It’s not every day that someone titles themselves the King of Chemo, but Iain Ward took the mantle in his stride.
The Dublin native was diagnosed with stage three brain cancer in 2019 just a fortnight before his 31st birthday. He was informed that this type of cancer usually comes with a five-year live expectancy.
It wasn’t long before he decided to use these years to raise money for charity, all while breaking world records – the most amount of money raised for cancer charities and the fast marathon ran dressed as a video game character.
To raise awareness for his cause, he joined Lucy Kennedy in her series Lucy Investigates where he showed the benefits of social media. VIP Magazine caught up with Iain to chat telly and social media before Iain taught us a lot about video games.
Hi Iain, how are you? First off, tell us about getting involved with Lucy Investigates.
I got involved because the series was interesting, I thought it would be a great way to get more connections with people who are also involved in media. And the actual programme itself would be quite good to raise awareness for what I’m trying to do. It is also a good way to bring in a handful of donations and get more followers.
Obviously, you went on to chat about social media, tell us about your social media account.
My goal is to get the biggest social media channel possible and to use that audience to get sponsorships. Rather than them paying me for advertising their products, they would put the money they would pay any other influencer, even though I hate that word, to charity.
So are you a full-blown influencer?
I hate that. It would drive you nuts looking at the stuff other people make and they get 10 million followers. And I have 10 per cent of the followers they have.
Noted. Not an influencer. So were you one of those people who never touched social media before your diagnosis?
I have been asked this question a lot and I have been thinking about it a lot. I had a day where I was told my prognosis and then I said I was going to break world records. Prior to that, I had a social media channel where I was playing video games, because I wanted to turn a bad habit into something productive. But it wasn’t anything like it is now. When I was told that I was going to have brain surgery and it was going to affect my speech and leave a scar and I might lose my hair, I didn’t want to give up playing video games and I like making and editing videos. But I did need to address the elephant in the room. So I started to come up with a way to say I had a certain type of cancer. And if I could incorporate it into the games, so I would ask people to donate €1 if I beat a certain level. Other gaming channels do it. It was in my mind to do that. But when I realised the situation was quite serious I decided to use this title as a cancer patient against itself and raise a lot of money.
You have 105k followers on Instagram and 2.5 million followers on TikTok. Did you expect to have such a massive following?
I did expect it. And I expect it to continuously grow. I didn’t expect to lose followers because I thought people would want to stick with it and want the channel to grow. But I was wrong about that. I’m just like anyone else’s social media account, people unfollow when they get bored. But my channel isn’t an entertainment channel, it is a charity. I just try to make things different and change things up. I don’t want a negative channel. But it can be morbid.
You clearly have a very positive outlook on life. Have you always been a silver linings type of person.
I think I always had that ethos of if something sh***y comes my way I can take it. Not to say I never feel upset. I can have a mental habit of taking something half decent from situations rather than focusing on the 100 per cent bad in it. It doesn’t defeat anything if you sit and mope about it.
You can see that ethos on your social media. Other than raising money, did you want to change the attitude around cancer? That you can live a full life after being diagnosed.
That is definitely one of the goals. That’s why I want to break two world records – raising the most money for cancer research but then running the fastest marathon dressed as a video game character. It is possible if you really work towards it. But it’s like becoming a doctor, that’s the level of work you have to put in to get under three hours in a marathon. I would never do this if it wasn’t for this. There’s no benefit to having cancer for a marathon. But it is a massive benefit for social media, so it’s great to raise awareness for it.
Onto marathons…Why put yourself through that?
I had done my first marathon, the Dublin Marathon, many years ago, maybe in 2009. I did the London Marathon a couple of years after that. Then I was like I’m not doing any more of that. So I switched back to lifting weights and playing rugby, I was doing that for around seven years. That is a completely different life. It’s like painting a wall black and then wanting it to go back to white. It’s making things a lot more difficult for me.
So what is the world record for running a marathon dressed as a video game character?
John Kelly, dressed as Link from The Legend of Zelda. He has the world record. It is two hours and 57 minutes, no seconds.
And who are you going to dress up as?
But I don’t know what I’m going to dress as…I have some ideas. I might do Snake from Metal Gear Solid, I have such nostalgia around that game and he is a soldier so the clothing option is good. But there are many, many options.
You’ve definitely taken an awful situation and made it better, but has there been a highlight for you?
Getting famous is really handy. I have lots of dates now. That whole Florence Nightingale thing? It’s waffle. And I knew it was going to be too. Saying I’ll probably have an early death is not a great selling point before you’ve even met someone. However, regardless of gender, is attracted to success. I am down to the same level of attractiveness that I was a few years ago.
All four episodes of Lucy Investigates are available to watch on Virgin Media Player. You can donate to Iain’s GoFundMe here.