IF ever there was a story to inspire it is Bob Munro’s tale of attacking adversity head on and winning.
In 2012 Bob was diagnosed with a rare, incurable bone marrow cancer called Myeloma.
His indomitable spirit and loving family network has not only seen him manage to keep the disease at bay but also take on a new passion, cycling, which has enabled him to raise money to help others in a similar situation to himself.
Recalling the day he was diagnosed he recalled: ‘Dabbing away tears, I managed to take on board the words “rare”, “incurable”, “treatable”, “new drugs” and “great strides”, but the fact that it was in my bones suggested strongly that I was in big trouble.
‘Surely, once a cancer had migrated to your bones, you were finished? And the consultant’s coup de grace – “Oh, and I strongly advise you not to Google it”.
The statistics were damning – 20% of newly diagnosed patients die within two months and only 46% live for five years.
But, in the same way Naked Leader encourages people to “Just Do It” Bob’s cup is resolutely half full, naturally focusing on the positives in any situation and he decided to tackle it head on.
‘Google also gave the average age at diagnosis as 69, with less than 35% of patients under 65,’ he added. ‘I was 52 and still playing five-a-side football – surely youth and fitness must improve my chances of being in the 46%?’
Myeloma prevents the production of red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, leaving sufferers anaemic and with seriously compromised immune systems.
It also attacks bones, often resulting in catastrophic collapsed vertebrae, and destroys the kidneys.
Bob feels he was lucky he went skiing with what felt like flu symptoms. He developed pneumonia, leading to a diagnosis which could otherwise have been delayed for years.
His treatment – 40-plus chemotherapy tablets on day one including the notorious, previously banned Thalidomide – was beyond gruelling.
However, he stayed positive and gained strength from watching every minute of the Bradley Wiggins victory in the Tour de France that year.
‘For three weeks I swooned over the scenery and marvelled at the athleticism of the riders,’ he said.
‘And when, a year later, I saw Chris Froome emerge triumphant, it strengthened my determination to give road cycling a try.’
By July 2014, his health had stabilised with the aid of a powerful daily drug and he set about giving himself the best possible chance of survival. “I reasoned that I needed to be as fit as I could possibly be and that I needed to help accelerate the development of the next line of drugs, as Myeloma gradually mutates leaving the current drugs powerless”. He bought his first carbon-framed road bike and soon realised he was a natural. And at the end of that year he turned to fundraising, to help fund the research carried out by Myeloma UK, the country’s only dedicated myeloma charity and powerful patient advocate.
‘But when I approached them to enquire about its cycle events, it turned out that there weren’t any,’ he said. ‘Bigger charities organise marathons, triathlons and so on, but the rarity of Myeloma – there are only around 20,000 patients in the land – had left the smaller Myeloma UK doubting the viability of such mass participation events.’
Bob’s meticulous research, boundless enthusiasm and powers of persuasion prevailed and a Paris London ride was unveiled in May of this year.
No fewer than 45 of his family and friends, including sons Ross and Joe, joined him and 80 other riders – patients, their relatives and friends, consultants, researchers, pharmaceutical company teams – in a gloriously sunny Greenwich Park to cycle the 300 miles, in four days, to Paris.
The ride came with full professional back-up, including motorcycle escorts for rolling road closures – just as for the pros. Bound together by shared stories of adversity and hope for the patients, the challenge of cycling 80 miles a day and the evening ‘rehydration’ sessions, the riders revelled in a sense of camaraderie that was palpable.
On the final day the police closed the roads and escorted them over the cobbles to the Arc de Triomphe and on to the Eiffel Tower, where there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.
‘It was, by common consent, the experience of a lifetime and most definitely the realisation of a personal dream’ smiled Bob. ‘Moreover, we had raised more than £300,000 to help accelerate the pipeline of incredibly promising drugs to Myeloma patients like me, before time runs out. And it’s a figure we should exceed next year when the Myeloma UK London Paris Ride becomes an annual event.’