Keith was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in December 2013 at the age of 25.
In the summer of 2013, I was a more active than usual 25 year old person, with a want to push the body to the limit, having completed a few marathons, I bought a Road Bike and joining Keith Clarke on his Donard Dozen challenge, completing 10 ascents of Slieve Donard over 30hrs, there was no stopping me. Training was going great, and I was getting stronger and faster, but then I was struck by a heart condition known as Pericarditis, how I got it, I did not know. I let it pass and I recovered, but within 3 weeks it recurred, the response from the doctors, you don’t usually get repeat incidents of this within such a short period of time. So I recovered again but within days inflammation had spread to other parts of my body, the reason was unknown, but with a course of medication the problems were brought into check, but I still wasn’t myself.
For a further 4 months I continued on medication with no explanation for the cause of the illness, until over Christmas, 5 months after initially feeling unwell I didn’t feel myself again, and after a simple blood test, was admitted to hospital with suspected Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, although the first Bone Marrow Test results were inconclusive with an AML Diagnosis, the decision was made to wait a few weeks and carry out the tests again.
After a few weeks wait, a second biopsy indicated the development of AML and I subsequently began chemotherapy on my birthday, once I recovered from my first round of chemotherapy I felt like a new man, but there was still a few more rounds to go.
Between rounds of chemo I started getting back on my feet, first a bit of walking and then the bike came out and before I knew it I was back riding 50 miles, the day before my 3rd round of chemo.
By June 2014 I was finished my chemo and it was time to get my life well on track, so I signed up for Belfast Half Marathon. I started running again, and this along with cycling helped me fight the daily fatigue associated with chemotherapy, my first race out was a local 5 miler, just to see how I was running, and I finished with a respectable time, and much to the shock of a lot of people. This set the standard for the half marathon; I knew I had developed pace, having previously only ever run 1hr 38min before. On the day I ran a 1hr 32min half marathon, a new personal best 3 months after finishing my treatment, I knew I was back stronger than ever. Time for a new goal, Lanzarote Ironman
An Ironman consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle and a 26.2 mile run, and in Lanzarote, the hills and the heat just adds to the challenge. So in early 2015 training began, lots of miles to get in on the bike, in the pool and in the runners. On the way I also took on London Marathon, which I was supposed to do the previous year, with another great time of 3hrs 15 mins, having taken 23 mins of a Personal Best. I knew I was much stronger than ever, and my mind was in the right place and was in the best condition I could be in to take on one of the hardest triathlon challenges in Europe as well as my first triathlon.
I completed the Ironman in May 2015, less than 1 year from finishing treatment in 13 hours 56 minutes and 3 seconds, any amazing time, and an amazing journey. From that I went on to taking second place at the Short Course Grand Fondo Road Bike Race, race in numerous Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons, and finished the year with a Spartan Obstacle Course Race. 2015 was an epic year and there is plenty more to come in the future.
Being diagnosed with AML was probably one of the hardest things I have had to deal within my life, but for me it has made me a mentally and physically stronger person, helping me face the greater challenges in life. It’s hard being a 25 year old facing a life changing diagnosis, unknown what the future has in store, but with the right frame of mind and a will to succeed, you can make the most of it. I believe that goal setting is key, Beat the cancer, continue to strive and make the most of life. Most young people don’t realise that cancer can strike anyone of us, but with the continual development and research being carried out it should not be the daunting diagnosis many of us believe it to be, there is life beyond cancer, and it only makes it more worth living.