As a fitness trainer, and having an interest in alternative therapies, Imla was probably more focused on the mind and body than most people. But that all changed in 2005, when in just eight months he went from cycling 20 miles a day to walking with a stick. Looking back he says the mental challenge of his illness was equally exhausting.
“The first thing I noticed was feeling tired. I was going to the gym every day but it was making me weaker; it wasn’t making any sense. When I first went to the doctors they treated me for flu but I just kept getting more tired. By my third visit, I couldn’t ride a bike on the flat road without getting exhausted.
“Luckily, I saw a different doctor who decided to send me for x-rays. That was when they found a shadow on the right side of my lungs. It wasn’t long before I was passing blood, had lost a lot of weight and I was starting to black out. It got to a point where I needed a walking stick to support myself.
“Looking back now, I suppose I never admitted the reality to myself. There are plenty of things that I should have stopped doing, such as working, that put me in vulnerable positions. But not knowing what was wrong with me was difficult. I just kept ignoring how sick I was and tried to convince everyone around me that I was normal.
“There was too much confusion. I could see my body was shutting down but nobody could tell me what was wrong with me, and when I tried to tell people I was sick I didn’t know what to say. I started to think it was all in my head.
“I have to say, though, that during all of this time the medical staff that helped me were great and without them I wouldn’t be here. By this stage I was under the care of two different hospitals and was spending more time in the hospital than at home. I was being weighed weekly, having lots of blood tests and a nurse was visiting me every day. That’s when I started to get really worried.
“They went through this process of elimination until they decided I had lymphatic cancer. They took me to St Thomas’s hospital in London for an operation to remove my lymph glands. By this stage I was dying: I was on the terminally ill ward.
“It was only when they opened me up and took out some of my lymph nodes that they discovered it wasn’t cancer. When I came around the next day, the doctor said ‘you have TB’, but initially they weren’t sure how to treat it. I was put on 22 antibiotics a day. So there was relief knowing what I had was curable, and that I wasn’t going to immediately die! But there were concerns about how to treat it.
“I decided that I had to take the treatment because I was not going to get any better if I didn’t. On top of the medication I meditated every day, went on a vegan diet, and did a lot of spiritual work, and I used complementary therapies. Eight months later the doctor said I had been cured by the medication and I was 100 per cent fit. It took eight months to find out what was wrong with me and eight months for me to recover.
“Not knowing what was wrong with me was the hardest thing. You can’t help but question whether it is all in your head. Looking back it was a physical and psychological battle that I had to fight. It’s that thing of not knowing and if you don’t know then you can’t accept it and you can’t fight it. Knowing what you are fighting is half the battle.
“I was lucky because I’m really into the spiritual side of life, so I really submerged myself in it. That was what kept me going. I think you need to find something to keep you going, because it can sometime feel too easy to quit.”