Climbing a mountain that’s over 1,000m 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, a man with a real zest for life. He wanted to share his lung cancer story to show losing part of your lung doesn’t need to stop you from living your life.
“I was diagnosed with lung cancer in January 2012. I then had surgery in the April. After the surgery, I contracted pneumonia. I had to spend two or three weeks in hospital, before I was allowed home. Once I was recovered, I had four weeks of radiotherapy.
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 wasn’t the case…
When I finished my treatment I started to attend one of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s support groups at my local hospital. That’s how I found out about the physical activity programme, Move More. It sounded like something I could do so I jumped at the chance to get active again.
I chose to have a personal programme, created just for me, that involves working on the equipment in the fitness centre. It was all done under the guidance of Hazel Ednie, the programme coordinator, who monitored my progress and was just generally wonderful. I would 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.
When you’ve suffered a traumatic illness, like lung cancer, 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. Your mind works better. You have more appetite for things. I felt much more alive and much better motivated. I also lost a stone and a quarter in weight, which is great!”
Reaching a long held goal
For most people undergoing treatment for lung cancer, going to the gym three times a week and completing regular rounds of golf is certainly a fantastic achievement. But Jim had his sights set even higher – literally!
“It started about 70 years ago, when I was a child. I saw Schiehallion, one of Scotland’s best known hills, 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 after having 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 pretty poor visibility. Also, halfway up Schiehallion, the ground becomes very uneven. Twenty-odd years ago, when I previously climbed the mountain, I tackled the terrain with no problems, stepping from one boulder to the next. However, at 79 with diminished balance, it was no easy feat!
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.
So it just goes to show, lung cancer doesn’t have to hold you back and I encourage everyone living with lung cancer to try and be active as you can. Do it under guidance and at your pace but 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 that it can help with your recovery and reduces the chance of lung cancer recurrence as well.”
How to become more active
Check out our Get Active page for some gentle exercises to get you started. Your lung cancer nurse specialist or doctor will also be able to advise you about what physical activity programmes are available in your area.
Set yourself a goal
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, cycle or run for Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.