How one family's determination to change the future for people affected by blood cancer still guides everything we do today.
When David and Hilda Eastwood lost their daughter Susan to leukaemia in 1960, they wanted to do what they could to stop other families from having to go through the same thing. So they started fundraising to find a cure.
Bloodwise is their legacy. Their determination to change the future for people with blood cancer still guides everything we do today.
Susan’s older sister, Sylvia, has fond memories of her. “We shared a bedroom and she was a typical mischievous little girl, always in my make-up bag or tottering in my shoes,” she said. “She was such fun.” When Susan was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia aged just six, little was known about the disease and there was virtually no hope of treatment. She died less than six weeks later.
Susan’s parents found their way through their grief by focusing on doing something positive to help others. Together with friends, they began sewing “two bob” hankies, which led to an initial £12 donation. From there, the support grew and grew and in less than a year they’d raised over £3,000 to set up the first leukaemia research unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
In 1962, the Leukaemia Research Fund (as we were then known) became a registered charity.
Our research breakthroughs
Since the first leukaemia research unit was opened in 1961, we’ve invested £500 million in scientific research into blood cancer.
This has had a massive impact in giving us a better understanding and improving treatments for all types of blood cancer. But it’s not just people affected by blood cancer who have benefitted from our work, as the research we’ve funded has driven many major advances in medicine for all cancers.
Work done in the 1970s by haematologist Roger Hardisty, for example, not only laid the foundations for tailoring leukaemia treatments to the individual but also provided the founding principle for the genomic medicine revolution that followed.
This was to be the first of many major research breakthroughs which have improved diagnosis and treatment for all types of blood cancer.
Bloodwise-funded researcher David Mason discovered an antibody in 1997 which has greatly improved diagnosis, and has in turn led to big improvements in survival rates. Two years later, another of our researchers, Alison Banham, developed an antibody related to diffuse large B-cell lymphoma that has helped predict the outlook for patients and so make sure they get the right treatment.
It’s thanks to all this work, as part of a global movement of research into blood cancer, that six in 10 people diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK now survive at least five years.
In 2015, we carried out the largest ever research project into the needs of people with blood cancer. We spoke to 2,000 people, including people with blood cancer, their families and carers, clinicians, policymakers and researchers to find out about their experiences.
This research identified that to meet the needs of people affected by blood cancer, we needed to broaden our work. So as well as continuing to fund research, we expanded our patient support services and our focus on being the voice of people affected by blood cancer in Parliament and to the NHS.
We were also aware that our name, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, did not reflect the fact that we were here for people with more than 100 types of blood cancer.
So we became Bloodwise and continue to be guided by the same vision that led the Eastwood family to begin fundraising for a better future in 1960.
A brighter future
We have come a long way since 1960. Had Susan Eastwood been diagnosed with the same type of blood cancer today, it is likely that she would have lived.
The big increase in survival rates is a brilliant achievement that we are proud to have played our part in. But there is still a long way to go.
There are 40,000 people diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK every year, and it’s still the UK’s third biggest cancer killer. And those who survive often have to deal with the long-term physical effects of their treatment.
We won’t stop until we finish the job the Eastwoods started – to make sure everyone affected by blood cancer is able to live their life to the full.