Jim Robertson

On top of the world

Climbing a mountain that’s over 1,000 metres is no mean feat, especially if you’ve had surgery for lung cancer and you’re 79. But that’s exactly what Jim Robertson did this August, a man with a real zest for life.

‘I was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2012,’ says Jim. ‘I then had surgery in the April, followed within 48 hours by pneumonia. That was at Edinburgh Royal infirmary. I left there and spent two or three weeks in Blairgowrie Cottage hospital, before I was allowed home. And then I finally had four weeks of radiotherapy at Ninewells hospital in Dundee.

‘It was all pretty dramatic and traumatic, and it left me stunned. I thought, “Well, I’ve lost half of my right lung, so that means I’ve only got three-quarters of my breathing left.” But that was the end of the treatment, as such, until I got involved with the physical activity side of things. Because I essentially view that as part of part of my treatment as well.’

A personalised programme

Jim got involved in a physical activity programme for people affected by cancer after attending a Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation support group organised through the respiratory clinic and held in Maggie’s Centre, Ninewells Hospital. ‘It came clear to me at one of these monthly meetings that the Move More programme at Dundee University was something I could do. So I jumped at it, because I thought this was exactly what I wanted. It sounded like the cat’s whiskers.“ Ichose to have a personal programme created for me that involves working on the equipment in the fitness centre. It’s all done under the guidance of Hazel Ednie, the programme coordinator, who monitors my progress and is generally just wonderful. I go three times a week, but you can take things easier, and even get guidance on how to exercise while you’re sitting at home”.

Jim enthuses that the benefits from attending the Move More course have been numerous: “When you’ve suffered a traumatic illness, such as cancer of any kind, it’s very easy to feel down. But one of the great side effects of the fitness regime is that it makes you feel positive. You get better motivation all round, everything seems to work better. Your mind works better, you have more appetite for things. I feel much more alive and much better motivated. And I’ve also lost a stone and a quarter in weight, which is great”

Reaching a long held goal

For most people treated with lung cancer under two years ago, going to the gym three times a week and completing regular rounds of golf would certainly be a fantastic achievement. And for Jim, it is. But he also had a long-held ambition he wanted to accomplish following his diagnosis.

‘It started about 70 years ago, when I was a child. I saw Schiehallion in the distance from across Rannoch Moor. It’s every child’s idea of what a mountain should look like. It also has that wonderfully evocative name, which I’m told means ‘fairy mountain of the Caledonians’. I’d always wanted to climb it again. And following my experience, I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to achieve something special, even though you might have suffered from the severe trauma of lung cancer.’

Jim was accompanied on his climb to the top of Schiehallion by his stepdaughter, while his wife and stepson-in-law journeyed half way up. Along the way, Jim says that he had to constantly check what his pulse was doing and that his breathing was regular. Sometimes this meant he had to take 20-second breaks to regulate everything. But overall the ascent went to plan, despite the tough conditions.

‘It was pouring with rain, with the visibility at 20 yards. Also, halfway up Schiehallion it just becomes boulders. Twenty-odd years ago, when I previously climbed the mountain, I stepped from one boulder to the next, but at 79, with diminished balance, it was no mean feat”,.’

A little goes a long way

When Jim reached the top of Schiehallion and reached his personal goal, it felt ‘absolutely wonderful’. He also adds that he was delighted that he didn’t suffer physically in any way after the difficult walk, something he puts down to his personal physical activity programme.

‘When I was preparing to climb Schiehallion, I was given specific ideas of what to do, in order to get my muscles working in the right direction. I have to say that they got it right, because although it took eight and a half hours to get up there and down again, in the most appalling weather, I had no aches and pains at all afterwards, which was quite a surprise”

Certainly, Jim’s physical and mental health have improved significantly from becoming more active, which is why he advices other people living with lung cancer to do the same, although under guidance and at their own pace. “I would say, try to be as physically active as you can. Sometimes that might be very limited. Sometimes, if you’re lucky like me, that might be quite extensive. But any amount of activity will do you good. You will not only feel better, but I am advised by many authorities that it actually reduces the chance of recurrence as well”

How to become more active

  • Speak to your lung cancer clinical nurse specialist or doctor about what physical activity programmes are available in your area.
  • If you feel well enough, and with permission from your doctor, work towards a significant goal, such as training for and doing a fundraising walk for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. Visit www.roycastle.org/fundraising-and-events for more information. Contact Macmillan Cancer Support on 0808 808 0000 or visit www.macmillan.org.uk/movemore to find out more about the benefits of physical activity and ways to become more active.
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