‘You just have to get on with it’
Chris Graham was just 34 when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. At the time, he was serving in the Royal Logistic Corps of the British Army, stationed in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Growing up, Chris had no idea that dementia could run in his family until his older brother, Tony, was diagnosed with the disease in 2009, when he was just 38.
That revelation, plus their father’s premature death at only 42 from what the family now believes was the same condition, rang alarm bells. Chris decided to find out if he was genetically predisposed to developing the degenerative brain disease. In 2010, a blood test confirmed his fears.
Knowing he was a carrier of the early-onset gene also meant Chris’s two children – Natalie and Marcus, who live in Norway with their mother – had a 50/50 chance of developing the disease, too.
For Chris, who lives in Manchester, the news meant a series of life changes. Just months short of completing 24 years’ military service – he was 16 when he joined up – it was inevitable that he would face a medical discharge from the armed services.
But life became even more challenging with the news that Chris and his then-partner were expecting a baby.
‘Our unborn child also had a one-in-two chance of developing the disease, which meant we had to consider a termination,’ admits Chris.
But his life-affirming optimism kicked into gear.
‘ We figured that, by the time our child was 18, medical advancements could mean the outlook would be much brighter,’ he says.
The couple’s baby son is now two years old, and his arrival has given Chris a new focus and motivation.
Convinced that physical fitness holds the key to maintaining his mental wellness, he has become a campaigner and fundraiser for dementia awareness.
First, he cycled 16,000 miles around the coastline of America and Canada and, via a JustGiving page, raised more than £40,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Earlier this year, he rode from John O’Groats to Land’s End during Dementia Awareness Week. Next, he has ambitious plans to cycle round the world!
Receiving his best award, Chris, now 41, said, ‘ You just have to get on with life, whatever it throws at you. Cycling and raising money have given me a new direction.’
Chris joined the Army at 16 Now he’s fighting for Alzheimer’s sufferers