RW21: 'Rebuilding Graham'

Published Monday, 27th September 2021

Rock Week '21: Graham's Story

Graham recently joined 65 Degrees North for Rock Week '21. This is Graham's story in his own words: 

"This is my journey which led me to climb Bosigran Ridge, in Cornwall (the famous ‘Commando Ridge’) during a rock climbing week with the charity 65 Degrees North (65DN).  

Their aim is to aid recovery and rehabilitation through the ‘Spirit of Adventure’, working to inspire and motivate individuals to overcome, to achieve and to succeed.... and having enjoyed a fantastic week climbing, the charity unquestionably delivers against these aims in bucket loads.  

If you have the opportunity to go on one of their ‘adventures’ I suggest you grab it firmly with both arms: I can’t recommend it enough!

Prior to climbing with 65DN I could at best only climb 10 foot (very!) tentatively. By the end of the week I was completing routes far harder and much, much higher thanks to the patience, encouragement, and the first-class instruction on offer.  

But the week was so much more than climbing up a rock face. The week was about laughing, about talking, and about sharing with other like-minded people. It was an amazing opportunity to be outside, to escape, and to reflect. And it was an opportunity to maybe think more clearly and to gain a new perspective: the week was as much about growth as it was about climbing.  

It was a chance to question my self-imposed limits and to really challenge the self-set ceilings of what I am truly capable of both physically and emotionally following cancer.

My story:

I was previously diagnosed with stage 2 head and neck cancer, which had spread to a lymph gland in my neck.   

I would however label myself one of the lucky ones because relatively early diagnosis meant I had the opportunity to have curative care. Whilst my cancer had spread it was only in one lymph gland and hadn’t spread to others. 

I’m lucky because, with treatment, I now out of remission. Unfortunately that appreciation didn’t allow me to rationalise the trauma of cancer diagnosis, treatment, or the permanent side effects from both chemotherapy and extensive radiotherapy treatment to my head and neck. 

I was left with significant physical and emotional side effects, and also trying to come to terms with my life post cancer.  

The seemingly invincible (at least in my head...) and goal driven, military triathlete – who had competed at Ironman distance – had, post cancer, disappeared.  

The result was a need to finally accept I needed help. 

Help to recover and rehabilitate.  

And that brings me back to 65DN: attending recovery weeks such as the climbing week have played an invaluable role in 'rebuilding Graham'. 

Part of my ‘road map to recovery’ was physical exercise to help rebuild confidence, to rebuild stamina and rediscover part of my DNA.  

Why climbing?  

Starting to learn to climb has provided me simply space to breathe. An avenue for mindfulness and also fitness. 

It’s also an opportunity to start to challenge what I am capable of post cancer, an opportunity to set some new goals and challenges, rather than comparing myself to the sport achievements I enjoyed pre-cancer. 

And in doing so, confirmation that I can achieve what I want, uninhibited and unrestricted by the limitations I place upon myself post cancer. 

A week with 65DN has helped firmly cement that belief."

Rock Week '21 was made possible thanks to a Positive Pathways Grant from the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust.

We are truly grateful for their support. #RW21 #afcft #positivepathways

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