Cancer survivor who could barely walk now running to help others

Dr Yani Berdeni will be running the London Marathon. Credit: PA Images/University of Bristol

A Bristol lecturer who survived stage 4 cancer thanks to a stem cell transplant is running the London Marathon to help others in need.

After a year of punishing cancer treatment, Dr Yani Berdeni could barely walk.

But two-and-a-half years on from getting the all-clear, he is ready to take on the 26.2-mile course.

The University of Bristol engineering maths lecturer was 30-years-old when a persistent cough was diagnosed as lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the immune system.

The diagnosis came just a few days before Christmas 2019.

Four rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed, and the prognosis looked bright.

But in summer 2020 new and “excruciating” back pain turned out to be a large cancerous tumour squeezing his spine.

Dr Yani Berdeni and his partner Ruby during treatment. Credit: University of Bristol

“The whole experience was surreal – you just don’t expect it at 30. But finding out about the stage 4 cancer was the hardest thing,” Dr Berdeni said.

“I needed a stem cell transplant and was told it only had a 50% success rate. They took my stem cells and then gave me so much chemo that I would’ve died, but then they injected the cells back into my blood to regrow the bone marrow.”

The treatment made Dr Berdeni so weak that a cold could have killed him. With Covid still raging, his partner, Ruby Hodgson, would read him books via video call.

In July 2021, he was given the all-clear. Not long afterwards he was made a lecturer at the University of Bristol, where he had been studying and working since 2012.

Dr Berdeni was a keen runner before his diagnosis, and entered the London Marathon in 2013.

He was heading towards an impressive sub-three hour time when he collapsed 800 metres from the end.

“When I came round I thought I was in Bradford, where I grew up,” Dr Berdeni said.

“So, yeah, I’ve got unfinished business at the London Marathon.”

Dr Berdeni, now 34, is raising money for the “amazing” blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, which runs a stem cell donor register and carries out research into the disease.

“After the treatment I could barely walk,” he said.

“I was 10kg heavier because of bloating from the treatment and I would jog for 500 metres and be exhausted. I just wanted to get back to feeling healthy and normal again.”

Dr Berdeni was helped back into running by 5k Your Way, an inclusive running community that helps those affected by cancer.

Ms Hodgson and other friends and family members will be waiting at the London Marathon finish line on April 21.

“It will be quite emotional and a bit overwhelming,” Dr Berdeni said.

“I really just want to make it round and raise money for Anthony Nolan. They need donors under 30 and you really could save someone’s life. If my cancer came back, I would need to use someone else’s stem cells.”

Dr Berdeni has set up a JustGiving page here.