A CANCER JOURNEY
Randy McElligott’s unusual reaction to his cancer diagnosis
Published: February 2024
When Randy McElligott heard the words “you have cancer”, he didn’t have the average reaction to this type of news. “I was happy. Most people don’t take that attitude, but I saw it as an opportunity to change my life,” explains Randy.
That’s exactly what he did. Randy decided to train for a marathon. He wanted to try something challenging, and he’s been moving ever since.
“I had what’s known as smoldering multiple myeloma. It sits there and doesn’t do anything. It’s like a volcano just waiting to erupt.”— Randy McElligott
It was July 13, 2005, and Randy was 49 when he received the news — it was a surprise find. His family doctor had ticked off an extra box on the requisition form for his blood test. That mark resulted in the discovery of cancer — or what would become cancer. “I had what’s known as smoldering multiple myeloma. It sits there and doesn’t do anything. It’s like a volcano just waiting to erupt,” explains Randy.
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that starts in a type of white blood cell that’s known as a plasma cell. These cells help the body fight infection, and they can be found in the bone marrow, as well as other tissues and organs.
For nine years, he waited for the “eruption” but maintained his positive attitude. And over those years, he kept busy doing the things he loves, like hosting his jazz radio show, In Transition, on CHUO-FM — a program he’s been doing since 1988. But his greatest distraction has been running. Since his diagnosis, he has completed 12 marathons and about 80 half-marathons. “That kept me sane and kept me focused. By doing marathons, I was building up my mental ability to handle what was ahead for me regarding cancer.”
Becoming symptomatic for multiple myeloma
In 2014, Randy and his wife, Nicole, were in Barbados on vacation, and he became symptomatic. “I was in excruciating pain. I returned home and was hospitalized right away. The cancer had spread to my spine, chest, and sternum.”
Once Randy was stabilized, he was discharged, and chemotherapy treatment began at the cancer outpatient at the General Campus of The Ottawa Hospital. He also forged on with his running.
The next big hurdle Randy faced was a bone marrow transplant in October 2015. But true to his character, seven weeks later he did a 10k run and then another marathon. “It’s all because of the cancer. I must prove, even if I have cancer, I don’t have to stop. I wanted to show other cancer patients they can keep going. Look at Sindy Hooper — she is incredible and one of the inspirations in my life to keep going and do these races,” explains Randy.
“I have a great cancer team. If any medical trials are coming up, they know I want to help.”— Randy McElligott
This cancer journey has been a rollercoaster ride for Randy — he has been in and out of remission several times since his diagnosis almost 20 years ago. But his positive attitude is the one thing that never wavers.
He also credits the specialized team — which includes four hematologists — for always being ready when a new challenge presents itself. “I have a great cancer team. If any medical trials are coming up, they know I want to help.”
Access to clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital
Access to clinical trials is key for patients like Randy, and thankfully, The Ottawa Hospital has one of the largest and strongest clinical trials programs in Canada. This gives patients access to even more novel therapies. And in addition to helping establish best practices for patient care around the world, clinical trials also provide new hope.
Through his own journey, Randy is doing what he can to help our scientists learn more. “I told my hematologist, Dr. Arleigh McCurdy, she can do anything. I’m your guinea pig. I’m on my second drug trial now. It’s a highly experimental drug and so far, it’s going well. The first trial, three or four years ago, was for another drug, and that worked for a while, but then I relapsed,” says Randy.
“It means the world to have access to this type of care. And if I can help other patients, what could be better?”
Maintaining a positive attitude
In the last few years, Randy faced new health challenges. In 2021, within only a few weeks, he lost 30 pounds. It was a bit of a mystery as to what was happening. “It was looking like this was the end of the road for me. I thought my time was running out, but I just said, ‘Cool.’ Hospice care was being planned, but then I started gaining weight again, and I completely rebounded,” explains Randy.
“I never get discouraged. I’m always joking around. It’s been an incredible journey.”— Randy McElligott
Unfortunately, Randy then had new obstacles to overcome. The following year, he was on a trip to Montreal with his wife when he fell and broke a leg, wrist, and two ribs. Then in February of 2023, he broke the same leg, again. After surgery on that leg, he contracted a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection. He was treated in hospital for a month, and he had to learn to walk again.
These incidents may have taken the biggest toll on him, as they’ve prevented him from running. “I never get discouraged. I’m always joking around. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Today, thanks to the clinical trial he’s currently on, Randy is once again in remission. He hopes to start back on his spin bike to regain his strength so one day he might get back to running — his true love.
For now, he makes bi-weekly visits to the General Campus for his treatment. “It was initially every week, but now it’s every two weeks, and it only takes seconds to administer by needle. I think my team is surprised I’ve lasted this long after relapsing several times. But as of today, there’s no trace of the myeloma,” Randy smiles.
While fatigue is preventing him from being active, he continues to entertain radio listeners with his jazz favourites and looks forward to lacing up his running shoes once again.
“It’s really an incredible life.”
The Ottawa Hospital is a leading academic health, research, and learning hospital proudly affiliated with the University of Ottawa.