Piano teacher 'nearly died' after frequent naps turned out to be devastating diagnosis

A piano teacher will be running a marathon after recovering from life-threatening cancer treatment.

In 2005, David Battersby from Milnthorpe, South Cumbria, was experiencing chronic fatigue with no real explanation. After having long periods of sleep and naps during the day, he grew concerned when he didn't feel rested or awake.

Then, the 56-year-old developed gingivitis, a common and mild form of gum disease and also found a lump in his groin. "It was that lump that sent me to the doctors, I knew that wasn't right and I needed to find out," David told LancsLive.


"I went that morning to the local surgery here in Milnthorpe and got recalled back about five o'clock that same day, in the afternoon. They had taken some bloods and had obviously fast-tracked it.

"It came back with my white blood cells count stratospheric, to be honest with you... they knew it was leukaemia of some kind."

On November 10, 2005 David was diagnosed with refractory Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a type of blood cancer that starts from young white blood cells in the bone marrow.

"I really didn't know what I was in for to be honest," David recalls. "I was probably in shock to be honest. I was fairly hard about it all, I didn't get worked up and I took it on the chin the best I could.

"I rang a colleague of my wife's and she was on the way home from doing a job. I spoke to her colleague and said, don't let Rachel go to the job, just bring her home. Come home now because I'm going to have to go off to hospital because they think I've got leukaemia."

David has been running a few half-marathons over the last couple of years
David has been running a few half-marathons over the last couple of years -Credit:David Battersby

At the time, David's wife had set up an educational theatre company. On the day of his diagnosis, Rachel and her colleague had landed themselves their first paid gig at Westholme School, Blackburn. But the news had brought this to an "immediate halt" and, sadly, the business never took off again.

From here, David says the start of his journey began.

"It was like an avalanche really," David said. "My wife had to stop that job and in the aftermath of it all, my mother-in-law took early retirement in order to help look after Rachel and look after me.

"Then my wife gave up the acting completely a few years later and did a PGCE and trained as a primary school teacher."

Exactly six months after his diagnosis, David received a stem cell bone marrow transplant in May 2006. During this time, David recalls virtually spending all of his time at The Christie Hospital in Manchester, undergoing chemotherapy and different rounds of treatment.

In August 2006, David was allowed to go home after the transplant, but the journey and treatment was far from over. He explained: "People think you get your transplant and you can go home, that's it. It's not, my consultant said at the time, this is the start of your marathon.

"You've been ill and all of that treatment for six months, but now the hard work starts."

Once David had left hospital for the first time, he was still required to visit The Christie every single day and during this time, lived at his in-laws' home in Accrington, the town he was born in.

However, during this recovery period David grew gravely ill. He said: "The closest I ever came, I suppose in a way to immediately copping it was when I was on steroids for the immunosuppressants, I was on a very high dose of pregnenolone.

"I was taking around 12 steroids a day for months on end. We had gone to Seathwaite, my wife to celebrate our wedding anniversary for a couple of nights in a B&B. I was falling asleep all the time and looked really really tired and just falling asleep.

"Rachel spoke to my consultant and explained what was going on.... My consultant said, Rachel, you need to bring David back to the hospital right now.

"My diabetic sugar levels were stratospheric, I was literally hours from a diabetic coma or being on dialysis and having permanent kidney damage and all sorts. They pulled me all through it."

David contracted Type 2 Diabetes as a result of taking the steroids after his transplant, but once the steroid dose reduced his diabetes slowly improved. Another medical emergency he found himself in was whilst on the motorway, David received a phone call from The Christie saying his potassium levels were so high he needed to visit the acute coronary unit at Lancaster Hospital to prevent a heart attack.

Fortunately, through years of treatment, David is finally feeling stronger than ever. Since the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, David had found his passion for running and has completed various challenges as various trail races in the Lake District, including two half marathons.

Now, he's preparing to run his first marathon in Windermere, all to raise money and awareness for The Christie Charity on Saturday, May 18. David continued: "Part of the recovery process is leaning in to and relying on your body again when you feel like it has, in a way, completely let you done.

"But in a way it hasn't because I got through it all. My body recovered enough but it's just being able to rely on yourself physically so you don't over commit to doing something.

"Whether it's a work commitment, or something else. The fatigue afterwards was one of the main side effects afterwards."

Despite these adversities, David is training and ready to go next month.

Alicia Gaffey, Sporting Events Co-ordinator at The Christie Charity said: "David has been such a brilliant fundraiser for The Christie Charity in recent years. We wish him all the very best of luck with his biggest running challenge to date, the Windemere Marathon."

You can donate to David's Just Giving page, with proceeds from his marathon going to the Christie Charity.