A brave Kenilworth leukaemia patient is tackling a punishing cycling challenge with his teenage son in aid of Cure Leukaemia – just a fortnight before starting lifesaving treatment.
And father-of-two Mark Nicholas’ fundraising mission at Vélo Birmingham is made all the more poignant by the fact the blood cancer charity is playing a pivotal role in helping him beat the disease.
Mark admits cycling the 100-mile closed road sportive on Sunday, September 24 with 16-year-old Finn will stir the emotions.
Just 15 days later, he will undergo a potentially lifesaving stem-cell transplant, with Professor Charlie Craddock CBE, co-founder of Cure Leukaemia, the consultant overseeing the procedure.
Mark, a freelance IT consultant, raised eyebrows when he greeted the earth-shattering news he had been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia by signing up for Vélo Birmingham with Finn, a student at Princethorpe College, Rugby.
Despite undergoing chemotherapy, the 46-year-old was determined to complete the route, which starts and finishes in Birmingham city centre, heading through Sandwell, Dudley and picturesque Worcestershire and Staffordshire countryside in between.
Sadly, Mark’s blood cancer medication wasn’t as effective in combatting the disease as hoped, and he was informed he urgently needed a stem cell transplant.
While the net was cast far and wide to find a donor match, Mark and Finn found donations of a different kind and have managed to raise £5,000 so far.
Yet at one stage it looked like Finn would have to cycle Vélo Birmingham without his dad.
Mark received the relieving news that a perfect donor match had been found in Germany. The only snag was that the transplant was set for September 4, which would rule him out of the event.
However, the procedure has now been put back until October 9 – and Mark is determined to get on his bike!
“The transplant being delayed was just Charlie Craddock’s way of coming up with any excuse to get me cycling 100 miles!” joked Mark.
“Seriously though, my donor needs an operation which has had a knock-on effect with when the transplant can take place.
When Charlie told me about the delay, my initial reaction was ‘oh, does that mean I get to do Vélo Birmingham after all?! Great!
My cycling fitness is okay because even though it looked like I wouldn’t be able to ride, I’ve been supporting Finn on all his training rides.”
Mark will also be joined in riding Vélo Birmingham, which sold out its 15,000 places inside four days last September, by friends Ian Hancock, Stuart Insall and 60-year-old Alan Jones, all from Kenilworth, plus Compton Verney-based Mark Woodland,
“It’s shaping up to be a superb event – I’m really looking forward to it,” added Mark, who lives with Finn, wife Louise and daughter Evie and also plays rugby for Kenilworth Pirates (Vets).
“The drugs I’ve been on have been working, just not well enough, and I’m extremely lucky they’ve found a good match for a transplant.
“I’m really proud that Finn is joining me in cycling Vélo Birmingham and raising as much money as possible for Cure Leukaemia. It’s bound to be an emotional day – especially after the ride – but, for now, I’m focussing on leading a normal life, going to work, staying positive and being active.
Vélo Birmingham will be a great challenge, as the route is quite hilly in places. But with 15,000 cyclists on closed roads, it’ll be bang on. I took part in Lawrence Dallaglio’s Cycle Slam for a leukaemia charity a few years ago, while Stuart and Ian have previously fundraised for Cure Leukaemia.
It just underlines the point that when you do things for charities that have no particular link at the time, there is always a chance you or someone you know may need their help at some point.”
He vividly remembers the life-changing moment his leukaemia diagnosis was confirmed.
“My consultant told me the bad news on May 4 last year,” recalled Mark, who has cancelled a skiing holiday and rugby tour due to his impending transplant.
“’May the 4th be with you’, I replied, but he didn’t quite appreciate the joke. ‘You’re seriously ill!’ was his short response!
When the news sunk in, it was a real shock. It turned my world upside down. But I only had two days off and went back to work. Throughout my treatment, I’ve been playing touch rugby every Wednesday night and obviously signed up for Vélo Birmingham.
Rather than sit down and do nothing, I set myself a positive goal, to raise money for the quite brilliant Cure Leukaemia. I’ll probably be needing them quite a lot for the rest of my life!”
All money raised by Mark and Finn will help Cure Leukaemia support the £3.2million expansion of the Centre for Clinical Haematology (CCH) at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, which is leading the global fight against all forms of blood cancer.
Cure Leukaemia has committed to raising an additional £1m in 2017 to ensure the expansion of the centre is fully funded. Building work on the project, driven by Professor Craddock, is well underway and the centre is expected to re-open to treat patients in December.
James McLaughlin, CEO of Cure Leukaemia, said: “I am sure September 24 will be a very emotional day for the Nicholas family and I would like to wish Mark the very best for his upcoming transplant.
Every penny raised for Cure Leukaemia at Vélo Birmingham will directly help patients in a similar position to Mark by doubling the capacity of the world-renowned CCH and I am sure this will inspire our cyclists to go above and beyond with their fundraising.
Both myself and Professor Craddock are looking forward to riding alongside Mark and Finn in Blood Cancer Awareness Month for what will be a truly memorable day for the charity and the Midlands.”
Vélo Birmingham is the flagship event of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution – a Birmingham City Council initiative aiming to make cycling an everyday way to travel in Birmingham over the next 20 years.
Well over £1million is expected to be raised for charity by Vélo Birmingham entrants and it is hoped the Business 100 challenge will raise over £100,000 for good causes across the Midlands.
Cure Leukaemia's £1m Centre Appeal 2017