Donna Cooper, a 49-year-old council worker from Bolton, is cycling the length of the country for The Christie.
She’s doing the 963-mile challenge, which will take her from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in northern Scotland, in memory of her mum, Joan Taylor, who was treated at the specialist cancer centre. Joan was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer in 2012 and sadly passed away a year later, aged 64.
Raising awareness to help future generations
Donna is using the challenge to raise awareness of Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition that increases the risk of bowel, womb and ovarian cancer.
Donna said: “Mum had had womb cancer in the past but was given the all-clear. The bowel cancer diagnosis came as a real shock to us. She’d been complaining about a sore back for a bit, but she didn’t fit the usual profile of a bowel cancer patient – she didn’t drink, exercised loads and was a vegetarian. In fact, we’d done the Manchester marathon a month before her diagnosis.”
In addition to treating her mum, the team at The Christie advised Donna and her family to get their genes tested for Lynch syndrome – a hereditary condition that increases the risk of certain types of cancer. People who have the gene that causes it are more likely to get bowel, womb and ovarian cancer. There is a 50/50 chance that someone with Lynch syndrome will pass it on to their children.
“It turned out that I didn’t have Lynch syndrome, but my 2 brothers did. That was a bit of a punch in the stomach for me as I’m their big sister and want to protect them, especially now that neither of our parents are around. They have to have yearly scans, but other than that, they’re fine. My nieces and nephew will also start having check-ups when they’re 18. Knowledge is power – if you know you’re affected by something like this, you can take steps to look after yourself.
“I really can’t thank the team at The Christie enough. Not only did they give us 12 more months with my wonderful mum, but they also helped protect my family for generations to come. Bowel cancer is fairly common, and I want others to be aware of Lynch syndrome and to get tested if they meet the criteria.”
Dr Nooreen Alam, Joan’s bowel cancer consultant, comments: “Only a small number of cancers are hereditary, but it’s still important to know your family history so you can be aware of any patterns. In terms of Lynch syndrome, we look for people with several incidences of bowel, womb or ovarian cancer in the family. Patients who are diagnosed with bowel cancer under the age of 50, or who have relatives who were diagnosed young, may also be at risk. If any of these are relevant to you, please chat to your GP.
“There are plenty of non-clinical steps that we can all take to reduce our risk of bowel cancer. These include doing regular exercise, limiting our alcohol intake and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Bowel cancer is quite common, but there’s still quite a lot of taboo around it. I’m really glad to see that Donna is raising awareness by sharing her family’s story. I wish her all the best on her epic bike ride.”
A mammoth challenge
Donna is a keen runner and cyclist, just like her mum. She’s done several big bike rides before, but nothing quite on this scale.
“I’m doing the challenge with 7 friends and have been cycling 200 to 300 miles a week to prepare,” adds Donna. “It’s going to be really challenging, but I wanted to do something big to give back to The Christie and I don’t think you can get any bigger than cycling the whole length of the country.”
Donna will start cycling at Land’s End on Tuesday 23 August and hopes to complete the challenge in 9 days. You can find out more about how you can support The Christie charity on the Get involved section of our website.
The Christie charity supports the work of The Christie NHS Foundation Trust providing enhanced services over and above what the NHS funds. This includes money for care and treatment, research, education and extra patient services. Gifts from the public make a huge difference to the care and treatment that The Christie is able to provide to patients and their families.