In May of 2015, when most people were settling down after voting in the year’s springtime general election or finalising holiday plans for the summer ahead, Dundee dad of three Eric Hamilton was coming to terms with the worst news a man can hear.
“It was the darkest period of my life”, he says. Hamilton had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was given just three months to live.
“The doctor tells you that you’ve only got months to go, then after he leaves the room the Macmillan nurse tells you and the wife that they’ll make sure you’ve got many months, but you’re thinking: ‘how many 'manyies' are in a month?’
Recoiling with disorientation from the diagnosis, Hamilton says he spent time with his wife Carol and his three boys Greig, Scott and Rhuardi, and many evenings in the local pub. “Unfortunately I was either in the kitchen or in the pub during that time, waiting to find out what final treatment they were going to deploy on me.
"The waiting time between treatments and diagnosis and meeting times with the consultants was mind boggling – the cancer spread to my neck which was very sore, and I had some broken bones.”
Friends were understanding. “Some people would come up and give you a big hug, other people just wouldn’t talk to you but then you’d turn back to the bar and find they’d bought you a double whiskey.”
Despite the support, Hamilton knew that the pub wasn’t the best place for him mentally. A forestry officer by trade, he sought solace in nature, going for long walks in woods near his home. "One day I was shouting and bawling at the trees when I fell over. The trees must have been fed up of me shouting and got their own back”, he chuckles. “I fell over a sprig root and landed in a big muddy puddle. I pulled myself up, said ‘stuff this’ and I just ran. I started running all the way home and I didn’t stop. When I got home I came through the door and said ‘I can still run, I’m not dying!’”
Around the same time, Hamilton’s oncologist assessed the results of a biopsy and concluded he could be introduced to a new drug called Afatanib, which surrounds tumours and prevents them from growing. Two years later, he continues to take one tablet a day – and has managed to avoid chemotherapy completely.
Today, Hamilton describes his diagnosis as incurable but not terminal – something he's managing and living with.“The oncologist was just a wee man but I picked him up and gave him a big hug. He looked stunned”, Hamilton laughs.
With the Afatanib taking care of his cancerous growth, Hamilton has spent the last two years taking care of his overall health. After that fateful trip in the forest, he continued running, eventually setting his sights on this weekend's London Marathon, under the guidance of a trainer from his local Maggie’s Centre.
He's built up to it slowly. Well, slowly-ish. The first challenge he set himself was the Edinburgh 10k, over hill and dale in the land surrounding Holyrood Park – including a stint up and down Arthur’s Seat. Once he’d achieved a personal best there, it was on to the Glasgow 10k up and over the river Clyde, and after that it was a Scottish half marathon. It was here he encountered some problems.
Three days before the race he was hit by a bout of sickness. “I was making my mind up, whether or not I could do the race. I staggered out to the local shop to get some stuff and I saw an old Scots Guard who’s 90-odd years old. He was going away for his local shop, all suited and booted, with his two sticks and his rucksack and I thought: ‘If he can do that on his own, I’m going to do this half marathon’.”
The race was a big challenge. “We started too fast and I had problems with my stomach which can be a side effect of the drug. I didn’t think I was going to make it. We went away too fast going downhill, chasing after all the Lycra that’s going at a thousand miles an hour.
“I sort of broke down. I used to be quite a bit of a hard man but when you discover you’ve got cancer it softens the mind. My son was with me, I let him run on but he and my great nephews came running back to find where I was. In the end, that was enough to keep me going.”
Hamilton went on to run a 10,000m section of a 40-mile relay race from Maggie’s HQ in Edinburgh to a new cancer-care centre they were opening in Fulkirk. It was here that he realised he was not to be set back by his Scottish experience. 10k was nothing to him now: “I ended up running nearly 20 miles instead of 10k. That’s when I realised: I could do this. I could do a full marathon.”
On Sunday, that’s exactly what he’s going to do. “I’m just hoping that the Queen doesn’t see me and call me in for a cup of tea”, he chuckles excitedly. And afterwards? “I’d like to run up Ben Nevis next year, but most of all I just want to lead a normal life. Stay at work a wee bit longer. This whole thing could have been a lot worse, and it could get worse still, so I’m just enjoying the moment. Every step and every breath at a time - that’s my motto.”