A super-fit dad completed three Ironmans without knowing he had a rare “death sentence” cancer.
Peter McCleave (40) was diagnosed with myeloma in March 2017 after dismissing his tiredness as resulting from long-distance running, which he’d done throughout the previous year.
Married with two children, he’d completed three ultra-endurance events by the time he was rushed to hospital in September 2016.
He received his earth-shattering diagnosis six months later.
Now Peter, from the village of Bunbury in Cheshire, UK, has been given seven years to live unless he finds a stem cell donor.
Seeing the signs
“I’ve always been fit and healthy so obviously if I was going to get something it was always going to be very serious. And in hindsight I did experience some warning signs,” he says.
“I got tired a lot and ached a lot but felt that it was all because of my training.”
Peter says although it’s been difficult at times to accept his illness, it’s changed his attitude to the world.
“I don’t waste my time on trivial things. Instead I try to focus on the things that really matter. I spend my time with people I want to spend time with and the people that I love.
“I appreciate time a lot more and don’t waste time like I used to. I don’t have time to waste.”
No 'usual' symptoms
Peter says he lived with the cancer for a year but his fitness level meant he didn’t experience any of the usual symptoms.
A former rugby player with a successful career in finance, he thought the warning signs of the cancer were just the usual aches and pains experienced by endurance athletes.
In September 2016, just days after completing the Ironman Triathlon in Wales, Peter was rushed to hospital with suspected sepsis, pneumonia and Legionnaires' disease.
In March 2017, following a series of blood tests, he received the devastating news that he had myeloma. The disease developed in his bone marrow and nearly paralysed him when the tumour broke three vertebrae in his back.
“I was very lucky not to be paralysed.”
Cocktails of painkillers
Soon after his diagnosis, Peter began three intense cycles of chemotherapy.
“The first two cycles after the diagnosis were terrible. I was surviving off a cocktail of painkillers,” he recalls.
“For the past year and a half I've had non-stop chemotherapy, it’s just been cycle after cycle.”
Despite receiving an autologous stem cell transplant in May, where blood stem cells are removed before chemotherapy and then put back to grow new blood cells, Peter says he’s searching for a stem cell donor so he can live longer than seven years.
Reassessing what's important in life
He and wife Jenny (40) haven’t told their children, Max (8) and Seb (6), about the gravity of his condition.
“They don’t need to know it yet, we try to normalise it rather than make a fuss. Sometimes I say I'm too tired to do things but I try to do things with them whenever I can.
“They know something isn't right.”
Peter travels across the UK at his own expense to raise awareness about registering as a stem cell donor.
He said despite the suffering he’s endured, the illness has made him reassess what’s most important in life.
“A full stem cell transplant will give me a brand-new immune system and give me the best possible chance of living beyond the seven-year estimate.
“I’m also trying to raise awareness about registering as a stem cell donor.
“We need more people to register as stem cell donors. It’s a simple process but it will save my life.”