work after a break of over four months but the routine came back. More recently I was encouraged yet again by the consultant and specialist nurses to keep exercising as much as possible throughout the immunotherapy, and I have, literally as normal.

Before I started on immunotherapy I read some pretty distressing stuff about side effects. I really approached it with trepidation. I was pretty worried. But I’ve got through it relatively unscathed – a rash after the first session, deteriorating eyesight (that has restored itself) and then just minor things – itchiness, coughs, and the turning white of my facial hair - beard, eyebrows and eyelashes!

I know some people have suffered severe side effects, so I’ve been very lucky. I don’t know why. But I feel it must have been helped by the body being reasonably well prepared through diet and fitness, and I really wanted to complete the treatments – that was my goal.

This is my experience it might not be others. I’m not suggesting anyone should go gym crazy, do what you can exercise wise, same with diet, and of course look ahead not back and have some small goals to help stay positive and feel good when you achieve them!

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