Blyth man with incurable cancer doing the Great North Run to raise funds for Teenage Cancer Trust
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26-year-old Phil Dobson has received chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and remains on maintenance chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in August 2021.
He has been helped through his treatment by Teenage Cancer Trust and is now running his first half marathon to raise money and awareness of their work supporting young people with cancer.
Phil said: “I am nervous about the run due to the distance as it will be the longest distance I have ever ran and I am doing it after being on chemo for nearly two years.
“However, I am also excited for my friends and family to see how much my health has improved and to also raise money for a charity that has done so much for me.”
Phil has raised over £700 already, surpassing his £345 goal. His training is going well but he has to battle fatigue from chemotherapy and strain on his joints from radiotherapy.
He added: “I am doing it as I think it is important to give back to Teenage Cancer Trust as so many young people are affected by this life changing illness, and it is important that charities like Teenage Cancer Trust have the funds to be able to support people, like myself, going through gruelling treatment and giving them a sense of normality at a difficult time.”
Phil first went to hospital in July 2021, attending A&E with pain in his bladder and an inability to pass urine. He was wrongly assumed to have a UTI and was told to see his GP, who wrote him a prescription.
When this did not work, he had more tests that turned up negative. He was scheduled for a CT scan, which got cancelled for pandemic-related reasons.
Eventually he got a hospital appointment. Phil said: “A doctor examined my prostate and found a lump. The next day, they said I should go to the emergency admissions at the Freeman Hospital, as it might be serious.
“They put a catheter in me and drained my bladder. About two litres of urine was drained from me. A normal bladder should only hold 500ml.
“I was in a lot of pain because my kidneys were not passing urine. Then I passed a lot of blood through a catheter.
“They did a scan and discovered it was a tumour. They did a biopsy and drained urine, using bags on my back. After the biopsy, they discovered it was cancerous.”
Phil and his family were devastated by the “confusing” diagnosis, particularly given he was young and healthy, but Teenage Cancer Trust helped explain that he would get chemotherapy every three weeks as an inpatient.
He said: “The first couple of cycles were really tough and I lost all my hair. I had no energy and my mental health really suffered.
“I was so used to going out and seeing people. With the pandemic, I had to avoid large groups of people. I was only allowed two people in to visit me. It was always my girlfriend Holly and my dad.
“When I felt up to it, I went to TV room on the unit and socialised with other young people. Interacting with other people going through the same thing did help, but it was still an incredibly difficult time.”
After three months of chemotherapy Phil’s tumour was still too big to remove, so he began a six-week course of radiotherapy in December 2021.
This reduced the tumour’s size but it was not enough to remove it all together and Phil was told he would have to have maintenance chemotherapy for a year, involving him taking one tablet per day.
Phil, who works in customer service for BT, said: “I was devastated by this news. It was a really bad time for my mental health.
“I felt like I had worked so hard mentally towards getting better by the end of February. I really thought that treatment would end there.
“It felt like a punch in the face being told it was not going to end there. Hearing that my tumour is incurable was the worst I have ever felt mentally.”
Since then, Phil has been regularly seeing a psychologist, his hair has grown back, and he is able to pass urine.
He said: “The consultant told me that they think the tumour is incurable but the maintenance chemo can control it and make sure it is not coming back.
“I am feeling better now, but still very fatigued. I have noticed a big improvement in my physical health. Now I am just getting back to normal.
“I did not want to sulk about too much and feel like my life was over.
“I did think I was going to die earlier this year. I thought ‘am I ever going to be better?’.
“I moved in with my girlfriend earlier this year and we got a dog, which has kept me busy and has been a really great thing for me to look forward to. My workplace has been really supportive and allowed me to work from home all the time.”
Phil has not ruled out doing more fundraising in future, but he thinks this will be the last time he runs.
He said: “I have been advised not to run anymore due to side effects from radiotherapy on my pelvis bones and joints. Maybe something different next time, we will see.”
You can visit the Teenage Cancer Trust website to sign up for the 2024 Great North Run, and donate to Phil’s campaign at justgiving.com/fundraising/phil-dobson96