Managing a library just outside Blackburn and with two kids and a third on the way, Ben Ashworth was feeling good.Advertisement
But being diagnosed with bowel cancer turned the life of the 35-year-old on a very different path.
Now retired and fighting cancer Ben has turned his passion for running into a race to complete six marathons in as many months.
We’ve been following Ben’s story on Blog Preston since he started his challenge in April and we sat down with him as he opened up about what has kept him going.
Earlier in August he completed the Isle of Man marathon and is closing in on his £10,000 fundraising target to help a number of cancer charities who have helped him and his family.
The Berlin marathon at the end of September stands between Ben and completing his challenge
He said: “I am prepared for it. There will be big crowds and this often makes you go out too fast.
“The Isle of Man was my fastest marathon so far. I did it in under five hours and I went out hard on that one. There is a risk you get caught up in the emotion when you’re in a pack of thousands of runners.
“I did the Great North Run in 2011 and definitely that adrenaline from the crowd and being alongside so many other people is really something.
“Windermere had the most people of any of the marathons I’ve done so far and that had 1,000. So to e part of 40,000 runners will be something very different.”
Ben, who lives in the Broadgate area of the city with his three children, finds the city a good place to run.
“To me Avenham Park is my training ground,” he says.
“I love that hill up from the pavillion. It’s the perfect place for training for hill climbs, you go up, go round, then go again. People must think I’m a bit mad.”
Ben’s onocologist has become part of the family since he was diagnosed in February last year.
He said: “We’ve been working with Dr Susnerwalah since I was diagnosed, and he’s just incredible.
“The support and confidence he gives me and my family cannot be underestimated.
“It feels like he’s very proud of me and the marathons. I was worried about telling him about my challenge but he was completely supportive. We’ve worked to time my marathons so they are at the end of a chemotheraphy cycle.”
The marathons have not been as high profile as Berlin will be, taking on some of the more offbeat marathons in the UK has been a part of the challenge.
Ben said: “Wakefield was the toughest so far. I had to stop half way round. My friend and running partner Tom got me round. He set the pace and kept me going.
“I got to the end. I was sitting down on a bench to put a t-shirt on and my thighs just locked up. I couldn’t move. That was hard. My body was really suffering. The next day I was due to have the chemo but there was no way I could. We had to put it back and that really messed up the schedule.”
There have been some dark moments for Ben since he was told he would potentially have six months left to live.
“I remember the diagnosis”, he says, “It was February last year and they told me I would have six to 12 months if I was lucky. Well, I’m still here!
“I’ve always been a positive person and it’s a hard thing to take. My girls keep me going though. If I didn’t have them then I don’t know if it would be easier or harder. If it was just me then I could probably deal with it, but it’s the thought they won’t have me forever. I have to enjoy the time I have.
“They are incredible and give me the strength to keep going both in the the marathons and in this battle with the cancer.”
His three daughters have become the rock in his daily life, especially since he retired from work to dedicate his remaining time to them.
He said: “My daughters have got used to it. There’s no point trying to hide it from them. The eldest she knows when I am not well.
“We tell them daddy has had his special medicine and they come to give me hugs and look after me for those first few days after the chemo.
“My wife Louise is amazing. She will be with me when we go in to the hospital. I’m usually pretty upbeat when I go in to have the chemo, I will be really chatty. But then it kicks in throughout the day and I go very quiet. It takes all my strength not to be sick.
“I think she is very strong. She’s wonderful. And so are the girls. They call my stoma after I had it fitted ‘daddy’s poo bag’. Things like that just make me laugh.
“They, well definitely the eldest, they know I’m going to die. They know I won’t get better.
“After I got diagnosed and I took retirement from work we really focused on family time.
“We have taken a lot of holidays. Disneyland, more than once, and we took the girls to see my team Stoke City play. You have to make it count. Spend the time with them because I just don’t know how long I will have. We want to do everything we can with them so we can make memories. Happy memories.”
Many people run to raise money for charity but few run when diagnosed with a terminal illness which can make life unbearable at times.
Ben said: “I’d always been a keen runner and I didn’t see why I should stop. Although I have cancer it doesn’t stop me doing things.
“I know people who have cancer and it stops them even just walking to the end of the road.
“Once I’d got used to the chemo I went for a run. It felt good. We then talked it through, and consulted the doctor. I told him I was thinking of doing a marathon, not six though, and he felt I could handle it.
“Now we’re doing six in six months and I’m five down, one to go.
“When you’re running you just focus on that. I have to be mindful of how hard I am pushing myself but I know I can handle it.
“They say you shouldn’t run too far in the days leading up to a marathon but the day before the Isle of Man I ran 15 miles. I felt fine. I just wanted to see if I could do it. For a body as unfit as mine it is surprising what it can do.”
As well as raising thousands of pounds for the likes of McMillan cancer support and the Rosemere cancer foundation Ben also wants to raise awareness of bowel cancer, a disease more often associated with those over 60.
He said: “I think it’s a bit taboo to talk about your poo, but I like the Beating Bowel Cancer charity and their motto – we need to lift the lid. In more way than one.
“The symptoms of bowel cancer are blood in your stools, basically anything that’s unusual about your poo. Plus abdominal pain, feeling constantly tired and lethargic and for some a lump in their tummy.
“I went to the doctor many times with what was happening to me. They thought it was irritable bowel syndrome, my appendix, lots of other things. It took quite a while before I was diagnosed with bowel cancer.
“They say if it is caught early then 90 per cent of bowel cancers are treatable and curable, especially in the young. Unfortunately mine is a very viscous type. I guess I’m the unlucky one.”
Ben will continue his incredible fundraising effort, helped by the team and family around him, and when he crosses the finish line in Berlin he knows it won’t be the end.
He said: “I am already planning my next adventure. There’s a 24 hour run up Hellvelyn which sounds fantastic and a challenge in Wales where you do 15 mountains in 36 hours.
“I may not have long left so I want to do these things now. Plus we’re going to Disney World in Florida. They do a Dopey marathon challenge where you do lots of different runs during the course of a weekend, plus the girls would get to have fun too.”
You can follow his running on his blog and on Twitter.
And donations can be made to Ben’s total raised for CLIC Sargent, Beating Bowel Cancer, Macmillan and Rosemere Cancer Care.