In June of this year I finally completed more than a year of gruelling treatment for breast cancer, which started with a double mastectomy and continued with various types of chemotherapy. I will be taking tamoxifen for the next 10 years.
In July I set off with my partner Chris on a seven-year cycling tour of the world to raise money for the Prevent Breast Cancer charity, to promote its mission to “Predict, Prevent, Protect”. Every country we visit, and every road we travel, we will be spreading the word about prevention. This is why we are doing it, and why we hope you will support us.
Cancer treatment takes a huge physical and emotional toll, and it doesn’t always work. A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer shortly before I was, so we went through treatment together. I survived, but she did not. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, and if I can help promote research and action to ensure more women and men can avoid it, then I will.
And there is a second reason. Even though we don’t have “the BRCA gene”, breast cancer runs in my family. My decision to pay a visit to my local family history clinic – a key link in the chain of prevention services – saved my life. It didn’t stop me getting the disease, but it did lead to me getting screened five years before I would normally have been invited for screening, which meant my cancer was detected in time. I want everyone to know that they should be aware of cancer in the family, they should find out whether they are at raised risk, they should get advice on how they can lower that risk and improve the chances of detecting cancers that do develop before they become fatal.
Until I was diagnosed I had no idea how much science and research is going on into finding ways to identify who is at risk – not just through family history, but screening for hereditary mutations, breast density and more. I didn’t know about the research to find out how different diets or exercise habits can influence risk, or about the possibilities of preventive therapies.
For most people, it’s not until you are diagnosed with the disease that you even think about things like that. I learned a lot by attending meetings put on by Prevent Breast Cancer, where some of the scientists they support talked about the research they are doing thanks to the funding provided by the charity. It’s fascinating work, and is all detailed on the Prevent Breast Cancer website.
I figured that if I had been so ignorant about this important area of work, then the same would be true for most other people. Prevent Breast Cancer is the only breast cancer charity dedicated to prevention in the UK. There may be others elsewhere, but we’ve not come across any. Chris and I both feel this important work is not given the research priority it deserves, and it gets a tiny fraction of the funding given to research on new treatments.
That is why we decided we would dedicate the next few years of our lives to raising awareness and raising money for this important issue.
Our mission is to cycle 100 000 km across 67 countries and 7 continents, carrying everything we need with us – tents, cooking equipment, change of clothes… as well as leaflets and special campaigning packets of ‘Fluffy Puff’ marshmallows with the slogan “How do yours feel?” and a folded card inside with instructions on how to check yourself and what to look for.
We are working with Europa Donna to maximise the publicity opportunities in each country we visit. We’ve arranged formal receptions with mayors of many of the towns and cities we will be passing through, and hope that media interest will offer lots of opportunities for interviews.
We’ve found that my own personal history, and the ambitious task we have set ourselves, means journalists are keen to talk to us. But it’s not always easy to get them to ask questions about what our message about risk awareness and prevention could mean for their readers or listeners. That is something Chris and I will have to work on. We will be interested to see how people respond to our message as we cycle across the world. We will be blogging along the way, to let everyone know.
We would encourage everyone to please support our efforts to promote the cause of cancer prevention ‒ Predict, Prevent Protect ‒ by going to our website https://chrisandgabsworldcyclingtour.com/and giving what you can, as a once off or regular donation. You can follow our progress on our website, or by following us on social media.