A FORMER serviceman from Coventry who survived breaking his neck before being struck with cancer that left him unable to walk is on a mission to become a scuba diving instructor for wounded soldiers.
Graham Hudspith, from Wyken, who served as a caterer in the Royal Navy for 15 years, credits scuba diving with ‘giving him his life back’ after cancer left him wheelchair-bound.
Now the father of three wants to give something back – becoming a diving instructor helping to rehabilitate injured veterans.
Graham, aged 45, saw his naval career unexpectedly cut short in 1997 when he broke his neck and crushed discs in his back while playing rugby against members of the Spanish Navy in Spain.
Miraculously, his mobility was unaffected and following a two-week stint in hospital he was allowed to continue his recovery at home.
Discharged from the Navy six months later as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), Graham got on with his life, finding employment in West Midlands Police’s canteen.
But tragedy struck for a second time when was diagnosed with stage three advanced bowel cancer in 2012.
“I just thought I had a bad back,” the former Caludon Castle School pupil Graham told the Observer.
“I was tired all the time but just put that down to working too hard.
“But when the tests came back they told me I had bowel cancer.
“The first thing I thought about was my family.”
Undergoing surgery the week before Christmas to remove the three centimetre tumour, Graham then embarked on a grueling course of chemotherapy.
But the last cycle of drugs caused him to suffer from peripheral neuropathy – damage to the nerves that carry messages between the brain, the spinal cord and the rest of the body which can be a side-effect of cancer or cancer treatment itself.
He was left housebound, unable to walk unaided and needing to use a wheelchair to get around.
Graham added: “It changed everything.
“I lost all my self confidence and had to rely on my family to do everything for me.
“It was a tough time for me – trying to adapt to this new way of life.”
Finding himself in a dark place and without hope, Graham was put in contact with the Help for Heroes charity .
The organisation helped him physically and emotionally recover from his ordeal and gave him the confidence to try sports he had never dreamed of before – hand cycling and scuba diving.
Now, after joining a Help for Heroes-funded diving expedition to Malta run by the Army Sub-Aqua Diving Association (ASADA) – a branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) – he is hooked.
“Scuba diving and Help for Heroes has given me my life back,” Graham said.
“The first time I went underwater was amazing – I was finally able to move by myself.
“Normally I had to rely on using my upper body to move around, but underwater I could move wherever I wanted without help from someone else.
“It was like I was independent again.”
Graham is now a qualified Ocean Diver after completing a training programme alongside other ex-servicemen and women, as part of the Help for Heroes-funded Sports Recovery programme.
He is also an ambassador for Help for Heroes and regularly gives speeches on the inspirational work of the charity.
“Thanks to Help for Heroes and BSAC, I now have something to look forward to,” he said.
“I would absolutely love to be an instructor myself one day.
“These diving expeditions with ASADA and Help for Heroes are run by veterans for injured veterans, and it would be amazing to be a part of that.
“Help for Heroes helped me through it all and I want to be able to give something back.”
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