10th April 2024

Alex Shaw’s London Marathon story: from diagnosis to determination

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At 46, Alex Shaw leads a bustling life as an Associate Director at Progeny in Leeds. For nearly 16 years, he’s poured his expertise into his work there, balancing it with a rich family life near Wakefield, where he resides with his partner and two children Matilda, aged 10, and Isaac, aged 7. 

Beyond his employment, Alex wears many hats – from being a devoted runner to managing a local under-7s football team, serving as a school governor, and indulging in his passion for football shirt collecting, boasting a collection of around 1000!

But behind the scenes of his seemingly comfortable life lies a story of resilience and determination that few would anticipate. In December 2022, Alex received a diagnosis that would change his life’s trajectory – lung cancer.

“I caught COVID-19 in August 2021 and during the following Autumn, I experienced 3 repeated chest infections, which would get better with antibiotics and then reoccur. This continued into early 2022 when I started coughing up blood one night in early March and suffered excruciating pain in my chest. 

“I was taken by ambulance to Pinderfields Hospital, diagnosed with pleurisy and told that I was being referred to a respiratory specialist. In May 2022 due to my concern at the delay in seeing anyone, I had a private CT scan and it found a blood clot in my left lung.

“I was then put on a course of blood thinners for six months. I had been running and trying to keep fit, but I could feel something wasn’t right in my left lung, almost a feeling of a narrowed airway when I was breathing hard. Bizarrely one Saturday morning in November 2022, the day after my course of blood thinners ended, I came home after a training run and started coughing up a large amount of blood having had no issues for months.

“I went straight to Pinderfields again and given my recent history, I was put on an urgent pathway of scans and investigations, which resulted in a diagnosis of a Stage 1b Typical Carcinoid in my Left Upper Lobe and its subsequent removal in January 2023.”

“My initial NHS respiratory referral never materialised and I remember being told by an ANP that “these sort of things don’t usually happen to young, respiratorily-fit people like you”, so it was never seemingly deemed urgent. Also, the tumour (albeit very small at the time) was missed on the private CT scan. It seems the chest infections and blood clot were symptoms of the tumour’s presence.

“I felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. I had always been physically fit and was a very active runner. I was beyond scared and started wondering if I’d see my kids grow up. 

“Then I was told that the prognosis was good, but when someone explains how they’re simply going to remove half of your left lung, you are left wondering how active life is going to be going forward. What will I be able to do? Will I be a wheezing wreck every time I climb a flight of stairs? There were so many unknowns. But mainly it was about my children – how will I be able to physically interact and participate in things with them?

On 3rd January 2023, Alex underwent his lobectomy. 

“The staff in St James’ Hospital in Leeds were all amazing – so supportive and positive, especially when they saw just how much I wanted to get going. I wanted to have a positive mindset from day one and was determined to make the best of what I had, not wallow in what had happened.

“After a few weeks on the sofa under the influence of strong painkillers, I started to walk up the street, then around the block, then into town for a coffee, then to town and back. At some point I put a little jog in and started to feel the reduced lung capacity I now had, plus the various aches and shooting pains that persisted as my body knitted itself back together. It was hard – my body hurt and I felt miserable knowing that something I loved doing seemed so far away now.”

Running, once a source of solace, now became a testament to Alex’s strength. Despite the reduced lung capacity and persistent discomfort, Alex pressed on, reclaiming the joy of movement with each stride.

“Naturally I don’t run quite as fast as I used to, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how I have managed to work on improving my lung capacity, oxygen absorption, speed and stamina. I also get bouts of afternoon fatigue if I forget to breathe deeply – sounds weird when breathing is something you have done without thinking all your life!”

As Alex prepares to tackle his first London Marathon, he reflects on the event to come:

“I am so looking forward to feeling all the crowd support, experiencing the whole day and especially having my children there to support me. I’m also really excited to meet some of my fellow Roy’s Runners and feel some love from the wonderful support team!

“I really want to help the drive to detect lung cancer earlier, especially non-smoker types like mine. I still can’t quite believe it happened to me, but it did and I can’t ever dwell on that – just keep moving forward. But I have received my first annual “all clear” so I am raring to go!”

Support Alex Shaw’s London Marathon fundraiser here: Alexander Shaw’s Fundraising Page

Check out his Instagram here.