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26th July 2019

Damian Walker

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Retired firefighter, Damian Walker, bought his first ever push bike in 1997. Unfortunately, three years later, ill health meant his bike went to live in the shed. It wasn’t until 2014 and after he underwent surgery for lung cancer that Damian was able to take up his passion again.

“After an exasperating period of lack lustre physical performance generally while convinced of my deteriorating health in 2014, I finally managed to persuade a chest physician to give me an X-ray.  It showed two anomalies, one in each lung. 

It was very slow to change and was monitored by CT scan following an initial nuclear scan.  It was not properly diagnosed with it being in the bottom of the lower lobe and very close to my heart and a needle biopsy was too risky.

The diagnosis was only made positively during surgery. It was my only option and I was keen to partake. My dad died on the operating table during a heart operation when I was 17, but he was a pioneer of valve replacement that is now routine.  I was not too worried about my chances but then it was only meant to be a pizza slice resection, not a bilobectomy and lymph nodes removal.

My magnificent surgeon was very positive, highly skilled and well regarded.  We got on famously from our first meeting.  The VATS (Video Assisted Thorascopic Surgery) minimally invasive techniques were likely to be successful.  I watched the surgical techniques on You Tube and was well informed.

Back on the bike

Damian was able to dust off his bike after surgery for lung cancer

When I came round, the pain was so intense I couldn’t believe that I could survive.  Gradually, my drugs got sorted out and I could begin to function after about 24 hours.  Within 36 hours I was on an exercise bike on the ward and the day after I went home (Monday).

Recovery was slow. I would use my treadmill and exercise bike in fits and starts. Then, on New Years Day, I got my bike from the shed and started cycling in the snowy weather. 

Damian Walker

The histology came back and confirmed suspicions; it was lung cancer. It was no surprise, but it was a relief to be rid of it. I lost several close fire service friends and colleagues to oesophageal cancer, and also an uncle and firefighter to lung cancer.

I am one of the lucky ones to have had a brush with a cancer in my lung, but one that was able to be removed and without the need for radio or chemo therapies. 

Recovery was slow. I would use my treadmill and exercise bike in fits and starts. Then, on New Years Day, I got my bike from the shed and started cycling in the snowy weather.  I joined the firefighters charity 75 years campaign and cycled for fundraising.

Since my tentative first miles on the road I rode for longer and further until I began entering events and challenges to improve my cardio-vascular fitness.  I now have medals for 2×50, 2×75 and 1×100 miles events, clocking up 3,000 miles and two Mount Everests. 

Physically, I am less strong since my surgery, but cycling is a great way of making the best of what I have.  Plus, I’ve raised more than £2,000 for three charities, including Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.