After a long and frustrating finger injury, I decided to debut my climbing back in no other place but Southern Spain. While planning my excursion to Spain, I kept thinking how awesome it would be to meet this awesome individual so full of life named John Ellison. I have seen the bright colored t-shirts everywhere and reached out to John asking him how I could help CAC (Climbers Against Cancer). Anyone that knows John knows how special he is, a precious gem and contagious (haha). Contagious because he is so full of life and happiness, and he is so amazing to the core.
Well we quickly became friends and I just came to the conclusion that I needed to meet John and interview him. He invited me to come and spend the weekend in his ‘turf’ and get the feel and the life of John, CAC, and the local climbers. I would have to say my weekend was magical. We spent time in the outdoors, with the local climbing community and more of all, John opened up his life for me to see from outside within. Truly, this man is inspiring, loving, and super courageous.
I have dedicated my life to cancer research, and truly, in my career, I am beyond moved. Why? John was diagnosed with terminal cancer and yet, he has decided to move forward with his life, live and appreciate every moment and start an organization to support cancer research. He has taken on a huge effort and well, I must say, CAC is amazing and going viral. As a cancer researcher, I am 150% on board to support a non-profit organization that is sustained by volunteers with not a cent earned by anyone and 100% proceeds being donated to cancer research. In fact, I cannot think of anyone else who could have started an organization and given it the energy and meaning it has other than John. It was such an amazing experience seeing John in action, feeling his passion, and observing his love for life and people. I will forever be grateful for this experience!
And when I arrived in Ribchester, UK, a magical interview with John and CAC went a little something like this…..
Tell us a little about John Ellison. I was born in Blackburn, UK and am 1 of 4 siblings. I was previously married and have the most amazing and beautiful daughter, Charlotte. Sports played an instrumental part of my life. No one sport in particular, I pretty much dabbled in swimming, football, snowboarding, running, and hiking. I even tried the most thrilling Sr. Moritz bobsled! I have a huge passion for music and collecting records. But the hobby very close to my heart is collecting friends, I love people and I love my friends, every single one of them.
Tell us your climbing story. Mountains also have always intrigued me because they bring peace to my heart and teach me lessons of humility. Think about it, in comparison to the huge vastness of nature, we are a tiny spec of the process. When I was in my 20s, a friend introduced me into climbing, and as an athletic person and lover of the outdoors growing up; naturally, I fell in love with climbing. I feel climbing served my interest because it is a jigsaw of many sports. When my daughter was young, I would take her on fun climbing and hiking adventures. I then turned to judging competitions, even until recently served on the British International Climbing team, well, as you can tell, climbing became an integral part of my life. I may not have been a 5.14 climber or sponsored professionally, but I achieved all those things and much more, in my heart! More than 25 years of climbing and with that awesome experience has come no regrets, but sheer happiness and gratitude that I was introduced to this sport.
What does climbing do for you? Like I mentioned before, climbing is like a jigsaw puzzle of many sports. It challenges you mentally, emotionally, and physically. You set goals, achieve many, and fall short. You get to see many places, you have to strategize when you are climbing, but also before you climb, you are planning where to climb, what to climb, and so on. All of this and much more make a climbing journey. I also compare the actual act of climbing like a chess game. You are planning every sequence and move, trying to find the best way to the top. So climbing allowed me to as an adult fulfill many of the challenges and successes that sports presented to me when I was younger. Also, it allowed me to teach my daughter many awesome life lessons. She climbed for fun, but also competed in her youth and was sponsored.
One awesome life lesson I think climbing taught her was when I gave her a poster of Tenzing Norgay, the first to climb Mount Everest in 1953. She had it in her room to remind her that she can achieve just about anything in life she sets her mind on and works hard for it. And of course, most of all, climbing brought me a family. I have made dear friends everywhere I go. To me, climbing is an all-encompassing sport that made my full journey in life one always worth making!
Tell us your cancer story. Well this truly is one of those cancer stories where one day I am well, and next day my life has changed. On a Thursday, I had leg pain and what I thought might be a swollen lymph node in my hip. I saw a doctor that very Friday, and that Monday the doctor phoned me that I needed to come back in for a biopsy. When the doctor confirmed I had Prostate Cancer, he also confirmed it was metastatic. The MRI showed many spots, kind of like a Dalmatian puppy! Essentially in 3 weeks, my life took a different route and what most would see as turned up side down. But, I am too much of a fighter of life to let terminal cancer take me down, it can take my body, but it will not take my mind and soul. This is one reason I started CAC (Climbers Against Cancer), if I cannot be saved, I want to raise money to help further research and save others.
What have been your biggest hurdles? My daughter is my life….she is my everything. The biggest hurdle was telling my daughter, it was like ripping my heart in a million pieces. I can take anything life throws at me, but my daughter means the world to me, I love her more than life and so the biggest hurdle in this journey is figuring out the best way to tell her. Delivering the news to my sister was tough to do as well because she and I are the closest of our siblings.
What positive aspects have arisen from this difficult chapter in your life? With 2-5 years left to live, rather than stopping my life, I decided to keep living to the fullest. So when I tell folks everyday is fantastic, it really is. Despite the pain and the pills, I make sure the ‘grass is green’, I make sure I see and appreciate everything and everyone around me.
Tell us about CAC Climbers Against Cancer? I was at the World Climbing Championships in France (as a spectator), surrounded by climbers around the world and sitting next to a very good friend who also has cancer. I felt the universal and communal family we are as climbers. I had already raised thousands in England for MacMillan and Cancer Research UK. So I thought, what if, I can raise money somehow and it benefits every continent and most importantly to raise universal awareness? I was on a train headed to Charles DeGaule Airport in France when I presented the idea of CAC to my friends Oliver and Michael. Well if most do not know, CAC in the UK means ‘shit’, so it fits together, opens the way for conversation. I then also presented the idea to Shauna Coxsey and others, and they also too confirmed they were on board to support CAC. Next, Graeme Alderson, Shauna Coxsey, Loic Timmermans, and Laurel Michelard all confirmed they were not only on board, but were sure that this effort would work. And, only a few months later, I have seen so much support and T-shirts everywhere.
What are the most important things you would like to see come out of CAC? First, AWARENESS. Cancer is something that is scary and unspoken of, and rightfully so. But, we all need to talk about it, need to know about, if we are going to steps closer day by day to conquer it. In fact, I am getting letters from everywhere of folks thanking me for taking a stand against cancer and encouraging everyone to stand together for this cause. Second, CAC has brought climbers from all over, all levels, together for a wonderful cause. Third, rather than allowing any negative energy, I use bright colors in the CAC products to promote humor and positive energy. Cancer does enough to attack its victims and their families, so CAC promotes positive energy we all so need when talking about or dealing with cancer. Lastly, I want to raise funds to support cancer research. CAC is fully non-profit run fully by volunteers. I want every penny to go to research.
From climber to climber, tell us 3 ways we can support CAC?
- Buy a T-shirt and wear it with pride
- Spread the word of CAC to everyone, friends, family, co-workers
- Raise awareness by openly talking about cancer
For climbing organizations, how can they help support CAC?
- Help CAC by sponsoring CAC or sponsoring CAC’s website
- Invite CAC to come to your events, competitions, and so on so we can sell T-shirts
- Magazine companies can provide CAC with a free promotion or advertisement
- And so on, CAC is open to any ideas in promoting the cause. If your company is interested in helping CAC please feel free to contact John Ellison at firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to extend a myriad of thanks to John Ellison for accommodating me, putting up with me taking photos and photos (haha) and being the best host ever. I also want to thank the local climbers (Neil, Ryan, Katy and Tanya) for being so hospitable and welcoming! Many have asked what organizations have been selected for receipt of donations. As we speak John is working with his team on identifying the organizations that will benefit from the CAC funds raised to date. He is also working on getting everything in proper order from an administration point of view so that the donations are made smoothly. Keep an eye out on the CAC Facebook Page and website for more updates and news on this topic.