Leading Research into Head & Neck Cancer

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South Coast Triathlon

10am, July 4th 2015, Seaford Beach, 30mph wind, 4ft waves

Morgan: ‘Looks quite choppy, don’t you think?’
Paul: ‘Uh-huh’
Morgan: ‘Rescue boat is busy….’
Paul: ‘Uh-huh’

Standing on the Seaford shingle, cupping polystyrene beakers of scalding tea as the waves rolled and crashed before us, we were contemplating our first triathlon (750m swim/20km cycle/5 km run). The wind hampered our chat. The swarm of yellow-capped swimmers taking part in the race before ours disappeared into the troughs of the waves, then reappeared as the waves broke over them. Some were retiring, swamped and exhausted. A helpful gentleman standing next to us declared himself a local. “I come down every year to watch. Last year, they cancelled the swim because it was too rough. I expect they’ll keep it going this year. They wouldn’t want to cancel twice.” We both took a gulp of tea.

Morgan: ‘Just doing the sums. If we pull out now, it’ll cost us £750 each to cover the pledges’

It seemed a reasonable price and a sensible option. Paul’s phone pinged in his pocket.

Paul: ‘Make that £755. We just got another tenner on JustGiving.’

Then we remembered why we were doing this.

Three years earlier, Morgan had finished his treatment at the Royal Marsden for cancer of the tongue. He had been put forward for a new type of treatment, in the hope of saving some of his salivary glands. He didn’t let go of his hope of returning to work as a teacher.

Morgan: ‘If you were a real friend, you wouldn’t have signed me up for this.’

Paul: “If you hadn’t given me a job 32 years ago, we wouldn’t be here at all’

And that’s why we were there: to celebrate friendship, family and longevity, and to thank those who put their hearts and souls into researching, treating and supporting patients with cancer. Morgan also wanted to give hope to others starting out or midway through their treatment.

Morgan: ‘That day you signed us up, I was exhausted; I couldn’t imagine I’d be anywhere fit enough for this’

That was six months earlier, sitting in Morgan’s front room. Morgan had been diagnosed in 2012. After the treatment, his weight had dropped to 9st 6lb. Paul had been dropping round to help with those tasks that become such big challenges during the treatment and recovery period. We thought back to where our friendship had begun. We’d been introduced by Paul’s sister in 1983 and spent the next 20 years running the outdoor charity, Adventure Unlimited, together. At 63 (Morgan) and 53 (Paul), we were certain this was our greatest adventure.

Morgan knew he wanted to do something to mark his recovery, and to thank those who’d cared for him. He’d always been a strong swimmer. His six-pack felt more like Lurpak these days; it felt great to be 12 stone again but a triathlon seemed to be a distant dream. Yet, here he stood. Here we stood, on Seaford beach.

Paul: ‘When we get in the water, we’ll try and stay together’

We’d trained for weeks. We were like two finely tuned and well oiled machines – ready to break down at any moment.

Morgan (full of apprehension): ‘Let’s do it’. We confidently tip-toed into the water.

Two hours of puffing and sweating later, we crossed the line 108th and 109th out of 110 in our class. Cheered on by family, and reassured by the presence of Paul’s wife, a GP, amongst the crowd (Morgan had marked the spot where he was going to collapse if it came to it!), we’d done what we set out to do. We didn’t drown, we didn’t crash and we didn’t walk. We didn’t win but we did finish. The challenge was about friendship, thanks and hope – and making some money for the Oracle Trust.

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Oracle Cancer Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales (1142037). A company limited by guarantee. Registered company in England and Wales (7125497). Registered address: 10 Parsons Green House, 27 Parsons Green Lane, London SW6 4HH.