That’s a question I’ve been asked many times. I like to be told I can’t do something, or that it is “impossible”, and then go on to prove people wrong. There are one or two that clearly stand out though and when Caroline (my late wife) was diagnosed with breast cancer, we took inspiration from Jane Tomlinson who was fighting her own battle with the disease. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, Jane had treatment and went on to a full recovery until the year 2000, when the cancer returned throughout her body. Given just 6 months to live with her now terminal cancer, she survived until 2007 until the disease finally claimed her life.
Jane did not sit back though, and this is the reason she has been one of the main inspirations in my life. The next seven years were spent raising £1.85 million for charity through a series of athletic challenges, which included:
- The London Marathon (x 3)
- The London Triathlon (x 2)
- The New York Marathon
- Cycling across Europe
- Cycling across America
Jane’s final challenge was the nine weeks she spent cycling across America in July and August 2006, covering 3,800 miles and raising £250,000. She died peacefully in a hospice in Leeds, West Yorkshire in September of 2007, having been awarded the CBE by our Queen. Mike (her husband) set up a foundation which has now raised over £8 million and there is a annual 10km charity run in her name, of which Caroline participated in during 2007 while undergoing her own chemo and radiotherapy.
Sadly Caroline lost her life (again to the disease) in 2009 and my own battle saw me take on my round the world trip in 2012. Also suffering from terrible depression, it was a while before I was able to use my situation to help others, but slowly I began to give slideshows, talks and interviews about my own illness (cancer and depression) which led to me visiting a children’s cancer hospital in Vietnam where I met another individual who had a huge impact on my life.
His name was Liem Chu Duc, a young Vietnamese student who was going through his own battle with cancer. Having lost his left leg, the disease had spread to his lungs and his prognosis looked grim, yet despite all this, Liem had a zest for life I have rarely seen before – he put my own efforts to speak out about fighting cancer and inspire others to shame. His work with youngsters blighted by this terrible disease was truly astounding, and a stark reminder of the difference between my homeland and his. Had he been born in the UK, would he have lost the leg and later his life?
There are others, but only in recent years have I changed course and wanted something else. Having survived cancer, it has left me struggling to cope and uncertain of why I should have been so lucky, when other loved ones have not. My way of dealing with this is to challenge myself, push to do things other than the ordinary. Last year I sat and watched the film about the first ‘unsupported’ race across America, called “Inspired to Ride”. The main focus was on Mike Hall and Juliana Buhring, who both won the race in their categories, with Mike taking overall victory. It not only inspired me, it gave me a new focus. This was what I needed, to know how far I could push my own limits. I wanted to meet both Mike and Juliana (for very different reasons – as an abused child I identified with Juliana) and entered the TCR 5, being overjoyed by my acceptance. My joy recently turned to tears.
On 31st March 2017 during the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel Race across Australia, Mike Hall was killed by a car driver. It’s not for me to speculate fault, but the cycling community lost one of it’s brightest lights and I lost someone who genuinely made me want to be better. I haven’t spoke a word about this until today, because in all honesty I was too upset and still trying to come to terms with the cruelty of life and death. In my other blog (dereksbiketrip) I speak about this frequently, just who chooses who lives and dies? It seems so unfair. The best way I can remember Mike will be to complete my life journey, go on to see just what I can achieve. Thanks to Mike, the bar has been set very high.
If you would like to learn more about my own journey and battles with both depression and cancer, or book a talk/slideshow, please get in touch. I’m an accomplished speaker and happy to attend charity events. You can find a little more about me here: Derek’s Short Bio