Running for his Life: One Man's Steps to a Healthier Future

Jacob Walker is living proof that a healthy lifestyle – and mindset – can aid the journey back from the brink of ill health. Here, he talks to Emma Bangay.

Less than eight months after being struck down by a brain tumour, Jacob Walker ran – and finished – the New York Marathon. Today, he is turning his personal account of learning to walk again and embracing an active lifestyle during his recovery into a lesson for all, as ambassador for The March Charge – which asked people to set themselves a running goal during the month of March, pushing themselves one third further, faster and harder than they usually would.
“What most people don’t know is that living a healthier lifestyle can prevent one-third of cancers, so getting out and exercising this March will help combat cancer and in-turn, help others affected by the illness,” Jacob says. “I’m excited to be involved because I love my running and have the chance to share my story to motivate others into making a change in their lifestyle.”

A marathon is a mammoth task for anyone, but as Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager for Cancer Council explains, even little steps count; from what you put on your plate to how often you get to a Pilates class.

“There are really important decisions we make on a daily basis that can have an enormous impact on our health, and in reducing the risk of developing cancer,” she explains.

Some more of Clare’s healthy tips include:

o Eating more fruit and vegetables: “This means at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily,” she suggests. “We know that around 90% of adults don’t eat enough vegetables and around 50% don’t eat enough fruit. Fruit and veg are high in nutrients that help to protect against cancer.”
o Include more fibre-rich foods like wholegrain cereals and legumes into your diet is also encouraged, as is reducing your intake of processed foods high in added fat, sugars and salt, “including processed meats, snack foods and sugary drinks.”

Jacob says that one thing he has happily kicked altogether is his candy stash. Cravings prior to his diagnosis would often see him “open a packet of lollies and before I could blink, the packet was empty!”

Since his surgery he has removed processed sugar from his diet. “There’s plenty of information about the effect sugar has on the brain, so I’ve made a conscious effort to cut back and seek alternate methods of deriving energy,” he says.

“I’ve now found a happy medium, which allows indulgence in moderation, balanced with nutritious meals and plenty of exercise.”

The Cancer Council recommends 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day or 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity to reduce cancer risk. “However, every step brings us closer to good health so incorporating incidental exercise into your day is very beneficial,” notes Clare. This could include walking to work, taking the stairs rather than the escalators and scheduling exercise into the things you look forward to. 

So, whether it be running, walking, swapping processed foods for fresh, or cutting out those cigarettes for good, ditching one bad habit today is your first successful step towards. For Jacob, it proved pivotal in his mental and physical progression.

“I was booked in for surgery two weeks following diagnosis,” he recalls, “so I had one last weekend to get active. That weekend I went surfing and cleared my head before facing brain surgery. Post-operation, I began light cycling on a trainer in my lounge room five days after getting home from hospital.” Doctors instructed Jacob to take it easy to avoid any lifting (due to swelling on the brain) or strenuous activity for two months. “While I felt pretty good three weeks after my operation, I heeded my medical advice and ensured I played ‘by the book’. The last thing I needed was to get over-ambitious and jeopardise my health,” he says.

Today, Jacob continues to adopt positive mental and physical changes, with no pity parties planned. “That’s the one thing I’ve found to be truly mystifying is how people think that they should show pity towards you,” he says. “If people treat you like you’re ill, you start feeling like that’s how you should carry yourself. It’s a very negative feeling and can have extremely counterproductive consequences in the body’s fight against cancer.”

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