In 2015, John O’Brien, 57, was diagnosed with prostate cancer following a PSA test. A year on and inspired by his son, Sam, he completed our Football to Amsterdam cycle ride and feels lucky to be alive.
John O’Brien spent a lot of money on cancer screenings, but it was simple blood test that highlighted the problem.
Following an MRI scan, biopsy and digital rectal examination, he opted to have his prostate removed. A year on from the operation, John received great news from his consultant: his cancer was clear. A week later, John was off to Amsterdam on a bike, inspired by his son Sam.
"Sam came to me and said we should do something together," says John. "He suggested Kilamanjaro – I was thinking more like Sudoku. But we met in the middle when I saw Football to Amsterdam."
Sam’s very proud of his dad and his positive attitude throughout their ordeal as a family. "Despite his looks he’s not that old," quips the Spurs fan, who cycled with him as part of a Tottenham team in a 350-strong peloton from London, Barnsley and Ipswich to Amsterdam.
"So it was really scary when I found out about dad. But the support and treatment he received was first class. We had a great time doing the bike ride together. I’m very proud of him, even if I struggled to keep up with him to tell him!”
It’s no wonder Sam was so surprised to see his dad show him a clean pair of heels on the bike, as he used to joke that his main form of exercise was "walking the long way round the car".
But Sam is very pleased his dad was able to take on the challenge. "He always been a super positive person," says Sam. "All through the treatment he said he’d be alright. And it’s something I’ve always tried to take from him."
Sam is all too aware of his hereditary risk of the disease and it has made him think about his health and lifestyle.
"I got a lot healthier and fitter because of the ride, and I’ll continue that afterwards," he says. "Everyone in the Spurs team said the same. People have lost one or two stones in training for the event, and it’s that sort of thing which will give us a fighting chance against prostate cancer in the future."
One of the things that impressed John most about the ride was how it got men talking about their health: something he concedes men aren’t always good at.
"After my diagnosis, I contacted old school friends and some of them had been for a PSA test," he says. "One of them had a high PSA and followed the same treatment as me, and even on the ride we were still chatting about it. It gets you talking."
But having survived his brush with prostate cancer, John says he just feels lucky. "The day my consultant told me I had cancer I went home with my wife, and she will tell everyone the first thing I said was that I’m such a lucky guy, as this could have been a story with a much sadder ending."
With this in mind, Sam has a special message for sons and daughters everywhere who's fathers are still alive: "You’ve got to spend as much time with your dad, like I did on the bike ride, and treasure the time you spend as you never know what’s around the corner."Donate Interested in riding Football to Amsterdam 2017?
The environmental journalist and activist is the latest high-profile man to open up about having prostate cancer, after writing a searingly honest column giving his three top tips for keeping upbeat in the face of the disease.