Ex-Lancaster teacher has survived cancer three times

Martin Ashby from Morecambe has beaten cancer three times.
Martin Ashby from Morecambe has beaten cancer three times.
  • Praise for charity who helped him cope
  • Bike ride will raise funds for CancerCare
  • First grandson is big bonus

Like most dutiful husbands, Martin Ashby was at the hospital when his wife Diane was giving birth to their second child.

Martin, now 59, recalls: “It was a snowy night on January 8, 1986, and I was having my third lot of chemotherapy at Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

Throughout my long battle with cancer, CancerCare has played a huge part in supporting myself and my family throughout the illness and recovery

“Unknown to me, my wife was giving birth to our son Gareth in another part of the hospital.

“I was upset at the time that I’d missed out on seeing our son born, but Di didn’t want me to know and it was the right decision.

“At the time, I was finding things difficult and wasn’t in the right state of mind to cope.”

Martin, from Morecambe, was sports-mad and ultra-fit working as a PE teacher at a special school in Poulton-le-Fylde when his life suddenly changed as he was heading towards his 30th birthday.

Martin, who had played around 250 games of rugby for the first team at Vale of Lune rugby union club at the time, noticed he was having problems breathing and felt something was not right.

Martin remembers: “I went to see my doctor on numerous occasions, but as I had a history of hay fever, they thought it was either that or asthma.

“But I’d never had problems with breathing like that before and deep down, I just knew something else was wrong.

“I was still doing my teaching job and playing rugby for the Vale, but I was finding it hard work.”

Later on that same year in 1985, Martin found his breathing was worse and he started suffering from shortness of breath when lying on his back at night.

Martin’s older son Matthew was three at the time and his wife Diane was about five months pregnant with their second son Gareth.

Martin ended up having three chest X-rays at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Morecambe as the entire X-ray looked cloudy and doctors couldn’t see his chest so thought something had gone wrong with the X-rays.

It was only then they discovered the reason they couldn’t see his chest was because there was one big tumour covering it all.

Martin explains: “The tumour was the size of a football and doctors suddenly knew why I’d been suffering from breathing problems.

“When I was lying on my back at night, the tumour was pressing on my windpipe and causing shortness of breath.”

Martin was sent for a biopsy at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and results revealed he had seminoma. He had a rare form of testicular cancer which developed in the chest rather than the testicles.

Martin says: “Finding out I had cancer was a shock. Doctors had suspected tuberculosis at first. My advice to people would be to keep persevering if they think there’s something wrong.”

Martin went to Manchester’s Christie Hospital for six months of chemotherapy, followed by 20 sessions of radiotherapy.

Although the treatment was gruelling, Martin’s peak level of fitness meant he was able to cope with the physical toll on his body.

However, the same could not be said for the mental struggles he experienced.

Martin admits: “I became very depressed and went into a really bad place.

“This was something completely different for me as I’d never been depressed before. I was always the life and soul of the party.

“There was also the fear the cancer would come back.”

At the time of his diagnosis, Martin was put in touch with the charity CancerCare in Lancaster which helps people and families affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.

Martin says he found their support invaluable and says they helped him and his wife through the difficult ordeal of coping with cancer and sorting out practical issues.

Martin recalls: “It was a terrible time and at one point, I had to go into hospital as my depression was so bad.

“CancerCare was amazing and really stepped up and was a huge help during this period.

“I never really recovered from the depression and still take anti-depressants now.”

Despite the odds against him because of the size of the tumour, Martin’s cancer treatment worked and after 18 months off work, he returned to his teaching job.

He even went back to playing rugby for the Vale for about a year.

To get himself back to full fitness, Martin took up cycling and in 1988, he and his brothers Michael and Stuart cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats while their dad Clifford, who has since passed away, drove the support vehicle. Their venture raised £10,000 for CancerCare.

Martin went to teach at Our Lady’s Catholic School in Lancaster for about 18 months before getting a job as a PE teacher at Cardinal Allen High School in Fleetwood where he stayed until he finished in 2007. He was head of department there for the last 10 years.

However, in 1996, 10 years after his cancer battle, Martin was dealt a second blow when he felt a lump in the shower which turned out to be testicular cancer.

Martin underwent surgery to remove the testicle followed by 20 radiotherapy sessions.

Martin says: “This time, the diagnosis didn’t affect me as badly as my kids were older, life was more established and I was more mature and able to cope better with it.”

This time round, Martin was back to work in no time and he took part in a number of other fundraising ventures in aid of CancerCare. Ten years after his first mammoth cycle ride, Martin did another Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride, this time raising £30,000 for the charity.

Life then went on for Martin although he still struggled with bouts of depression. After finding the depression harder to cope with, Martin decided to retire from his job at Cardinal in 2007 on ill health grounds.

Since then, he has done various odd jobs and kept himself busy.

Then a few years ago, Martin received his third cancer diagnosis after noticing an area of his chest becoming infected, getting rashes and scabbing.

He explains: “I went to Clifton Hospital in Lytham and they found it was skin cancer.

“They think it was caused by the radiation treatment I had all those years ago.

“Thirty years ago, radiation was not as sophisticated. Nowadays, it is a lot more targeted.

“I had to have some small operations to semi-burn the skin on my chest to seal the area. It is ongoing and I have had a few treatments.”

Despite his cancer ordeals, Martin feels he is fortunate to have lived to tell the tale.

His happiness has been further fuelled by the recent birth of his first grandson Grayson who is now nine-weeks-old.

Martin will turn 60 on July 23 and wanted to do something to mark the occasion – and raise more money for CancerCare.

So on Tuesday July 14, he set off from Land’s End to recreate the 900- mile cycle ride to John O’Groats once again.

His brothers Michael and Stuart will drive the support vehicle and his two brothers-in-law Mike Leaf and Peter Straw will do the second half of the cycle ride with him cycling from Morecambe to John O’Groats.

Martin says: “My aim is to raise as much money as possible for CancerCare.

“Throughout my long battle with cancer, CancerCare has played a huge part in supporting myself and my family throughout the illness and recovery.”

* To sponsor Martin, visit www.justgiving.com/cyclemartin