By James Somper
A super-fit dad completed three Ironmans without knowing he had a super-rare ‘death sentence’ cancer – because he thought his symptoms were post-race fatigue.
Peter McCleave, 40, was diagnosed with myeloma in March 2017 after dismissing his tiredness and aches as the usual pains of long distance runners throughout the previous year.
In this time the married dad-of-two completed three ultra-endurance events before he was rushed to hospital in September 2016 and given the earth-shattering diagnosis six months later.
Now Peter, from Bunbury, Cheshire, has been given seven years to live unless he finds a stem cell donor.
Peter said: “Some would call me ‘superfit’. Sport and exercise has always been a big part of my life.
“I did three endurance during the year I had cancer and didn’t realise I was ill.
“I’ve always been fit and healthy so obviously if I was going to get something it was always going to be very serious.
“In hindsight I did experience some warning signs.
“I got tired a lot and ached a lot but felt that it was all because of my training for these kind of events.
“Now, there are some days where it does feel like I’m living with a death sentence.
“The diagnosis has massively changed my attitude towards the world.
“I don’t waste my time on trivial things. Instead I try to focus on the things that really matter.
“Finding a donor will give me more time with children and my wife.”
Peter says that he lived with the cancer for a year but that his level of fitness meant that he didn’t experience any of the usual symptoms.
A former rugby player with a successful career in finance, he thought the warning signs of the cancer were the usual aches and pains experienced by long distance runners.
But just days after completing the Ironman Triathlon in Wales, in September 2016 Peter was rushed to hospital with suspected sepsis, pneumonia and Legionnaires’ disease.
Following a series of blood tests, Peter was given the devastating news in March 2017 that he had myeloma and had only seven years to live.
The disease, which developed in the cells in his bone marrow, also nearly paralysed him when the cancerous tumour broke three vertebrae in his back.
Peter said: “I’d felt pretty ropey for several days. My body basically just collapsed.
“The myeloma broke three vertebrae in my spine. I was very lucky not to be paralysed.
“I was lying awake at night thinking about it all. My head was spinning and I couldn’t sleep for two nights.
“There were some very difficult moments. It sounds very cheesy but I’m very determined person. I broke it down into what was in my control and what wasn’t.”
Peter then began three intense cycles of chemotherapy in an effort to rid the cancer from his body.
He said: “The first two two cycles after the diagnosis were terrible.
“I was surviving off a cocktail of painkillers.
“For the last year and a half I’ve had non-stop chemotherapy, it’s just been cycle after cycle.”
Despite having an autologous stem cell transplant in May, where his stem cells were removed from his body and given chemotherapy Peter says he is searching for a stem cell donor so he can live beyond his seven year prediction.
He and wife Jenny, 40, haven’t yet told their children Max, 8, and Seb, 6, the reality of the diagnosis.
Peter said: “We haven’t told them the full extent of the diagnosis.
“They don’t need to know it yet, we try to normalise it rather than make a fuss.
“Sometimes I say I’m too tired to do things but I try to do things with them whenever I can.
“They know something isn’t right.
“It’s massively changed my attitude life. I don’t waste my time on things that don’t really matter.
“I spend my time with people I want to spend time with and the people that I love.
“I appreciate time a lot more and don’t waste time like I used to. I don’t have time to waste.
“When I speak to people I try not to see pity but it’s not easy sometimes.”
Peter is currently raising money on GoFundMe as he travels across the UK at his own expense to raise awareness about registering as a stem cell donor.
He said that despite the pain he has suffered over his diagnosis, it has made him reassess what’s most important in life.
Peter said: “I’m searching for a stem cell donor.
“A full stem cell transplant will give me a brand new immune system and give me the best possible chance of living beyond the seven year estimate.
“I’m also trying to raise awareness about registering as a stem cell donor.
“We need more people to register as stem cell donors it’s a simple process but it will save my life.”
Peter is raising money on GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/10039000-donors-my-fight-to-live-beyond-7-years