Row Row Row Your Boat Gently Down the Stream… – Summer 2015 Part 3

I am a few challenges behind on the blogging front at the moment, they’re coming thick and fast through the summer and I quite simply don’t have time to sit down in front of a computer and get the details down for you. I’ve got two good one’s up my sleeve for after this one, they’ll cover the Three Peaks Challenge and the London to Paris cycle.

In the mean time I want to tell you about the Triathlon that I completed a few weeks ago, my learning to row experience and also give you some pancreatic cancer news too.

Back at the beginning of August I completed my 16th Challenge, finishing an Olympic Distance Triathlon. Those of you that have been following the blogs and my progress will know that this was a challenge I had attempted earlier in the year and failed. I re-jigged my calendar round a bit to make room for an extra race and entered the Bewl Water Triathlon. Having already completed the Half Iron Man a couple of weeks prior I was confident I could complete the distances, but there was a niggle of doubt in my mind after the issues previously.

As always it was a very early start, and I wanted to get there a little bit extra early after rushing to the start at the previous triathlon caused some of the problems. I got my bike racked and walked down to the start, where we had to wait about 30 minutes for the mist to clear off the water as we couldn’t see the bhoys!  Soon it was my races turn to start, the swim was pretty hectic for the first 750m lap. There was a lot of people around me and it was a constant effort to not get kicked/swam over, my swim time was pretty good (36min) but my official time is slightly longer as it was a 300m run to transition through a car park and up a hill which was difficult barefoot!

The bike leg was really good for me once I settled into my rhythm. I had fitted a pair of clip on aero bars to my bike which allowed me to be a bit more aero-dynamic and definitely sped me up! I did take a wrong turn at the end of the first lap which shaved a few hundred metres off the route but Cat assures me I wasn’t the only one that made the mistake!

I wanted to complete the race in under 3 hours, and going onto the run I had slightly over 51 minutes left to finish the 10km – achievable for me if I could run well. After the first kilometre I remember chuckling to myself as I felt so good, my legs didn’t feel heavy and my pace was really good. Unfortunately this was short lived as after about 4km my left knee started hurting, the pain got gradually worse and prevented me running at a good pace despite me trying to push on. It was also now getting pretty hot and the hilly run course wasn’t helping me. In the end I ran a 57:26min 10km and finished in 3:06:12, not quite under the 3 hour mark but not far off! There’s always next year!

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For six weeks this summer myself and two friends from work (Tim and Peter) have been learning to row. It was something that none of us had ever done before, and you could definitely see that on our first time in the boats!!! In rowing it’s important to keep good time, and anyone that has ever seen me attempt to dance know’s that this is not one of my strengths!

We spent the first couple of weeks being taught the basics in the ‘tank’ – an stationary boat indoors with water pools on either side which allows you to practice without falling in! We were then let lose on the Thames in our quad boats, I was surprised how unstable they were – especially considering that we were in the wide stability boats!

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Rowing is a very technical sport, and it requires everyone in the boat to pull together but this is very difficult when each person in the boat is trying to remember each part of the technique repeatedly. For the first few weeks we couldn’t put more than 3 or 4 strokes together without clashing oars. After each session we’d walk back comparing notes on blisters, number of times we clashed our hands, and which bit of the stroke we couldn’t get right. However, by the final week I am pleased to say that we finally got most things right and we actually rowed up and down the Thames for a good few miles! I had got myself in the ‘stroke’ seat (at the front) and that meant I had to set the pace and rhythm rather than try and keep time with someone else – perfect for me!

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As I have said previously in these posts, I want to use these challenges to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer as well as funds. There’s been several new developments over the summer that I wanted to share with you, and also ask for your support too (it will take 2 minutes, and it’s free!).

Firstly, I wanted to share with you a potential new test to help diagnose pancreatic cancer. The piece below explains it much better than I can, and was written by Dr Mark Porter and published in the Times. Any new diagnosis tools would be amazing as it often is diagnosed too late making it is such a deadly disease.

 “Pancreatic cancer fascinates me. It has been the scourge of my professional career — not one patient of mine with it has been cured — and it shattered my home life when both my parents developed it within a couple of years. So news that researchers have come up with a urine test that might be able to detect the disease earlier was particularly well received in the Porter household.

The field of pancreatic cancer needs some good news as it has been worryingly devoid of breakthroughs. Despite better understanding of the causes (see below), improved scanners and some progress in chemotherapy, your odds of surviving the disease today are little better than they were for your grandparents’ generation 40 years ago.

About 9,000 people in the UK will have pancreatic cancer diagnosed this year, but only 1 in 100 will be alive a decade from now. More than three quarters of them won’t survive a year. Radical surgery to remove the diseased pancreas and surrounding structures is the only chance of a cure, but even when the disease is caught early enough to make this feasible, survival rates still struggle to get to 20 per cent.

The new test, which detects a protein-based cancer “signature” in urine, may help to pick cases up earlier but that doesn’t automatically mean that will have a significant impact on survival. That may seem counterintuitive, but because of the vague nature of some symptoms, and the position of the gland, by the time you suspect something is wrong it’s often too late, with or without a clever urine test.

The pancreas is hidden at the back of the upper part of the abdominal cavity where it performs two key functions; aiding digestion by secreting enzyme-rich juices into the gut, and controlling blood sugar levels by producing the hormone insulin.

My mother was lucky. Her tumour grew in the head of her pancreas and quickly encroached on the nearby outlet of her gallbladder — causing her to turn yellow (jaundice) — while it was still small enough to be removed surgically. She had no other symptoms but had the tumour been only a few centimetres to the right she would have probably presented much later. Mum had radical surgery to remove the tumour and, eight years later, is alive and well.

Dad was not so fortunate. Two years after Mum’s diagnosis he too turned yellow and a scan confirmed the worst. It was the same cancer, only more advanced. He died a few months later, at the age of 69.”

Further information is available here.

Secondly, a survey commissioned by Pancreatic Cancer UK found that 75% of UK adults cannot name a single symptom of pancreatic cancer. The survey also found that almost two thirds (61 per cent) of people in the UK had heard of pancreatic cancer, but knew nothing (21 per cent) or little (40 per cent) about the disease. This rings so true for me, when Mum developed pancreatic cancer I hadn’t heard of it and had no idea what sort of disease it was, to be honest I could only take an educated guess at where the pancreas was.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis. The disease is also becoming more common, with the disease predicted to become the UK’s fourth largest cancer killer – overtaking breast cancer – by 2030.  More detail on this can be found here.

Finally, some bad news. There is a life extending drug that has recently been developed called Abraxane, but sadly in the last two weeks it has been taken off the NHS Cancer Drug Fund list of approved drugs, and then NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) has announced that it will not allow patients routine access to Abraxane.

This is a backward step in my opinion, Abraxane is one of very few new treatments for advanced pancreatic cancer in 20 years which can allow patients to live longer. The decision will deny hundreds of patients a year the chance to live an extra two months, and sometimes much longer, and has been made despite the fact the drug is approved for use on the NHS in Scotland and Wales. Read more here.

The pancreatic cancer charities are not giving up though, they will continue to fight these decisions and this is where you can help. There is a petition running to get this debated in parliament, if you can take two minutes to sign it I’d be very grateful.

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