Riding with the Alien: A Story of Courage, the Fight Against Cancer, and a Really Long Bike Ride

Riding with the Alien: A Story of Courage, the Fight Against Cancer, and a Really Long Bike Ride

This is a book written by a 49 year old English physiotherapist, Graeme Heward. He works hard, loves his job, and plays hard – squash & cycling that is. Graeme enjoys spending time with his family: so far this could be you or I, couldn’t it?

Imagine how you’d react if you learned that, despite your excellent health, that irritating watery eye you’ve noticed for the past few weeks was actually the result of a cancerous tumour (referred to as “the alien”) sitting behind it.

This doesn’t sound like a promising beginning for a book, but in this case it is precisely what happened to physiotherapist Graeme Heward; and the story of his battle with the alien makes for an astonishingly lively and fascinating book.

The multiple surgeries required to tackle the extremely rare sinonasal intestinal-type adenocarcinoma (no wonder he quickly decided to rename it the alien, a person could lose the will to live just saying its full name) which grew at an alarming rate behind his right eye are documented in this slim volume, written with a light-touch thus avoiding the usual trap of being a harrowing read. In fact, I was so drawn into the story that I read the book almost in a single sitting.

So you’re now juggling working as a physio while undergoing major facial surgeries – what’s a person to do?  Go on a marathon bike ride, of course!

Graeme, together with his adult sons, planned a sponsored bike ride starting at, and raising funds for The Christie Hospital in Manchester (the largest single-site cancer specialist hospital in Europe). They biked through mountainous regions of the UK. The total distance cycled was 850 miles [1370km] with 4260m of hill climbing. Graeme describes the medical details of his struggle with the alien and catalogues the journey and the preparations made for it. One of Graeme’s surgeons even accompanies him on the first section of the ride, and the funds raised totaled an impressive £21,500.

If you’re looking for the ingredients needed for an epic “true story” film, you’ll find them in this book: a battle against the odds to beat cancer, Graeme’s heroic journey with his sons to raise funds for charity, and even a love-story as his relatively new partner, Lesley, supports him throughout despite his disfiguring facial surgery.

I have already recommended this book to colleagues and to patients, as the author’s irrepressible personality and keen sense of humour shine through and make this an inspiring read.

Purchase the book here

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Wendy WalkerReview post by: Wendy Walker

I am a neurological physiotherapist in the UK, with a special interest in Acquired Brain Injury and complex conditions, CVA, and Facial Palsy, and have been a provider of specialist Outpatient Facial Rehabilitation for the NHS for past 11 years.

My teaching interests include training therapists to use Surface Electromyography (sEMG) equipment, as well as running workshops on use of sEMG for evaluation of nerve problems, and for Biofeedback. In addition I teach regular courses on use of Trophic Electrical Stimulation and present workshops to physiotherapists and Speech and Language Therapists on Rehabilitation for Facial Palsy.

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