Grandmother preparing for charity skydive despite being afraid of heights

A Staffordshire grandmother-of-11 is preparing to do a fundraising skydive in memory of her husband despite having a fear of heights.

Helen Pickford is preparing to do a skydive
Helen Pickford is preparing to do a skydive

Helen Pickford is raising money for Brain Tumour Research after her beloved husband John who died in 2001 aged 49 after suffering blackouts for 10 years.

The father of four, whose own father also died of a brain tumour when John was just 12, attributed his persistent blackouts to work-related stress, which left him exhausted.

After the blackouts became more debilitating and began to affect his cognition, John became desperate for a diagnosis and sought medical advice from his neurologist at Cannock Chase Hospital. The couple turned to him after seeing other consultants, who linked his symptoms to possible epilepsy or a farming-related disease.

He was referred for an MRI scan which revealed the devastating news that a shadow on John’s brain was in fact a tumour.

Helen said: “Not knowing what was happening to John made me feel angry and upset, and I now understand that there is a lack of research around brain tumours, which can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment.

“Our major frustration was that although we told every new practitioner we saw that John’s father had died of a brain tumour, this always seemed to be brushed aside and not seen as at all relevant, which had the effect of giving us false hope for some time.”

Helen and John before he died in 2001

Results of a biopsy revealed the tumour was a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) and the prognosis was just two to five years.

Helen said: “For the next nine months, I think John was in a state of shock. His dad died at the age of 47, so when John reached that age, he had always had a worry hanging over him.

“From when he was diagnosed, everything felt as if it snowballed and his mother was living with us – it was devastating to think that she would have to watch her son go through the same thing she had seen her husband experience years earlier.”

To celebrate what would have been his 70th birthday, on 11 June 2022, Helen is preparing to jump 10,000ft and skydive in Tilstock in Shropshire to help raise £2,740, which represents the cost of a day of research at one of Brain Tumour Research’s Centres of Excellence.

Helen said: "John never got to see our children meet their partners or to meet his 11 grandchildren.

"I saw how difficult it was to get a diagnosis and treatment plan and what was shocking was the fact that since his father died, nothing seemed to have improved. Even today, there is still a need for better research to understand brain tumours and their many types.”

Melanie Tiley, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: "We’re so sorry to learn that John died after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Sadly, his story is one we see all too often and is why we remain committed to finding better treatment options for patients and, ultimately, a cure.

"This disease is indiscriminate, affecting anyone at any age or time and we appreciate Helen’s bravery in speaking out about her experience and fundraising to help us raise awareness of the need for further investment in research."

You can donate to Helen’s fundraiser by visiting

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