This was meant to be a breeze: go to London, enjoy the NCCA Family Fun Day, come back, rack up more miles then look forward to the two year anniversary in three weeks’ time.
It didn’t work out that way.
For the first time since I started, I’m faced with the realisation that faces all parents a few months into neuroblastoma: this might not be the outcome I’d hoped for. The reason will become clear in a few minutes.
But first, the events of last weekend…
You’ll recall that I headed down to London to dress up as an Eileidhphant and basically have a great time at the NCCA annual bash. I think I’m allowed to say (well it was there in the branding for all to see last Saturday…) that the NCCA has joined forces with Solving Kids Cancer (which is based in New York) to form an ever larger Solving Kids Cancer! Both organisations do the same great charitable work: raising funds, raising awareness, supporting families affected by neuroblastoma and funding research into the disease. So on the basis that one and one makes three, it’s a hugely significant step that two bodies formed by parents affected by the disease should come together to create an international charity dedicated to finding a cure for neuroblastoma. That is their aim, that is my aim, and hopefully as you are reading this, that will be your aim too. Together, we can do this!!!
A few beers on the train going down were superseded by Rob, my nephew, whose Highgate pad I was crashing out in, suggesting that we head out for a few more. Celeb spotting was how he termed it. The first couple we tried were pretty empty, possibly because it’s the school holidays and the well heeled of north London have probably legged to sunnier climes. Anyway, third time proved lucky. However, because I’m old and I don’t have either the time or the inclination to do cool things, I hadn’t got a clue who this dude was, but when we parked our beers on a table at the back of The Duke’s Head, Rob whispered quietly “that’s Alex Zane over there”. Like three yards away over there. Like at the next table over there. “Who”? “Alex Zane. Does Radio One, Sky, stand up comedy, you name it, he’s the man”. Cue a frantic Google search: right enough, I need to get out more and dig this stuff…
So we parked up at Table Zane and I enquired whether he was indeed said dude. Affirmative. He was almost as well on as me. Anyway we had a wee blether then Alex disappeared off to inspect the plumbing whereupon his mate started asking me questions about LifeCycle (yes, I was somewhat conveniently wearing an NCCA T-shirt). I thought “this guy seems a bit switched on for yer average Joe Public”. So I asked “what do you do”? “I’m a doctor working with kids’ cancer”… Knock me over with a feather! I go to London for a Solving Kids Cancer weekend, we end up in bar at midnight with a celeb and his mate, and the mate turns out to be a kids’ cancer doctor. How does that work? What script did that come from, Dr Who?
The day itself was a real challenge for the NCCA because the council pulled the plug on the venue the day before because the ground was waterlogged. Apparently they don’t get rain in London like we do in Scotland. Cue major panic at NCCA HQ and frantic emails. I got mine late on simply because I hadn’t checked my email since arriving in London. By Saturday morning, the rain was off, the sun was out and the council had changed their mind: game on again, albeit on a much smaller scale and starting later at noon. For Rob and I that was probably a blessing in disguise if you get my drift…
Eileidhphant Man didn’t materialise, nor did the 16,000th ceremonial mile, but nevertheless we got in there at the business end of the day: meeting the families, hearing their stories and feeling humbled that we were lucky enough to live a life that they were hitherto used to before dealing with cancer became normal.
I came away from the Richmond weekend with a renewed sense of community spirit, a sense of belonging to some people who have been touched by sadness far beyond anything that I will ever know. And Rob? I think it was a real eye opener for him. For Rob to meet and spend time with Stephen and Leona, even before Jane has had the chance to do that, was something that I suspect he will remember for the rest of his days. The NCCA as was, Solving Kids’ Cancer as now, do a fantastic job, and in very difficult circumstances. To all of the families who shared their stories with us, thank you: we will not forget you easily.
When I got back, it was to face the last week of cycling in July, a week in which we were on holiday this time last year and hence zero miles. Sunday night, as ever, was a case of checking the Windguru weather for the week ahead and it spelt Challenging in no uncertain terms. If I may mix perspective with hindsight, it started raining on Sunday afternoon and stopped on Tuesday evening. Then it rained again on Wednesday afternoon and all of Friday afternoon. I did ten trips on the bike this week and got soaked on six of them. And I have to remind myself that this is the height of summer. The temperatures I got going into work ranged from 1.3C to 9.6C, while one day coming home, it was 18.5C and sunny in Glasgow but 11.8C and lashing rain on the Fenwick Muir. This is the hidden challenge of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma: coming to terms with the Scottish weather, and defeating it.
Monday’s trip into work wasn’t just a lashing rain job: it came as the payload on a 20mph headwind. The head was down, the pace was slow, and I just resolved to stick in there. And, being a Monday, I had a 10lb pack on my back. Once off the Muir, I elected to take a shorter rat run through the Mearns whilst still adding a wee bit of distance, but the roadworks down by Rouken Glen Park sent me back uphill again on a nasty wee climb: my knee popped.
I’ve had trouble with that knee (my good one) for a few weeks: hamstring tendonitis, and it’s been the main reason why I’ve been laying off the big gears. But this was a hill too far. It was sore most of Monday and I’d still to get home, which I did courtesy of the smallest ring on the front, then it was down to ice and ultrasound. I can’t overstate how important it has been throughout these past two years having an ultrasound device in the house. Many a time it’s kept me on the road.
So that was me through Tuesday and Wednesday: low gears, ice and ultrasound. But on Wednesday morning, on the way into work, and for no apparent reason, I had a different animal to contend with: my hernia scar. “WTF’s going on here I asked myself” as I started getting some serious grief from the site of the old war wound. The doctor said to me when I came round from the op that I should expect to have some discomfort for a few months but I thought that was all in the past: evidently not. I jiggled about with my clothing, as I suspected that I might not have worn this combination of shorts together before. I always wear two pairs of padded shorts: a liner pair and an outer. It’s the only way I can deal with the numbness of being in the saddle for four hours a day. Anyway, I discovered that by pulling and stretching at my clothing, I could get the pain to back off: never go away completely, but at least be bearable for turning the pedals. And that routine has stayed with me through Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The best case scenario is that something is aggravating the scar: women reading this having had a caesarean will perhaps recognise the familiar tenderness of a soft tissue injury but to an old bloke like me, it’s sore, it’s a bit scary and it’s certainly most unwelcome. The issue is this: I’ve got 8,800 miles left to ride and I’m sore. That poses a real threat to the outcome of this adventure but right now I’m hoping, no, make that expecting, that after a weekend of lazing about doing very little at all, I’ll be back on the road at 5am on Monday morning gingerly turning those pedals and not having to adjust myself.
What makes this challenge so fecking difficult is the pressure: Going out and riding 45 miles is not beyond yer average everyday cyclist. However doing it at 5am makes it a little more interesting. Then doing it for 394 full-time working days, almost in a row, makes it a completely different proposition altogether. The last eighty days have come at an average of 48 miles a day. Those same days last year delivered 42.
There has been a huge sea change in emphasis this week, one which I suspect will stay with me through to the end, albeit painfully at times. I’m now counting down the days to the finish. Hell, it doesn’t actually matter how long it takes: if I take a month longer because I’ve had to slice half a dozen miles from the workload every day, then that’s got to be better than not finishing at all. Right now, I reckon that if I can live on a forty a day habit, I might yet see this through to the end.
But tonight, I feel proud that for the first time since I started, I’ve banged in 200 (+) miles for the tenth week in a row (excluding our holiday of course).
Here we go, ten in a row….