Olympic dream for bone cancer survivor
- 25 December 2012
- From the section Health
"I thought I was going to die," says 20-year-old Chris Chapman, as he recalls the day he was told he had osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer.
"But they caught it at an early stage so I knew I had a fighting chance."
That fighting spirit has seen Chris through eight months of chemotherapy and a year of operations - first to amputate his left leg above the knee and then to remove tumours from his lungs.
But learning to live with one leg at the age of 15 has not been enough of a challenge for this young man.
Now he has set his sights on being part of the GB wheelchair basketball team at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio after being inspired by this summer's events in London.
"I can't describe how it felt. It made me want to go and achieve my goals. I thought 'one day I want to do that'. I want to get to Rio."
Chris took up the sport just two years ago and quickly discovered he was pretty good at it.
"I was always sports mad as a youngster but when I first had my amputation I didn't think about sport for a good two years."
It was only an invitation to attend a regional wheelchair basketball game and then a training camp which convinced him to embrace sport again - and focus on an even bigger goal.
Chris could be forgiven for being pessimistic about his survival chances at the outset.
Osteosarcoma, the most common form of primary bone cancer, has a five-year survival rate of just 42% - worse than for leukaemia, ovarian cancer and bladder cancer.
According to a recent report from the National Cancer Intelligence Network, over half of those with the disease are aged under 24.
It is also a rare cancer. Around 400 people in the UK are diagnosed with primary bone cancer each year and 150 with osteosarcoma, says the Bone Cancer Research Trust.
Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes a normal bone cell to become cancerous. Ongoing worldwide research to understand the difference between normal bone cells and osteosarcoma cells should enable experts to find treatments which target the abnormal cells in time.
Chris discovered he had bone cancer soon after he was injured playing football at school. The searing pain that developed in his leg would not go away and his parents took him to the GP, who found a lump on his knee and sent him straight for an X-ray.
The next day he was referred to the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham for a bone scan.
There was a chance that the tumour and diseased bone could be removed and replaced with a prosthetic bone, but the tumour was discovered to be very close to Chris's knee and entwined with muscle, nerves and blood vessels.
"It was then I decided the best option would be to have my leg off above the knee."
Chris does not regret that decision for one moment.
Road to Rio
He owns a prosthetic leg and although he can't run with it yet, it is comfortable for walking short distances. But it is in a wheelchair, playing basketball alongside friends and team mates, where Chris has really found his comfort zone.
"It's improved me a lot, confidence-wise. I got very shy during my treatment."
Chris is now fiendishly busy and very focused on the next four years. He currently plays for Sheffield Steelers and will compete in the Euro Cup in Germany next year and in the Under-22 world championships in Turkey with Great Britain, if everything goes to plan.
Although his week is packed full of training sessions, gym sessions and matches, he does have a sales admin job - and a girlfriend "who I fit in when I can".
He has now been clear of cancer for two-and-a-half years - but it is the next four that really matter to him.
"It's going to be very competitive. If I put all my effort and strength into it, I think I can get to Rio.
"But it's going to be a long, hard four years."
Who would bet against him getting there?