MY name is David Smith and my new year’s resolution for 2019 is to live.

Some people might know me from winning a gold medal in rowing at the London Paralympics in 2012, after which I was awarded an MBE, or through the various sports I have competed in. Prior to rowing I did karate, sprinting and bobsleigh and now I am part of British Cycling’s Paralympic programme.

But these days I am probably best known for something else altogether: having multiple tumours on my spinal cord. I used to think I was an athlete – now I feel like I have morphed into the guy who has tumours. My whole sporting life defined by surgeries, not medals.

Many people will be making new year’s resolutions as 2019 begins. Some will be reflecting on the year just passed and setting goals and targets for the next 12 months. Maybe you want to lose a few pounds or spend more time in the gym. Athletes will be thinking ahead to the next Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo in 2020 and gearing up for the major championships to come in the year ahead.

My goal and intention is simpler than all that. I want to live.

This is the fourth time now the cancer has come back. It makes it even harder when you know exactly what is coming. I know the process and it is hell. I knew the pain was coming.

I knew that when you get your head or neck cut open it is going to hurt. I knew I would have to teach myself to walk again.

If you were in a negative head space, you could say everything I had done since 2016 was a waste of time. But I also knew that if I could get through it back then, then I can get through this too. When I went in for a scan in August, I had already achieved pretty much all the goals I had set for myself whilst lying on an intensive care bed in 2016. I had ridden the world championships and the world cups. Only one thing remained: the Alps.

Over a distance of 740km, climbing 56,000ft in the course of 17 alpine cols, The Grandes Des Alps covers a route that sees you start at Lake Geneva and finish in Menton, a small town next to Monaco. I had an intuition back then that the tumour was growing back. But there was no way I wasn’t going to do this before surgery.

The radiographer asked me what my plans were, so I told him I was going to go and cycle across the Alps. He said: “go and enjoy yourself”.

As soon as he said that, I immediately feared the worst. When I saw the scan results, the tumor was so big there was no room left inside the cord at all.

I knew what lay ahead, all the other surgeries. I knew all the risks. I knew the tumour was bigger now than ever before. I also thought I might never get the chance to do this. There was no way I was going into surgery before I got the chance to do this.

I kept thinking that I am not scared of dying from this tumour, I am more scared that it stops me living whilst I am still alive. So with that in mind I rode everyday like it was my last and loved every second of living in the moment.

At one point, I remember cycling along a narrow thin road. On one side there was a huge drop down into a river, on the other there was an intimidating mountain rock face.

As the road cut a path through this mountain I cycled closer to the edge. I could just cycle off the road! No more scans. No more surgeries. Just cycle off a cliff.

I then pulled back into the middle of the road and powered on over the summit of the incredible Col. You might think I was mad, but it was more about gaining emotional control. Something I don’t feel with the tumour. I can’t pull into the middle of the road when I am in the hospital room.

Finishing the cycle was like winning an Olympic gold medal or a world championship, I had this huge high. But then I had to face the reality – if I don’t sort this out, I am going to die. I won’t even see the end of 2019.

When I came home I was like a pinball into a pinball machine, it was a horrible feeling. I didn’t have a surgeon so I had to find a new one. I phoned everywhere in America, all the main clinics, at the same time I was doing research to find someone in the UK because deep down I knew I wouldn’t be able to go to America because it would bankrupt me.

I also thought if something went wrong and I became paralysed from the neck down, I didn’t want to be stuck in America. I didn’t want to be stuck over there getting charged whatever it is for a bed in a hospital.

It was so stressful I ended up passing out on the tube. I didn’t know if I was coming or going, I was starting to feel pain, I didn’t know who was going to do the operation and I was getting all this information.

I was on a Central Line tube at 8.30am on my way to an appointment. The noise of the train was like an MRI scanner. It was disgusting, I couldn’t move, I started to overheat. I was getting flashbacks to every surgeon telling me there was a huge risk and there was a good chance I wouldn’t survive or every doctor who told me I was at risk of full paralysis from the neck down. “Are you telling me that I am just going to be a head?”, I heard myself asking.

I could feel myself going. I was standing near the door and my legs just went. Some guy caught me. I thought it was quite poetic because it was at Bethnal Green, which is one of the homes of British boxing.

I had been there watching the boxing four or five months earlier. Once outside the station, I burst into tears in the middle of the street knowing that in a matter of weeks that I would be closing my eyes in the anaesthetic room not knowing if I would ever open them again.

It was a few days later that I met professor David Choi, who had actually trained in Glasgow. He is a wonderful guy who came highly recommended from a lot of people.

I actually got speaking to someone who had watched him operate as a student and they said he was just unbelievable. So everything just aligned.

I spoke with him for an hour. He couldn’t promise that I would be fine but he told me he did over 200 of these surgeries a year. It is complex neck, brain surgery. But he could do this.

I went in for a procedure on November 15 but the actual surgery itself was on November 20. I got through seven hours and could still move. There was a second operation on November 28. The high dependency ward is like no place I have ever seen.

I spent the whole of Christmas Day in bed, looking at the walls. I was lying there, not knowing if I can even live.

I had been rushed back into A&E because headaches came on. I spent the whole of that period thinking “I don’t know if I can do it”. I don’t know if I can even rehab this time.

Depression kicks in. And almost a survivor’s guilt. People are telling you you should be grateful for being alive. And I think, 'yes, I am grateful I am alive but this is all quite overwhelming'. That was when I was lucky to get some time with Dr Steve Peters and some other psychologists.

They told me it is okay to feel bad, it is okay to acknowledge that emotion. Because it is an emotion. You have your coping strategies around that. You could have the most boring office job in the world and still have a bad day.

My name is David Smith and my new year’s resolution is to live. I hope to be back racing pretty soon.

PART II: 'There is a battle going on inside my head'

PART III: Surgery, cables and a brush with Dr Steve Peters