A Greenwich man with an incurable blood cancer will push himself to the limits on Sunday when he tackles a gruelling virtual marathon to raise £11,000 for Myeloma UK.
Charles Montlake, 59, who suffers from myeloma and the related condition AL amyloidosis, will walk back and forth from his home in Greenwich to the 02 arena until he’s covered all 26.2 miles.
The father-of-one plans to complete the marathon in four stretches, starting at the stroke of midnight on October 3, followed by three more legs at 6am, midday and 6pm.
He has already raised close to £9,550 for Myeloma UK, the charity which has supported him and his family through his devastating diagnosis and taxing rounds of treatment.
This will be his biggest physical challenge since his diagnosis and likely his last, as his strength starts to wane. Yet, he is determined to see it through, with the help of friends and family who will join him for all or part of the virtual marathon.
“You spend your life putting things off until tomorrow but I can’t; this is my one and only chance to do something for Myeloma UK,” said the semi-retired businessman. “This time next year the probability is that I won’t be able to walk a mile. My oncologist told me a year ago that my prognosis was seven to 10 years. I could spend the next seven years or so I have left bemoaning the fact that I only have seven years to live or I could spend the next seven years living them. This should be a nice walk, full of laughs. I can talk for England, so we’ll have a nice little chat.”
Charles had been feeling “weary and out of kilter” for months when he consulted his GP. He was referred to numerous consultants, but none could pinpoint the cause of his symptoms. Until, finally, a kidney specialist diagnosed him with renal failure. She ordered further tests. Within days he was told he had myeloma and AL amyloidosis. Both conditions are incurable.
Myeloma occurs in the bone marrow and currently affects over 24,000 people in the UK. Despite being the third most common type of blood cancer, it is especially difficult to detect as symptoms, including back pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and recurring infection, are often linked to general ageing or minor conditions.
While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases. Treatment is aimed at controlling the disease, relieving the complications and symptoms it causes, and extending and improving patients’ quality of life.
More than half of patients face a wait of over five months to receive the right diagnosis and around a third are diagnosed through an emergency route. By that point, many of them are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms.
AL amyloidosis is a relatively rare incurable condition which can cause kidney disease and heart problems. Between 500 and 600 people are diagnosed with AL amyloidosis in the UK each year.
“My first thought when I was told I had incurable cancer was, ‘Thank God, I know what it is now’. I’d seen one doctor after another, all telling me that everything was fine with me. I knew everything was not fine; but, of course, with blood cancer you can’t pinpoint it. All you can say is that you’re out of kilter.”
This initial burst of relief was soon replaced by anguish, however.
“When I realised it was incurable relief turned to despair,” he confided. “I got angry at the universe. Not only do I know that within a few years I’m going to die but I actually know how I’m going to die and that takes a bit of getting your head around. It got easier when I came out of the ‘myeloma closet’ around March 2020. The more I told people and the more I talked about it, the easier it became.”
Charles immediately underwent treatment. He was due to receive high-dose therapy and a stem cell transplant, but the procedure was postponed three times and eventually cancelled altogether after he kept testing positive for COVID-19. He was instead put on a fresh course of treatment and has been in partial remission ever since.
Myeloma UK proved “a lifeline” as successive rounds of treatment and the inescapability of his prognosis began to take a physical and emotional toll.
“In my early days and in my dark days which, fortunately, are few, I’ve turned to the Myeloma UK website and newsletter,” he added. “When I say Myeloma UK is my lifeline, I mean it. That’s why I intend to raise £11,000. There are times when people like me need a lifeline and Myeloma UK is there when we need them. It’s an amazing thing to know. I’ve relied on Myeloma UK more than once for my mental wellbeing and I feel there’s going to come a time when my family will be really reliant on the information provided by the charity.”
This will be the second time he has tackled a virtual race for Myeloma UK. Last year, Charles, his wife, son and 87-year-old mother completed a marathon relay, each taking turns walking up and down their flat’s 11m balcony. They clocked up no fewer than 3,000 lengths over 10 hours to reach the symbolic finish line, raising just shy of £12,000 in the process.
“I know that my myeloma will come back and steal my energy again – it creeps up on you. But while I’ve got energy I thought I would do something useful.”
To make a donation, head to uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charlesmontlake