Name: Luke Grenfell-Shaw
College: University College
Subject: Natural Sciences
Class of: 2017


Luke Grenfell-Shaw is cycling from Bristol to Beijing on a tandem. He talks to us and tells us why he’s taken on such a challenge!

We met with Luke the morning after he talked to students at his old College – telling his inspiring story and sharing a powerful message.

Luke describes himself as a CanLiver - someone living with cancer: facing the uncertainty and challenge of cancer on a daily basis, yet acknowledging that we can live with cancer - richly and fully.

He was about to set off with an old housemate from Durham and a few other supporters, continuing his journey, as far as Catterick - about 40 miles for today’s stretch.

Luke tells us about the people who have been joining him on the journey:

“So far there has always been someone joining me, partly because the UK leg has been planned quite thoroughly but once we leave the UK that is when things will become more spontaneous! Actually for me, that is when things start to get exciting as you have that space for interactions with people who you have never met and staying in hostels and just saying, “I have space on the back on my tandem would anybody like to join me tomorrow?””

“I think for me the most important thing is the message behind this bike. You don’t need to be limited by a cancer diagnoses. You can still achieve your dreams and it only becomes more important if you think you have a little less time but really of course everyone’s time is limited. A term that I like to use for people living with cancer is a CanLiver and this acknowledges that there are challenges and uncertainties with living with cancer and that you have to face up to them. For example, if I have a shoulder pain I might think “is that something coming back?”, or that I don’t know if I will make a 10 year reunion with my Durham friends, but actually none of us know…because that could happen to any of us. But on the other side a CanLiver is a really positive term in that you can live with cancer and you can still do and achieve a lot. And so this is the message that is the most important thing and that I am trying to spread.”

“It is not simply enough to wait for opportunities to come along but to proactively create your own opportunities because we are all unique and all different so we should all be seeking out opportunities that make us uniquely happy and fulfilled and that is what each person needs to decide for themselves.”

“Whilst cycling I hope to meet not only alumni but people from all around the world and to hear other peoples stories and how they have ended up in different parts of the world.”

“I have already met another CanLiver from Durham University called Kate (Hatfield, 2010) and she joined me on a couple of days on the tandem whilst she was having chemotherapy. This shows that we don’t realise how much we can still do and how amazing people are.”

At Durham, Luke was very involved in sport and music always trying new things. Part of the cycling, triathlon, running, and hiking clubs and played the bassoon and the bagpipes. “I played in DUOS and various concerts – if you’re a bassoon there aren’t very many of us!” His diagnosis gave him a new point of view on making decisions and how to live:

“What’s your best life and how are you going to achieve that? I hope that sharing my story will make others see their lives in a different way. Try different things and see where that might take you. There is so much in society that tells us we should be a certain way but each of us are unique so our opportunities are different. Make sure you do what you really want and what makes you happy. Part of that involves taking some risk.”

“Being labelled as a patient really limits how you think of yourself. You associate being a ‘patient’ with just staying in bed until you are feeling better. There is so much that you CAN do, even if it’s just going for a little walk. Cancer is a bit of a paradox as it’s always in the background but it is also the reason why you want to do the thing.”

Luke traces his mind-set back to his time at Durham:

“One of the people who I found to be really inspiring was James Blowy who was the Director of Natural Sciences. James was someone who always looked for the solution. When I came to him and said I wanted to study a variety of subjects, and sometimes the subjects clashed or I realised I wasn’t enjoying certain bits – James discussed with me what I could do and we realigned so that I could do lots of biology with Arabic. James was always helpful in looking for the solution and giving me that flexibility to try and follow what I was really interested in. To me that was incredibly valuable.”

“I think the amazing thing about Durham is that you can have your high quality academics but you can but you can also do sports to a really high level and get involved with various clubs which was really special.”

“I’ve been through the works; I was diagnosed with stage four cancer, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery… But you have a choice about the attitude that you have to this diagnosis. You can choose to say, “I will just give up” or you can choose to live each day as much as you can!”

“Whilst you don’t have control over when you are going to die, you can control how you live up to that point. That’s really the message for everyone.”

“It’s going out and not being held back by the expectations of society, take the time to pause, reflect and think what is the thing that would uniquely suit me is?”

“There are some changes that you can make today that will make your life better and for me that is putting my phone on airplane mode, cutting out the social media and making proper conversation with real people. Then there are other changes that can take longer such as what direction do I want to go in? It’s difficult working out what you really want from life as well and having the mind-set to say screw it and not be bothered about it or what other people think and what their expectations are.”



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