It all kicked off a few days after Ironman Wales in 2016. I was still feeling ropey, so I went to the doctors and got whisked off to hospital with pneumonia and sepsis. I wasn’t quite expecting that. I was in there for four days, pumped full of antibiotics, but then they found a residual shadow on my lung so they did some x-rays.
After that, they sent me for some scans to try and find out more about this shadow. Lesions were spotted everywhere. It seemed they had been there for the year leading up to the Ironman, but any aches, pains or fatigue I had, I just put down to the training.
After blood tests in March 2017, I was diagnosed with myeloma, a type of blood cancer. I’ve been given seven years to live unless I can find a stem cell match, and it’s been constant cycles of chemotherapy.
I went from the high of Ironman Wales to being incarcerated in the Christie [Hospital]. I’ve been trying to maintain fitness throughout, so they brought in an exercise bike. I can swim and cycle but no running, because I broke a vertebra in my back – a side effect is weak bones.
I’d never heard of myeloma, so when my doctor told me I had it, I said “Can it be cleared with antibiotics?” Then he explained…
In a strange way, I was lucky, because with myeloma it’s usual to ignore the signs, then get kidney failure because your bones are being broken down by cancer, leading to high levels of calcium in your blood. So, in a way, Ironman helped me get my diagnosis expedited.
The first round of chemo I had didn’t work, and the second and third stopped working. I had a stem cell transplant too, which got me to a position where I feel good, but there’s only so many treatments and drugs I can use – a stem cell donor is crucial for me to stay alive.
I’ve turned this into something proactive – I started the campaign of 10,000 donors to try and get people registered on the stem cell register and raise awareness.
People who do triathlon are all of a certain mindset and there’s a proactive and positive approach to keep pushing the boundaries. When you’re surrounded by people like that, they keep you going.
I love triathlon because it made me achieve something I didn’t think I could do. I think the fitter you are, the quicker you get through these things. They usually predict a six-month recovery after the stem cell transplant, and I managed to get around the Weymouth bike course in a relay not long after.
You can register as a potential lifesaver online at dkms.org.uk and receive your home swab kit.
Peter McCleave After competing in Ironman Wales in 2016, Peter was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer called myeloma; doctors estimated he had seven years to live unless a stem cell donor was found. After repeated rounds of chemotherapy, and stem cell transplants, Peter is campaigning to raise awareness and encourage more people to sign up to the register to save lives, like his own.