22 May 2023

Kris Bignell tackles cancer head on and returns full time to Anytime Fitness with 'new lease on life'

| Dione David
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Anytime Fitness Lanyon manager Kris Bignell

Anytime Fitness Lanyon manager and cancer survivor Kris Bignell is back to the work he loves. Photo: Anytime Fitness.

Lanyon gym manager Kris Bignell has discovered the hard way how much can change in a year.

He used to run another gym in Lanyon and when he moved over to become manager of Anytime Fitness Lanyon, many of his gym members moved over with him.

Fitness was a cornerstone of his life. He participated in dozens of marathons, half marathons and events like Tough Mudder and True Grit, and hit the gym five times per week.

He often put this proclivity to good use, participating in fundraising events such as the Push Up Challenge for Headspace, Great Cycle Challenge to help fight childhood cancer and for Beyond Blue.

That was until January last year, when he was diagnosed with depression. As it turns out, this was a precursor to what was to come.

“I was really low in energy, and I attributed that to the depression,” he said.

“But then one day further on in May or June, I was hanging out the laundry and started getting a pain deep in my stomach that had me doubled over.

“I called my mother-in-law, who is a nurse, for advice, and then drove myself to Canberra Hospital, and within 24 hours I was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer.”

Kris says what followed were some of his darkest days.

The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes but “fortunately”, nowhere else.

As chemotherapy commenced, he had to take a lot of time off work at the gym. Having worked in the industry for almost a decade, it had become a big part of his physical and mental wellbeing.

READ ALSO You made a promise to yourself to improve your health this year – here’s how to keep it

But some days, even with a portable intravenous chemotherapy treatment strapped to his body, he would go in and do what he loved.

“I found if I sat stayed in bed and was completely inactive, I’d be in a pretty low place. I won’t hide that I called Beyond Blue twice,” he says.

“I never really had ‘good’ days but now and then I could go about my business, go to the gym, and those were the best days.

“My team was so flexible with me. My employer, the Canberra Southern Cross Club, who own Anytime Lanyon, gave me all the time off I needed to get treatment and if I was feeling crap, they would step in and take over, no questions asked.

“The incredible support from Anytime Fitness management and members throughout everything, working with and being around such positive, supportive people has been life-changing in itself.”

Kris says energetic support from the gym community played a big part in his journey, as did the unwavering support of his wife, Kim and their two children.

“People always sympathise with the cancer patient, but their families go through it as well,” he says.

“They have to watch you go from a positive, capable person to the opposite.”

Coming up to a year since his diagnosis, Kris was delighted when all the post-chemotherapy investigations were negative, meaning he was cancer-free.

Though screening will remain a part of life, he is free of chemotherapy and very ready to return to full-time work at Anytime Fitness.

READ ALSO After 13 years with Anytime Fitness, Canberra’s dynamic duo has plans for further expansion

However, it’s not back to business as usual – he’s got a “new lease on life”.

“When you go through that, you start to see things differently,” he says.

“I’ve had clients in the past who’ve gone through this, I’ve had good friends who’ve died from cancer.

“It’ll be a passion of mine going forward to help people in the same boat. That’s a big thing I’ve gotten out of my journey.”

And of course, Kris says he’ll be focusing on achieving good physical and mental health, applying the same lessons to himself as he does to his clients.

“Looking back at where I was compared to where I am now, cancer doesn’t only kill the bad cells but the good as well. My body is at its lowest point of wellbeing, and I am the most unfit I’ve ever been,” he says.

“I’ll be starting that journey from scratch. I’ll be taking good old-fashioned baby steps, though, taking each day at a time and listening more closely to my body. But I know, just as I tell my clients, the hard work will be worth it in the end.

“I think my personal experience makes me really well equipped to help my gym members reach their goals and assist them to overcome the physical or mental hurdles that stand in their way.

“You don’t get to choose whether or not you get cancer. But I can choose to learn the lessons it taught me and bring that to my work, and hopefully it’ll benefit someone else.”

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