David Fletcher may have battled cancer five times but it’s not holding him back. He has just been crowned European duathlon champion, reports Catherine Scott.
David Fletcher is an inspiration. Not only has the 41-year-old father of one battled cancer five times, he has just been crowned European Duathlon Champion for his age group and qualified for the world championships in Holland next year.
The long distance HGV driver from Hull actually believes his high level of physical fitness has helped him beat the disease so many times in the last 20 years.
“There have been times when the doctors have told me that if I hadn’t been as fit as I am I would not have survived.”
But it is also his desire to inspire others who may be facing cancer or other illnesses that drives him on.
His problems started when he was 21 and discovered a lump on his neck which turned out to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“They removed the lump and I had chemo and radiotherapy,” recalls David. “It was really hard, I was only 21 and my life was going really well and I should have been enjoying myself but instead I was fighting cancer. You can’t help but think ‘why me?’ and it took me a bit to get over it.”
But get over it he did and David decided to move to Spain where, having grown up in pubs, he ran his own business cleaning the beer pipes of the many bars around Benidorm.
“Life was good, I had met my wife and she had just had our son Lee.”
However, soon afterwards David found a lump in one of his testicles.
“Eight years had gone by and I had been coming back for regular check-ups in the UK but after six years they gave me the all-clear. But then I found a lump in my testicle. I went to the doctor in Spain and they said I was being paranoid because of my history and that it would go away.”
The lump did go away, or so David thought, but the tumour had in fact moved up his body, grown to 11cms and wrapped itself around one of his kidneys.
“Eighteen months had passed since I’d gone to the doctors and I was in agony, it hurt to breathe.”
The tumour had caused a life-threatening blood clot and David was rushed to hospital in Spain. He was given chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before having an operation to remove it.
“Apparently it was nothing to do with my original cancer and I was just unlucky, but the testicular cancer had turned into germ cell cancer,” says David.
“It was very traumatic and although I am naturally a very positive person it really knocked me for six. My mum and dad had to come out and help look after my business. I had a young family – it was hard on everyone.”
David and his family eventually decided to return England to be closer to their support network just in case the cancer returned.
David continued to run as it helped him physically and mentally. “I was always pretty good at sport at school and I liked to keep fit.”
In August 2013 he organised a charity bike ride for Cancer Research UK, a charity which by now was very close to his heart, raising an incredible £13,000.
Fourteen members of David’s family and friends rode 500 miles from Land’s End to Hull in eight days. David said that the reception they received at the finish line was one of the greatest experiences of his life.
“I just felt that I wanted to give something back. I had seen such a difference in the treatments in the seven years between my cancers and a lot of that is down to research funded by CRUK.”
Cruelly, just weeks after the mammoth bike ride David noticed a scratch on his cheek that would not heal. He headed to Castle Hill Hospital under the impression the appointment would be 20 minutes.
“I’d even left my HGV outside the hospital as I didn’t think I would be long, but the doctor said it was skin cancer and that he would remove it there and then. I said I’d have to move my truck.”
The cancer was removed within the hour and David was back on the M62 to Manchester.
“My boss was a bit cross with me and said I should have gone back to the depot but I think I was in a bit of shock.”
Just as he was getting life back on track David discovered a lump on his right testicle. He visited his oncologist who said that he may be being paranoid but due to his history with cancer they would scan it to be safe.
Within two weeks David had to have his right testicle removed and undergo another bout of chemotherapy to ensure that the cancer wouldn’t return. But a year later in 2016 the germ cell cancer had returned. He is now being treated at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, who view him as something of a miracle.
It was David’s brother Robert who suggested he give triathlons a go.
“I’d done a half marathon and the bike ride but I couldn’t really swim and didn’t like the idea of open water swimming and so I decided to do duathlon instead.”
And he hasn’t looked back, he qualified for team GB in his age group and came fifth last year. Last month he came away with gold in the European Championships in Romania. He has also qualified for the world championships in Holland next year and wants to do a Ironman and fulfil his dream of running the London marathon.
“It means I will have to take time off work unpaid and so I have launched a Go Fund Me campaign to help with finances and for my family,” says David. “People say I have really inspired them and I want to continue to do that for as long as I can.”
To support David Fletcher visit www.gofundme.com/f/raising-funds-to-enable-me-to-race-in-2020