It was just three days after finishing second place in an ultra-marathon that Sanjay Sachdev began noticing the pain in his groin.
Within weeks, he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and was on the operating table.
But the Cochrane husband and father of two young children – aged two and 11 months – isn’t letting cancer define him. Instead he’s treating this as an opportunity to share a message of perseverance with others.
“The big thing for me going through this initially – my thought was I needed to hold true to what I love,” said Sachdev.
“I needed to be a father, a husband, an athlete, and then a cancer patient. Those first three are the most important things to me.”
Sachdev made the pledge that even on his worst days, he would remained focused on remaining physically active.
Athleticism has been an important part of Sachdev’s life. He got into competitive running and cycling, and in 2016, he represented Canada at the 2016 Xterra World Championships Triathlon in Maui. From there, he decided to start training for ultra-marathons: Grueling 50-kilometer races that are nearly eight kilometres longer than a traditional marathon.
He said friends and family wanted to support him after they heard about the cancer, but just donating to a GoFundMe wasn’t an option for Sachdev.
“All I could tell people was, if you can hold me accountable to staying active – on the hard days maybe walking up the street – to the good days where I can train and do what I love – stay active with me for those 84 days of chemo.”
Now 50-plus days into his chemo treatments, Sachdev says there have been good and bad days, but he’s remained committed to that goal.
“I don’t want to sugar coat it at all – there have been some challenging days,” he said.
Since starting chemotherapy, there have been days where getting out of bed is a success, but other days when he was still able to run 8 kilometres.
“My close friends and co-workers, some of them who have never really taken physical activity as a priority for them, they’re 51 days strong now – holding me accountable and holding themselves accountable. It’s really changing their lives. It was awesome.”
CYCLING AS TREATMENT
Sachdev said the test on the cancer found it was a mix of two types. About 75 per cent of what they found is an aggressive form that tends to spread from the testicles to the lymph nodes, and then to the lungs and brain.
The other 25 per cent is a slow-growing cancer that is not responsive to chemotherapy.
“My blood work came back really elevated after surgery. And when they did the CT scans they said my lymph nodes were affected. At that point, they said there’s no choice but to hit this hard with chemo.”
Doctors told him in addition to the lymph nodes, they did see small nodules on his lungs – which they feel the chemo can take care of.
Sachdev found out on a Thursday, and by the following Monday he was at the Tom Baker Cancer center for his first round.
He talked about how strange it was to walk into that building for the first time. On the first day, he talked to his nurse about the possibility of bringing his bicycle to train while he received his chemotherapy dose.
“I showed her some articles on trials of people exercising and biking though chemo – and right away she said, ‘Yep – bring it in, and I will deal with my boss,'” Sachdev said.
“And that’s been the attitude of the nurses at Tom Baker since I’ve been there. They’ve just been so open-minded in wanting to help me as a patient.”
The Canadian Cancer Society says staying active during cancer treatment is known to have many positive benefits, including reducing side effects such as fatigue. The society recommends always talking with your doctor before undertaking any new exercise regimens.
Sachdev said having the bike also helped with his mental well-being as he waited six hours for the drugs to enter his system.
“It was a great way for me to pass the time in a completely abnormal environment – just bringing that piece of me into it. It’s kind of my safety blanket.”
SHARING HIS MESSAGE
After hearing the news, one of Sachdev’s friends who is into filmography asked if he could help document his journey back to health.
The five-minute video has been watched several thousand times on YouTube since he posted in August.
“As we started putting some of the stuff together, we realized it’s so much bigger. There’s such a positive message to be sent out with this and we thought if it could help a few people, it would be incredible. If it could help one person it would be incredible.”
He said sharing his message of physical fitness is important, but he also hopes other patients going though the same thing as him just focus on what makes them strong, regardless of the activity.
“It’s easy to define ourselves through adversity,” he said.
“If I sit here and say ‘I’m a cancer patient,’ I’m not going to leave my bed. If I can build from this and build from my adversity, you’re not only going to end up the same on the back end. I’m going to end up ten times stronger.”