When Trevor Lynch was diagnosed with lymphoma, his whole world changed. Throughout all the challenges that lay ahead for him and his family, running became a key support for his body and his mind, he tells Miriam Atkins
Trevor grew up in Cappamore in Limerick, where, as a young child he enjoyed team sports and cycling and ran on occasion simply to keep fit. Having completed his degree in computer systems in 1990, he says he became part of a classic Irish tale, which saw him leave the country to find work in the UK. “I ended up in London but got itchy feet after three years and moved to Atlanta for 10 years. IT is a great career as you can move around the world.” After a time also spent in France, Trevor moved back to the UK with his girlfriend (now his wife) in 2002 and he has been living there since, raising his two children, Kieran and Aisling.
In 2012, Trevor’s life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with lymphoma and began a six-month course of chemotherapy. “I decided I would prove to myself and everybody that this was not going to get on top of me. My brother was going to run the Dingle half marathon that year, so I set my sights on that. I started to go for light jogs through the chemo – everyone thought I was nuts, but it was the only thing that got rid of the nausea, nothing else kept it away. It really kept me going through the treatment, it made it bearable.” Having finished the chemotherapy in June, he ran the marathon the following September. “I really enjoyed it. It is a beautiful run, very scenic. And I thought: I am going to keep this up!” Trevor was now in remission and was determined to keep up the running. He began to partake in triathlons as a new challenge and continued his running as a daily exercise.
Unfortunately, however, Trevor’s health was to suffer once again. “The lymphoma I had was a low-grade version, which is actually really difficult to treat – they say high-grade lymphoma is more easily cured because in low-grade, you have cancerous cells that are dormant so they can’t be detected and can’t be treated. And so, it came back. I started to notice the effects in October 2013. The reason I noticed was that I found my running performance was really poor all of a sudden. Something just wasn’t right. I couldn’t run as fast as I usually could, and I was very bloated.”
The recommendation for treatment was a bone marrow transplant. As Trevor explains, there are two types: “One, where you donate your own stem cells and then follow with a blast of heavy chemotherapy; and one where you have a donor donate stem cells, which can bring with it all types of complications.” They tried first to use Trevor’s own stem cells and he had the transplant in May 2014, following more chemotherapy, which was used to get the disease back in remission in order to generate the stem cells needed. Trevor kept up the running two to three times a week during the treatment. After the transplant though, he was very weak. “I wasn’t able to run for six weeks. I started again by running slowly to two houses down from my home and I’d walk back again. Then, I would go four houses down, then six. By September, I was back to my usual running again.” In November of that year, he set up a free local weekly 5km run in his town – the Risborough Run in the Park.
The gift of life
While Trevor had worked hard to regain his strength and was enjoying the new community of friends he had made in setting up the local run, the following year was to bring further turmoil. In May 2015, he started to relapse again and he had to draw from all of his resources to face the battle once more. “I had two young kids and I just could not imagine the thought of them losing their father, so I had to stay positive throughout the whole thing. There was blow after blow, but I did it for my kids. And I became a big believer that exercise is a big complement to treatment: the fitter you are going in to and coming out of treatment is a good thing and it also helps your mind.”
The only option now was to go for a bone marrow transplant from a donor. Trevor became very weak, very quickly: “It was a particularly bad relapse, I swiftly ran out of all energy, I could hardly walk around my garden.” So, he returned to another six-month round of chemotherapy and the hunt for a suitable donor began. “At the time there were 25 million people signed up worldwide for the bone marrow donor registration and they found me two matches from that – both of whom were in Germany.”
After the transplant, Trevor had to wait 21 days to see if there was any sign of activity, having bloods taken every day to see if any new white or red blood cells were being created. The transplant was a success and, Trevor explains, it has now led to him having a stronger immune system. “For a long time it was 50/50 as regards my DNA in the blood count, then it crept up to 80 per cent and now I am 100 per cent donor – I could commit a crime now and he would get the blame! I used to be B positive and now I am O negative – my DNA has changed. I had a mini health crisis last year when a lump appeared in my arm but we used radiotherapy on it and I was told that my new immune system would then identify it as a foreign body, and it disappeared.”
“I ended up meeting my donor in Ireland in 2018; he was a young man who had simply heard about bone marrow donors on a radio show and he and his wife subsequently signed up to do it. I am a big advocate of bone marrow transplant – you might never get called but if you do, you can save someone’s life.”
After the transplant Trevor returned to his running and slowly built up his fitness again. He heard about the British Transplant Games through an Irish doctor he met while in hospital and decided to put himself forward for the team. “I wanted another challenge. I wanted to show everyone that I could get through this and go to the games and take part. I trained up for it and it took a bit of nerve to contact Team Ireland – there was only one team I would ever run for – and ask if I could join.” Trevor represented Team Ireland in the 2018 British Transplant Games and won a silver and a bronze. “I really enjoyed it. During the games I realised that everyone there was only there because of a donor and in many cases people had died. It was an amazing celebration of life – families of donors who had died were there also to support – it was really emotional and amazing to be a part of it. I was truly hooked, and it took a very long time to come down from that.”
Trevor competed last year also in Wales and took three silver medals. And, in August 2019, he competed in the Transplant World Games where he won two bronze. “My health is better than ever now. I always remember saying to myself that, if it all works out in the end, maybe it was a good thing. It changed my outlook on life – I was very career focused and worked too hard, and now I have much more balance in my life and have more time for my family and my hobbies. Running has become a bit of an obsession. I don’t drink any more and I run almost every day. It is a great community. If I was running by myself, I might not have kept it up – but having the park club and also the Games has offered a huge element of camaraderie for me.
“I owe my life to the work of the National Health Service for successfully getting me through all my treatment. I am hugely appreciative of the Irish Kidney Association and the work they do to support organ donation and for allowing me to join Transplant Team Ireland – such a welcoming family, which illustrates how life after transplants can be positive. Every day, I think of my donor and the wonderful gift he gave to me and my family. Organ donation is such a wonderful thing – we should all ‘have the chat’ with our families and ensure we can save more lives by signing up to become donors.”