A Newmills man who was forced to pull out of last year’s Belfast Marathon because he had leukaemia, is back in training one year on, for this September’s half marathon.
Keith Murphy, 25, fell ill the day he picked up his pack for last July’s race, and was admitted to hospital with inflammation of the heart.
After months of feeling unwell, having to take tablets that caused his muscles to waste away and numerous visits to hospital - a bone marrow biopsy in January found Keith was suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukaemia - which affects a specific type of white blood cell in bone marrow.
But despite the potentially life-threatening diagnosis, three rounds of chemotherapy and having spent an astonishing 104 days in hospital this year, Keith put his running shoes back on last month.
And he is planning to run 13.1 miles through Belfast for Clic Sargent - as a thanks for the support they gave him in hospital - though he is not expecting a personal best.
The self-confessed exercise nut, who ran 10 laps of Slieve Donnard in 33 hours just a month before falling ill, told the Times his story.
“The day I took sick I had bought a brand new pair of running trainers, that next day they told me that I wasn’t allowed to exercise for three months, simply because of the condition I had on the heart.
“I was like, ‘this is the end of the world for me’,” he said, “I was exercising twice a day, four days a week. At that stage I was planning to do Lap the Lough on a bike, I was planning to do the ultra marathon up round the Causeway, but when they said to me ‘no exercise for three months’, I thought that was the end of my world.
A couple of months later “I got to the stage that I could hardly walk up a hill, never mind going back six - eight months where I was running up and down hills,” he explained.
But after six months of uncertainty, tests in January found leukaemia was the cause of Keith’s health problems, he then “had chemotherapy for 10 days, and had to then let the chemo run it’s course”.
And although unpleasant, the Northern Ireland Electricity linesman said: “Once they hit me with that initial chemo, and my blood counts all rose back to a perceivably normal level, it was like a new lease of life to me.
“They had a spinning bike on the ward which I was using regularly. Half an hour - I was in bits, but people say it doesn’t take long to come back.
“The day before I went back into hospital for my third round of chemotherapy I did an AT Autoparts sponsored cycle to Portrush [42 miles] without any real dramas,” he added. “At that stage I was feeling strong enough - everybody was going; ‘don’t do it’, but I was really determined.”
In fact, Keith credits exercise with helping him to get this far - he received news that he has gone into remission in March - but must now visit hospital every four weeks to have his bloods checked.
“Whenever I do exercise it goes away - everything goes away - once I’m out on the open road, everything that’s gone on and everything that I’ve been through just goes away.
But he added: “Whenever you stop, the fatigue then catches up with you again.”
You can sponsor Keith at www.justgiving.com/keith-murphy2/ or donate £3 by texting KMHM55 to 70070.