Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40. Their prognosis is worse than all of the ten most common cancer types in the UK except lung cancer. It is a disease that disproportionately affects younger people, typically striking as they are starting a family or starting to make progress in their career. There are no known predisposing lifestyle factors for the development of a brain tumour. It is simply bad luck: an unfortunate roll of the genetic dice.
Despite the poor prognosis, relatively common nature of these diseases and devastating impact that they have on young families, less than 2% of the annual UK cancer research budget is currently spent on finding a cure.
I have experience of the devastating impact of brain tumours both on a professional and personal level. I have looked after patients who have fought this condition bravely: battling the headaches following neurosurgery, fatigue and side-effects associated with chemo-radiotherapy, paralysis, difficulty speaking and swallowing, seizures with their associated loss of independence, loss of employment, loss of pride and sometimes loss of personality, in addition to the mental turmoil of a diagnosis that is severely life-limiting. I have witnessed families and relationships torn apart by the anguish and sadness that this diagnosis brings. I have also been truly humbled by patients showing remarkable courage and fortitude in the face of dreadful odds.
Amongst a relatively modest pool of social contacts I know three young people on a personal level who have faced this diagnosis before their thirtieth birthday. I have witnessed first hand the effect these diseases have on people and their families.
I know enough about medicine, surgery, physiology and pharmacology to know that there are challenges we face in treating these tumours that are different from other cancers. The weapons we currently have in the fight don't work, and we've been using the same weapons for the past fifty years. After all that time, with all the drug development and improvement in neurosurgery that has occurred, the prognosis has remained unchanged.
What medicine needs to turn this losing battle around is high-quality scientific research. We need to develop new drugs and new ways to deliver them, new genetic tests to identify molecular tumour markers and targets, and new immunological approaches to be able to target tumour cells within the brain. Without this, young people will continue to die well before their time, young families will continue to lose a parent or partner, and parents will continue to bury children who should be in the prime of their lives.
To raise money and awareness for this most worthy of causes I have chosen a most worthy adversary. An iron-distance triathlon. On the same day, competitors must complete a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle and then a marathon, one after the other.
I have previously completed a sprint and olympic-distance triathlon but this represents a different challenge entirely. Cycling is my strongest suit, but to call me anything other than an overweight and under-powered cyclist would be dishonest. I started open water swimming three years ago, a sport I really enjoy but am technically hopeless at: with extremely sinky-legs, no appreciable core strength and a highly questionable technique. Finally long-distance running, the essence of which I understand to be about pain tolerance.
I have set myself this challenge because recent events in my life have made me want to highlight the plight of the people and their families with these conditions. This challenge is the hardest thing I could imagine doing. It humbles me to know that the pain involved doesn't even come close to what they are suffering.
It would give me great pleasure and no less strength to know that you also value this cause, and the people it represents.