REAL LIFE: ‘I beat bowel cancer then ran the marathon’

0
Have your say

Watching the thousands of runners pound the streets of the capital in this year’s London Marathon, John Marenghi was taken back to a time he thought may never come.

As a busy sales manager often travelling away from home for work, he would grab unhealthy food on the go and had begun to notice a bit of middle-age spread.

John Marenghi of Rowlands Castle with his wife Liz and children Ian, Alex, Danny and Nicola

John Marenghi of Rowlands Castle with his wife Liz and children Ian, Alex, Danny and Nicola

The father-of-four halfheartedly decided to go on a diet and was stunned when he suddenly started to lose a drastic amount of weight – two stone in just six months.

At about the same time John, now 54, of Rowlands Castle, noticed there was blood in his stools.

He’d just received confirmation of a place in the London Marathon too, and had no idea he actually had bowel cancer – the second biggest cancer killer in the UK – and was just months away from it becoming untreateable.

John says: ‘I’d had some minor symptoms but I ignored them.

‘It began with some weightloss and just a bit of blood.

‘At first I wasn’t too concerned. I was reasonably fit, I’d done half marathons. And the only time I’d been in hospital was when I broke my arm playing rugby when I was 14.

‘So it was a bit of a shock to find out I had bowel cancer. You always think it will happen to someone else.

‘I said to the doctor, “Does that mean I’m going to die?”.

‘They reassure you but don’t give you any promises because, at that stage, they just don’t know.’

It took several visits to the doctor, and a gentle push from John’s wife, Liz, before he was diagnosed with stage three cancer.

John says: ‘They gave me an endoscopy and said they were 99 per cent certain I had a tumour, and it was very large.

‘If I’d left it another month it would have reached stage four and it would have been terminal.

‘One of the hardest parts was telling my family but I said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to be fine”.

‘That was my attitude throughout the whole thing.‘

In the back of John’s mind was his place in the London Marathon, which he’d deferred but remained determined to beat cancer to take up.

He had to undergo a gruelling 11-hour operation during which time he was given a colostomy, which was soon reversed.

Six months of chemotherapy followed and to keep him going through the bad days John had the vision of crossing the marathon finishing line firmly in his sights.

He says: ‘Going through treatment wasn’t easy, but thinking about the marathon gave me something to focus on.

‘I’d run a half marathon before but never a full one. I suppose I went for it because I’m a bit bloody-minded.

‘The consultant told me I had to wait two weeks until after the operation before I could walk.

‘I went out the next day and went for a run two weeks after that.

‘I even ran during chemotherapy. I could have sat on the settee feeling sorry for myself I suppose but it would only have made me feel worse.

‘Instead I’d take the dog out with me for a run, come back, have a shower and, no, I didn’t always feel great afterwards but I felt really alive.’

John decided to use the London Marathon to raise money to help buy robotic equipment to be used in future bowel cancer surgery and raised more than £5,000.

On the day of the marathon, in April 2016, he finally took to the streets of London.

As he ran past the London Eye, the Cutty Sark, Westminster and, finally, Buckingham Palace, John couldn’t help but think about how lucky he’d been.

And now he is spreading the message about how screening for bowel cancer can save lives.

If diagnosed at the earliest stage there is an almost 100 per cent survival rate.

The charities Beating Bowel Cancer and Bowel Cancer UK are determined to get everyone over 60 years old to take part in the free national screening programme.

But they also warn that people under 60 should be aware of the symptoms as the disease can strike any age group.

And John adds: ‘The people supporting us along the marathon route were amazing.

‘And four-and-a-half hours of running gives you plenty of time to think about everything.

‘Once treatment is complete you have to go back for tests for five years and there is always the chance that it can come back.

‘But, running that marathon, I couldn’t help but think, “I’ve done it, I’ve beaten it”.’

To see a video of John, go to portsmouth.co.uk

What should you look out for?

n A change in your bowel habit that lasts for three weeks or more

n Blood in your stools

n Unexplained weight loss

n Feeling tired without reason,

n Stomach pains or a lump in the stomach

n Bloating

Two of the UK’s leading bowel cancer charities have joined forces and set themselves the ambitious task of ensuring that, by 2050, virtually no-one will die of bowel cancer.

It is the UK’s second biggest cancer killer but – if diagnosed at the earliest stage – can have an almost 100 per cent survival rate.

Beating Bowel Cancer and Bowel Cancer UK are determined to get everyone over 60 years old to take part in the free national screening programme.

But they also warn that people under 60 should be aware of the symptoms as the disease can strike any age group.

At the moment the charities state that only 60 per cent of people receiving the screening kits are actually returning them – which leaves 40 per cent of over 60s at risk of letting the condition worsen and become much harder to treat.

For more information, go to bowelcanceruk.org.uk