Since Abi was first rushed to hospital in 2009, I have cycled both the length of the UK and the length of France. By doing so, I have raised many thousands of pounds for the hospital that operated on her.
I couldn’t just sit by and watch helplessly while my youngest daughter was suffering from a life-threatening illness. I needed to react somehow. I’m not a doctor, so what better way than raising money for the hospital that I had to thank for her life? To do that, I chose to overcome some physically extreme challenges where I had to fight for every inch, just like Abi has had to fight for every second.
I can recommend fundraising as a way of connecting with a beautiful side of humanity. I’ve met some truly amazing people while collecting money for our cause. It’s exhilarating to witness people at their generous best.
Cycling From Lands End to John O’Groats
I found it really tough cycling the length of the UK - from Lands End to John O’Groats. I don’t look back on the experience particularly fondly. Amongst a few low points were the afternoon of the first day, when we had to cycle busy roads, up a couple of long hills and go further than I’d ever cycled before. I set off a bit too fast, so I really struggled for the last ten miles. Consequently, my body ached for the rest of the ride. It’s particularly tough to begin each day, with a long cycle in front of you, unable to sit down. Shrewsbury to Preston was dour and busy. In New Cumnock, near Kilmarnock, my streetwise inner-voice warned me not to stop at any traffic lights, under any circumstances. Then I managed to slip off my pedal, in the process gauging a huge chunk out of my shin, just 100 yards from the finishing line at John O’Groats. Looking back, I think it was somewhat apt that I crossed the line with blood pouring from my leg.
However, there were some highlights too. Dartmoor was beautiful and not as tough as my mind had decided it would be the night before cycling over it. Likewise, Shap Fell; I actually enjoyed the long slog up to the top. Scotland was beautiful, and the route from Inveraray to Invergarry was especially stunning, as was Carbisdale Castle to Bettyhill. Scotland has quieter roads than England, which made for a much nicer ride. But most of all, I was proud to complete one of the iconic cycles in the UK and to have simultaneously raised over £3000 for the hospital that saved Abi’s life.
Fundraising on a High Street
This was the first of three days spent on a turbo trainer fundraising for the hospital before I cycled from London to Nice. All three of the days were brilliant due to the amount of support I received. I don’t just mean financially either, but also, the kind words of encouragement from the many people who stopped to hear Abi’s story.
The day before the fundraiser, I had spoken to the Store Manager of a nearby superstore and arranged to use their car park for the day. I pulled up at around 8.45 a.m., and the Customer Service Desk inside the shop knew who I was. Somehow I was expecting a bit of a fuss; it was a pleasant surprise there was none. This set the tone for the rest of the day too.
At about 9.45, I had pitched my turbo trainer outside a charity shop, tied a couple of banners to my handlebars explaining Abi’s story, put out my collection tins out and had begun peddling. It had started to rain, which soaked me within an hour. Yet it was impossible to feel dispirited because so many people had already said lovely things and donated. Then a friend stopped by and took some pictures; that lifted my spirits too. It also attracted a fair bit of attention, and I raised lots of money during the 15 minutes he was photographing me.
The afternoon brightened up and even the sun made an appearance. With it came more people. More donations. More kind words. Aches and pains tested my resolve, but they were more than outweighed by so much support. Before I knew it, 5 p.m. had arrived, and it was time to pack up. I quickly said my goodbyes to the girls in the charity shop, loaded the bike into the car and drove home, eager to count up my takings. The final total reached £371.26.
Throughout the day, I met lots of people who had experience of a brain tumour, through a friend or family member contracting the condition. Two had themselves received treatment for brain tumours. I also met people with serious illnesses who had been treated at the same hospital as Abi. It was tremendously moving to hear their stories and fantastic that they were able to support mine.
Then, later that evening I received the following email:
I hope you are well. I hope you don’t mind me emailing you, but your story is very similar to ours.
I walked past you today with my 2 small boys in their double buggy. I saw you fundraising by cycling on George Street, Hove, and read the sign about your brave daughter, Abi. Your story made me feel so sad, and I very nearly came up to talk to you so you could meet my son, who also has a pilocytic astrocytoma.
He was diagnosed at 3 months old. A tiny baby. We had enjoyed the first 3 months of our baby’s life with absolutely no idea. One day his personality completely changed, and he was lethargic and miserable. I took him to the doctors twice, who dismissed me with: “teething or growth spurt”, but I knew something was wrong. So we took him to A&E and he was given an ultrasound on his head, and hydrocephalus was diagnosed. I will never forget that moment as long as I live. It was horrific.
I could tell you his story, but it is long and unhappy. We too were at Abi’s hospital in the Children’s Critical Care Centre. He too had a craniotomy, but his tumour is in the optic pathway encasing all the main blood vessels and incredibly volatile. He had a biopsy and had a massive bleed which caused horrendous damage that left him blind and weak down one side. He doesn’t walk or talk, but he is very giggly with the right songs and gorgeously ticklish!
We went through 10 months of chemotherapy, given at a different hospital so I can talk to you if you need any guidance or advice there. My son’s tumour did respond to chemotherapy, and it does stabilise in many cases.
If you ever need to talk to someone in the same position, we are certainly open to it! It helps not to feel so alone.
I hope you don’t mind this impromptu email. I have just read through your blog, and I think you are inspirational. It’s funny when people tell us how strong we are, I just shrug it off, but when I read of other people going through the same, I am in awe!
That email made me cry; it was a tremendously moving way to finish such a fulfilling day. I tried replying, but everything I wrote sounded inadequate. The next day I eventually did manage to write something. I told them that I was sorry that they had experienced something similar (and much more besides). I said that I admired them for being able to offer their support, even after all they had been through. I told them that I found that incredibly inspirational.
Fundraising at Abi’s Hospital
I spent the second of my fundraising events on my turbo trainer at the hospital that had operated on Abi. It was another brilliant day; very long and particularly tiring, but that didn’t matter because I managed to raise a fantastic £798.97.
The day started very early when my alarm went off at 5.45 a.m. I had spent the night on a sofa at my goddaughter’s; my theory was that it was a lot closer to the hospital than my home. However, even though it was only 13 miles away, at 6.30 in the morning, the journey still took me more than an hour. The irony is that, rather than the car, it would have been much quicker on my bike.
When I did eventually arrive at the hospital, I went first to the Security Desk. The Head of Security had been instrumental in arranging the day and his team were brilliant throughout. One of their guards even spent the day checking I was okay, helping me to carry things back and forth and emptying my cash bucket to keep the money secure. He was brilliant.
By 8.10, I had set up near one of the main entrances, hoping to get money from the arriving staff. I stayed there for an hour or so, and it proved tremendously successful; my bucket was so full of cash it was hard to carry. I then moved to the main wing of the hospital. The idea with the move was to catch the bulk of the visiting public, and so it proved as the day continued as it had started; with a steady stream of donations and people wishing me well. It was also a much nicer place to cycle because the foyer there was light and airy, and I was grateful for that by the time mid-afternoon had arrived.
The Fundraising team at the hospital had published an article about my ride on their website, and one group of three staff told me they had read Abi’s story there and had searched all over the hospital trying to find me. They were so pleased they eventually managed. Me too, because they were so much fun.
Around 4 p.m. I moved back to my original position to get donations from the staff on their way home. Everyone was showing me so much goodwill, it lifted my spirits and helped my forget how exhausted I was. Later on, I met the consultant who had fitted Abi’s shunt. It was lovely to thank him again and to let him know just how well she had done. He was noticeably moved.
One of the fundraising team came down to see me at 5.15 p.m. and took a few pictures for the hospital website. A little while later, the security guard came back to help me pack up. Although that was earlier than I had planned to finish, the stream of people coming past had slowed, as had my peddling. So I took the opportunity to stop.
All in all, it was a brilliant day. When Abi was first submitted to the hospital, I was in awe of the dedication and professionalism of the staff there. Abi was very lucky to have their expert help on hand, and it was a pleasure to have displayed my gratitude to them.
Fundraising on Yet Another High Street
I spent the last day of fundraising on my turbo trainer stationed an another high street. As usual, 2 vinyl posters were hanging from my handlebars telling our story. Those posters had proved my centrepiece so far, and during my earlier fundraisers, I think everyone who had taken the time to read them had given me money.
It was another fantastic day, both regarding the amount of money raised and the incredible support I received. It was also the easiest of the three fundraising days I’d done so far. I was getting used to sitting in the saddle for a long time by then and quite a few friends and people I knew passed by to say hello. That helped enormously. It also proved easier thanks to the pub opposite, who kept me fueled with coffee.
I arrived around 9.30 and decided to risk leaving my car in a loading bay nearby. The local parking attendants were notorious, so I wasn’t confident they would show any compassion for my cause. Unfortunately, I had no choice but to park there because I was alone and had a lot of gear to carry back and forth. Plus I needed quick access to the car to secure all the money I raised. My fears proved correct when a parking officer gave me a ticket at 4.15. I suppose I should have been grateful they didn’t arrange to have my car towed away. Thankfully, after 3 unsuccessful appeal attempts, I managed to get the parking ticket overturned. Sometimes it pays to persevere.
By 9.45am, I had set up, drawn a deep breath and had started peddling. By 10 o’clock, I had already raised a fair amount, despite it being a little quiet at that time of the morning. However, by midday it had got super busy and the cash was really rolling in. I had chosen a great spot. In fact, by the end of the day I had filled up all four of my tins and when I finished counting at 10 p.m., I had reached the princely sum of £796.75.
As usual, what was incredible about the day were the truly inspirational people I got to meet. There was the raw food advocate who had lost his nephew to cancer. The father who’s teenage son’s benign tumour was successfully removed at the same hospital as Abi. There was the couple who lost their daughter to a brain tumour and who now run a charity dedicated to funding research. Then there was the man who was running a marathon and raising money for a charity devoted to providing nutritional support for children with cancer. I had a long conversation with a woman who, shortly after giving birth to her first son, was found to have a brain tumour. Twelve years on and she was fit, healthy and inspirational. Then there was the doctor with who I discussed the reasons for the lack of research into childhood tumours. She thought that it was due to their being rare, so there wasn’t necessarily much of a sample size to draw research from. Finally, there was the lovely busker who stopped by just as I was about to pack up. She wished Abi luck with her fight against her illness. All remarkable people who took the time to stop and care.
Cycling From London to Nice
Just as I was getting into decent shape for cycling from London to Nice, Abi had to have more surgery. That put a halt, for a couple of months, to my fitness preparations. So by the time the ride began, I felt that I had not done enough training. But I needn’t have worried because I was just about fit enough and I managed to get properly in shape en-route. That’s partly due to topography because the ride didn’t get really hilly until about seven days in. By the end of the challenge, I felt incredibly fit. Indeed, after a thousand miles, I was ‘flying’ and I didn’t want to stop. That was a fantastic feeling, in stark contrast to how I felt on my Lands End to John O’Groats ride, where I was taking lots painkillers to get through the ordeal. I expected more of the same, but I never got close to taking any drugs. Nor did I suffer from soreness; Brooke’s saddles are fantastic.
Cycling through the Alps was an incredible experience. Some of the climbs were quite challenging, but the scenery made it all worthwhile, and it was exhilarating getting to the top of steep Tour De France climbs. Can you imagine the fun I had on the 30 km descent into Nice, or the 17 km drop into Geneva?
I also met many fantastic people who were cycling for some brilliant causes. They were all an inspiration. However, one of my fellow cyclists crashing at 30 mph, due to a snapped chain, was definitely scary. When he first went down, he didn’t move for a good twenty seconds and I thought the large lump below his knee was a broken bone. Thankfully, it proved to be just a bruise, and he got up soon after the crash. He had a nastily grazed knee, hip, elbow, and shoulder. He also cracked his helmet. However, he got straight back on his bike after a bit of antiseptic cream and a few running repairs. A proper tough-nut.
The trip was a brilliant success. All-in-all, I cycled 1000.9 miles, including nearly 15000 metres of climbing over two mountain ranges (the Jura’s and The Alps). It also helped me raise nearly £5K for Abi’s hospital.