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Mother fighting cancer cycles 500km to Paris in four days to help fund cure

A woman with an incurable blood cancer has cycled almost 500km from London to Paris in just four days, in a bid to fund a cure.

Deb at the finish line, with her niece and fellow rider, Flis O’Toole
Deb at the finish line, with her niece and fellow rider, Flis O’Toole

Deb Gascoyne, from Hagley, completed the exhausting Myeloma UK's London Paris Ride last week, starting in London on Thursday and crossing the finish line at the Eiffel Tower on Sunday.

She was joined throughout the challenge by her fellow rider and niece, Flis O’Toole.

Thanks to the 47-year-old's incredible efforts, Deb has now raised £6,885 towards a much hoped-for cure for myeloma - an incurable blood cancer which she was diagnosed with in 2009.

Deb said: “It was the most amazing experience ever. The sense of camaraderie, support and kindness from such a large group was unexplainable.

“To watch the sea of orange shirts and know that all those riders were riding to help patients like me was so humbling and had me in tears as we cycled out of London.”

Deb with her niece and fellow rider, Flis O’Toole

She added: “Day three was my hardest day. My body was starting to hurt and there were hills I hadn’t expected - perhaps wishful thinking that France was flat.

“But the knowledge of what was to come on day four, the Eiffel Tower and my family, helped to get through that and the adrenaline started to kick in.

“I can only thank Myeloma UK for giving me the chance to experience such a phenomenal event. Even exhausted at the end of day three, I knew I wanted to do it again as soon as I could afford to.”

Deb at the finish line, in front of the Eiffel Tower, with her niece and fellow rider Flis O’Toole

Myeloma occurs in the bone marrow and currently affects over 24,000 people in the UK.

Despite being the third most common type of blood cancer, it is especially difficult to detect as symptoms, including back pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and recurring infection, are often linked to general ageing or minor conditions.

Only one in 10 people diagnosed with myeloma every year are under 55.

While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases. Treatment is aimed at controlling the disease, relieving the complications and symptoms it causes, and extending and improving patients’ quality of life.

More than half of patients face a wait of over five months to receive the right diagnosis and around a third are diagnosed through A&E.

By that point, many of them are experiencing severe or life-threatening symptoms.

Deb and her children, while she was undergoing chemo

Deb was just 34 when she was diagnosed with myeloma. Her daughter Rebecca was four years old and her son, Sam, was two.

She’d had a nagging cold for weeks when she eventually booked a GP appointment. At the surgery, a nurse took a throat swab, explaining that Deb may be asked to come back for a blood test.

But as she was about to send her on her way, the nurse thought better of it and took her blood there and then.

Little did Deb know that this sudden change of heart would alter the course of her life and allow her to see her children grow up.

Deb with her son Sam, husband Nick, and daughter Rebecca

“If she hadn’t done it, I don’t know when or if it would have got picked up because I never actually had any more symptoms for a while after that,” said Deb, who had the names of fellow patients who’ve since died of myeloma printed on her cycling top.

“We were just really shocked. I had never heard of myeloma. It was 2009 and back then you read the statistics, and everything was saying you had two to five years. I was just like: ‘I’m not going to see my children go to secondary school’.

“But I did. Rebecca is 17 now and Sam is 15. I never thought I would have this much time. I hope I get to meet their partners, see them get married.”

In a bid to reclaim some sense of control over her life and to fund research into treatments, and ultimately a cure, over the past 13 years Deb has thrown herself into fundraising.

Not only has she collected more than £160,000 for Myeloma UK to date but, thanks to her London Paris Ride, she’s now reached her goal – three years ahead of schedule – to raise a further £50,000 for the charity by the time she turns 50.

“Fundraising gives me control and a target,” said Deb, who now works as a community fundraiser for a brain tumour charity. “It’s been a lifesaver. Myeloma UK as a charity is making a difference to my future and the future of other people.

“The changes that have happened since I was diagnosed are huge. I never dreamed I would have that much time when I started treatment. I genuinely believe we are on the tipping point of a cure.”

She added: “I’m so grateful to all my friends and family for donating so generously at such a hard time. It has meant I’m really close to raising £7,000.

“And the fact that my niece and new myeloma friend Jo rode with me also means I have now beaten my £50,000 target so I’m absolutely over the moon.”

For more information about myeloma or to get in touch with Myeloma UK go to Myeloma UK runs an Infoline on 0800 980 3332.

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