March 28th 2018, this was supposed to be a happy date, it was the date 9 years previous I had met my lovely now wife Lisa.
“ Answer your phone quick, something about bloods… ”
This was the text I received from my wife.
Let’s rewind a bit. For the past 18 months I had been running; 2 half marathons and a multiple 5km races. I usually cycle but our boy Aedan was born in 2016 and I found it hard to find the time for cycling so running was easier to do on lunch breaks etc.
- Jun ’17 – BBreak 19.5 mins in a 5km
- Sep ’17 – I completed the Derry Waterside half marathon
- Jan ’18 – I got chatting to old Gaelic football friends and they talked me into coming back to Sean Dolan’s Gaelic Club (Life savers – literally). My 1st day back up at the club in many many years, familiar faces (older somewhat) everywhere and the craic was mighty. We did multiple fitness tests and on the last sprint test I tweaked my right hip.
- Feb ’18 – As the days and weeks went on my hip progressively got worse.
- Mar ’18 – I started physio, now coughing and sneezing started becoming painful.
- Mar ’18 – Booked Doctor appointment in relation to a hernia, nothing found so my GP ordered a routine inflammatory blood test.
Now back to Tuesday 28th March, just a regular morning. Our boy hadn’t been well for a couple of days before and my wife Lisa was considering taking him to the doctors for a check-up.
Fast forward to the afternoon, beep beep my phone went, it was that text. My heart sank, straight away I thought there was something wrong with our boy and Lisa had taken him to the doctor’s. I rang her right, she said “hang up the phone now, it’s about your bloods and the doctor is trying to ring you”.
Once I hung up, my phone rang again with ‘Private Number’ “Mr Sheerin, can you talk?” I said yes what is it… “It’s Dr Devlin here, the hospital just rang about your blood test and they need you over in the North West Cancer Centre tomorrow morning first thing. They suspect you have Myeloma….” …. “Mr Sheerin…?”. Yes okay and I hung up the phone. I went to my desk, brought up Google and typed in Myeloma. ”Incurable Bone marrow Cancer”. SHIT!
I was a lab rat for the next few days:
- More blood tests
- Bone marrow biopsy,
- Full body x-ray and a full body MRI.
- Full body PET-CT scan
At this stage I had a solitary Plasmacytoma in my iliac crest measuring 11x9x11cm, it was destroying the bone and all the connective tissue around it. No wonder I was in so much pain.
- May ’18 – I started 5 weeks Radiotherapy, I had no side effects of this and within 3-4 weeks I was walking without a limp and feeling much better.
- Sep ’18 – 3 months post radiotherapy. PET Scan time then I had my review with my consultant. My wife, parents and I walked into the room. My consultant didn’t look me in the eye or offer a handshake and I just knew it wasn’t good. “So Richie” in a deep saddened Glaswegian accent, I’m afraid it’s not great news – the cancer seems to have progressed and the PET-SCAN shows uptake (areas of cancer – where the scan has detected cells highly active consuming radioactive glucose administered just before the scan) in several areas.
- uptake to the right of your throat
- beside your 5th rib on the left side
- at the head of your pancreas
- beside your right kidney and
- just above your belly button in your abdominal wall.
- Dec ’18 – Again more bad news the tumours were now cm’s in size and I was to start Chemotherapy in January.
I woke up one morning and thought, “naw stop feeling sorry fir yoursel” (broad Derry accent) I’m not having this I’m getting fit and strong. Renewed my Zwift membership and hooked my bike up to my smart trainer. I logged into Zwift and started pedalling, I thought I’ll just do 20-30mins and see where I’m at. 53mins later I hop off the bike invigorated. I had just virtually cycled 36km; absolutely buzzing and my addiction and love for cycling had returned instantly. I thought to myself this is it, this is my “VIRTUAL ROAD TO RECOVERY”.
2 days later I was racing on Zwift… And never looked back. I raced once a week and did a few easy spins and the mental relief it offered me was amazing. Loved being on the bike and being competitive.
- Jan ’19 – Started 6 months of VTD Chemotherapy with planned Stem Cell Transplant in the Summer
- Feb/Mar ’19 – Loving Zwift and Racing Virtually
- Apr ’19 – Halfway point of the chemo, tumours were shrinking and one had disappeared completely. I was also feeling great in my body and mind.
- Jun ’19 – I started getting really heavy (76 to 96kgs) with the steroid treatment.
- Jul ’19 – Pain in my chest to that I had in my hip, had a PET scan. Chemotherapy had failed and cancer was more aggressive.
Stem Cell Transplant cancelled as my disease was spiralling out of control. Through the power of social media I found a specialist in London I went and had a consultation with her and she advised on an intensive chemotherapy regime of 3 cycles called RD-PACE, this was to get my disease under control and have not one but 2 stem cell transplants like originally planned. Using my own cells then once I recover a donor stem cell transplant.
- Aug ’18 – Started aggressive Chemotherapy (96hr infusion of toxic chemicals x 3), this hospitalised me for 3 months.
- Sep ’18 – Missed my Son starting Nursey and my own birthday.
- Oct ’19 – Good news the Chemo was working and Stem Cell transplant was booked for November.
An autologous stem cell transplant uses healthy blood stem cells from your own body to replace your diseased or damaged bone marrow. An autologous stem cell transplant is also called an autologous bone marrow transplant.
- Nov ’19 – Stem Cell Transplant Month
- Stem Cells Harvested & Frozen
- Almost lethal dose of chemotherapy called melphalan to kill your bone marrow
- Stem cells are infused back in
- Isolation for 2-3weeks. I could have visitors but I couldn’t see my boy for the entire time I was there. That was so tough mentally. Although we did do video calls (thank god for technology).
You get very sick before you get better. The Chemotherapy burnt my mouth and throat so bad that I couldn’t even swallow spit, never mind eat or drink. All of November and most of December I felt awful, couldn’t even climb stairs without having to stop every few steps. I lost count how many times I had blood transfusions and platelet transfusions.
I started the new year the same as 2019, with a positive mental attitude. Let’s get back on the bike and get the fitness back. Renewed my Zwift subscription again and away we went.
- Jan ’20 – PET Scan time to see if Stem Cell Transplant worked
- In layman’s terms from the report they cannot detect cancer in my body. I felt amazing, emancipated from cancer.
- Then was brought down a peg or 2. We need to get the ball rolling on the 2nd transplant.
- now that you’ve had such a great response now is the time to keep it away; possibly forever. We will plan for March/April.
- Feb ’20 – my 4 brothers where checked to see if they matched (25% chance)
- My middle brother Damian was a match which was amazing.
- Mar ’20 – COVID – Transplant put on hold
- Let’s get on with life, I’ll cross the bridge of the 2nd transplant when the date arrives.
- In the meantime let’s get back to racing top level B on Zwift
- Enjoy life with my family and friends.
I had convinced a few mates to get Zwift and give me some company on the virtual tarmac and right away they were hooked. I had got a follow request on Zwift from Jono and his tag was IRL, a team I joined on ZwiftPower in 2019 but did nothing with it. I then realised I knew another name that was also on the IRL team; Alan and I messaged him. I asked him what the deal was with IRL and he explained and right away I said I want/need to be part of that. Let’s help grow the virtual cycling community in Ireland and the rest is history.
Jono and Team IRL (Now RWB) accepted me into their admin team and showed me what they were trying to achieve and what they had done so far. Which started out as only a handful of members quickly grew to 1000, 2000 then 3000 over the next few months during lockdown. I came in and helped with brand and web design as well as torturing Eric Min and his events team for official event slots for our exponentially growing community. I was helping lead a Zwift community of Irish watopians, I became the official Team IRL (Now RWB) Zwift racing event organiser, coordinating weekly with the Zwift Events team, I also helped the admin team bring in sponsorship for prizes for our racing leagues and funding to help run and maintain our community. We created a monster by growing our community with targeted campaigns to continuously grow and keep our virtual cyclists interested and coming back for more.
- Aug ’20 –Covid restrictions started easing and I got a call from the transplant coordinator. We’ve got a hospital bed lined up for you. Allo stem cell transplant time.
Allogeneic stem cell transplantation involves transferring the stem cells from a healthy person (the donor) to the patient’s body after high-intensity chemotherapy.
So here we go part 2.
- Longer stay in hospital than the 1st time.
- In 6 days before for conditioning chemotherapy to slowly break down my immune system.
- Day 0 – Melphalan chemo was administered to create an opening for my brother’s stem cells to get in
- Day 1 – Brothers 5 million stem cells were infused back in
This transplant in terms of pain was much easier on the body, however mentally it was so much tougher. Longer stay in isolation, no visitors with covid and constant nausea. But we keep on keeping on. Nothing else for it. Still cancer free and kicking ass.
We’re now in the Autumn of 2020, time to get the recovery kick started and just go on as normal. There is no accepting a new normal with me. Normal is what normal is.
Zwift has been such a great platform for me both physically but more so mentally. I’ve been able to get fit whilst cycling and racing (albeit not at the level I was at, yet!) and being able to channel my mental focus into helping other folks whether Irish, have Irish blood in them, or living on the island of Ireland, North or South. Creating a craic filled community of cyclists cycling without borders.
Team IRL cycling is growing exponentially, our community is at 4000+ on Facebook and team members registered on Zwiftpower (the Zwift results service) the last count was 1225 , the 6th largest team in the World.
Time to start back at a D Cat level on Zwift and start riding and racing to fitness on my VIRTUAL ROAD TO RECOVERY.
Find out about our virtual Charity Ride and Donate to our charities here
A less wordy version, catch my story on Tri Talking Sport and the lovely Joanne interviewing me here
Thanks for reading, stay healthy – RIDE ON.