At Christmas 2013 I was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia – you can read the story of my diagnosis and treatment so far here. After attending the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Impact Day I decided I wanted to get involved; I was inspired by everyone I met and listened to and wanted to be part of it too. I set myself a fundraising target of £5000 to raise in 2 years by undertaking a series of challenges, one of which was to take on last year’s London Bikeathon.
I opted for the 52 mile circuit; I was a little worried because I hadn't really done any training but I needn't have as the course isn't too challenging, London is mostly flat (apart from Star & Garter Hill in Richmond maybe!)
It sinks in what you are about to do when you get your pack in the post with your race number and the red and white t-shirt. You realise that this could be quite big. Trust me it is! Nothing quite prepares you for the sea of red and white, the massive video displays, the sheer brilliance of the organisation of the whole event. There are thousands of people there and plenty of places to grab a bacon sandwich and other refreshments. Fill up, as you will need the energy; make sure you have plenty of water (2 bottles preferably) and snacks to keep you going!
You'll be sent off in groups of 100 and it's an amazing feeling setting off; you will see familiar sights and places of London from a different perspective. You'll pretty much stay in groups for most of the first half of the event, though when you get out towards Fulham heading for Richmond Park riders will space out and you might be on your own for quite a while. There will always be a red and white shirt not too far away though. The marshalling is very good but it is worth taking time to go through the route before you leave home; once you get back into Westminster you'll find fresh energy to spur you on to the finish and there will be the most fantastic welcome when you get there!
So why should you get involved?
Even if you have no connection to blood cancer or know anyone who is, if you're just keen on cycling, at the very least it's a great bike ride. But there's more to it than that. I've never met anyone who has taken part in a charity event like this, who at the end has said "I really wish I hadn't done that". You can't help but feel that perhaps in a small way or a large way, you've made a difference to the lives of others. And you have.
And that's the thing. There are many ways of supporting the charity that might not be obvious. By wearing the red and white 'Beating Blood Cancer' t-shirts you are raising awareness that it exists. It's easy for a message to get lost among the many, many other charitable demands we face each day but seeing so many people wearing the same vibrant shirt may spur others to become involved.
When rider after rider goes past with the same shirt on which says "I'm cycling to beat blood cancer" it sends out three important messages:
1) Blood cancer exists - it's relatively rare when up against the more common ones but it exists
2) Something is being done to fight it - we're going to beat it
3) I'm part of that fight
All that by just wearing a t-shirt!
But let's be frank, the money is important too. The charity funds vital research, research like the one that produced the 'magic bullet' drug that I'm on, that converts a fatal cancer into a manageable chronic condition. What if it was your fundraising that paid for the day of research that discovered that? There are more blood cancers that need a breakthrough like this. Not many people are aware that the results of blood cancer research can also lead to the development of therapies for other cancers too: blood cancer research is at the forefront of all cancer research.
So why get involved? What can one person do? Sign up for a Bikeathon and make sure you take a good look around as you queue to start. You will see that you are part of something quite incredible, a sea of people who just want to help. You won't be one person but a combined group of thousands. Look at it and you will remember that sight for the rest of your life; it's incredibly uplifting and I'll leave you with one final thought...
You won't just be helping current patients, you will be helping the thousands and thousands of patients who are yet to be diagnosed. Every 14 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer or a related disorder. The people who will live their lives like anybody else until one random day, boom! They will be diagnosed with blood cancer. They will be people you won't know, they will be people you will never likely meet, but they will be people who are more grateful to you for doing what you did than you can imagine, they will be humbled and overwhelmed by your kindness and generosity. They will be people like me.