'London 2 Paris: Inspiring the Revolution' in June will be an emotional family affair for Geoff Thomas as he bids to raise £1million for Cure Leukaemia.
Geoff, Julie, Madison & Georgia discuss their L2P challenge
The ex-England football international has revealed on the eve of World Blood Cancer Day (Thursday, May 28), he will be joined on the 500km ride by the nearest and dearest who rallied round when he was given just three months to live.
Twelve years ago, the Barnt Green-based Thomas household was rocked by the news Geoff, who had hung up his boots 12 months earlier, had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia, a form of blood cancer.
Wife Julie shielded daughters Madison and Georgia, then aged only ten and seven respectively, from their dad’s survival fight, which received a defining boost from a sibling.
Geoff’s sister Kay was able to provide the stem cell donation that, coupled with pioneering treatment, enabled Cure Leukaemia Co-Founder Professor Charlie Craddock to save Geoff’s life.
Now, on the milestone tenth anniversary of the 50-year-old entering remission, the Thomases are once again supporting Geoff – this time to help him raise urgent funds for other blood cancer patients.
Julie, Madison, Georgia, Kay and her husband Bryan and Geoff’s cousin Debbie will be among 230 cyclists riding up to 80 miles a day on L2P from June 18-22.
Former Crystal Palace captain Geoff is proud to have his family’s support in raising funds for Cure Leukaemia, the blood-cancer charity he is Patron of and owes his life to.
The announcement comes on a day that will see blood cancer charities and health organisations across the globe endeavor to raise awareness and funds for leukaemia patients, and highlight the need for stem cell donors to come forward.
“When you’re going through a battle against blood cancer, it’s a joint effort,” said Geoff, who will be furthering his fundraising efforts by riding the entire 2015 Tour de France route in July, a day before the professional peloton.
“I was really fortunate. Not everyone has that kind of family support. It’s ever so special.
“Julie was an absolute rock. Maddie and Georgia were very young but when I mention things, they do remember. You go through ups and downs together and Julie was probably more focused. She looked after everything else, especially the kids. I was able to just concentrate on my treatment.
“My sister gave me a second chance in life. Kay’s stem cell transplant is still working its magic inside me today. We’ll have the full team that were solid behind me on the ride because Professor Craddock, a miracle man, is also doing L2P.
“When you’ve been through something like leukaemia, you bury a lot of things, so it will be a very proud and emotional day when we arrive as a family in Paris. I can’t wait.
“We’ve been out as a family on training rides a few times and I can see us cycling together after L2P, but without the pressure of knowing we’re going to be doing 80 miles a day!”
Julie, 45, who works part-time at local hairdressers Yen, remembers vividly the moment she learned of Geoff’s diagnosis. She wants to help raise as much money as possible to ensure other families that receive the same earth-shattering news are also given hope.
“Geoff had been for a blood test at 9.30 so when the GP called at 3 o’clock asking for him, I knew it couldn’t be good,” recalled Julie.
“Geoff was out but I remember being on the stairs when he called to tell me they thought he had leukaemia. It was absolutely devastating, horrendous.
“It came completely out of the blue. Geoff was young and fit. There was absolutely no reason why something like that should happen. We just put our blinkers on and tried to get on with it. Charlie Craddock was unbelievable.
“We’re so proud of Geoff for coming through his treatment and what he’s now doing for others. We’re cycling to Paris to celebrate him being in remission for ten years.
“We’ve never really cycled before. We only got our bikes a few weeks ago, so we’ll probably be the embarrassing ones at the back! But cycling into Paris together will be an amazing experience.”
Madison, 21, a spa therapist at Dormy House Hotel, Cotswolds, added:
“It wasn’t until two years later, after the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards in 2005, when dad received the Helen Rollason Award, that we realised how ill he’d been, and that he’d been given less than three months to live.
“Dad’s done some amazing things. My friends can’t believe I’m cycling from London 2 Paris with him, because I’m the least sporty person in the world!”
With Geoff’s vast cycling experience, including riding the Tour de France route in 2005, he is odds-on favourite to be the first Thomas across the line in Paris.
But Georgia, 19, studying a business with spa management degree at Gloucestershire University, has explained why it will be a Thomas tie.
“The fact we don’t remember much about dad’s illness shows just how good our parents were in protecting us,” she said.
“We’re so proud of dad and providing we’re all brave enough to let go of our handlebars, we’re planning to cycle into Paris in a line holding hands!”
Cure Leukaemia funds a network of specialist research nurses to administer clinical trials of potentially lifesaving drugs to leukaemia patients who have exhausted all options through the NHS.
The work being undertaken by Professor Craddock at the world class Centre for Clinical Haematology at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, is boosting the fight against blood cancers on a national and international scale.
Geoff said: “Cycling 80 miles a day is a tough ask but what I’m sure will get everyone over the line is what they’re riding for – giving blood cancer patients hope of beating this terrible disease.
“Cure Leukaemia has funded many clinical trials which have become standard of care nationally.
“But we need to fund more research nurses because we can’t meet demand. Too many patients are being turned away and missing out on potentially curative treatments.
“Professor Craddock believes a cure for all blood cancers can be found within the next 30 years, but we can only achieve this by funding more research nurses.”
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