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Cycle charity puts young cancer sufferers on the road to recovery

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: September 22, 2012

John Widdowson with Drew Sangster and his donated bike

John Widdowson with Drew Sangster and his donated bike

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CYCLISTS Fighting Cancer is a charity which provides an effective and unique way of helping children and young people battling the disease. The charity donates new bicycles, specially adapted tricycles and tandems to youngsters who are suffering. Mail reporter KATIE BOWLER spoke to charity founder Mike Grisenthwaite to find out more about how the bikes help children on their road to recovery.

HERE are many effects of cancer and its treatments in children, some of which include amputations, balance issues, muscle weakness, co-ordination difficulties and lack of self-esteem.

Cyclists Fighting Cancer charity founder Mike Grisenthwaite says exercise has been shown in various adult studies to be the single most effective way of improving both physical and mental wellbeing for people surviving cancer.

He said he encourages cycling as the best form of exercise-based rehabilitation — especially for children — because it provides benefits in a low impact, fun, sociable and exciting way.

Cancer can also cause massive disruption in families, therefore the charity also donates bikes to siblings and, in many cases, to parents so that they can take part in an activity as a family.

CFC has already donated 1,120 bikes to children and their families since the charity was founded in 2006.

Mr Grisenthwaite aims to donate around 250 bikes each year but said the demand for them is ‘growing all the time’.

The father of three boys says he feels ‘privileged’ to help youngsters with cancer and their families after experiencing his own battles with the disease.

In 2000, he was diagnosed with non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at the age of 37.

As a triathlete and cyclist he said his reaction was to ‘take the cancer head-on by staying fit no matter what’.

Within six months of completing his treatment he finished the Lanzarote Ironman Triathlon race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a marathon run.

He stayed cancer free until 2005, when it returned — but this time it was more extensive with tumours in several areas.

He continued to exercise and even climbed the infamous Alp D’Huez after three courses of chemotherapy — just to see if he could.

It was in November 2005, after 10 days and nights of continuous chemotherapy, sitting in an isolation room undergoing a bone marrow transplant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, that the idea of CFC was born.

He said: “Cancer completely changed my life. I went from being a commercial businessman to a 100 per cent charity worker. I feel it changed me in a positive way, as I’ve done things now that I probably never would have done if I hadn’t had cancer.

“Through setting up CFC I have met some truly amazing people, done some amazing things and helped other cancer survivors with their battles.

“I even did the Tour de France route in 2007 with ex-England footballer Geoff Thomas and a team of four other cancer survivors. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done covering 2,300 miles in just 19 days on the same schedule as the professionals.

“The whole thing was recorded and featured in the ITV documentary ‘The Wheel Heroes’ — it was incredible.

“The most special part of CFC is seeing a child who cannot walk getting on a specially-adapted tricycle. Their reaction and smiles are priceless and their parents are just overwhelmed by it.

“It’s like a sense of freedom for the children and having a bit of their own independence.

“It feels fantastic to help any family and inspirational to see what other people have to go through day-in, day-out.

“CFC is so much more than I ever thought it would be when I first founded it. It’s such a positive thing in all aspects — it has expanded to me doing workshops to help encourage other cancer survivors to exercise during and after their treatment.

“The workshops are based in hospitals, with other charities and I also advise the Department of Health on cancer and exercise.

“Our ultimate future aim is to continue what we do, make it better and for every child who is diagnosed with cancer to take advantage of our services.”

Mr Grisenthwaite, who is now 49, says he supplies bikes to children from all over the UK. Many local youngsters have benefited from CFC including nine-yearold Drew Sangster, from Burton.

He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma — an extremely rare form of bone cancer — in February 2011, when he was eight.

The youngster was one of fewer than 20 children in the UK yearly who are diagnosed with the condition. It is also very rare for Ewing’s sarcoma to affect pre-teenaged children.

Drew underwent months of extreme treatment, including intense chemotherapy sessions, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy as well as an 11-hour operation where surgeons removed a tumour from his left upper arm and transplanted bone from his leg.

The operation later proved to be unsuccessful.

After a long fight against the disease, Drew has made a good recovery and is now in remission.

He was nominated to receive a bike by Peter Elliott — a family friend who took part in a fund-raising event last year, completing the Etape Cymru cycling track in Wales to raise cash for Ward 1 at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital.

The bike was presented to him earlier this year by John Widdowson, from Tutbury, who was then preparing for a 322-mile cycle ride from Burton to Paris to raise cash for CFC.

After delivering the bike, Mr Widdowson said: “Drew was speechless when I came to his house with a brand new bike for him donated by CFC.

“It was so lovely to meet him and his family and to see where the money goes and how it really makes a difference to people’s lives.

“Drew is such an inspiration. To have come through what he has, and at his age. CFC is an amazing charity and I’m proud to be supporting it.” Mr Widdowson, who organised the challenge to ‘give something back’ after beating lymphoma — a form of blood cancer — last year, completed the Paris trip in July with a team of 14 other fundraising cyclists.

A special celebratory event to mark the success of the Burton-to-Paris challenge is due to be held from 2pm until 6pm at Burton Rugby Club on Sunday, September 30.

CFC representatives will be on hand to receive a cheque for what is believed to be thousands of pounds — the total will be revealed during the event.

* Further information about CFC, how to apply for a bike, raise cash for the cause or how to get involved is available by visiting www.cyclistsfc.org.uk

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