Back in 2017 Fiona McCamphill and her husband Niall from Dunloy, North Antrim, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and had made plans to travel to see friends in the US to celebrate.
However, Fiona, now 53, said at the time she was in a lot of pain and struggling with her mobility, so couldn’t go.
“I thought it was coming from previous surgery on my back after fracturing bones.
“We made an appointment with my spinal surgeon again and, after scans and X-rays, he spotted white dots on my spine and skull.
“Our lives totally changed focus that moment when I was told, “you have cancer, it’s incurable”.
Fiona, who is mum to Ciaran, 28, and Sean,25, added; “On Halloween night 2017, I was in the Royal Victoria Hospital, then transferred to Belfast City Hospital. I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
“My consultant and all the staff in haematology in the City Hospital became our new family.
“They are truly amazing human beings. They reassured me that I had options - they could treat it, I was at an early stage, I could fight it!
“We had a plan of action: I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy to target areas straight away.
“It might not sound like it but I realise now how lucky I was.
“Niall and our family rallied round; that support kept me going. It still does today.”
A year later, Fiona had a “massive” dose of chemotherapy, followed the next day by a stem cell transplant, using healthy stem cells that I produced myself.
“I spent a month in isolation. I received blood transfusions and a lot of nursing care. It was tough but I had come through it.
“Three and a half years later, I’m still fighting and loving the simple things in everyday life.
“Niall and I, and our family, have come through this experience with the help of many others.”
The couple are now fundraising to help find a cure for blood cancer through Cure Leukaemia.
This funds a nationwide program called TAP, the Trials Acceleration Program.
It has 12 bases in the UK, one of which is in the Belfast City Hospital.
Fiona said: “They are working tirelessly to find a cure for blood cancer and to find better treatment options for people like me.”
Niall will join former England and Crystal Palace footballer and leukaemia survivor, Geoff Thomas, in Copenhagen to cycle the Tour de France route, one week ahead of the professionals.
The Tour 21 will run until July 17 and Niall, alongside a team of 19 riders, will take on all 21 gruelling stages and 3,500km. As one of the members of this group, they are committed to raising £1,000,000 for the charity that helped save Geoff’s life.
All funds raised from this event will be invested directly into the national Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) network which Cure Leukaemia has been funding since January 2020, allowing them to open and run clinical trials for pioneering treatments for the disease.
Fiona added: “An amazing feat of endurance and strength. I compare his training regime, and the effort he is making, to my journey through chemo and treatment. The sickness, the exhaustion, good days and bad, sweat and tears.
“You really don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.”
Niall said: “I saw this on Eurosport and thought, what a great cycling trip that would be!
Still, would it be enough to commit to what is a serious challenge to raise the funding required? A chat with Mary Frances McMullin, Professor of Clinical Haematology at Belfast City Hospital and lead at the Belfast TAP Centre convinced me that the research into all types of blood cancer including myeloma and the recent diversion of funding as a result of Covid 19 gave real focus to the thought of doing this.
“I was concerned about committing to the time away from home but Fiona was really keen that we do this and although raising funds for the charity is the main goal, she had always wanted to raise awareness around multiple myeloma and the search for new treatment options.
“I have been cycling for 6 years and have done some long distance events so the challenge is not totally unknown to me – I know it will be a struggle day after day but I have prepared well.
“Training started over Christmas last year and has been a constant build up of early morning sessions, evenings and weekends.
“All of this is tracked and since January I have logged 320 hours and covered 5,700miles in preparation.
“I will have to pace my effort as I am not built for the mountains but completing it is the goal rather than racing it.
One person in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer every 14 minutes.
Myeloma doesn’t usually cause a lump or tumour. Instead, it damages the bones and affects the production of healthy blood cells. In the early stages, myeloma may not cause any symptoms.
It’s often only suspected or diagnosed after a routine blood or urine test. You can follow Niall and the team Tour21 on the NBC sports channel.
To donate visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/niall-mccamphill