WatchFit recently caught up with the most remarkable and inspiring man and we just had to share his story…
Steve Clark is not just surviving bowel cancer that offered him a fractional chance of survival, he is determinedly thriving. Steve has a process and a plan and it is called ‘Strive For Five & Target 10’.
Recently I passed a HUGE milestone! Five years survival since being diagnosed with advanced (stage 4) bowel cancer. This really is a big deal as the stats are particularly bleak – only 7% survive this long.
But stats don’t mean anything to us personally, they’re not accurate predictors of how long we’ll survive, they only show overall survival trends and the good news is that survival is increasing constantly in advanced bowel cancer.
I’m proud to be part of the group that is bending this curve and proving the stats wrong.
My personal survival is particularly good news as I have an aggressive form of the disease, at diagnosis I had a very very big tumour in my bowel and it had spread to my liver and both lungs and it was fast growing. To top it off the genetic profiling of the tumour showed it was something called a KRAS mutant gene, which has much lower rates of survival.
Into the unknown…
It has been an eventful few years since I received the curve-ball of being told I had advanced bowel cancer despite being super-healthy at the time. I had major bowel surgery followed by six months of intensive chemo which almost completely wiped out the cancer. Since then I’ve been on almost constant ‘maintenance’ chemo which helps to keep things under control, sort of like controlling hypertension or diabetes.
I’ve had two serious recurrences, the first in my lymph nodes which the chemo helped to deal with and the second in my lungs which I needed an operation for last year.
My maintenance chemo needs active management which is a trust exercise between my oncologist and I. We continually tweak the dose and frequency of treatment and it’s up to me to monitor honestly how I’m feeling and take treatment breaks when it’s all building up. I also get to have breaks around big events like holidays which is great.
The odd thing is there isn’t any data available to steer what we’re doing – long-term treatment of bowel cancer is only for 12-months, I’m way past that! No-one knows what the long-term, cumulative effects of chemo will be on my body as very few bowel cancer patients have been on treatment this long, so we’re finding out as I go!
I don’t have a problem with this at all as I know that my treatment is keeping me alive and any side effects are the trade-off for that.
I welcome my chemo as being a friend and ally in helping me control the cancer. If at some point the side effects become unmanageable then it’ll be time to move on to something else and my oncologist and I will deal with that when it arises. In the meantime, I’m here, I’m happy and I’m not planning to go anywhere for a long time!
My process of surviving bowel cancer
Ever since I was diagnosed my oncologist has been rightly cautious about predicting my prognosis (how long I have to live), his usual answer was, “It’s hard to see beyond 12 to 18 months”.
That’s why the whole ‘Strive for Five’ thing happened.
Against a prediction of ultimately a couple of years, I set the ambition to make it to five years. That was my goal, but it wasn’t my fixation. I decided to simply enjoy life. It’s a bit of a cliché to say it, but it’s all about living in the ‘now’, in yoga we call this ‘being present’ or ‘being mindful’.
You’ll see me post lots of photos of beautiful things I see when I’m out walking my dog, this is an example of ‘being present’, it is being aware of what’s going on around me and enjoying it.
The old phrase would be ‘taking time to smell the roses’.
Strive for Five is a campaign which developed naturally from an original plan to hold a celebration party and became a calendar of awareness and fundraising activities alongside a strong social media programme.
Staying alive and going for five
Over the past year, the objectives of Strive for Five were to celebrate as I strived to pass the five year survival mark; to raise awareness of bowel cancer; to give hope to people with advanced bowel cancer and to raise funds for the charity Beating Bowel Cancer / Bowel Cancer UK.
Strive for Five has exceeded all my expectations and has reached thousands and thousands of people spreading a message of hope in bowel cancer and has raised £20,000 for the charity.
People often ask me how I cope with knowing that I have such a dreadful disease.
My thought is that, although I know I’ve got a limited shelf life, I don’t allow that to become the focus of everything I do. It helps me to appreciate what I have and that I enjoy every day, even if it’s just a day where I’m walking my dog and watching telly.
Of course I’m aware of the cancer being there, but I don’t allow it to dictate my life to me. I do have to adapt aspects of my life such as not getting over tired etc, but that’s all, I enjoy my life with my friends and my family.
In Part 2 Steve Clark continues his inspiring and uplifting story.