Like many cancer patients, Keith Farquharson from Heaton in Newcastle is in quarantine for at least 12 weeks to shield himself from the COVID-19 virus.
For the 44-year-old software developer, this means working from home with his wife, Amber, and seven-year-old son, Caspian.
Keith, who has stage 4 bowel cancer and is currently receiving treatment at the Sir Bobby Robson Centre, is finding one aspect of the lockdown especially challenging – not being unable to go outside to train for the Great North Run.
So, he has set himself a new challenge and is cycling the Tour de France 2018, all 2,082 miles of it, without leaving home.
Using a turbo trainer to convert his road bike into a static bike and technology that creates tension on the wheel to replicate the many climbs, Keith began his ‘Tour’ in the kitchen, has cycled in the living room and, on a fine day, sets his bike up in the back yard.
Diagnosed in May 2017, after six months of chemotherapy, Keith was told that half of the people with his prognosis would die within twelve months.
It has been an extremely difficult few years for the Farquharson family. In January 2017, Keith’s father was diagnosed with stage four kidney and bladder cancer. Two months later, Amber, Keith’s wife, was told she had cervical cancer and just two months after that, Keith was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Sadly, his father died last year.
During this time, exercise has proved to be both a great physical and mental benefit for Keith and he decided to take on his first Great North Run last year to raise funds for our Foundation and St Oswald’s Hospice.
Keith says: “After my diagnosis, and after we’d exhausted the standard treatment available, I was offered a trial of a new drug at the Sir Bobby Centre and I began that in February 2018.
“To begin with, the drug was so new it didn’t even have a name. Just a few letters and numbers, which I never actually learned. I think about 70 or 80 people globally were trying it at that point. Now it’s called Cetrelimab and thankfully I’m feeling pretty fit and well on it.
“I used to run when I was a kid but only started again after my diagnosis because I was told it helps with the chemo and its side effects. I’ve cycled for years though, both for fun and to commute. I think I’ve cycled three or four miles for work most days for the last 12 years and I’ve done the Coast to Coast ride a couple of times.
“I’ve never tried anything like this though. It’s hard now but I think it’s going to get a lot more difficult as I go on. I can import the GPS tracks complete with elevation into the programme running the resistance on the turbo. This means I get a pretty realistic effort required to actually ride the course.
“I’ve always been a fan of the Tour de France but the 2018 race is special for me. It was the year my wife and I were both off work with cancer and I had time to watch it all. It was an iconic race and my Mum’s Welsh, so it really meant a lot to me that Geraint Thomas won.”
Keith’s using his new challenge to raise money for our Foundation and has been ‘meeting’ up to virtually ride with the friends he would normally cycle outdoors with.
He adds: “It’s been great to chat online and do some riding with friends. Cycling together is the sort of thing we’d normally do if we were allowed out, so that’s brought a little bit of normal life home to us all. When we’d completed our first ride together, we all cracked open a beer to celebrate ‘in’ the French village of Vix, in the Vendée.
“The real Tour de France riders can go twice as fast as me though, and ride all day. I’m having to take it easier than that, I have work to do apart from anything else!
“I’m breaking it up into two-hour sections and doing around 50kms a day. I think it will take me most of the planned 12-week isolation to complete.
“This has given me something else to focus on while we’re all stuck at home and I’m raising funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation so that others can benefit from research into cancer, as I have.
“It’s a big challenge and there are some sections of the race that I’ll find very hard indeed. It has the equivalent ascent of climbing Mount Everest five times and contains nine Haute Categorie climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees. But, like the Great North Run was for me last year, it’s pushing myself to do something I don’t think I can do, if you see what I mean.
“It’s a really fantastic activity for me mentally as well as physically. When I’m cycling, I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m just cycling. That’s such an important escape for me just now.”
Professor Ruth Plummer, is the director of the Sir Bobby Cancer Trials Research Centre, which is continuing to provide essential treatment for patients during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Professor Plummer says: “This is obviously an especially worrying time for people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“I think what Keith’s doing is amazing. It’s clearly giving him a positive focus while he’s stuck at home and the exercise will be helpful for him physically as well.”
The 2018 Tour de France race consisted of 21 stages, starting in Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, in western France, and finishing with the Champs-Élysées stage in Paris.
Keith is currently completing stage 4/starting stage 5 and tweeting about his ride from his account, @DeadManRunning1. You can sponsor his efforts here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/keith-farquharson-gnr-2020