Inspiring Stroies

Cancer And The Comeback

My Story

My name is Andrew McAslan and last August I was I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Follicular Lymphoma, an incurable blood cancer at the age of 25. Due to how widespread the disease was in my body I had to immediately start 6 months of immuno-chemotherapy with the aim of getting a complete response to treatment.

I never imagined I would be in this situation in my mid-twenties. I was an 800m track athlete with the aim of becoming as strong and fit as possible, but suddenly my life was turned upside down and I found myself fighting this awful disease. Receiving this news came as a massive shock, however I managed to remain positive and was ready to tackle whatever was thrown at me through the process!

I experienced strange symptoms for months, along with unexplainable dips in training and performance. I was told by multiple doctors that I probably just had IBS and that I was too young for it to be cancer. This was a difficult time for me as I was struggling in training and seeing random dips in my performance, strength and recovery. None of it made sense and nobody seemed to have the answers. The situation wasn’t just affecting me physically but also mentally too in a substantial way. I was struggling to do the sport that I loved, questioning absolutely everything around that and it was making me miserable. I was eventually forced to take a break from the sport as things were getting worse and worse. After pushing for scans and further tests it became apparent what was really going on. Despite having symptoms for around 6 months, the consultant said that I will have probably had this disease for around 3-4 years and that it has just been slowly growing.

Going through the treatment was tough enough, but also dealing with the impact cancer had on my life and sporting ambitions was a huge mental challenge too. It was difficult to come to terms with my new reality and all the uncertainty that comes with it. I had lots of questions about what this meant for my future and it was my partner Leah who made it her task to find some answers. She found the Living with Follicular Lymphoma Facebook group, a great source of information and support. The FL community has been an amazing help to us since my diagnosis, providing a huge amount of reassurance about what lies ahead and motivation to get through treatment. For anyone else experiencing cancer I would definitely say being part of a community of people going through a similar thing is a massive help.

Cancer has had a huge impact on my relationship with exercise, even before I realised I had it. The impact that it was having on my body and my ability to do my sport was extremely demoralising, to the extend where I stopped enjoying one of the things I love doing the most. As a result, prior to diagnosis and for the first couple of months of my treatment I wasn’t really exercising much, which is a world away from the level of training I would be doing as an elite athlete and I could see the impact that had on my mental health at the time. I knew I had to do something about this and after sharing the news of my situation more publicly, following an incredible amount of support in response, I was suddenly motivated to not let cancer dictate my life, subdue my ambitions or take away the sport I love. Therefore, from that point I was determined to get back into exercise and challenge myself to see how much I could manage in between the treatments I was having every 4 weeks. The next big aim was to hopefully get into remission, finish treatment and from that point work my way back to elite sport.

The decision to get back into exercise mid way through my cancer treatment truly was a great one and something that had an unbelievably positive impact on my ability to mentally and physically deal with what I was going through. Going from not much exercise during the first 2 months of treatment, to daily exercise for the remaining 4 months, it was really clear to me what an amazing difference the exercise made. Despite the situation, I saw so many positive changes in my body and mind, plus it even seemed to help me cope better with the treatment and recover quicker after it too. I really believe in the power of exercising with cancer and around treatment, I found it really helped me get through such a challenging experience.

Thankfully my immuno-chemotherapy treatment was successful and I am currently in remission, however the tricky nature of the disease is that it is incurable, therefore unfortunately it will come back but there is no way of telling when that will be. However, getting the amazing news of being in remission and finishing treatment was two of my big aims ticked off, but also paved the way for me to start working towards my goal of getting back to elite sport. I am currently 6 weeks on from finishing treatment and after recovering from the initial side effects I have started gradually working my way back into training, taking the first few steps on what will be a long, challenging but exciting road.

Advice

The mental side of cancer is not to be underestimated, it’s such a rollercoaster, but it’s so normal to have bad days and negative thoughts. I found it really useful to write things down during bad moments to help take the pressure off, clear my head and get my feelings down on paper. It isn’t always possible to get yourself out of those bad moments but doing things you find relaxing/calming can make a big difference. I try to acknowledge that I’m having a bad day and use some of the techniques mentioned to help me feel a bit better but mainly just focus on trying to find a better headspace the next day. I think the most important thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Regardless of the specifics, any cancer experience will be tough mentally, we are only human and there’s going to be ups and downs.

In terms of practical advice that I think helped me through treatment, I tried my best to do the following:

– Stay well hydrated (lots of water is important, especially around treatment)

– Daily exercise (keeping the body moving on a daily basis has so many benefits for keeping you healthy)

– Reduce stress and get enough sleep

– Go outside each day, get some fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun. I think this goes hand in hand with the exercise and is beneficial both mentally & physically.

– Eating well and keeping a balanced diet. I didn’t cut anything out and just ate as I would normally.

Our Mission/Plan

Going forward I have huge ambitions for continuing to share/tell my story, with a hope to inspire and help others. I have created an instagram account and Youtube channel called Cancer and the Comeback. Through this I will share my story, provide insight into my experience with cancer and document my efforts to comeback to elite sport. My partner Leah will also share what it has been like for a partner/loved one to go through this, as we hope to provide a helpful resource for people supporting someone who has been diagnosed. By documenting my comeback to elite sport, we hope to inspire those in a similar situation. We want to show that mindset can be half the battle, encouraging people to be ambitious with a ‘can do’ attitude despite the hand they’ve been dealt.

When I was diagnosed, I struggled to find any examples of real experiences to relate to, that were similar to what I was going through in my 20s. This also extended to my partner Leah in the support position who had so many questions, desperate to do everything she could to help, but could not find examples of anyone in a similar position. We had information booklets from the hospital, but that only took us so far. Then we found the Facebook group, which has been an amazing help and inspired us to build on and elevate that kind of support. We want to create a resource, for young people & their partners/loved ones who find themselves fighting a cancer battle, that provides support, advice and inspiration.

We think it is incredibly important to raise awareness for follicular lymphoma, stress that it is very hard to diagnose and a disease that can develop in anyone, at any age. We want to encourage people to push for further tests and checks when things don’t feel right medically and refuse to take no for an answer when you aren’t satisfied with the answers you are being given.

Many thanks

Andy

Listen to the Move Against Cancer Podcast with Andy as our guest: Series 3, episode 3: Cancer and the Comeback with Andy Mcaslan HERE. 

Read the brilliant Athletics Weekly Article HERE.

Follow Andy on social media- Cancer and the Comeback:

Linktree
YouTube

Instagram: @cancerandthecomeback 

Twitter: @cancerncomeback

With thanks to: Two26 Photography

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