Gemma Peters
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Hearing about our past at Bloodwise, inspired me for the future

Gemma Peters
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Updated 08 Oct 2019

Last week it was an honour to welcome Sylvia Gaunt back to our London office. For those who don’t know, Sylvia’s parents, Hilda and David, founded Bloodwise in 1960 following her sister Susan’s death from leukaemia at the age of six.

We were all really keen to meet Sylvia, share what we’re working on and most importantly to hear her views and listen to her story. Of course, everyone at Bloodwise knows how we started, and we talk about it a lot. But there was something very special about hearing it from someone who was at the heart of it from the beginning.

There were tears hearing Sylvia talk about Susan

In particular, the lunchtime session where Sylvia spoke to all our staff was very emotional. I was moved to tears by hearing Sylvia talk about the endless picnics the family went on at Susan’s request to make her last days as happy as possible, and about the local pub collecting from locals to buy her the dog she’d always wanted.

All of us were hugely inspired by the story of how her family responded to this tragedy by deciding to raise money to stop other families having to go through the same thing.

Their efforts started small – just four collection tins that were quickly filled. But from those first four tins a fundraising movement grew that has, over the last six decades, invested £500 million in blood cancer research. That research has, in turn, helped transform treatments the world over and transform survival rates.

Their mission to beat blood cancer

It is a remarkable story made all the more poignant by the details of how they did it: the pocket hankies they sewed; the donation from film star Rex Harrison; the support from Hattie Jacques. Sylvia even told us how she’d spent a night in jail to raise money for us!

But the interesting thing was that while Sylvia talked a lot about the past – and she’s rightly massively proud of what’s been achieved – her attention was firmly focused on the future. She is all too aware that, for all the successes, the mission to beat blood cancer remains uncompleted.

It’s still the UK’s third biggest cancer killer, and so we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to keep going. Finishing the job Sylvia’s family started won’t be easy, but she is in no doubt that we will do it. Given how much we’ve achieved already, why wouldn’t we? And she doesn’t see beating blood cancer as something we’ll achieve at some vague, undefined point in the future.

Bloodwise family

In her own words, “I am not a young woman anymore, and I want to be around to see you finish the job”. So the clear message I took away from spending time with her was that we need to challenge ourselves to do even better and to make that final push. And when I say “we”, I don’t just mean the people who work for Bloodwise, or the scientists who do the research. I mean every single one of the people who make up the Bloodwise family. That means everyone who’s contributed over the last 59 years, whether they’ve thrown 20p in a bucket, put out leaflets in hospitals, or conducted research. They’ve all played their part.

This sense of how we define “we” is important to Sylvia. It’s also important to me. Our charity started off as a family – first in the literal sense and then as a group of people who carried on that same spirit, looking after each other and supporting each other. This is something we need to cherish and preserve. So following Sylvia’s visit, I want to ask you to do two things.

Exciting research to beat blood cancer

Firstly, tell me if there is any more we should be doing to nurture our special family spirit. Secondly, let’s come together to redouble our efforts to do what we can to make Sylvia’s family’s vision a reality.

There so much exciting research happening now, and most scientists agree that the end of the journey to beat blood cancer, started by Sylvia, Hilda and David in their terrible grief at losing someone so precious, is now within sight. And the more money we raise, the sooner we’ll get there. Meeting Sylvia has made me even prouder to be part of Bloodwise at a time when we’re so close to finishing her family started. I hope you feel proud to be part of it, too.

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