John Sinclair

Many people create ‘Bucket Lists’ of the things they want to do or achieve before they reach a milestone birthday or life event. However, for ELHT’s John Sinclair, a year-long fight to overcome cancer was not something he had expected to be adding to his own list.  

Today on his 60th birthday John, an Emergency Physiotherapy Practitioner at the Trust tells his story of how colleagues became not only his own medical professionals, but close friends.


John’s Story

What I need to say right from the get-go is that this is not a ‘look at me and how good I am’ article. It’s more of a ‘learn from this journey’ message, I suppose.

What we say to people, and how we say it, sometimes has a profound effect on them. And that’s how it all started really.

I was attending a lecture at Hope Hospital when a nurse practitioner stood up and said “The biggest cause of death in men is when they don’t have a partner”. He continued to explain that if there is no-one to encourage them to seek medical attention, that they are more likely to ignore their symptoms until it is too late.

As I was sat there and I did not have a partner, but had been meaning to go the doctor due to what I thought was age related “mens problems” - I suddenly felt that he was talking to me and me alone.

So, off I popped to my GP and persuaded them to give me a PSA test. This was not a routine test for someone of my age, however it returned a score which raised the GPs eyebrow enough to refer me to the urology team at Burnley General Teaching Hospital. It was here where I was placed under the care of Mr Pillai - a quite gentle and articulate man.

The outpatient team performed tests on my 59th birthday of last year - a great birthday treat! And I was consequently diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I think fundamentally the hardest part of this was telling my children I had a Cancer. Everyone is sensitised to the “C” word and there is nothing you can do to desensitise it or console them.

Things moved incredibly quickly and I underwent a robotic prostatectomy on the 29 January 2020. This was followed by a tough two weeks of post-operative recovery.

Thankfully, after five weeks I was back in the gym…and then COVID-19 happened!

Brilliant, so my gym was closed down and my social isolation began. This meant that for me, the mental challenge of recovery was a far greater struggle than the physical one. I do believe that the greatest ‘hidden costs’ of the pandemic will be the mental health ramifications to all of us.

Thankfully my mates sorted me out with that one though and walking, golf and cycling became my principle forms of exercise. It was also at this point that I met Bill Johnston, a Health and wellbeing advisor with ELHT.

On our first meeting, we sat down and had a very honest debate on what I wanted to do and how achievable it was. My main priority was to get back to work, and I also wanted to look extremely good for my 60th Birthday!

It was at that point that Bill said to me: “You’re very good at keeping promises to patients and friends and family, so why can’t you keep the promises to yourself?” This really hit a nerve with me and was just the type of thing I needed to hear.

Consequently, over a period of weeks Bill guided and supported me with my eating patterns and advised on the principles of nutrition, exercise and physical activity. Essentially, he put me on an exercise and diet tracker. I was, and still do eat anything green or red. My water intake also increased notably.

I tried introducing supplements to my diet, such as apple cider vinegar and initiated intermittent fasting. This made me feel more in tune with my body and ended up eating my breakfast later in the morning. I was performing four miles of low aerobic fat burning exercise a day - walking in other terms and I lost two pounds a week for twelve weeks.

Another element of my recovery was the fortune to have good people around me in the ELHT organisation. You don’t need sympathy when you are met with a challenge like this, you need empathy. Kind of like throwing a drowning man a rope, rather than jumping in at the side of him type of thing. The nurses and physios that helped me will know who they are, and I will always be grateful to them.

And then there’s the organisation I’ve worked in for 35 years now...ELHT has been totally professional in delivering care at the right time and very supportive in my recovery and return to work assessment and placement.

So here we are, 12 weeks after the exercise challenge, and virtually 12 months after diagnosis. I am stronger, fitter, faster and if I can do it, then anyone can. The secret is positivity.

I am and will remain eternally grateful to that one particular nurse practitioner whose loud and clear message was the awakening I needed. I now repeat this message to anyone else in a similar situation as I was. Please “go see your Doctor, it’s what they’re there for.”

Bill’s Story

I first met John earlier this year prior to the Covid-19 pandemic; I was facilitating a gym induction one afternoon at Burnley General Teaching Hospital. John was the only individual training in there that afternoon, and his energy and what appeared to be a gruelling workout could have actually powered the lighting in the gym. I didn’t want to interrupt him whilst he was working out so I waited until he was finished. I introduced myself to John as the newest member to the Well Team and we got talking…

John then contacted me on 22 June this year and asked if I would support him on his journey of transformation. His goal was to create a fitter and healthier version of himself in time for his 60th birthday in November.

I met up with John and he shared the personal challenges he had faced over the last year and as a result of those challenges John was more determined than ever to pursue a healthier and happier life.

I saw John approximately 10 times throughout his journey of transformation and each time we met I supported John on focusing his energy on his life, health and wellbeing.

With guidance and support from the start, John committed to making positive changes within his lifestyle habits allowing him to have more energy, sleep better and lose any unwanted weight he was carrying. John quickly understood the stages of change I was supporting him with and how those stages related to making lifestyle changes, such as weight loss that could improve his overall health and wellbeing.

The support I gave to John involved teaching self-monitoring behaviours, changing old beliefs, building new coping skills and making changes to home and work environments to support his health goals. Together we would identify positive ways to change unhealthy habits, and develop new skills and ways of thinking. 

My ultimate goal as a health and wellbeing advisor was to help John develop skills so he could lead that happier healthier life and it was an absolute privilege to support John on his journey.

I would like to wish john all the best for the future and no matter where you are on your journey, never forget what an amazing person you are. Never underestimate your full potential.