When Rob’s mother passed away after an ovarian cancer diagnosis, he was determined to channel his grief into something positive. Three marathons and some £20,000 pounds later, Rob talks about the power of fundraising, and how he went from exercise novice to marathon man…
My mum Jean was 63 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In the summer we'd gone on holiday as a family, and although mum appeared well, I remember looking back at photos and noticing that she was quite bloated. This got gradually worse and I said to my wife, “What do you think is up with mum?”. We thought it was just her body changing as she got older.
A mother's job
As summer turned to autumn Mum wasn't looking well and after a few trips to her GP she was eventually referred for a CT scan in early November. Both Mum and Dad weren't saying much but I knew something was wrong. In late November Mum was invited to see a specialist to discuss the results of her scan and was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. She was admitted to hospital on the day of her diagnosis, where she had nine litres of fluid drained from her abdomen, which gives you some idea of how progressed her illness was.
After her initial treatment of chemotherapy, follow-up scans showed no major progression. It wasn't getting worse. Mum continued her treatment with regular breaks well into 2011, but generally she seemed quite well. She was active again, driving and taking holidays around the UK.
We'd booked another family weekend break but by this time Mum wasn't feeling well again. She had undergone another CT scan a week or so before, following an aborted chemotherapy treatment due to an abnormal blood test result and a raised temperature. The weekend away was a real struggle for Mum. She was very tired and weak and walking had become difficult again so she needed the help of a wheelchair. It was heartbreaking to see but she was so brave. When we returned from that weekend we met with Mum's oncologist. He delivered the devastating news that the disease had started to progress again. He said there was nothing more they could do other than to make Mum as comfortable as possible. As Mum and Dad left the room I asked the oncologist what we were looking at in terms of a timeframe. He said, "Well, your Mum is definitely in the last year of her life. More likely, the last six months."
After numerous complications, hospital visits and stays, she died three months later.
Looking back, Mum enjoyed a reasonably good 18 months after her diagnosis. She had the initial treatment and she was able to live a relatively normal life, but as a family we knew it was only a matter of time.
Although she had told her GP she thought it might be ovarian cancer, he said that it could be IBS and that delayed the diagnosis. That's something that has driven me to raise money and awareness. After Mum passed away my father and I went online and looked at ovarian cancer charities and Target Ovarian Cancer stood out. We requested charitable donations at the funeral as opposed to flowers and the donations topped £5,000.
Picking up the mantle
When my mum passed away I was very low. I was also angry with the GP. Deep down I knew it wasn't his fault but it took time to cope with my grief and anger. I thought to myself, "How can I help other women have better experiences than my Mum did?". The only way I knew was to raise awareness and raise money. Throughout 2013 and 2014 I volunteered to help with London mainline and tube station collections for Target Ovarian Cancer, and I found this to be such a rewarding experience.
Then in the summer of 2016, I lost my best friend to pancreatic cancer at 39 years of age. Tim was a keen marathon runner and charitable guy and I thought, "Right, okay. I'm going to do this, I'm going to pick up his mantle". I’ve been running and fundraising ever since, mainly for Target Ovarian Cancer.
Supporting and raising funds for Target Ovarian Cancer has really helped me. It's given me a focus. I thought how Mum would have felt and it fills me with pride. One of the hardest things is that she didn't get to see my daughters grow up, and that still gets me. She was a wonderful Nanny to my two daughters.
Mum's been gone for nearly seven years now, and I came to terms with her death quite a while ago. However, I wonder if I hadn't been involved with the charity, would I have been able to come to terms with it in the timeframe that I did?
My advice to other would-be-fundraisers is to pick a charity that means something to you and be passionate about your fundraising. Badger people – if you knock on a door enough times, people are either going to tell you to go away, or they're going to think, "Right I'll sponsor him because I really want to" or "I'll sponsor him to just shut him up!". It's worked for me!
I like to think Mum would be proud. She'd have laughed at me if I told her I was running a marathon – I wasn't very active before! But yes, I do think she'd have been immensely proud. My whole fundraising experience has been amazing; I've been so well supported by so many people. Target Ovarian Cancer is a great charity. I'm humbled to have the opportunity to do what I do and I've met some wonderful new people. For now, I just want to push on with my fundraising, raise awareness and continue to honour mum's memory.