Nick Charalambous - Cycling HeadshotIn part two of this story, Nick Charalambous had to overcome a terrible cycling accident and chart a path for one of the biggest fights of his life, stage four bone cancer. Nick’s journey is one of a determined spirit, one of spiritual exploration, one that led him to explore every fundamental facet needed to merely live. He realized death was possible.

This will to live was bigger than just fighting cancer, a faith journey that took him over and over and over again from a small town in the upstate of South Carolina across the state to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. This geographical journey brought him back to one of his greatest passions, cycling.

He found his physical restoration was a small part of his faith journey, one that took him to train to get back on his bike and return from the coast…visiting every campus that was a part of Newspring Church. Here is the second part of his story, facing death, fighting cancer, and rebuilding to return home to place he loves and calls home.

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Bobby Rettew: If you have not listened to Episode 10, Faith Journey, please do so. It is part of Nick Charalambous’ story. We pick up where we left off in Episode 10. Enjoy.

Bobby Rettew: Intersection is brought to you by Social Health Institute. Exploring new and innovative ways for hospitals and healthcare organizations to develop and enhance their social media and digital marketing strategies. Learn more at

Nick Charalambous: We understand that there are things that we don’t know we can do unless we test ourselves.

Bobby Rettew: Welcome to Intersection. I am Bobby Rettew, storyteller. In part two of this story, Nick Charalambous had to overcome a terrible cycling accident and chart a path for one of the biggest fights of his life, Stage IV bone cancer. Nick’s journey is one of a determined spirit, one of spiritual exploration, one that led him to explore every fundamental facet needed to merely live. He realized death was possible.

Bobby Rettew: This will to live was bigger than just fighting cancer, a faith journey that took him over and over and over again from a small town in upstate South Carolina across the state to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. This geographical journey brought him back to one of his greatest passions, cycling. He found his physical restoration was a small part of his faith journey, one that took him to train, to get back on his bike, and to return from the coast, visiting every campus that is a part of NewSpring Church.

Bobby Rettew: Here is the second part of his story, facing death, fighting cancer, and rebuilding to return home to a place he loves and calls home.

Nick Charalambous: The doctors were able to stabilize me, but when they were trying to figure out how to treat this disease, it was clear for them that, number one, it was a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and they didn’t have a protocol for it. I remember the doctor saying, “For most of the cancers that we come across, oh, yeah, by this point in time, there’s a mountain of research. For your cancer, there’s a molehill.” That was about the most honest that he … Not that he was trying to be dishonest, but that was the most blunt and forthright that he was throughout the whole thing.

Bobby Rettew: Did you appreciate that bluntness?

Nick Charalambous: I did, absolutely did. And what was ironic was he was sharing all this pretty grim information with me, and I guess all I kept thinking was, number one, am I ever going to walk again, because at that point I could not walk, and number two, am I ever going to get on my bike again? And he basically said, “I think you’ve got far more serious things to be concerned about.” And so, again, that was probably the closest he came to saying, “If you are alive, you will be doing well.”

Nick Charalambous: Going back to your original question, so I really wasn’t thinking about recording this journey with cancer as anything, really, whether it’s a memorial to my life in some form or fashion or whether it would be a victory, a declaration of victory in some form or fashion. I think there were just other things that I knew were more important than that.

Bobby Rettew: I felt like your path … And I followed your path when Tom told me about your diagnosis. Number one, I’m a believer. I’m a skeptic, I’m a heretic. I ask lots of questions, and at that moment in time, I wanted to believe that you would make it. I would watch inside the pictures that Heidi would take and your time at MUSC, and I would pop a few comments on there that I was praying for you. And I don’t say that lightly. When I mean that, I really mean it.

Nick Charalambous: Thank you.

Bobby Rettew: And I say that because talking about Christ is a very personal thing for me. I don’t share it with many people. Tom is one of the few people that I share it with, and I think a lot of it has to do with that I inherently am somewhat still a heretic, but following your journey was special for me because I saw your determination.

Bobby Rettew: Talk about your diagnosis. Talk about your goal and your path, and talk about your relationship with Christ through that process.

Nick Charalambous: My diagnosis was a T cell Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and I guess my prognosis was, in the early going, pretty grim because they really didn’t know how to treat it. The critical component, in my view, of the treatment protocol was giving me what’s called a monoclonal antibody that is still a fairly new treatment, and it basically locks into one of the … On a cancer cell there’s kind of proteins that I guess are like the keyhole, and the monoclonal antibody is the key and it kind of locks in there and it can inject chemotherapy directly into the cancer cell. So again, pretty advanced medicine, and, fortunately for me, my doctor at MUSC is an accomplished cancer researcher and physician clinician, and so he was able to identify the possibility that this would work.

Nick Charalambous: So, yes, during this early going, I guess, my first thought really in any … You mentioned determination, but I remember blogging. One of the blogs I did right during the season was like, “Don’t call me a cancer fighter.” I felt very much like this wasn’t about me fighting cancer with determination. This was about me letting God fight for me, and what essentially I needed to do was, I guess, tuck myself under his protection and his armor, if you like, and follow him into the battle and that he would cover my back and that the only thing I needed to worry about was staying close to him.

Nick Charalambous: And so that’s really the source of my peace from almost the very beginning, almost the very first minute of that phone call that I received from the doctor locally to where I’m at right now. It was stay close, stay close to God, stay close to Jesus. He is going to be fighting for you all the way through. I realized that death was possible, very, very, very possible, and I was at peace with that idea and I recognized that the healing that God promises could absolutely come from passing from this earthly world into heaven with him, into eternity with him, absolutely believed that that was a very reasonable explanation of what was going to happen next.

Nick Charalambous: But I also had felt very strongly that God had given me a promise. I felt like he had spoken to my heart before I even had been diagnosed with cancer, that this suffering that I was experiencing would be for a little while and that he would himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish me. That’s a scripture out of 1 Peter 5:10. I guess I kept those two realities firmly in mind, that the suffering might be for a little while on earth so that I would be with Christ in heaven, or it truly would be a little suffering on earth and he would bring me through alive, strong, and restored.

Nick Charalambous: And so the battle spiritually and physically and emotionally all the way through the rehab process, the recovery process, the chemo, everything, was trying to remind myself that physical healing on earth was something that I could look forward to, and I had to believe by faith was possible and that I had to act as though it were going to happen by faith. And so there was always this pull in my soul to say, “Oh, well, look, I’m fine with dying.” Obviously, my wife is going to be traumatized and, obviously, all my friends and family are going to be grieving, and I obviously was regretful of that if that were to happen.

Nick Charalambous: But I was fine personally with the idea of meeting Jesus face to face. And so it was like, “Okay, I’m good, but if the Lord has promised me healing and full restoration, then I have to believe that with full faith as well.” Right? And so it was a very interesting dynamic for me. And so I think it came into its own when I had a stem cell transplant. Well, I was first able to get to remission within, I think, eight or nine months, and then after that, the doctor said, “Okay, well, we think that you can probably do a stem cell transplant. We don’t think …” Ironically, they said, “We don’t think it’s going to be successful, but we-”

Bobby Rettew: That’s encouraging.

Nick Charalambous: That’s right. Right.

Bobby Rettew: Thank you.

Nick Charalambous: The chances are not good. My doctor literally-

Bobby Rettew: At least he set you up for success regardless of what it was.

Nick Charalambous: Right. He said, “I don’t think it’s going to be successful, but it’s going to buy us some time.” I think is what he was trying to get at was it was going to buy some time. And so I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” And once the stem cell transplant started proceeding in a fairly positive way, that’s when I started realizing, okay, well, what is this new life cured going to look like? Again, anticipating that reality by faith.

Bobby Rettew: And I think you are articulating something that I think many individuals struggle with regardless if you’re agnostic, atheist, or even a Christian. And I’d love for you to react however you feel necessary to react, but I’m going to try to not generalize, but share. In the path of working with a national cancer hospital for many years, helping them communicate, many hospitals across the country, we have met so many people in their cancer journey. I could show you pictures of my favorite cancer patients, the pink-haired lady from Arizona, who I just love. She makes me cry when I think about her.

Bobby Rettew: But one other thing I think that I hear from her, and even my wife as she walked through watching her mother pass away, is she struggled with, and many struggled with that I heard from, is that, “Why did God save me and not her?” or, “Why can that individual say it’s about God gave me all the glory-“

Nick Charalambous: Grace.

Bobby Rettew: “… or the grace or all those things?” Those statements were, “Why is God responsible if you heal but not responsible if you die?” And what was interesting, that you said something that has made me shift my thinking a little bit is that you’re not talking about mortal healing. You’re talking about spiritual healing. Is that correct? Or do you see those in parallel, that it’s not that God is looking at you and ignoring everybody else. It’s just you’re describing your healing path, your spiritual path as well. Would you agree with that or is that cancer path and the mortal path work in parallel?

Nick Charalambous: Yeah, I think it works in parallel. I think one of the heavy, weighty, mysterious parts of faith in Jesus is that he is absolutely, fully in control. He is sovereign, is the word that we use to describe his complete control, so there’s never any part of what happens to us here on earth that one could claim is outside of his will in one sense. And so the emotional point that I would feel, and I instantly responded to in your question was, there’s a great deal of cancer survivor guilt that I deal with. I meant guilt’s probably the wrong word to use. Let’s just say awareness. A humbling awareness that I have literally no, I have deserved none of the grace that’s being poured out to me. There’s no reason whatsoever in me, that I should have received his miraculous protection over my life twice. There’s really no reason why, I mean I remember when I was praying for survival, I mean I would have been happy with that alone. The fact that my body was fully restored. I mean to athletic fitness that I did not have before the cancer, before the wreck. This is grace, upon grace, upon grace, right? I struggle with that. I mean there was one of my first leaders in ministry, Zach Smith, back in 2010 I think it was, lost his life to colon cancer.

Nick Charalambous: He left behind three beautiful children and a beautiful young wife, and I literally struggle every time I see the kids, or I see his wife, because it’s like I survived and he did not. It’s a very, very weighty thing. I mean I think, at the end of the day, the way I haven’t understood God’s will as to why I survived and others haven’t, but I do understand the will that God has for us to worship, and to praise, and to thank him if we have received his unspeakably great grace. So I was determined, and I remember feeling this very much as I was in the hospital finishing up my stem cell transplant, that God said that my journey on this cancer would not be complete until I declared his mighty deeds. In Psalm 40, verse three, he drew attention to the fact many would see, and fear, and trust in the Lord. So I felt very strongly that that was what I owed, the worship, the praise, the thanks to God is what I owed him in return for this great grace.

Nick Charalambous: That was all that I could do that the grace that he had poured out on me was unexplainable, and all I was responsible for was saying thank you.

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Bobby Rettew: When you announced that you wanted to do a bike ride.

Nick Charalambous: Yeah.

Bobby Rettew: I think it’s kind of symbolic in a way, if you think about it, for many people that are going to listen to this across the country, the upstate the Anderson area is three and half hours by drive.

Nick Charalambous: Yeah.

Bobby Rettew: If you drive 75, 85 miles an hour to Charleston to MUSC.

Nick Charalambous: Yeah.

Bobby Rettew: But you chose to return home with a bike ride. Talk about that bike ride. Where’d it come from and why’d you do it?

Nick Charalambous: Yeah. So, I think the bike ride part was kind of a couple things. So number one, bike riding is for me, it has a spiritual dimension to it. I mean, I’m on my own most of the time when I’m riding I do it solo, and it’s a time for me to spiritually, I guess, hang out with God. It’s beautiful. I mean creation is beautiful, and I get a change to, I don’t know, there’s something very, again, spiritual about feeling your body in a way being exerted. Being tested to its limits. So, anyway, so when I felt as though I had to declare full physical healing, it was kind of a declaration of faith. It was saying, “God said I would be fully, physically healed. Fully restored.” He said to me that, I think in response to one of my prayers, I asked him to make my body better than it was before the cancer.

Nick Charalambous: So, I thought, “Well, what could I do that would prove that to be true?” If I was going to experience the full truth, and the full reality of this miraculous healing, what would I need to do to realize it? To manifest it? To show it? I thought, well it has to be some crazy, unreachable, athletic achievement and how about riding my bike some crazy distance? Originally, I thought, “Well, why not do a bike across America,” but it very quickly occurred to me that that would be a six week probably journey, and very logistically challenging. One day I was in the offices at New Spring, and I had been praying about it for a few months. I remember seeing a map of South Carolina with all our campuses arranged on the map. It looked like a loop. I thought, “Well, how about that? Wouldn’t that be a great way to say thank you for all the people that were praying for me at the time. Say thank you to my church for standing by me, and providing support, and prayer, and great healthcare and such for me. It was a quite long distance.”

Nick Charalambous: I mean I could see just by the state of South Carolina, there would be close to 1,000 miles. So that’s the genesis of the miracle tour of South Carolina. I mean I basically decided that I would be serious enough about it that I would make a plan, like I would sketch out, I guess, what those routes would look like, to bike them every day, and see how quickly I could make it across the state. I could figure it out to do about a 70 miles every day for about two weeks. A few months before, just by providence, my church had started this sabbatical program, where if you had been on staff for more than seven years you would get a three week sabbatical. I thought, “Well okay.” I can do it in two weeks. I’ve got a three week sabbatical coming up, that’s what I’m going to do.

Bobby Rettew: What was that journey like?

Nick Charalambous: Yeah, I mean frightening. I mean I remember the early, when I got to the place where I was going to go public that I was going to do this Cancer Miracle Tour of South Carolina, it was about, I think it was May 1st I think, and I had sketched out the idea of starting at the end of June. So I had about six weeks where I was public with this intent, and I had sketched out some training rides and such. I remember it just dawning on me just how crazy this idea was, because I mean, at the very beginning of my training rides, I could barely ride more than 30 or 35 miles and feel good about it. You know, like oh it was an easy ride at 35 miles. I didn’t feel anywhere close to that at the beginning, right. So if I can’t even cover half the distance of one day, it occurred to me that this might be a step too far.

Nick Charalambous: By the end of that six week training season, I had gotten to the place where I could do maybe one long ride during a weekend, so 70 miles or so. I think actually I think I ended up doing two back to backs. I think that was the pinnacle of my training, but here I was sketching out not only 13 days of those, but two of the days were even rides in the 90 and 100 mile distance. So, I was fearful. I mean I had a lot of equipment failures, and my bike was, I tried to get it fitted professionally so that I would have the most comfortable possible experience. Not that it’s ever comfortable being on a bike for six to seven hours a day, but or five I guess if it was a shorter day, but yeah, so a lot of things were going wrong. My fitting didn’t go the way it was supposed to go. It was uncomfortable. I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.

Nick Charalambous: The very weekend before I set out, I went to a totally different fitter, and he totally reworked the entire bike and basically told me I needed to buy new pedals, and new cleats and everything. I didn’t have enough time to test out that new arrangement of equipment until literally the morning I was setting out. So I was filled with fear. Filled with anxiety. I honestly at that point was thinking, “Well everyone’s going to be thinking that I talked this up.” I’d gone public with fundraising, and I think I’d already received $1,000 plus, and support TV stations and newspapers had done my story. I was just like, “Oh my goodness. This is going to go terribly. I’m going to hit day three or four, and I’m just going to, my body’s going to quit on me, and I’m just going to look like an idiot.”

Nick Charalambous: So yeah, it was tough. It was tough that first few days, because even though my body did pretty well the first two, three days, I was still thinking the shoe’s going to drop. The next climb, the next distance, my body’s going to suddenly, my muscles are going to quit, and I’m going to pull a muscle. Something’s going to happen. So I was very fretful. I think it was day three when I had a particularly arduous climbing day. So I had already, in my mind, assumed that most of the riding in South Carolina would be flat because I was heading down toward the ocean. It was like, “Well, I mean that seems downhill, so it’s probably flat.” I did not realize that to get to the Midlands, you have to basically cross a ridge, a ridge line across the state. In the watery section of Northeast of Columbia, the watery forest or whatever, there’s pretty significant climbing hills there.

Nick Charalambous: I remember doing about 15 miles of climbs, and I just hit, I guess my rock bottom where it was like I had to realize that God was supernaturally giving me energy and strength for this, because I had not climbed like that ever. I mean I had done maybe a mile’s worth of climbing of that intensity, 7% grades or whatnot. I was doing 7% grades for six miles, and probably four, five, 6% grades for another 15, 10 to 15 miles. So I just realized that your job, Nick, is to focus on the power of God here. He’s going to give you the strength that you need. I got through that ride, and the very next day everything was different because spiritually, I was locked into the reality that this was not going to be about my assumptions about what my body could do. It was not going to be about how much training I did or didn’t do. It’s not going to be about whether or not I was going to find water stops, and deal with all of that logistical freight.

Nick Charalambous: It was going to be, “Okay, God called me to this journey. He’s going to give me the … He miraculously healed me, enough that I could do this journey, so He was going to provide miraculously everything that I needed to finish it. Once I had locked into that truth, by faith, again, it was a faith test. And I failed it originally. You know, in the first three days, I failed that faith test. But, I think, after that day, that day three, I locked into reality that I needed to exercise my faith, not just my body. The rest of the journey was fun and adventurous, and tough, challenging, but by no means stressful. It was refreshing to the soul.

Bobby Rettew: What can people learn from your story?

Nick Charalambous: Yeah, you know, I want people to learn-

Bobby Rettew: And I ask that, and I don’t mean to interrupt, but I mean, we’ve got a lot of narratives going here.

Nick Charalambous: Oh, absolutely.

Bobby Rettew: I mean, we’ve got the narrative of the guy that started all this with a bike wreck, and he’s ending it this … not ending it, but as a part of the apex of the story, he is conquering it through a bike ride. You know?

Nick Charalambous: Right. A dangerous one.

Bobby Rettew: A very dangerous one. We’ve got that narrative. We’ve got a cancer narrative. We’ve got this intersection of faith and life. So, there’s a lot of narratives that are happening in real time here. That’s a bigger story.

Nick Charalambous: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bobby Rettew: If I’m an individual, what can I learn from your story?

Nick Charalambous: I mean, the obvious thing, obviously, for me, is that when you are in a relationship with God, all things are possible with Him … with Him. The number one takeaway for me is that, again, not because of any special faith on my part, but by His pure grace, He was able to do what would, medically speaking, seem physically impossible, and miraculous. And so, miracles, for me … the word miracle, for me is no longer at catch-all term for unexplainable things. It really is a precise description of the power of God to do the impossible in us, and through us. I’ve experienced that miracle power. So, the first is, obviously, that that’s true, that God is real, and sovereign, and gracious, and loving, and personal. So, all of those things are true.

Nick Charalambous: The second learning, I think for me, is that there is a real sense in which, whether or not you believe in the power God, we can assume that there are things that are going to happen. There are going to be challenges we cannot overcome, and there are going to be realities that we just have to adapt to. I think, you know, commonly when we see these amazing stories of say, Lance Armstrong, or whoever it might be, who’s come back from a pretty significant sickness like cancer … you know, we can be very quick to rush to the idea of amazing grit, amazing courage, amazing determination, all of these things … and those things are absolutely true. But, I think what I realize is, what makes those things amazing is not some special athletic, physical ability that someone has … or even a moral inclination, a moral posture that allows someone to succeed. It’s not, for me, about personal glory. It’s not about, look at what I, as a human being can accomplish and can achieve. But, I do think there is a sense in which you have to believe the outcome you want to see.

Nick Charalambous: And so, it’s not necessarily that you’re an athlete and have to reach some epic place of accomplishment. It’s that you have believed enough to do the next step of rehab, for instance, that like … so, when I went from my muscles in my back are completely atrophied, and I can’t sit up straight, I can’t stand straight, I can barely walk, I had to mentally, emotionally, spiritually, in every way, tell myself that I could not walk straight unless I believed that I could walk straight. I could not rehab any one of my muscles unless I believed that by rehabbing those muscles, I would be able to use them again.

Nick Charalambous: And so, there was this constant, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month, conviction … belief, whatever you want to call that, that I had to act the miracle that I wanted to see. And I think, regardless of where someone is in faith, I think we understand what that looks like. I think we understand that there are things that we don’t know we can do, unless we test ourselves, unless we put ourselves in a vulnerable position, unless we put ourselves through pain sometimes, unless we put ourselves through … failure.

Nick Charalambous: I mean, my rehab definitely was not a straight line. I mean, there were days when I felt like a failure. There were six months in where I thought, “Well, okay. I’ve gotten this far, but you know, I’m still crooked, maybe that’s just the way I’m going to be. Maybe that’s the next step of faith,” I would tell myself, “Maybe the next step of faith is to adapt to the reality.” And yet, every moment along the way, thankfully I was able to receive strengthening by God, to believe that no, that’s not the next step for you, is not to adapt to what you cannot do. It is to discover what the healing that I’ve given you, or in secular terms, to discover what you really can do … and to explore what you can do.

Nick Charalambous: So, that’s a testing process. That’s a … yeah, it’s a very emotionally wrenching process because you’re constantly dealing with the reality that yeah, you could try and discover what your body can do, and hurt it. You could try and discover what it can do, and find out that you can’t do what you think you can do. You know? So, it takes a certain steel in your spirit to be able to deal with that. I think what … and maybe I’m being a bit more philosophical than I had intended to be, but I think that there is a part of us that doesn’t sometimes want to face reality, right? And sometimes not facing reality is not facing the fact that you can accomplish more than you think you can. Sometimes not facing reality is not wanting to try.

Bobby Rettew: So, how has your journey, your story, changed or impacted how you tell stories moving forward?

Nick Charalambous: Well, I haven’t had much of a chance to work on a story since this journey, I guess, recently …

Nick Charalambous: But, in totality.

Nick Charalambous: In totality … I feel like I’m bolder than ever, in wanting to discover and share what God is doing in the world at all times … through all types of people … that like, what has happened to me, is remarkable. But, the fact is, in small ways, and even bigger ways than my story, there are many, many, many thousands, millions of people, every day, who are beneficiaries of this kind of grace, and this kind of miraculous power. As a storyteller for the kingdom of God, I want to be putting my heart and soul even more deeply into that than ever before.

Nick Charalambous: I think the process that I’m going to be going through with, you know, I guess you could call it skilling, is going to look different. I think I’m more aware now than ever before that social media and video and those types of tools have to be a massively significant part of the way that we tell narratives, that we do more real-time narrative storytelling than, you know, the lookback, the retrospectives that, I guess have marked most of the pieces that I’ve done in the past.

Nick Charalambous: But, those are challenging in their own way. I guess I’m excited about exploring more real-time storytelling on behalf of other people, not just my own.

Bobby Rettew: The one and only Nick. The man.

Nick Charalambous: The One and Only God.

Bobby Rettew: … that I’ve met … I’ve finally get to meet, after years of following your story. Thank you for your time.

Nick Charalambous: Thank you for yours. This was a real great privilege and I hope that … I hope people have enjoyed hearing, and be encouraged by my story, and I pray that, you know, what’s not lost in all of this discussion is the reality that there are some really amazing advances being made in medical science, right now. You know, cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be. That’s true regardless of whether you feel as though God is sovereign, you know, in control of bringing those treatments to you for healing. Everyone … I want everyone to have access to the most advanced and life-saving technologies that we have, and … I just hope that anyone who has recently been diagnosed of cancer, or anyone that has a friend or family member that’s been diagnosed with cancer, that their first thought is not that this is going to be the end of someone’s life … that their first thought can be, there are going to be treatments, there are going to be therapies, there are going to be protocols that are going to be followed that are going to be tough, but my job is to believe, to have hope, to be encouragement to the person struggling with cancer, and that they can look forward to some long life ahead.

Bobby Rettew: You’re awesome.

Nick Charalambous: Thank you.

Bobby Rettew: Thank you.

Bobby Rettew: Thank you for joining us. We hope you enjoyed the conversation and exploration … most importantly, the many intersections inside the world of storytelling. Intersection is powered by the Touchpoint Media Network. Podcast dedicated to discussions on all things healthcare. Go to for many other podcasts exploring digital marketing and online patient engagement strategies, CIO and technology strategies, the challenges of the online physician, the power of the e-patient, and most importantly, the power of storytelling. To learn more, go to, that is