Gabriella Gratrix was about to embark on a year-long round-the-world cycle journey with her partner when she was hit with the news she had an aggressive cancer.
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She had to put her trip on hold whilst she underwent treatment, but after her final injection in June, she will pick up her bike again - this time travelling for five years to raise funds for Prevent Breast Cancer, based at the Nightingale Centre and Prevent Breast Cancer Research Unit at Wythenshawe Hospital.
Knowing she had a family history of cancer, Gabriella, of Thistleton, had always intended to get checked out at the St Mary’s genetic clinic in Manchester, but she had always made excuses.
She was busy preparing for her round-the-world cycle challenge with fiance Chris O’Hare, but when a close friend was diagnosed with the illness early last year, she decided to make enquiries.
The 45-year-old says: “I worked on cruise ships and travelled a lot so I never made the time to go to the clinic.
“But after a close friend became very ill with ovarian cancer, I thought I would go.
“They knew about my history and I was told I had a one in three chance of getting cancer and to consider getting a double mastectomy.
“I had a mammogram and a week later, on Valentine’s Day, I got a call to say there were some chalky bits but there was nothing to worry about. I had further tests and was told it was pre-cancer. I had a double mastectomy and didn’t think anything of it. I was ready to get back on my bike.
“But two weeks after my surgery I was told there had been a mistake and I actually had an aggressive form of cancer.
“I had to have six cycles of chemotherapy every three weeks and that finished last August.
“I am still having Herceptin injections every three weeks, with my final one being in June.
“Without this drug I don’t think I would be around. It is a fairly new drug and when it first came out it was a postcode lottery as to who would get it.
“I really do urge people who have had cancer in their families to get themselves checked out.
“Until you are chucked into the world of cancer you don’t realise the impact it has on people.
“I am so grateful that I did go to the genetics clinic when I did. I would have gone off cycling for a year and I wouldn’t have known anything as I had no symptoms.
“A couple of years later I would have been really ill and that would have been it for me.”
As she currently lives in Spain with Chris, Gabriella flies back every three weeks for her injections at The Christie Hospital.
She adds: “We have a cottage in Thistleton, which we rent out, but we are now permanently travelling.
“We loved to Spain in November last year and we live in a converted prison van on a beach in Malaga. It had all the cells in it and Chris converted it.”
Gabriella and Chris will start their world tour on July 9, cycling through seven continents and visiting all the world cancer research sites.
She says: “We will be cycling 100,000km and it will take five years.
“We will be cycling thousands of miles over some of the world’s toughest terrain. Many areas won’t have roads and some mountain passes are almost impassable, even harder given the fact our bikes weigh over 55kg when fully loaded with kit.
“The total number of countries we’ll visit is unknown, but it will be many.
“We will be raising funds and awareness for Prevent Breast Cancer, as I really want to give something back and the only thing I can do is cycle for a long distance.
“We are funding the trip ourselves and so all money will go towards the charity.
“Chris ran his own construction company and retired when he was 36.
“I had previously worked on cruise ships and had my own fancy dress shop in Liverpool. In my earlier days, I was a professional dancer and danced with some famous entertainers, including Tony Christie, Jools Holland, Sherrie Henson, Linda Nolan and H from Steps.
“We are not exactly rich but we have been able to live the life we want.”
The pair are no strangers to grand cycle challenges. In fact it was their love of riding a bike that brought the pair together.
Chris, who has an 18-year-old son from a previous marriage, says: “In the January of 2014, I decided I needed a new challenge to focus on in my life.
“With my cycling interest, I created a 150-mile coast to coast event from Whitby to Blackpool for a children’s orphanage in Kenya, called the Happy House, which was founded by a lady from Blackpool.
“I advertised the event on social media, trying to recruit riders to take part and that is how I met Gabriella.
“The coast to coast cycle was a great success and we raised several thousands of pounds.
“After the event Gabriella joined me and my son, Jacob, to work at the Happy House in Kenya for five weeks.”
Ever since then, the pair have embarked on several cycling challenges across the globe, including Blackpool to Malaga and 5,000km through South East Asia.
Chris adds: “On our last couple of tours in 2016 we cycled Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar Burma, France and Spain.
“We even spent some time touring around Mexico, but our favourite place was Cambodia.
“We are looking forward to going back to all these countries, but especially travelling through India and Nepal, not to mention all the other areas I am currently planning.
“We have both sadly lost two friends to cancer over the last two years, so Prevent Breast Cancer, along with many other charities, are very important to us.”
For more information about Prevent Breast Cancer, visit www.preventbreastcancer.org.uk.
To follow Chris and Gabriella’s journey visit www.chrisandgabsworldcyclingtour.com or www.facebook.com/worldcyling2/