How Craig Smith Tackles Ironman Races While Having Prostate Cancer
“It started off with the death of a friend of mine,” Craig Smith tells MH. “He was 52 years old, woke up one morning and had a massive heart attack and that was unfortunately the end of him.”
Craig’s friend, Kevin Grant, died in March last year. This was was the driving factor behind Craig’s decision to go for a full medical examination. Just weeks later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and in a fortunate twist of fate, Kevin’s passing had saved Craig’s life.
Less than a year later, Craig is competing in Ironman races across the globe, all while fighting the disease.
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His Journey With Prostate Cancer
“I had the brachytherapy done,” says Craig. “I was very lucky, if I look at it retrospectively, it could have been a lot worse. If my friend hadn’t passed away, I would have not gone for a physical; had I not gone for a physical, heaven knows where I’d be today. So we caught it extremely early.”
With brachytherapy, “radium bullets get inserted into the prostate, and that mutes the cancer cells. The one thing people need to understand is, if this form of cancer is caught early, it really is a very treatable cancer. It’s something that can be eradicated completely,” he adds.
Craig’s now going for cancer tests every six months and has made significant progress in beating prostate cancer. “All the numbers are reducing, which is obviously a good thing,” he says.
A longtime cyclist, Craig was already training for Ironman 70.3 at the time of his diagnosis. “I felt getting up and training, I was constantly tired,” he says. And post-surgery the fatigue continued. “I didn’t feel nausea or sick as you would going for chemotherapy, but I did feel very fatigued. It was the kind of the thing you just push through and carry on.”
His hard work paid off, with the 49-year-old completing Ironman 70.3 on 3 June 2018. “It was surreal, because three months earlier you were told you’ve got a life threatening disease,” he notes. “I count myself as extremely lucky. I think the problem with men is they have this preconceived idea of what it is to have your prostate checked. What people need to realise is, we’re not living in the 60s anymore, it’s a little prick, it’s a little bit of blood.
Training With Cancer
One thing’s for sure, nothing’s stopping Craig. In the week before his brachytherapy surgery, Craig did the Durban Ultra Triathlon and Sani2C mountain biking race. In July he’s competing in the Ironman Austria, a race he’s doing for himself to celebrate his 50th birthday.
“I spend a lot of time on a bicycle, I’m running five days a week. In a seven day week, I ride five days, I run five days, and I swim three days. So some days I train twice a day, other days I’ll have a single session.”
“Is training coping mechanism? Maybe. Is it a mindset change? Most definitely,” he says when asked if the races have distracted him from the disease. “My son, Connor, has started doing it with me, he’s 17, now he gets to spend more time with me than he’s ever spent in his life, because he’s training with me every day.”
Becoming A Role Model
“When you first find out about the cancer, you feel like your world’s coming to an end.” Craig says he felt sorry for himself, but that was part of the healing process after being diagnosed. And since, he’s seen life through a much sharper lense. “It does change your outlook on life, completely. Small things become important, because it feels like it could be taken away from you in any moment. The races helped me in accepting the process, and I felt I could beat this.”
Being a role model is your duty as a parent, Craig says about Connor and daughter Nicole (21). “When it comes to my children, I’ve learnt to appreciate them a lot more than I did in the past. I’m more tolerant and more accepting of their ways and decisions. They are adults, they can be headstrong and I find that now, instead of reprimanding them, I play more of a guiding role and allow them to make their own choices and mistakes. Where in the past it was not like that.”
It’s All About Awareness
But Craig won’t call himself a role model to other people. “Rather, I want to make people aware of this. I’m extremely passionate about it. I’m racing across the world as a Hollard Daredevil ambassador, because it’s something so easy to do – just by doing this and creating awareness, you can stop so much heartache. I’m extremely passionate about getting men to know about this disease.”
Even before he was diagnosed, Craig had signed up to do the 2018 Hollard Daredevil Run with a friend. Little did he know he’d be running for men just like him. With the race now bringing him a greater sense of community and support. “It’s so cool to know you’re not in this alone, there are strangers who are going through the same thing, and they talk about it openly,” he says.
“Awareness is imperative. If you have a look at the pink drive and other cancer awareness, they’ve done a great job. I think Daredevil needs to get to the same level of awareness. Women have embraced it, but if a guy gets a lump on his testes, he ignores it and pushes it aside.”At the end of the day, a simple thing like a blood test will save your life.”
The Cancer Dojo App
The actual stat is that 1 in 4 South Africans either have cancer now, or have someone they love fighting the disease. Fortunately, there are innovative apps our there that play an active role in helping cancer patients.
Cancer Dojo is a mobile app that empowers people with cancer, giving them a creative and engaging role in their healing journey.
The app helps people engage with their cancer and is about moving away from being helpless. According to the app’s creator, Conn Bertish,”Cancer Dojo takes cancer sufferers through 16 levels of positive behaviour change through creative and engaging games, visualisations, challenges and journal entries, making cancer suffers more resilient to the negative effects of the disease. In essence, the Dojo approach taps into the principles of psychoneuroimmunology – the study of the mind on health and resistance to disease.”