5th December 2019, 10:20 | wales
Mark Jones, the former Wales and Great Britain Students team manager and assistant coach, is on a mission – to paddle one thousand miles around the Welsh coastline. Without leaving hospital.
How? By using the handle paddle machine he has had installed at the University Hospital of Wales, where he is currently confined following treatment for the bone marrow cancer myeloma. It’s an arduous, virtual journey to raise money for the charity Myeloma UK, which supports thousands of people and families living with the disease, and seeks to accelerate the discovery, development of, and access to, new treatments.
The challenge is typical of a man who has always led a very active lifestyle and who refuses to be beaten by the disease. Aged 49 and from Llantwit Major in south Wales, Mark is an experienced sports teacher, was Head of Rugby at Coleg Cymoedd and played rugby union professionally before becoming a keen surfer.
In the summer of 2018 Mark’s world – a world which includes his wife and children – Rubyn, aged 13 and Isla, 12 – was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with a cancer normally associated with people much older.
Mark has been undergoing chemotherapy at the University of Wales Hospital (OWH), tackling the illness head on. Refusing to let it get the better of him, Mark has trained every day to get himself in the best possible physical condition to fight the disease – and to continue as normal a family life as possible.
Mark recently went into hospital to undergo further treatment – a final blast of chemotherapy and a critical stem cell transplant procedure which involves harvesting the cells, cryogenically freezing and cleaning them, then reinstating them back into his body. In between times Mark’s immune system is completely wiped out. He is currently confined to a single room to avoid risk of infection.
“I’ve been lucky with the illness” Mark insists, “it’s not made me too ill!
“But this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The chemo makes me ill to make me better. At the moment I have no immune system so I can’t go anywhere. Any infection would kill me.
“My hospital roommate Steve has just been through the same thing as me. I was in tears as it broke my heart watching Steve suffer as his levels hit rock bottom from the chemo. But the support from the staff here at UHW is incredible. I can’t thank them enough. My wife works in the NHS too so I have first-hand experience of how amazing our health service is and the difference it can make to people’s lives. We can’t play around with the NHS.
“Hospital is boring though. I wanted to stay active, so I bought myself a mini hand bike to get some exercise. Unfortunately I slipped on my first night in hospital and my knee popped out.
“So I put the bike on top of the bin and started pedalling with my hands. Then a conversation I had with a nurse gave me an idea for a challenge and the next thing I knew I was hand-cycling around the coast of Wales. Virtually!
“I set off from here in Cardiff Bay near the hospital and I’m doing it in 50 kilometre stages. I’m going to lots of places and seeing lots of people. ‘Virtually’. I’m off to Anglesey today!
“If you’re on Facebook and you’re nearby, please check in and see me – I’d love to hear from you.”