How outdoors adventure helped me through a cancer diagnosis
Thom Hunt is a TV presenter, adventurer, qualified marine biologist and a specialist scuba diving instructor. He runs The 7th Rise, an outdoor adventure venue in wild woodland, in Cornwall.
In 2010, at the age of 27, I began experiencing the symptoms of colon cancer. I was young so the doctors weren’t exactly looking for it; it didn’t appear in my family history either. One day though, I got rushed into emergency surgery with terrible stomach pains. And there it was.
The following year included six months of chemotherapy and recovery from surgery. I had to give up my job as a stonemason due to how physically demanding it was, which was frustrating at first but gave me a lot of time to reflect what I would do if I could get back on my feet. I kept thinking of my first love – the outdoors.
I grew up on my grandparents’ farm, so I’ve always been outdoorsy - and a bit of a nuisance. Playing in hay bales, shooting cans off walls, I loved all of it, as well as doing helpful stuff like foraging with my granny. It was only when I fell ill that I thought to make a career of it, a decision I’m grateful for today. Everyone’s got a bucket list, with places they want to go or things they want to do. I’m living my bucket list by seeking adventures in the outdoors everyday.
People underestimate the mental aspect of outdoor adventures; the dedication required and the value of doing that much research and planning. They think climbing a mountain solely relies on physical skill, but really, will power and keeping a clear head are the qualities that will get you there. The patience to grow your skillset and the focus to remain committed are what make a good adventurer.
Ultimately, it’s about resilience, and being resilient enough to navigate rocky peaks will also help you to be resilient when you’re going through a rocky emotional period, like with my diagnosis. I was young, physically fit, really outdoorsy and so my disease really took a lot of my identity away from me when I found I was unable to do a huge amount. The strength of character and mind I’d developed remained while my physical strength weakened, and it helped me get through.
Before I got cancer, I basically took a lot of my friends and family for granted. During my recovery, I discovered the beauty of these relationships. I don’t know how I’d be able to cope without them. Having good people by my side was a great comfort to me, and it’s so important to keep your relationship with loved ones strong.
After I got back on my feet, my lifestyle changed a lot. Having so much time to reflect and analyse my life while it was on the line ended up being a blessing. Before, I probably drank a little too much, ate too much junk food, didn’t get enough sleep, and so on, but now I enjoy good, fresh food - wild food, wherever possible - and prioritise my health and wellbeing a lot more. It’s been like a second chance to live better.
Before my illness, I also used to worry about all sorts of small things. Now, I’ve learned the art of appreciation – and it really is an art. With the pace of life and the volume of things coming at you everyday, we don’t always find ourselves appreciating things, but once you’re able to zoom out on life and analyse things a little more, it’s really beautiful. A brush with your own mortality can do that.
That’s why, once recovered, I set up an outdoors adventure company. My whole life, whether it’s TV work or my business, fun or travel, everything I do now is based in immersing myself in nature as best as possible. I want to have adventures, travel, and just see all the wonderful things that the world’s got to offer. And I want to get more young people doing the same.
Unfortunately, colon cancer is on the rise, and it’s affecting younger and younger adults. Since I’ve gotten better, I try to share what I’ve learned and stress the importance of looking after your health. Life is short, but not so short you haven’t got time to see your doctor if you have any issues. I’m lucky, but there are people I met with similar diagnoses who aren’t around anymore.
It’s more than just health; your wellbeing is important too. A lot of close friends of mine work jobs they don’t enjoy. My advice to them and to everyone, whether you’re young or old, it doesn’t matter: do what you love. No one ever gets to the end of their life and regrets not spending more time in the office. Pursue the things you’re interested in, get involved and love what you do. You’ll have a fantastic life.