Mark Church is running 1000 miles for charity this it his story…
October marks the start of my bid to run 1000 miles for charity, involving two iconic London cricket grounds: the Kia Oval and Lords. I’m doing it as a fundraiser in memory of my dad, Tony, who died last year. Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer out of the blue. He died six months later on 21 May 2017, leaving us shocked and reeling from the sheer speed and brutality of a cancer that I’d not really heard of before.
When dad died, my immediate reaction was – why? It had all been too quick and I didn’t understand why there hadn’t really been any hope, and why he never had a chance to fight it. How can this disease kill so quickly? How can it be in 2018 – when survival rates have improved so much for other cancers – that only a tiny handful of people will survive this cancer?
I wanted to find out more – to understand how a man who’d been fit and healthy all his life, who was enjoying his retirement with mum and playing golf five times a week, could end up being taken by this disease so suddenly. Pancreatic cancer is horrible. Catch it early and you have got a fighting chance, but detecting it is hard and symptoms are all too often mistaken for less lethal conditions first. So when pancreatic cancer is finally diagnosed, its often already reached a terminal stage.
I met with Maggie Blanks, the founder of Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, who set up the charity after her husband died of the disease just three months after they were married. As I found out more about pancreatic cancer and what the charity does, I started to want to do more as well – something to raise money and awareness of this disease.
I often joke that I’ve only got one natural talent – sunbathing. A sponsored ‘lying on a sun lounger in Barbados’ appealed, but I wasn’t sure how much impact it would have (or how much money it would raise!)
But cricket has been a major part of my family’s life for as long as I can remember. My dad was a good club player and my mum made cracking teas! Dad was also my biggest supporter. I was a pretty average cricketer but Dad would drive me to net practice or games and we would chat cricket all the time. We would spend hours together playing and watching the game we both loved. When I landed my job commentating on Surrey CCC for BBC London, my dad was overjoyed and it was great way to share our passion for the sport. Dad was not just my father he was also my best mate. I really miss him.
Dad’s favourite grounds were the Kia Oval and Lords, so I started to think of a fundraising challenge involving them that would allow me to keep going to his favourite grounds and bring back lots of memories of the time we spent together.
Running the five miles between them didn’t seem to amount to much of a challenge, but it was my mum, Anna, who hit on scaling it up. So when I finish on 04 December, I’ll have done 200 runs, covering the distance between the two grounds four times a day for 50 days – a total of 1000 miles. As they say in cricketing circles: “Those are good numbers.”
The aim is to raise £20,000 for Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, which is already doing pioneering research to uncover the chinks in this cancer’s armour. This includes developing new treatments, finding ways to make existing treatments more effective, and developing a test that can diagnose the cancer in its early stages – something that may give others some hope in the future.
In my day job, as a cricket commentator for BBC London, I’m fortunate to have already had some great support from friends and colleagues – but I’ve also been privileged to get phenomenal support from people who I’ve met along the route and on Twitter (see @backandacross) who cheer me along and are keeping me going – it’s turning out to be much tougher than I anticipated!
If you see me trudging through the streets of London, please give me a wave or say hello – and here’s hoping my knees stay up to the challenge!
I would be extremely grateful for any donations to my cause via my JustGiving page – we can save lives through more research into this awful disease.