Stephen’s Story – Weight loss, enlarged spleen, chemo and a big bike ride

In March 2010, Stephen Towell started to notice he was unusually low on energy.When night sweats and rapid weight loss followed, Stephen began to worry.He had plans for a holiday, and decided he would see his local GP once he returned home. But Stephen ended up in the emergency room with a dangerously enlarged spleen before he could begin to book his getaway. It was the first of many trips to the hospital for treatment for lymphoma, the most common form of hematological (blood) cancer in Australia, and the sixth most common form of cancer overall.

In October 2012, the doctors informed Stephen that his lymphoma was not responding to the chemotherapy he had been enduring for the past couple of years. He was told his chances of getting his lymphoma under control enough to be able to undertake a transplant were around 20 per cent.

Stephen gritted his teeth and launched headfirst into the strongest form of chemotherapy available. "It was five days of straight chemo in a hospital bed, where I did not much more than lay there and moan," he recalled. His wait for a bone marrow donor was almost worse to endure. "My donor took 2 years to find on the international register," he said.

"I was lucky to beat those 20 per cent odds to stay alive long enough. More local donors would save many more lives because often people don’t survive long enough for a donor to be found."

Luckily, Stephen came through and went into remission in 2013.

Stephen’s endurance was put to the test again when he decided to undertake a 300-kilometre charity bike ride from Canberra to Sydney. He joined 40 others who undertook the journey to raise awareness and funds for lymphoma research and treatment. The team departed Parliament House on Friday, September 12 and arrived at the Opera House on Sunday, September 14 the eve of World Lymphoma Awareness Day.

"The ride went really well, I was much better prepared this year on the training side of things," he said. "I’m a little bit chafed in some sensitive areas but other than that, all good."

This is the second time he has attempted the ride, but the first time he completed it in full.

His attempt at the ride last year was punctured by a rest day.

"I’m pretty sensible about it last year when my immune system was still very weak I sat out the second day in the support vehicle, it was raining and I didn’t want to risk getting sick," he said.

His training for this year’s ride was both mental and physical. "You need to train yourself to push through the pain," he said."I have a decal on my bike top tube right between my knees when I’m riding it says ‘shut up legs’."

Stephen and the team’s efforts were recognised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"I pay tribute to all who rode from Canberra to Sydney as part of the Parliament2Opera annual bike ride. Cycling over 300 kilometres in three days would have tested your mettle," Mr Abbott said.

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