Larne grandfather fights his way back to fitness after gruelling cancer treatment

A Larne grandfather has fought his way back to fitness after a cancer diagnosis by losing four stone in weight and completing a charity walking challenge.

Tuesday, 8th June 2021, 1:32 pm

Retired engineer Bob Loade (64) recently completed a 10-mile hike through the Antrim Hills above Larne to raise funds for Christian Aid Ireland, despite major surgery and within weeks of undergoing eight gruelling rounds of chemotherapy - an experience that left him so tired and weak that it was a struggle to walk.

Bob was joined on the walk by several church members including good friend Allan McCullough who supported Bob during his cancer journey by phoning every week to encourage him and keep his spirits up. The friends all attend Craigyhill Methodist Church in Larne where Bob is the Christian Aid organiser.

Bob’s cancer journey began on New Year’s Day 2020 when he was admitted to hospital with severe abdominal pain. During surgery to treat a ruptured appendix, doctors discovered that he also had bowel cancer. Bob expressed his gratitude for the medical and nursing care he received, saying:“I was so well looked after. I especially want to mention the surgeon, Dr Ashraf who carried out both the appendix operation and my cancer surgery. I also want to thank my oncologist, Dr Catherine Davis. Even though she had to have some frank conversations with me, she always showed me the utmost kindness. And I want to thank my Macmillan nurse, Annette Mawhinney who gave me so much confidence and reassurance.”

That ‘frank conversation’ was Bob’s prognosis - the news that there is a fair likelihood that his bowel cancer might return one day, a result of the disease having spread from the bowel into the abdominal cavity.

But when his oncologist told Bob that he could reduce his risk of recurrence by losing weight and getting active, it was all the motivation he needed. In January 2020, he weighed 16.5 stone but within a year he was down to 12.5 stone. The first stone was achieved by reducing his portion sizes and cutting out fattening foods with the next three ‘falling off’ during his chemo treatment when ‘eating became a chore’.

Bob had his cancer surgery in June 2020 when doctors removed two thirds of his large intestine but although he made a good recovery from the operation, the worst was to come. In July, Bob began eight gruelling cycles of chemotherapy treatment which were to last six long months, as he explained: “The chemo was very difficult, especially the last two cycles and by the end I was drained. I didn’t even have the energy to walk and the ‘brain fog’ was so bad that I couldn’t read either. It was hard to keep going but my wife and daughters were extremely supportive. And Allan phoned me every week. I couldn’t have got through it without them.”

Bob and his wife Sally, a retired Larne High School teacher, have two daughters, Louise and Ciara, and three grandchildren, Ben (15), Gracie (7) and Jacob (2). Bob was born in Herefordshire in England but moved to Northern Ireland after meeting his Larne-born wife.

Bob Loade with Allan McCullough who supported him through his cancer treatment and recovery, at Sallagh Braes, above Larne

But by December there was hope on the horizon. Even before his chemotherapy treatment was complete, Bob received the news that his body was free from cancer. The ‘all-clear’ came in time for Christmas and Bob is grateful that he felt well enough to celebrate the occasion with his family.

When his chemo finally ended on 21 January this year, a ‘battered and bruised’ Bob began to slowly regain his fitness. Within weeks, he was on the road to recovery, gradually building up his strength until he could walk 6,000 steps per day. His whole outlook brightened once the treatment was behind him:“Everything was foggy before but as soon as the chemo ended, the world seemed crisp and clear again.”

Then on 10 April, within three months of completing his treatment, Bob tackled the challenge he’d set himself, a 10-mile hike up Sallagh Braes and Agnew’s Hill. By his side on the walk was Allan, the man who had willed him on through the toughest of times: “Every week during my chemo, Allan rang me to check in. He encouraged me and he listened to me. I’ll always be grateful for his friendship.”

And what of the walk – how did it go?

“I managed it ok, there were a few steep sections, but we took our time and everyone was very patient with me.”

It was during a Christian Aid Zoom call that Bob made the decision to take on the challenge. He was among one hundred of the charity’s most dedicated supporters who watched a presentation detailing the impact of climate change on some of the world’s poorest people.

In eastern Kenya, drought forces women to walk for miles each day in search of water for their families and livestock, and Bob said it was then that the idea came to him: “I was really touched to think that people are having to walk such long distances. It was shocking to see the poverty and I thought, if I’m going to take on a physical challenge to celebrate the end of my chemo, I might as well do it for a good cause.”

Bob decided that he would carry 5 litres of water in a rucksack, walking in solidarity with the women and girls of eastern Kenya who spend many hours each day walking to fetch water. His sponsored challenge has already raised almost £3,000 for Christian Aid which is responding to the crisis in Kenya by funding the building of earth dams (low-tech community ponds) to store water when the rains do come.

Christian Aid Ireland Chief Executive Rosamond Bennett thanked Bob for choosing Christian Aid as the charity to benefit from his challenge: “I am inspired by the heroism of supporters like Bob who think of others even when facing huge challenges in their own lives. And I’m delighted that he’s been able to regain his fitness after this setback.”

Meanwhile the Larne man is counting his blessings at every turn: “I feel so grateful to be living in Northern Ireland. Even during the worst of the pandemic, the NHS staff were juggling things around to get me the treatment I needed.

“They even sent me up to Altnagelvin to get my CT scan. And when I was in Laurel House (the chemotherapy unit at Antrim Area Hospital), it was very sobering to see young mums in there receiving treatment too. It really hit me, there are people much worse off than me.”

If you would like to support Bob’s walking challenge, you can make an online donation at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/walkingforwaterlarnestyle.