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Findhorn teen Rob Bichan competes in Battle Cancer CrossFit event in Manchester to raise money for charity Brain Tumour Research despite being diagnosed himself


By Garry McCartney

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Rob (left) with bother Johnny and dad Ed.
Rob (left) with bother Johnny and dad Ed.

A teenager from Findhorn took part in a gruelling fitness competition just 18 months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.

Former Forres Academy pupil Rob Bichan (17) competed in the Battle Cancer CrossFit event in Manchester to raise money for charity Brain Tumour Research despite the tumour on his brainstem.

Rob, who lives with his parents Jenny and Ed on their farm, said: “The first sign that something was wrong was in October 2019, when I started getting headaches while lifting heavy weights.

“In December 2019, I went to see my GP who suggested I get my eyes tested. The conclusion was that my eyesight was fine.”

In January 2020, Rob was sent for an MRI scan at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary which revealed he had an aggressive grade four brain tumour called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), carrying an extremely poor prognosis. The tumour was inoperable.

Rob was sent for further scans, some of which indicated that his tumour might be low grade.

In February 2020, he had a biopsy at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The procedure took place under general anaesthetic and involved the neurosurgeon inserting a thin, hollow needle into the tumour, to remove cells to be sent for analysis.

Rob said: “When I woke up, I had lost feeling in my left side and I had to learn to walk again. I was also suffering from double-vision that thankfully has improved.”

The results of the histology report revealed that the sample of tumour they had analysed was grade two (low grade). DIPG in almost all instances is classified as a grade four (high grade) form of brain cancer.

Rob said: “I was prescribed the standard of care treatment for DIPG – six weeks of radiotherapy, five times a week. My radiotherapy began at the end of February 2020 and involved a four-hour round-trip each day to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.”

After the first week of treatment, Rob and his parents were offered bed and breakfast at CLAN Haven accommodation next to the hospital. However, just days later, it had to close when the country went into lockdown.

Rob said: “Thankfully, I was able to complete the course. After my treatment finished, I suffered from headaches caused by swelling in my brain, which meant they had to increase my steroids. Then, I started getting really bad effects from the steroids. I put on 25kg and went from being in the best shape of my life to being unfit and overweight. I also got acne and painful stretch marks.”

Rob (left) during treatment with his brother Johnny, mum Jenny and dad Ed.
Rob (left) during treatment with his brother Johnny, mum Jenny and dad Ed.

As Rob continued to recover during the Covid-19 lockdown, his girlfriend, Jodie Park, moved in with him, so the couple did not have to spend time apart while the nation was instructed to stay at home.

Rob said: “Jodie and I met in first year at school. It was so kind of her to sacrifice seeing her own family to live with me. She was a fantastic support and helped me through some dark times.”

During lockdown, Rob began to get back into fitness. Training in his home gym, equipped with CrossFit apparatus, he also encouraged Jodie.

Rob said: “It gave us something positive to focus on. By September, I was able to come off the steroids, which brought its own challenges, as I felt really sick and stressed. Gradually, however, I managed to get back to normal and I’ve lost 20kg.”

Jodie, Rob, Johnny and Jenny.
Jodie, Rob, Johnny and Jenny.

Jodie and Rob recently competed in the Battle Cancer event in Manchester. They were joined by Rob’s mum Jenny, a 56-year-old personal trainer, and his brother, Johnny, a 22-year-old CrossFit trainer.

Rob said: “We took on the challenge to raise money for Brain Tumour Research. I may have been the youngest competitor there and I’m pretty sure I was the only person with a brain tumour to compete! Receiving donations amounting to more than £4800 was the icing on the cake.”

Rob is about to start working for his dad’s groundworks engineering business.

He said: “My focus also remains on staying as strong and healthy as possible. If I can continue to raise money for research into brain tumours in the process, I will feel proud. I’m hoping that brain tumour patients can benefit from a breakthrough in this area of cancer research before it’s too late.”

To make a donation via Rob’s fundraising page, visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/braintumourresearchbattlecancer2021

Rob at the peak of his CrossFit training before his diagnosis.
Rob at the peak of his CrossFit training before his diagnosis.


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