A passion for exercise reignited in a very special way

John’s bowel cancer experience and how he is now helping others

34-year-old John had always been very active. In his professional life he had been a soldier and a firefighter, and in his spare time he was running marathons and completing triathlons. So, when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008 it came as quite a shock.

The impact his diagnosis had on him was both physically and emotionally challenging, he was a young, recently married man with some significant treatment side effects, which led to a period of depression. But it was his passion for exercise that helped him feel ‘like himself again’. Recognising the positive impact exercise had on him and his recovery, he felt inspired to help others.

Today more than a decade on, John has re-trained as a Clinical Sports Therapist and has even worked with Team GB. He has chosen to channel his expertise and passion for exercise into helping other people effected by cancer, through the Moving Forward Course at The Christie Private Care, where he facilitates the exercise and fitness sessions, for people who have finished their curative cancer treatment.

We caught up with John to hear more about his inspiring story, and how important it was for him to help others who have been through a very similar situation.

Being diagnosed

When I look back at pictures, I looked unwell, but it was such a gradual process that it was quite difficult to notice, and because I was only in my early 30’s, cancer wasn’t something I was at all worried about,” says John.

John was diagnosed with bowel cancer just before he was due to get married. After radiotherapy, chemotherapy and some small surgeries he was able to go ahead with his wedding. Soon after he was married John needed to have a bowel resection, a surgical procedure to remove part of his bowel, this left him completely incontinent.

John adds: “Throughout my entire life I have been a very active, busy person, always running around doing things, and cancer and my treatment put a stop to all of that for a while. Being incontinent was incredibly debilitating – I had to go on my honeymoon and wear nappies, my weight had dropped to just seven stone, it was an incredibly difficult time of my life, and it led me into a bout of depression too.

In 2009 John’s treatment ended and he was cancer free. However, far from feeling ‘back to normal’ - he felt lost and returned to the gym to try and get back some control.

He added: “In the past I had always used the gym and exercise as something which kept me sane, kept me focused and calm amongst my chaotic life, and this was something which was needed more than ever after my cancer treatment ended. It was so incredibly daunting returning to the gym for the first time, weighing so little, but from the moment I began exercising, little by little I began to regain a little bit of ‘me’ again.

Helping others with their recovery

Not long after his cancer treatment ended, John decided to retrain as a Clinical Sports Therapist – to huge success. Not long after he became Sports Therapist for Team GB – an incredibly proud moment. However, he desperately wanted to do something alongside this to help people who need support readjusting to life once their cancer treatment is over. He heard about the Moving Forward Course that The Christie Private Care, part of HCA Healthcare UK, provide – this is an eight-week course for people who have finished cancer treatment, it is led by experts and covers topics such as diet and nutrition, exercise and sex and intimacy.

As soon as he heard about the programme, John wanted to be involved. He added: “I knew the benefits that exercise had brought to me throughout my life – even in the toughest times, and I wanted to pass this on to others so they might be able to go on and feel those benefits. I started leading the session on exercise and fitness as part of the Moving Forward course and after five years of doing so I haven’t looked back.

In these classes there’s a real mix of people and abilities. Some might not have exercised much at all before, whereas others might be at the other end of the spectrum, like where I was and used to exercise all of the time. I help each person to look at how much is safe for them physically, provide advice on the type of exercise to undertake, and how to work around any limitations that they may have. A big part of my class is making it accessible to everyone. We often start a session in the gym so that everybody can familiarise themselves with the equipment, but a lot of time is spent with resistance bands looking at what they can do from home with minimal effort and minimal budget.

Adjusting to life after cancer

A big part of the sessions are about helping people to adjust to what they may or may not be capable of from a fitness perspective, John adds: “For many, exercise will not feel the same as before they had cancer, and I help them to understand that is completely normal and help them to adjust their routines. We all lose something when undergoing cancer treatment - whether this is a loss of identity, of physical weight, or in my case, a part of my body (my bowel) it can be difficult to adjust – but that’s what my sessions are about – helping people to do just that.

Ultimately, my belief is that if you’ve gone through treatment for cancer, moving well can not only help lower pain levels and enhance recovery, but it can also improve your mental wellbeing and help you live a fuller life. What I think is so important about these classes is that these sessions aren’t there to hold your hand, they lead you and help you to progress – to help you take the leap on that steppingstone back into ‘normal’ life. I found it difficult to take that leap when I was diagnosed, and I’m honoured that I can now help others take their own leap.”

To find out more about living with and beyond bowel cancer visit

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