How this man battled back from cancer to become a physique world champion 3 years ago

How this man battled back from cancer to become a physique world champion

Chris Pearce is in truly incredible shape.

But he's had to grind so much harder than most people to get this awesome physique that has made him a world champion.

The 32-year-old father was struck down by cancer after doctors found a grapefruit-sized tumour in his pelvis and a malignant growth in his lung.

Chris, who lives in Northamptonshire, had to have part of his lung cut out to save him and doctors also found part of his bowel had fused shut.

But despite the cancer almost killing him and a series of serious operations leaving his body 'a wreck' he has battled back to health and forged an impressive physique which won him the Pure Elite world title at the O2 Arena in London.

Chris has spoken to JOE about the struggle he has faced going from hospital bed to bodybuilding stage.

He explains about the long hours of training, the hard dieting and the steadfast consistency that has helped him achieve it.

But also the struggle with his weakened immune system, training limitations on his body and the constant threat of the cancer coming back.

Winning the Pure Elite transformation world title is testament to his iron will in showing the world that cancer doesn't have to mean the end.

He hopes to inspire other young men overcoming cancer to show what can really be achieved.



Tell us about the competition you have just won and your journey to get there.

After my last major surgery to remove the bottom half of my left lung in May 2014, I decided that I wanted to push myself to the limits physically but also to pursue one of my life long passions which was bodybuilding and fitness.

I had been majorly into it in my early 20s before my health started to decline and had been part of that culture for a long time.

I needed a show that would accommodate my physical weaknesses from all the surgery but that would also celebrate my journey from almost dying several times from different health issues related to my various tumours and surgeries.

Someone recommended the transformation category at Pure Elite, as far I know at the time it was the only federation offering that class.

The idea of the class is to celebrate people who have transformed their bodies after health issues - physical or mental or weight gain and you have a big 'before' picture put on a screen and come out and showcase your "new body".


I competed in April 2016 after about a year and a half of dieting and restoring myself to health in Margate and placed 2nd, earning a "pro card" which entitled me to enter the "Pro Show" at the end of the year at the O2 Indigo.

To be fair when I competed in April my health was still a bit off, I had a tumour in my forearm and my mental state was poor as I was being investigated for second occurrence of my lung cancer.

After April I took time out to grow and change things up, and went to the November World Finals at the O2, completely different to my first appearance. I was leaner, carrying more muscle mass and in a much better place mentally.

I placed first in the "Male Transformation Category", received a standing ovation from a very receptive audience and was crowned world champion of that division.

I made it into the final line-up for overall winner but honestly I didn't care, I never stood a chance against the behemoths there, I was more than happy with what I had achieved.


How far have you come since you were diagnosed with cancer to the moment you were crowned champion?

I was legitimately ashamed of my body when I was diagnosed with cancer, I wasn't overweight, but the four surgeries and numerous minor procedures I had for not only the lung cancer, but a pelvic tumour and a fully obstructed bowel had left me a scarred up wreck.

I was ashamed of how I looked and was afraid I would revolt other people. I have a huge scar on my stomach, one on my back, numerous scars on my arms from intravenous lines, scars on my rib cage, legs. I wouldn't take my daughter swimming because I didn't want to upset people. The biggest challenge was accepting that I shouldn't be ashamed, and to pose in front of hundreds of people in shorts was the full circle of what I have been through.

Health-wise I have had to be really careful. I was weak and my immune system was in bad shape after all my surgeries.

I had to make sure I didn't risk my health in pursuit of my dream to compete and I have had a coach who has looked after me and made sure I didn't end up the most ripped man in intensive care, but carefully handling weight loss and weight gain and building up my lung capacity and ensuring I remain in remission and don't relapse.

The physical and mental journey from hospital patient to champion is almost unbelievable. I remember all the things that were done to me in different hospitals and they seem like bad dreams.


How hard have you had to work to get in shape for it?

I have worked my socks off. I don't condemn or approve of steroids or performance enhancers, but I cannot and will not use them as I have so much to lose with a body that is inclined towards tumours.

Early mornings, late nights, Tupperware meals. I still had to go to hospital three monthly right up until two days after the world finals.

I had to lose weight, after my last surgery I was about 20% body fat which is average. I competed at 7%, but whilst losing weight I had to gain muscle and maintain it.

There have been days when the injuries from surgery have flared up but I have had to to persist because in the bigger picture I have endured much much worse.

Talk us through the training programme you have been following

I try to train each muscle group every five days in rotation with 12 - 15 reps. I don't skimp on cardio and do 20 minutes a day as it is totally useful to helping me build my lung capacity after the loss of my lower left lung.

When I am getting near to a show I will throw in short fasted cardio sessions four times a week before breakfast. I am very careful about what exercises I do because of nerve damage, disc damage and scar tissue but I know my limitations and what aggravates these issues.

Is there anything you still struggle with because of the illness and operations you’ve undergone?

I can't squat or deadlift as the original tumour I had in my pelvis has compressed discs in my back and damaged nerves.

If I tweak this it is agony, so I avoid exercises that upset the apple cart, so to speak. I have issues with my legs as the original tumour I had also affected my mobility in my legs and destroyed the muscles in my right leg.

I have improved them but I need a lot more time to get them to how I feel they should be. The nerve damage in my legs hinders muscle growth - I don't skip leg day though.

What has your diet been like to get you that bit bigger and that bit leaner

Bigger meals, less often. I eat about five times a day, sweet potato, chicken, oats, protein powder. I don't cut carbs, I didn't even cut them in my preparation for my show. I have a coach who is a dietary Jedi, I eat what he tells me and it always works. Water, plenty of water, five litres most days, I don't struggle with this.


The difference in lean muscle mass between April and November this year

What have your calorie levels been like and what kinds of foods have you been eating?

I don't count my calories, I let my coach figure it out. I do as he says and it always pays off. He tells me: "Let me do the worrying, you just crack on".

In the final preparation for a show I switch to turkey for two weeks instead of chicken, this drys you out, makes Christmas dinner a bit less enjoyable, but it works.

To build the muscle mass between my two competitions I stick to chicken, broccoli and sweet potato with red meat at night. In the last month before my show I ate a sirloin steak every night before bed.

Sweet potato is my carb of choice as you can season it and it isn't too bland. On the show day I ate simple carbs like rice crackers and peanut butter, again to dry out.

What has kept you focused and training hard through all this and how has your health been?

I remembered that I was lucky to be alive and there are people who are fighting harder than me to beat cancer.

I am grateful to even able to train, let alone compete. I have a very special coach, Lee Jones who has never taken a penny off me, he keeps me motivated and alive more importantly.

I knew what I was doing would inspire others and that it would give people (especially young men with cancer) hope that there is more to be done.

I had one small blip in my health when I had a small tumour in my forearm grow in December last year. I needed surgery on that, but it was a day operation and a benign one, so I bandaged it up and went and did legs that evening.

I am in good health, I had a check up two days after the world finals and all my scans were clear and I was given a year's break until my next scan which is massive after three monthly appointments.


What was it like getting up on stage at a world championships and what was it like to win?

To be warmly received and to get a standing ovation and for people to be calling out my number was overwhelming.

All the pain, and procedures - some that really took away my dignity - were forgotten for 10 minutes.

To be respected for what I endured and to be so warmly received made everything better. And to see my partner, daughter, parents and coach in tears was something I can't forget. I want others to feel what I felt. I didn't care if I won or placed fourth, for me to just be involved was more than I thought was possible.

What is your plan now – are you going to keep developing your physique and competing and how can you take your body to the next level?

My first plan is to keep the cancer back and to hit milestones like living to 35, then 40, then 45. I want to stay fit and give my self the chance to continue doing what I am doing.

I need a break from competing and will add muscle mass over the next six months to a year and then try different categories. My weaker points need time to heal and grow.

The term 'bulking' can be loosely applied but in a clean and sensible way. I would like to think I could compete at next year's Pro Show and come back with a completely different physique. I am finished with transformation now, it is not a title you defend, but hope that someone else follows on in your foot steps.

I would personally love to see another cancer survivor do it and would actively help them to realise that.

My plan is to help and inspire others and would hope that what I have done (and if I can do it anyone can) will be emulated by others.