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Providing support to anyone affected by blood cancer
By Rona Button
Well, I was involved in the London Marathon back in 1983 because the dad of one of the boys in my Sociology A-Level class had something to do with Ashbourne Water (the water sponsor back in the day) and they wanted people to stand at the side of the course and stay stock still with a cup of water balanced on a flat outstretched hand which the runners would snatch (and spill inevitably) as they shot past.
Off we went at stupid o’clock from Haywards Heath up to London, dressed in our regulation Ashbourne Water caps, sweatshirts, tight tracksuit trousers and trainers. We were a bunch of excited 16-18-year-olds on a day out in the capital city, but we were told what we had to do and what was expected from us. I don’t really remember much about the day, but I know we got soaked as cup after cup was sent flying (and it rained). However, we had a lovely day and were well fed, had plenty of water to drink (obviously) and some Mars bars too.
I haven’t really been bothered with the marathon since then. If I’m home, then it’s probably on TV, in the background, but I’m not really watching or listening. However, this year was different. Firstly, the younger Royals were involved and I’m a fan of the three of them. What they have already achieved to bring the subject of mental health into the open is incredible, particularly the two Princes whose mother died when they were at such an impressionable age.
Secondly, Nick Knowles presented a two-part programme about 10 people, all of whom had mental health issues and who were going to be trained and supported to complete the 2017 London Marathon, for the Heads Together charity.
I was gripped by the programme. Having watched it and also the marathon, I decided that if they could do it, then so could I. I was absolutely inspired and blown away by their honesty, their determination and their teamwork and camaraderie. I really wanted to do it in 2018 but there was a small issue: I can’t run and I’ve never enjoyed it, even when I could run a little bit. Andrew, my husband, laughed and scoffed when I shared my plan. What a stupid thing to do to Rona Button; he’s really learnt nothing in 12 years of marriage.
My two daughters (Steph, aged 24 and Izzy, aged 22) were also thinking about it, but I knew that running for a charity would give us a better chance of securing a place. I spoke to a friend and colleague, Sue, who lives locally and does a lot of recreational running and she said she would train and support me. I really don’t think she knows what she’s taking on but she won’t let me get away with anything. Everyone I spoke to thought I was off my head, but also knew that if I’d made a decision I would not be swayed.
I completed my application for the public ballot in the evening of 2 May and selected six charities. I am currently 52 years old, and will be 53 on the day of the 2018 London Marathon (a fact brought home to me during the application process when it asked me to check my age on the day of the marathon – ouch!). Once emails had been received (there would have been none of those back in the 1980s) from the charities, I followed their links and signed up. I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no place on offer there and then as I knew that I needed a guaranteed place now for the “kick up the backside” to galvanise me into action (and training). So, I started to look around for other charities and contacted a couple by email. Again, they were ballot places.
I found Leukaemia CARE and it looked as though I could pay a £50 registration fee, promise to raise a minimum of £2,250 and I would have a place there and then. But I wasn’t convinced as this was so different to the others.
So, I decided to give them a call the next day. I spoke to a lovely lady who explained that she was a volunteer and couldn’t answer my questions. However, she took my details and promised that someone would give me a call within 15 minutes and that is exactly what happened. Clare gave me a call and I explained that I was unsure whether by registering and paying I was “in”. She said that that was exactly right. They had 160 places and it was on a first come first served basis. I explained that the husband of a friend of mine had leukaemia and I really wanted to do something practical as I felt so helpless and couldn’t think of anything I could do which would be of benefit. Clare said that as I had such a strong reason to apply I would have a place so I promised to complete the process that evening. But I didn’t.
When I went back to work after lunch, Sue said, “Rona, Gavin doesn’t have leukaemia, he has lymphoma.” How could I have been so stupid and got it so wrong? Back to the drawing board and I found the Anthony Nolan Trust. I am already on their database for bone marrow donation, having sent in my swab after Gavin had bone marrow treatment a couple of years ago when the lymphoma first struck. That evening, I contacted my friend Ann-Marie (Gavin’s wife).
I asked Ann-Marie if the Anthony Nolan Trust would be an appropriate charity to run for and told her my plan. She was really touched and gave me an update about Gavin and him commencing chemo the following day, but also said that he is getting weaker. She made me laugh as she said that a marathon is a very long way. I told her about my inspiration from the TV programme and she responded that she was pleased with the choice of charity.
I rang Leukaemia CARE and spoke to Clare. I explained that I’d got my leukaemias and lymphomas mixed up and that Gavin didn’t have leukaemia but lymphoma, so I therefore wouldn’t be able to run for Leukaemia CARE, in case she thought that the previous day I was going to apply as I’d seemed so enthusiastic. I also said that I’d found the Anthony Nolan Trust which seemed more appropriate.
After laughing at my stupidity, Clare explained that Leukaemia CARE covers lymphoma as it supports all blood cancers, but that I should do whatever felt right. So now I was really confused. There was no need to be confused really; in my haste, I hadn’t read all the information on the website properly. Clare assured me that there were still places available to be allocated on registration and payment.
I then spoke to a representative from the Anthony Nolan Trust, who said that they had already received over 500 applications for 150 places, and so it was still a kind of ballot. Their process was for people to apply and they would sift through the applications and try to let everyone know within a week if they’d been awarded a place or not. With my new-found enthusiasm, I did not want to wait even that long, so I contacted Ann-Marie again and asked if she’d be ok with the change of charity. She was very happy and said Gavin would be willing me on, yelling at me via the TV.
So, that evening, I registered and paid my money to Leukaemia CARE and I was in. Izzy registered and paid to run for Leukaemia CARE too. No backing out now, but as Sue said, there was no backing out after I’d told Ann-Marie of my plans.