A 25-year-old man is undertaking an incredible challenge by cycling from Bristol to Beijing, China, after finding out that he had stage four cancer.
Luke Grenfell-Shaw has an incredibly rare form of cancer. It started as a pain in his shoulder and the initial tumour spread to his lungs, making it stage four. The Oxford graduate was teaching English in Siberia when he suffered shoulder pain and saw the school nurse. It was her alarmed reaction to a lump on his back that sent him back home to Bristol.
‘I was 24 years old, in the prime of my health – I had done an ultra marathon,’ Luke tells Metro.co.uk. ’48 hours later, I was back in the UK, in hospital with a biopsy needle sticking out of my back.’
On the 19 June 2018, doctors told Luke that he had cancer. By this point, he had a swelling on his back and a lump the size of his fist beneath his left armpit.
‘I had kind of worked out that it was cancer, but what kind of blew me away was the fact that it was stage four cancer,’ says Luke.
‘That day, my life felt like it had disintegrated. Every expectation I had, and I had thought I was justified in having, just fell apart. My life had been comfortable and conventional, I worked hard and got rewards – in terms of education, jobs, things like that, that was all taken away.’
The day of his diagnosis, Luke had one clear thought in his mind – that he wanted to cycle around the world. It was something he had always hoped to do, but the cancer news made him realise that he couldn’t put it off.
‘I realised that the future had to become now,’ Luke explains.
He decided to cycle from Bristol to Beijing – more than 5,000 miles – on a tandem bike, because he wants to bring people along to share the experience with him.
Luke will not only be joined by family and friends for certain legs of his trip, but also by other young people who are living with cancer.
‘This trip is something I’m going to enjoy,’ says Luke. ‘It’s going to be the richest and most fulfilling experience that I can have – that is the primary motivation.
‘What I’m most excited about is being joined by young people who also have cancer. I call these people “CanLivers” – in opposition to the term “cancer survivor” – which I think is a really unhelpful, useless, actively harmful term.
‘”Cancer survivor” gives us this false sense of certainty – that you have “beaten” your cancer and moved beyond it, but for so many people that reality does not exist. So few people actually have that certainty – for the vast majority of people living with cancer is their reality on a daily basis.’
Luke wants to offer an alternative narrative about what is possible for people living with cancer, and by bringing other people along he aims to show that what he is doing isn’t actually exceptional.
‘Cancer doesn’t actually have to be a life-limiting disease,’ Luke explains. ‘In some ways, it can actually remove barriers and actually help people to go after what they really want.
‘The term “CanLivers” acknowledges the uncertainties and challenges of living with cancer, but on the other side it’s a really positive term that shows that you can live with cancer, you can so so much, you can achieve your dreams and live a rich and fulfilling life.’
Luke says that the physical challenge of cycling across the globe with a serious illness has been easier because he made an effort to keep himself as fit and healthy as possible after his diagnosis.
Even during his chemotherapy treatment, Luke took part in the Bristol half marathon and came 91st out of 8,000 entrees.
‘When I was in hospital I would go for walks, I would cycle on a stationary bike during my treatment, I did as much as I could,’ says Luke.
‘Physical exercise has actually been the best way for me to get through my own illness. It has helped to keep my body strong, and the mental boost was just as important as well.
‘It allows you to take back some measure of control and prove to yourself that you can do things with your life still. It helps you claim back some of your identity – you’re not just a patient, you’re a human being who does have some control over your own life.’
As well as changing the narrative around cancer patients and raising awareness, Luke also wants to raise vital funds with his challenge. The initial aim was to raise £23,000 – £1 for every kilometre cycled. Amazingly, Luke reached this goal just 15 days into the expedition.
The new goal is to raise £123,000, and Luke is around a third of the way to that new goal.
‘On the day that I was diagnosed, I went for a run with my dad. He told me; “we can’t control how long we live in life. The fact that you might die in three months sucks, but there isn’t much we can do about it. But what we can control, is how we live today, and how we live tomorrow.”
‘I have taken this wisdom and made the motto my own. We need to proactively create our own opportunities to live as rich and fulfilling a life as possible, because no one else is going to do that for us.
‘It’s our responsibility and it’s our choice to live the best life that we can.
‘Do it today – because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.’
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