Blazing saddles: gearing up to beat cancer




Cancer sucks – and the statistics are shocking: an almost 50-50 chance of being a victim.

According to the most recent research reported in the British Journal of Cancer, over half of us under the age of 65 will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives. If you manage to dodge this bullet, there is a significant chance that you will know someone who has cancer, and that some of those you know will die from the disease.

I meet both the former and latter criteria, witnessing both my wife and mother-in-law succumb to this truly callous illness. Yet, even in the face of these daunting numbers, there are grounds for positivity, since cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled over the last four decades, and around half of patients diagnosed survive for more than ten years. When the ‘Big C’ has its backside kicked, it’s time to celebrate – and what better way than a butt-busting ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats?

Ian Cooke, aged 55, was initially diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in February 2021, bang in the middle of preparations for his third Ironman challenge. Given a high probability of death in the medium term, he embarked on a torturous timetable of chemotherapy, along with other invasive procedures, and latterly a stem cell transplant. The most recent update is, in true Ian Dury and the Blockheads prose, Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3, with the incredible news that this Ian is in complete remission. 

Meeting him on the beach at Morfa Nefyn, North Wales – part way through a gruelling practice session – I asked him what his advice would be for other cancer sufferers. “Everyone’s mind races away with ‘what ifs’, but my advice is simple: only you can beat cancer, it’s yours and you own it – and you can beat It!”

With an infectious smile he added, “Think what you will do – not what you won’t – and try to maintain simple daily routines throughout. I always said I would get out of bed every day in hospital, strip my sheets to help the nurses, and do my stretches. I missed only one day. I talked to my family and friends about the reality of the side effects and how you manage your way by being prepared, so they understood it’s all part of the journey we face in beating cancer.”

Ian Cooke & Paul Sharples

I guess that many of us will have seen and simply scrolled past JustGiving pages, but Rix Oakleys fundraiser for Cure Leukaemia is different. Dial it in for the trek up North on 31st May, when the gang of cancer-crushing cyclists begin to rip up the mammoth 966 miles over nine consecutive days, and stick two fingers up at this dreadful disease; together, let’s edge ever closer to a cure. 

© Ian Kirke 2023

Ian Kirke

As a kid, and latterly a dad and police officer, I realised that I have an almost endless list of things I want to make sense of. I suspect I am not alone. Hopefully, as a law graduate and post-graduate criminologist, my life observations reflect a degree of authenticity and balance – but I’ll allow you to judge that for yourself. Synthesising humour, grief, horror and hedonism, I think I’m an all-rounder! I am also a frustrated speedway promoter, passionate Notts County fan and part-time philosopher.

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