Saturday, 5 March 2011

A French holiday in a good cause

After my first post of March at I hope that this month's blog posts are not going to be taken up mainly with the theme of cancer.

But hey, it's Macmillan's centenary year and I'm feeling a natural kinship with fellow-sufferers. And anyway many of my Budleigh readers will have exchanged pleasantries, or even fought hard bargains, with the person who pointed me in the direction of the following story.

I'm sure they'll find it as moving and as heart-warming as I did.

I knew Sheila Hyson as the stallholder in Budleigh Salterton's Thursday Flea Market who's always there in the top right corner of the Public Hall with her table of garden ornaments and horticultural curios. That's because she's the one in charge, being the boss of Hyson Fairs.

What I didn't know is that for the past 30 years she's been raising money for a charity dear to her heart.

"But now it is my turn," says her husband John.

John Hyson and Sheila's friend Tina Bowyer, who is one of the team going with him. They are leaving on 13 June and hope that the journey will take them just over two weeks

It was Sheila who told me of John's "totally insane" plan, as a 10 mph cyclist, "old, fat and slow," to embark on a 1,000-kilometre bike ride through France to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphona Research.

"Why do I want to raise money for this charity?" he asks. "Because we know how damaging this disease and its treatment can be.

"In 1974, at the age of two, my son Matthew was diagnosed with Leukaemia, and we were told that he had a less than 50% chance of survival. If he had been diagnosed 15 years earlier, he would have had no chance of survival. Now nine out of ten children with this Leukaemia survive."

"A great improvement, but there is so much more still to be done," says John. "Many of the more rare Leukaemias still have very poor survival rates and there are 28,500 people diagnosed each year with blood cancers.

Matthew was one of the lucky ones, he was kept going with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for nearly eight years, through numerous relapses, and missing a huge amount of his childhood education, until at the age of nine it was found that his youngest brother at the age of two was a suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant for Matthew.

The bone marrow transplant was a great success and the cancerous blood cells were destroyed, and the transplanted bone marrow worked well in producing good non- cancerous white blood cells.

Unfortunately the radiation used - which was a bit hit and miss then - to kill the cancerous cells fried - succinctly put by a doctor - most of Matthew's glands and he was unable to produce hormones. This meant he had to inject himself with growth hormone for quite a long time, his bone development was not good and his knee had a tumour that had to be removed and also his hips plated. The lack of testosterone meant that he was not able to have children. The radiation damaged his eyes and caused cataracts which had to be treated. He developed diabetes because his pancreas did not produce insulin. The radiation then started producing more bone tumours and skin tumours, all of which needed removal, and in some cases skin grafts. Amongst other things he had a heart attack, which may or may not have been brought on by the radiation used for the bone marrow transplant.

Through all of this Matthew has led an independent life. Following disrupted schooling he got a place at Hereford College of Art and got an HND there, and liked Hereford so much he made his life there. Finding the life of an artist not financially supportive, he went into antique dealing and also teaching children who could not go through the normal educational system. I was surprised and proud one day when in Hereford with Matthew when a passing youth said "Hallo sir, how are you?"

Things have improved immensely in the treatment of many blood cancers since Matthew’s treatment, but there is so much more to be done, and, as always, money is needed."

Well, after all that I felt that my own health problems had been about as minor as a common cold. I'm happy to do all I can to help John and Sheila with their worthy fund-raising cause.

Below is a timetable of The French Journey for anyone who feels that it might be fun to join John and his fellow-cyclists.



We intend to travel from Roscoff in Brittany via Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Perpignan and on into Spain. Traveling approximately 1,000 kilometres this summer to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research (Blood cancers).

I am asking everybody to support my ride with a gift to Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research of 1p per kilometre i.e. £10. We would like as many cyclists as possible to come along and for each of them to raise the 1p per kilometre from all their friends, with a minimum contribution to Leukaemia and Lymphoma Reasearch of £100 (10 friends at £10 each).

Much as we would like your company on some or all of our route, we are offering you no help on the way apart from our company. We are 10 mph cyclists - old, fat, and slow describes me! For the young, keen, or fit cyclists, please come along but go at your own faster speeds.

The journey can be broken up easily into parts for those who can only spare a short time:

Part One Roscoff to Nantes.

Part Two Nantes to Bordeaux.

Part Three Bordeaux to Toulouse.

Part Four Toulouse to Perpignan.

Part Five Perpignan to Port Bou and back to Perpignan.

All of these places are well served either by railways or airports.

We will be travelling unsupported, but those who want to arrange their own support vehicles will be very welcome and very popular. Anybody who wants to drive as a support vehicle only will also be very welcome.

All the money raised is for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and all costs of the journey must be met by the individual participants.

For the totally insane it will be great fun.


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