“I guess you could call it a walk of faith,” laughs John Cunningham, a Christian and cancer survivor who is walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for the hospital that saved his life.
It’s an extraordinary challenge for the 69-year-old from Milton Keynes who underwent one of the most radical surgical procedures in the book to halt the spread of cancer in his bowel.
John will be joined by his wife Wendy on the 1000-mile journey that will take them from one end of the country to the other.
Their bed and board for the ensuing three months will be a camper van with Wendy more apprehensive about the accommodation than the prospect of walking 20 miles a day come rain or shine.
The couple do have some walking pedigree in their legs having conquered Mount Kilimanjaro, followed the Inca Trail, and trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.
“We’re both keen walkers so are really excited about the trip,” said John who will be the first person with two stoma bags to attempt the walk.
The external bags collect urine and poo and have to be periodically changed as John’s surgery included the removal of all the organs in the pelvic cavity.
“It’s all about timing,” laughs John who will celebrate his seventh decade on the road and says he is thankful to be alive.
“The doctors told me I’d be lucky to survive 15 months without the operation.”
The father of two subsequently underwent a gruelling 16-hour operation at St Mark’s Hospital and spent nearly a month in hospital before being discharged.
The speed of his recovery surprised surgeons to such an extent that he is now something of a ‘poster boy’ for St Mark’s extolling the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet.
“When I was first diagnosed with cancer we started eating more healthy organic food and each lost three stone. Wendy has been with me every step of the way. It hasn’t been easy, and I couldn’t have done it without her.
“The fact that we are able to attempt this walk is fantastic and shows you should never give up on yourself.”
The couple, who begin their walk on April Fool’s Day next year will be raising money for St Mark’s Hospital and Wilen Hospice.
The couple won’t be as puritanical as the Naylor brothers who were the first to complete the walk in 1871 and made a solemn pact to ‘abstain from all intoxicating drink, not to smoke cigars or tobacco’ for the duration.
John added: “I’m sure we’ll treat ourselves on the road, but I have to be sensible these days and just thank God that I am still here.”
The couple are hoping that on the completion of each day’s walk, local volunteers will give them a lift back to the day’s start point where they can pick up their camper van.
They plan to leapfrog up the country in this manner relying on public goodwill but admit it could be something of a logistical nightmare.
“We’re hoping to capture the public’s imagination and have even been in contact with the Guinness Book of Records to see if my condition puts me in the running for a record attempt.”
Their walk has already caught the public imagination with donations of more than £2,000 in the coffers from passers-by and sponsors who have spotted them putting some practice miles in their charity t-shirts.
You can find out more about the couple’s walk here: