18-year-old Ben from Devon is taking on the Virgin Money London Marathon 2018 in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. He was 17 when he got diagnosed with a synovial sarcoma in his leg, now he’s taking on the challenge of running 26.2 miles to raise money for the charity that supported him. We talked to Ben about training, fundraising and his cancer experience.
The marathon falls pretty much a year to the day to when I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 17. When I was younger I watched it on TV and it was always something I thought I wanted to do, but I never thought I’d actually do it. Teenage Cancer Trust supported me through my treatment, so when I saw that they were the 2018 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year, I thought it would be the perfect time to do it!
This is my first marathon and training is going really well at the moment. It’s a good challenge because pretty much every week I’m running further than I have before. I finished my treatment in October, so it will be an even greater achievement when I cross the finish line.
Before I was diagnosed, I’d had ongoing symptoms for about 5 years, including pains in my leg, and I’d been going to see the doctors regularly. They kept saying that nothing was wrong, but after a while they decided to carry out an operation, which revealed that I had a synovial sarcoma in my leg.
When I first got diagnosed I was shocked, but also surprised that I wasn’t too emotional. I don’t think I really cried until a couple of weeks afterwards – I suppose that’s when it hit me. I always assumed cancer was really rare in young people. In my mind I thought “oh I’ll never get cancer”, and then it happened and there was nothing I could do about it.
The cancer was in my leg, near my knee, and it was really painful - all the muscles had just wasted away in that area. If anything touched it or if there was the slightest force put on it, I would be in excruciating pain. Some people used to take the mick out of me because I couldn’t run without a limp, so that’s another reason why I’m running the marathon - I want to prove them wrong.
I live in Devon, but about 8 weeks after my diagnosis following my first operation in Exeter, I had another operation up in Birmingham at the Royal Orthopaedic hospital at the Teenage Cancer Trust unit. They removed some muscle as well as making sure all the cancer was also removed. The area is still numb so it’s a weird sensation when I touch it - it’s all tingly.
The Teenage Cancer Trust unit helped make things feel a bit more normal. You could stay the night before and they had facilities like a pool table and loads of games that I could use. There were also other people there who were my age, so I made friends. Even after the operation, when I was in a wheelchair, I was still playing pool which was fun even though it was really hard to play!
After the operation I had radiotherapy. The main side effect of this was that it made me feel very tired, and a weird numb feeling in my leg. I think the strength in that leg deteriorated as a result, it’s certainly still a lot smaller than the other one, but the muscle is starting the develop again.
The staff on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit were so helpful, and as I live in Devon it was useful that there was a specialist nurse down here who helped me when I went back to my local hospital - as soon as I was diagnosed she rang up my parents and we organised a meeting with her. She was there the whole way, if we had any questions or if we were unsure of anything we could just ask her, and she’d put our minds at rest.
She also introduced me to other people my age with cancer in my area, at what are called ‘Peer Support Events’. We went canoeing once which was really fun, and every six weeks we’ll meet up for a meal or similar. It’s been really nice just catching up with people and seeing how their treatment is going.
Now that I’ve finished treatment I’m looking forward to completing my A Levels in biology, maths and chemistry. After sixth form I’m going to study medicine at the University of Birmingham, I’m so happy as that’s the one I wanted to go to most! The main reason I want to study medicine and become a doctor is because of this experience as I realised I wanted to save other people’s lives.
I can’t wait to cross the finish line on April 22 - all my family will be cheering me on and it will be such a great sense of achievement!