Lieutenant Colonel Alan Tindale was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2013 and had a stem cell transplant in 2014. Here, he talks about his recovery over the last five years, how he keeps doing the things he loves, and advice he’d give to others.
I organised a marathon to show people that there’s hope after cancer
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in September 2013. I’d felt poorly all throughout the summer and it got worse and worse. I was driving to work and some days I wouldn’t be able to get out of the car because I felt so weak. After blood tests, the doctors broke the news that it was blood cancer and I was immediately transferred to the Royal Marsden for treatment. I couldn’t have been in better hands.
You want to avoid even thinking about cancer but, to be honest, I was glad when they told me. I knew there was something seriously wrong and, in my mind, once you identify the problem you can start to deal with it.
I spent a few months having treatment but when that didn’t work, I was told that I needed a stem cell transplant. My mindset changed then – I started worrying about whether I’d find a donor. Luckily, they found two or three possible matches on the register. I was very fortunate. I know there are people who have to wait much longer.
I had my stem cell transplant on 13 March 2014. Five years later, and I’m still here. That’s why I wanted to run my own marathon – to celebrate, raise money and show other people that you can have a life after cancer.
I want to give people hope
Cancer messes up your life up, there’s no easy way to say it. It messes everything up. Everybody around you, their lives are affected too. I want to show people people that there may be hard times, but you can get through it. My recovery has been full of ups and downs, but I was extremely positive throughout everything. That was my mantra, ‘I’m going to beat this’.
By doing this marathon, I want to show people that your life might not be the same as it was before, but you can still achieve things. Hopefully that helps people who are going through treatment or maybe having a hard time after their transplant.
I had a hard time myself. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult the transplant and the recovery would be. I pushed myself too hard to be honest, which probably didn’t help. I just wanted to be living normally again. I had a few mental setbacks, thinking ‘I could do this before, why can’t I do it now?’ but things improve, it does get better.
I’ve just been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list, which was partly because of the charity work that I’ve done since my illness. Getting back to work was also something that took time, but the Army have been fantastic. I’ve just been promoted to the highest rank I can reach. Achieving this means a lot. When I was in hospital, I was worrying about my future, would I still have one? And here I am reaching the same goal that I had before I became poorly.
You can still do the things you loved before, even if you do them a bit differently. I used to play rugby and I’ve tried to play three times since my transplant, but I just can’t do it anymore. That was one of the loves of my life so instead, I referee, which keeps me involved in the game. I’ve been promoted twice as a referee in the last five years. So, one thing has been taken away from me, but I’ve gained something else.
I want to give back as much as I can
I put a message on Facebook and asked if anyone was up for doing a marathon with me and the response was terrific. A lot of friends said they would do a bit with me or do it all, so I wouldn’t be alone, which was nice. We weren’t aiming for a fast time, I just wanted to enjoy it. I did it with some great people, who all come from different walks of life. It wasn’t an organised marathon route – we just decided our own and we went down the Kennet and Avon canal.
We’re hoping to raise £2,000 for Anthony Nolan so that other people can benefit from the amazing work that this charity does. I’ve been very blessed and I don’t take any of it for granted – all the people who treated me, I regard them so highly, and the people who step forward and donate their stem cells. I used to get emotional thinking about the fact that someone I’ve never met has done this and it’s saving me. I want to give back as much as I can.
To anyone going through this…
My overarching piece of advice is: stay positive. Tell yourself you’re going to beat it, don’t give in. Which sounds like an easy thing to say, but from the minute I went into the Royal Marsden I was convinced that I would be coming out of there alive and that I would get better. Listen to the experts, trust them, and set yourself realistic goals. If things do go wrong, dust yourself off and keep going.
I’ve had two major setbacks with shingles and pneumonia – I had to learn to walk again, I was in intensive care, the doctors were minutes away from putting me into an induced coma – but each time, I just focused on getting back home again.
In a way, the marathon was quite a fitting metaphor for my recovery. In the past, when I’ve done marathons and thought ‘I can’t keep going’, I’ve told myself: ‘You can do it, you can get to the end’.
Which I have. And I hope others will too.
If you’ve been inspired to take on your own challenge to raise vital funds for Anthony Nolan, you can find lots of ideas and support at anthonynolan.org/do-your-own-fundraising.