Cycling Around the World
Show MenuHide Menu

Death and Life

Friday, September 11, 2015


I wonder how many readers of my blog realised yesterday (Thursday 10th September 2015) was World Suicide Prevention Day?
I mention this because August was a tough month for me, thankfully September changed things around and I’m happy to report some amazing news – but I’ll get to that later… 🙂

During my cycle trip around the world, in March 2014 I visited a cancer hospital in Vietnam. On the children’s ward I met a young Vietnamese student who was going through his own battle with cancer. Having lost his left leg, the disease had spread to his lungs and his prognosis looked grim, yet despite all this, Liem Chu Duc had a zest for life I have rarely seen before – he put my own efforts to speak out about fighting cancer and inspire others to shame. His work with youngsters blighted by this terrible disease was truly astounding, and a stark reminder of the difference between my homeland and his. Had he been born in the UK, would he have lost the leg?

I had my first battle at the age of 14, when a lump the size of a pea was ignored and grew to the size of an orange. After threatening to take off my left leg, I was told I’d need a brace, probably for the rest of my life. A year later and I’d run my first marathon (around the track field in Huddersfield, my home town) for charity. It seemed I could turn the abuse I’d suffered as a child into something positive – and it wouldn’t be the last time I’d call upon this inner strength.

Liem Chu Duc

Liem Chu Duc

Sadly Liem lost his fight on 15th August 2015. I wanted to write about it then, but the emotion was too much for me and I had other reasons to try and stay upbeat and happy. Ten days later and I received news that a good friend had lost his sister to suicide. This hit me very hard, because I’d lost my only remaining sister just 3 days after the death of my late wife.

Depression is the silent killer, we often have no idea that our loved ones need help desperately and by the time we are aware, it can be too late. I’ve said many times before, I wish it was an illness that was openly discussed and not kept hidden by so many and although I try hard to raise awareness, I still feel like people would prefer me not to talk about it. I can understand why – happiness is after all a much nicer emotion.

Jean & sister Martine on her wedding day

Happier times – Jean & sister Martine on her wedding day

I messaged Jean, but told him honestly I had no words of comfort. It never gets easier when a loved one leaves you. His honest response brought me to floods of tears and I asked him if it was OK to repeat it here, in the hope it might just help others…

Lost my sis on Aug 25th to suicide. I was in her house when she did it. left the house because I thought everyone had gone biking, since both cars were in the driveway and the bikes were gone. So, I locked up the house and left to go pick up someone for the ride back home in Rimouski. 30-40 mins. later, got a call from the police telling me that my sister had been admitted to the hospital (same one she was born in, go figure). Meanwhile, my relationship with the g/f was so-so, And during the following days after my sister’s death, it went further in the ground, so now, I don’t know where I stand, what to look for, what to do, what to think. I just don’t know anymore. Life sucks and no I’m not thinking about suicide myself. It’s not a luxury I can afford nor something I’ll make my mom go through again. One tragedy is enough. We just don’t need a second one.

Before I left the UK to begin my journey, I chose to support the Mental Health charity, MIND. How strange then that as I was writing this piece, I should receive the following email (if you click the link, it will open in your web browser) < click here >. I’m really grateful to Richard for having the strength to write this, as it can only help others who are are struggling. Jean, I’m here for you if ever you need a listening ear.


So lets discuss happiness. As I said above, moving into September things changed around, in a very dramatic fashion for me. My late wife Caroline and I had tried for many years to have a child and in particular after my prostate cancer was finally diagnosed in 2005, the words “impossible” were never far from the medical teams lips given my almost non-existent sperm count. I spoke in my last blog about finding love again, but never imagined I could become a parent. Well the miracle has happened!

Natascha Grace

Natascha Grace

At precisely 3:15 p.m. on Monday 7th September 2015, our beautiful daughter Natascha Grace, came into the world, weighing a hefty 3.662 kg (that’s 8 lb 1 oz). Sleepless nights, but watching Hilke nurse Natascha I have never felt such love. I’m truly blessed with this “impossible” gift of life and I know I speak for Hilke when I say we will give this child all the love (and more) we both missed in our own childhoods.

Natascha Grace

A very contented Natascha Grace

I hope you will share with me the joy of this story, because I know in my heart it is a true miracle. The circle of life. I just wish sometimes it were easier and we never had to suffer such sad losses, but seeing a child born does help raise you up again.

More soon…

Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 2:30 am

Derek, your life has covered such extreme emotions, I can’t even begin to imagine them. Although you have dipped very low, I personally have seen only a deep drive for life in you. And now to think that you have brought a new life into this world! I am so thrilled for you and Hilke, and wish you all the joys (and okay, knowing there will be tough times too) of parenting. You are richly blessed, and deservedly so. Much love, Molly

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm

Dear Derek..beautifully written…from the heart…impressive life story..and so good to share it with others!!
Claar Verheyen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *