They’re both endurance athletes who had done bike tours before, but this one started from a relatively unusual story: in 2017, when the pair was about to set off on a regular world cycling tour, Gabriella was diagnosed with breast cancer and found out she had to go through a double mastectomy, followed by long treatments. The first reaction was of course shock, but, as Chris said:
“Whatever the outcome, we need to move forward and deal with it, it’s the only way”
And that’s how they’ve gone about it ever since.
What one admires most when meeting this amazing couple is how joyful they seem and how they seem to make even the most supposedly painful experiences all about having fun and taking control of it. So, for instance, as soon as Gabriella learnt about the necessary mastectomy, they came up with the idea of making a plaster cast of her breast that they still keep framed!
After the treatments were over, Chris and Gabs say they wanted to “start where they left off”, which was their world cycling tour, so they decided to cycle for “Prevent Breast Cancer” - the only UK charity funding ground-breaking research solely aimed at preventing breast cancer for future generations.
Setting off from Manchester in July 2018, Chris and Gabs are currently at stage 3 of their world cycling tour, stopping in their 16th country - Georgia, where they’re planning to stay for “quite a while”.
When I found out about their tour, one of the first ideas I had was to connect them with Europa Donna Georgia - The European Breast Cancer Coalition working to raise awareness of breast cancer and to mobilise the support of European women.
It was very interesting to get insights into various ways of treatment and support here in Georgia and in the UK, comparing how the patients are helped and how they receive funding, what’s going on in terms of information accessibility and psychological support, especially considering that the two latter elements still lag behind in Georgia.
Here are the most important questions we asked Chris and Gabs and the representatives of Europa Donna Georgia and the answers we received.
How do you prepare for such a journey - physically and mentally? How do you commit to 7 years on your bike?
Gabriella: “Because we’d done tours before, we didn’t really think about it ‘Oh it’s 7 years away from family and friends’ - we just got on our bikes and pedalled. The cycling is fine, it’s the mental side, sometimes thinking if you’ll ever see some people again... Living off the bike has been challenging as well.”
Chris: “Looking at our tracker and looking at people having “normal lives” which after a while is usually “too much normal” for us - that’s what keeps me motivated.”
Another thing that is part of the motivation is that they document the journey on their website - you can see where they are in the world at a given moment via their tracker, but also follow their adventures with the short videos they make.
So, along with raising awareness about breast cancer with each video, it also makes for a nice, out-of-the-ordinary travel vlog, that even inspired one follower to spend his anniversary vacation in Sardinia - where Chris and Gabs stayed for much longer than planned and had a lot of fun.
Did they have any time limits? Not really.
Chris: “We tried for the Guinness record for the slowest bike tour. [...] You could be the first cancer survivor who cycled so many miles…”
Gabriella: “...Without dropping dead.”
Were friends and family supportive during these times?
Gabriella: “My family know what I’m like because I’ve always traveled [...] so it was more like ‘Oh, there she goes again’.”
Chris: “I have a son and we have a good relationship, but he’s quite independent so it’s okay. He comes to see me in different places sometimes.”
Gabriella: “The send-off from Manchester was quite emotional as we were back in England for the first time after my initial treatment… We only stayed for about a week and seeing all these people from the hospital and the charity at the send-off made me go ‘Oh, someone’s really thought about this’.”
Chris and Gabs set off from the Christie Hospital in Manchester, with the people from the “Prevent Breast Cancer” charity and The Nightingale Centre in Wythenshawe, UK - Europe’s first purpose built breast cancer prevention centre. Judging by how they tell their story and talk about all this people, the doctors and volunteers as well as fellow patients have really become their new family.
It was very inspiring to meet all of our respondents and great to see Chris and Gabs passing through Georgia on their big tour and enjoying it. In the end, the biggest lessons we learned was that information accessibility and the right state of mind are the most important part of breast (and any) cancer awareness, as it helps people know their rights and fight for their survival.
We hope our story helped you understand some issues better and look at things in a more positive light.
For additional information, here are the links to the pages of the main instances mentioned above. Stay aware and spread the word: