‘A cancer diagnosis needn’t be the end of your story’

June 01 2018
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Here, Peter Butler describes his experience of cancer in his own words, and passes on advice to others in a similar position

ONE of my challenges after being diagnosed with serious bowel cancer in 2016 was to resume my ‘love affair’ with my classic car as soon as possible after the surgery, intensive chemotherapy, and recuperation.

I realised the first significant part of that challenge on the Mendip Tour on May 13 when I drove my beloved British Racing Green MGTD the 100 miles from Wells to Burnham-on-Sea, then to the Haynes Motor Museum at Sparkford and back to Wells Cathedral Green for the finish. It may not seem that far for most of you but for me it represented the ‘longest journey’ after being diagnosed.

More importantly I would like to think it offers up optimism and hope to others facing what is certainly one of life’s most difficult hurdles.

At any age to be told you have serious cancer is extremely frightening; accepting you might die when in your mind you have planned so much more with your life is simply debilitating; from valuable you are suddenly valueless. But it needn’t be the end of your story. With the magic of surgery and medicine there is hope, and you yourself can add so much more by adopting a positive attitude and sense of challenge. As the saying goes now, “Life is still life even with cancer”.

My MG added to my personal sense of achievement because when I left college in 1964, my mother gave me £500 to set me on my way in life. My parents had little money and no house of their own, so basically it was her way of saying: “Here’s your legacy, use it wisely.” I bought an MGTD with the money which upset her quite a lot, and so it was a great relief to her when I reluctantly sold it a year later for £750.

I remember her saying “That’s better, you’re learning at last.” It still makes me smile but I was upset at having to part company with TD, and at that point promised myself that one day I would once again own an identical car. It took over half a century but five years ago I bought a forlorn TD and with a ‘little help from my friends’ restored it to its former glory so that now it may enjoy the admiration it deserves. It makes me feel pretty good too, of course.

Happily it’s not quite the end of the story either. While lying in hospital with tubes attached in every direction, to cheer myself up I went online and purchased a barn-find 1958 Hillman Minx Convertible. It represented something to aim for and the next challenge. After restoration, I decided it would be hooked up to a vintage caravan also recently purchased, painted in matching colours and offered to those cancer sufferers in need of a ‘cheer me up’ break, plus being made available at selected events to raise funds for the charities involved in what is one of the most terrifying illnesses of all.

Although my journey to make Wells Cathedral Green may have seemed long and sometimes painful, after witnessing in the Beacon Centre cancer unit in Taunton so many of all ages much worse off than myself, I recognise what a lucky man I am.

My message is simple: if you have been diagnosed with serious cancer, a positive attitude and healthy challenges (as it has with me) will help you along your journey. It’s what being strong actually looks like. Although tears and laughter may always be close together, keep telling yourself “I will make it!”

You can contact me by emailing pb@powerboatlive.com.