After being diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer 18 months ago, the veteran sports writer Ralph Ellis is determined to beat the odds. But even he was surprised when his son challenged him to cycle 145 miles together in our Football to Amsterdam fundraising ride next month. We spoke to him about how he's getting on.
As a respected sports journalist who often has to file match reports on the final whistle, Ralph Ellis is not someone to beat around the bush.
So when the 61-year-old, who regularly freelances for the Daily Mail, Mirror and Star, was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer a year ago, he quickly wanted to find out what the future held for him and his loving family.
What came back from his nurse was alarming at best.
“She said I can’t tell you because what we’ve seen in you we normally expect to see in someone who has collapsed and been brought into A&E,” recalls Ralph. “But I actually took it as a positive that I hadn’t collapsed and started fighting back from there.”
Ralph, who lives in Clevedon, near Bristol, was dealt the shattering news after being encouraged to take a Wellman test by his GP shortly after his 60th birthday.
“I had a bit of a cough that I couldn’t shift, thinking it might be a chest infection,” he says. “Instead, I got called back in to tell me I had a very high PSA – 186 or something – which began a whirlwind of biopsies and scans.
Within a few weeks, Ralph was told he had stage four prostate cancer with a Gleason score of nine, which had spread throughout the body, including his bladder, bones and lungs. So next, he was understandably keen to explore his options while avoiding too much conjecture.
“When I was doing my research, I tried to stay away from all the wild and wacky stuff and just read the Prostate Cancer UK website to get as much accurate information as I could,” says Ralph. “That contained the rather devastating line that of those diagnosed at stage four, 70 per cent will not live for five years.
“For a night, that hit me really hard. Then I was walking the dog the next morning and suddenly thought to myself: well hold on, that means 30 per cent will live for five years. So that set the motto of being the 30 per cent. Who knows if I’ll get there? I’m 18 months down that line so far, but I’m much more optimistic than I’ve ever been that it can be achieved.”
The 30 per cent idea galvanised an already tight-knit family, who try hard to take the positives and enjoy life, while standing up to the cancer like it’s a bully. “It doesn’t like that,” says Ralph, who feels very grateful for the life he’s led.
“I’ve been all around the world watching football and being paid for it, and I’ve been fortunate with my family, too. I have two great sons and two smashing little grandsons, and my wife and I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary next year in an industry that has a very high divorce rate. You learn to cherish those things.”
That strong family bond will be strengthened – and tested – by an upcoming European adventure to raise money for us, after Ralph’s youngest son texted him about our Football to Amsterdam cycle ride.
“It just said: ‘We’re doing this’,” recalls Ralph. “And I texted back saying: ‘Matthew I’ve not ridden a bike since I was 15!’.” Before he knew it, his brother, eldest son, nephew and a few of their mates had signed up to do it, too, and they’re all now in training together and raising money as a team.
“I’m still a bit daunted by the 145-mile length of the ride,” Ralph confesses. “I think it’s going to be a very big challenge for me personally, particularly as I’m in the middle of going through chemo again. But I’m taking the view that the fitter I stay, the better I handle chemo.
“I’ll be looking forward to actually getting to Amsterdam, that’s for sure.”
Sponsor Ralph and his team and show your support on their JustGiving page.