It was Christmas Eve 2015. Nick Parker and his wife Susannah were waiting for some scan results that might help to explain Nick’s various aches and pains over the previous few months.
“Nick this is the worst news I could be giving you” said the doctor, “you have cancer. This is all over your skeleton. We will conduct further tests to see if this is a sign of primary or secondary cancer.”
A week or so later the doctor reported “We are so sorry to have to tell that you have advanced, highly aggressive, metastasised prostate cancer. We’ve measured your PSA level (prostate specific antigen). If it was normal we’d expect to see a score below 4. Your score is 625. This means that you have a Stage 4 cancer that has spread to such a degree that it is futile to try to access how many secondary sites of disease there are on your skeleton. Sorry to have to say that you have a non-curable, terminal disease.”
Nick was given a 5% chance of being around in 6 months time, if he did not choose to undertake their palliative care. And even if he did, the doctors would talk about the best drugs only addressing the symptoms for numbers of months, certainly not numbers of years. Nick and Susannah broke the news to their three boys on Boxing Day.
Nick asked the doctor why he had got this cancer, and the doctor’s opinion was simply that he was unlucky, that he had been born with duff genes. Nick refused to accept this ‘no hope’ approach, and decided that, whether he had a 5% chance of survival (whatever this means) or not, he was not a statistic, certainly not average one and he would do all he could do to help himself. Knowing that people around the world defeat the odds every day, Nick started to embrace an array of approaches that would generate widespread interest in the medical world, and give hope to cancer patients all over the world.
Nick’s response to this devastating news was immediate, proactive and positive. He stayed up all that Christmas Eve night reading, absorbing and learning all he could. He decided to drastically change his approach to nutrition and turned vegan overnight. He can count on one hand the numbers of times he has drunk alcohol since.
Prostate cells like to eat testosterone, so Nick started to receive treatment to cut off his testosterone to deprive the prostate cells of food. Effectively he was chemically castrated. A few rounds of chemotherapy and 6 months later, Nick was re-scanned and told there was no evidence of disease in his body. Along the way the doctors have been amazed at the results that Nick has achieved.
The doctors also told him that chemotherapy had wiped out his white blood cells (responsible for your immune system) and there was nothing the could be done about that. Not taking that as a satisfactory answer, Nick spoke to his nutritionist, and found that eating mushrooms did in fact rebuild his white blood cells. He never takes no for an answer.
“It’s a whole body, holistic approach – I subscribe to more than 15 activity areas and a range of philosophies including fasting, nutrition, movement, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism, psychotherapy, Chinese medicine and sleep hygiene. I work on these perpetually every day, I have a really strong personal discipline.
“Most of us live terribly sedentary lives and this is not compatible with our human biology – we all need to move more. The interplay of nutrition, movement and hormone management is really important. So if you’re not exercising, then you’re not burning off adrenaline or cortisol. Cortisone and adrenaline suppress absorption of nutrients into your body, they suppress sleep and they are a product of anxiety. So we sit on our bums, in a stew of these raging hormones, and we don’t burn them off. Our mental and physically processes need to be addressed together, not separately.”
In 2017 Nick set up a website https://thecancerjourneyman.co.uk/ to share his tips for keeping a terminal prognosis at bay, and quickly became a respected resource for people all over the world. In 2019 he filmed a Channel 4 documentary with Bill Turnbull ‘Staying Alive’ sharing his thoughts and experience of prostate cancer and the benefits of healthy eating and ‘lifestyle medicine’.
Nick considers himself mentally tough, in the context of coping with a terminal disease. He has genuine confidence in his ability to maintain his daily discipline, he is committed to learning something from every body blow he is dealt, he is in as much control of his life as it’s possible to be in, and is committed to getting to every goal he sets. Although he says that he is more careful about what goals to set; of more importance is to be committed to travel the journey, overcoming the fear and learning from the setbacks along the way.
Even the most mentally tough people will have sensitivity in some areas, but Nick seems to have avoided sensitivity by embracing this wide scope of approaches to his health and wellbeing. It’s almost as if he has created such breadth in his approaches (rather than to fall down rabbit holes) that very little vulnerability can fall through his fingers.
“I love Brene Brown, and her work on the power of vulnerability. To cry. To seek help. To say you love someone. Everything stems from vulnerability, and making yourself vulnerable, so it should be embraced. I am also a big fan of marginal gains, making a 1% improvement in 100 places. In all aspects of our mind and body, we are interactive biological system, and everything works together. I can’t control my longevity, but I can control my attitude to my life, my enjoyment and happiness. My spiritual health is very important to me now.
“I have the privilege of having conversations with my wife about our funerals and how we’d like our lives to be celebrated. Some people don’t get the chance to do that, so it feels like a privilege. Whether or not I have extended my life, I feel great. There have been times in the last 4 and a bit years that I have felt the best I have ever felt. I may be unwell but I am not unhappy. None of us are promised anything more than the moment that we’re in.”
The cancer flared up on several occasions, but Nicks’ courage did not falter. His total commitment to living a healthy, holistic lifestyle has given him time and hope. He is the most beautiful, calming, wise person to be around.
“Remission is no longer the goal. Life is the goal. I am only ever in the moment. If I get bad news, it seems I can bounce back quicker than ever these days. My ability to bounce back quickly is increasing every day.”
Nick describes how difficult decisions get easier to make when he reminds himself of the purpose and philosophy that he is driven by. “I want people to take proactive responsibility for their health. To start today, and not to wait until it’s too late. To self-experiment. I have to find the truth as it pertains to me, and by that I mean what works for me to stay as healthy as I can, for as long as I can. I am going to die and I can’t fight that, or control that. I am committed to extending my life, and all I can control is my enjoyment of life. I can be compassionate to people. I can love myself. I can love the people around me.
“I am not an average person, I am Nick Parker. Ultimately my responsibility is to my family. I want to be a really good example to them.
“Cancer has been the greatest gift to me and I don’t say that lightly. Clearly, I don’t wish it on anybody. But I’ve heard people say it is the greatest gift in personal development. I really feel that 95% of what I’ve been through has been a positive experience for me. It helps that I’m married to the most fantastic person, and I feel that I have been given this license to go and explore and relearn all aspects of my life.
“At the moment my monthly test shows a cancer count that’s going up 400% per month. And I’m on the last drug in the conventional cabinet. I will never know if I have extended my life-span, but all my health team constantly tell me that I have extended my health-span and I feel good about that. I certainly don’t feel hopeless.”
The doctors have put Nick ‘on notice’.
Nick, the world is a greater place with you in it.
Hang on in there buddy.
Find out more at www.thecancerjourneyman.co.uk
If you’re interested in developing your Mental Toughness, get in touch with Penny Mallory at [email protected]