Bristol to Beijing, a CanLivers expedition

Today’s guest blog comes from Luke Grenfell-Shaw, Adventurer, CanLiver* and host of the ‘Facing Up’ podcast about individuals dealing with adversity.

 *CanLiver – Someone living with cancer: facing challenges and uncertainties of cancer on a daily basis, yet acknowledging that we can live with cancer – richly and fully.

I am cycling from Bristol to Beijing on a tandem. 23,000km through 25 different countries, and, yes, in the midst of a global pandemic.

In June 2018, at the age of 24, I was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive stage IV cancer. The outlook was bleak. Yet now I’m rewriting – with other CanLivers – the narrative of what is possible with a cancer diagnosis.

Perhaps this is not the easiest time for a cycle expedition but so often in life we cannot control what happens to us, only how we choose to respond.

When I received my cancer diagnosis at Southmead hospital in June 2018, I didn’t think I would see Christmas. It was immensely painful to come to terms with this but it led to a changed attitude: if I don’t have long, surely I want to do everything I can to live as richly and fully in the remaining time I have? And if that is little, then that time becomes even more precious.

Through chemotherapy at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre I walked, cycled and ran, trying to do everything I could to keep my body as strong as possible and put myself in the best possible mental state. To my surprise, I managed to run the Bristol Half Marathon in 2018, two-thirds of the way through my course of chemotherapy.

I grew up and had my treatment in Bristol, so it made a fitting starting point for the tandem expedition. On 1st January 2020, thanks to the efforts of an incredible team, I set off from Bristol Grammar School to Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre and beyond.

Of course, the inevitable happened: Covid-19 forced me to pause the ride in Bavaria, Germany, and I returned to Bristol for 5 months.

During lockdown, I set up a podcast, ‘Facing Up with Luke Grenfell-Shaw’, to explore how different individuals deal with challenges in a positive way and what we can learn from them. I recently had the privilege of talking to Marvin Rees about the challenges he faced growing up in Bristol in the 1980s, how he turned these difficulties into strengths and how he uses them in the mayoral office. It was a conversation that changed how I saw Bristol. You can listen to the full podcast here.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty, I am back on the road, and am writing this from Croatia. I don’t know if I’ll get all the way to Beijing this time but I definitely won’t if I don’t try. Along the way I aim to share the journey with as many different people as possible, forging links between Bristol and every part of Eurasia.

To get involved and keep up with my progress check out my social media platforms (@lukefacingup and @bristol2beijing), website, and to hear from Marvin Rees and other incredible individuals, listen to the ‘Facing Up with Luke’ podcast with new episodes released each week.

N.B. Luke’s expedition is fundraising for five cancer charities, consider supporting here.

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