Cycling grandad converts life changing illness into fundraising for Guy’s Cancer
Jeff Ward overcame the shock of a life-threatening cancer diagnosis and programme of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to cycle more than 50 miles in support of the staff at Guy’s Cancer.
Inspired by the amazing care he receives from his medical team at the cancer centre, Jeff completed the equivalent of the London to Brighton Bike Ride to raise money for life-saving cancer research at Guy’s Cancer. And he was joined in the saddle by some very special people.
Grandfather-of-two Jeff has been living with a rare form of cancer called Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma (CTCL) since 2007. The condition causes the T-cells, the white blood cells that fight off infection, to develop abnormalities and attack the skin.
Only around 200 people are diagnosed with CTCL each year in the UK. For most patients CTCL remains a chronic condition, but in 10% of cases it spreads internally and becomes life threatening.
Under the care of two specialists at Guy’s Cancer Centre, dermatologist Professor Sean Whittaker and oncologist Dr Stephen Morris, Jeff had remained stable. But in November 2020, Jeff received the news that his cancer had spread to his lymph nodes.
“This was a horrible shock to hear the cancer was now life-threatening, especially as I’d felt so well,” recalls Jeff.
He was swiftly started on a programme of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but this would not hold the cancer indefinitely.
For a long-term remission and possible cure, Jeff would need a stem cell transplant. As he doesn’t have siblings, the international register was his only chance of finding a suitable donor.
Through all the uncertainty, Jeff turned to his love of cycling to stay positive.
“When my diagnosis came, I knew the best way I could deal with this, emotionally and physically was to focus on my fitness and also do something positive for the teams working so hard to keep me well,” says Jeff.
In January, Jeff got some good news: the chemotherapy was working, and they had found a suitable donor in the USA.
Jeff decided to use his passion for cycling to raise money to thank the team at Guy’s Cancer who treated and cared for him.
After Jeff jokingly invited Prof Whittaker and Dr Morris to complete the ride with him during one of his consultations, they were inspired to join in the fundraiser.
“I was astonished and delighted that they both said they were on board with the idea,” says Jeff.
But it didn’t stop there. Soon the surgeon in charge of Jeff’s transplant, Dr Renuka Palanicawander, and Jeff’s chemo nurse, Annamaria Kostikova, decided to ride too.
“It’s an amazing thing that Jeff has done and a testament to his determination to turn a difficult situation into something so positive,” says Dr Morris.
On Saturday 17 April, Jeff and his medical team donned their cycling gear and took to their saddles. Even though Jeff had completed 10 sessions of chemotherapy and had not yet had his transplant, he rode from north west London into the Hertfordshire countryside, more than 50 miles and 2,500 feet of elevation.
“The ride was fantastic, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather,” says Jeff.
“Though the chemo has slowed me down, having everyone cycling with me really helped me to keep on going. I’m extremely thankful to everyone who has donated so far.”
The money Jeff has raised will be split equally for research by the Skin Tumour Unit Fund and Radiotherapy for Skin Lymphoma at the Cancer Centre at Guy’s, where the key researchers are Professor Whittaker and Dr Morris.
Jeff’s transplant is due to take place in early June at Hammersmith Hospital under the care of Dr Renuka Palanicawander.
Donations help take care for Guy’s Cancer patients to the next level by funding cutting edge technology, life-saving research and staff training, above what the NHS can provide.