When it comes to fighting childhood cancer, Mark Andrews from Milperra in NSW has a very personal reason for taking part in the annual Great Cycle Challenge which raises money for Children’s Medical Research Institute.
In just six years, the Great Cycle Challenge has grown to become one of the biggest cycling events in Australia, enjoyed by more than 55,000 amateur and professionals, from every state and territory who have ridden a combined 13,341,418 km to raise more than $16.3 million. Participants ride all throughout October, choosing to do as many kilometres as they wish and asking friends to sponsor them.
Mark has been in the Challenge since 2016. He has ridden 3000km and raised $16,000. This year he wants to ride 1000km and raise $2,500.
His reasons for taking part are extremely personal – Mark lost his son Hamish to Medulloblastoma.
Hamish was diagnosed in 2006 at the age of 4 and died at age 8 in 2011.
“It could have ended at the beginning, we were lucky we got as long as we did with him and that he got well enough to enjoy a few good years,’’ Mark said.
Hamish was diagnosed after spells of unusual vomiting and tiredness.
“We went to the doctor a few times, they thought he had a stomach bug. My wife insisted on being referred to a pediatrician. The pediatrician sent us to an ophthalmologist who told us to go straight to hospital because he had pressure on the brain.’’
Hamish had an MRI and they found a brain tumor. He spent three months in hospital, which included a 2 more brain surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, influenza A and an infection in his brain.
“I remember one day being called in a room and there were about 15 doctors, nurses and others in there and they were all discussing, what they should try, because other treatments were not working on the infection. The antibiotics they used for his infection eventually ran out, thankfully the infection was gone.’’
Eventually Hamish was able to start school and in 2010 they all went on a special family holiday to Fiji. When they got back Hamish had a scheduled MRI and it was discovered that the cancer had returned. He was not allowed to have any more radiation, but was given chemotherapy, however we got an bone infection and had to stop treatment while he was ill.
“I think that’s when the cancer took hold,’’ Mark said. “We knew the risk of it returning, we just weren’t prepared for it to happen so soon.
“For me, I think we’re lucky. Some people will deal with illness their whole life. While I wish that I had him still with me today, and I didn’t want him to go, he left us when he was at home, asleep. He really slipped quietly from us.’’
Four years ago, Mark decided to do the Great Cycle Challenge. This year Mark is doing it with his wife and son, his sister
“I outdid myself, I was really surprised, so now it’s become an annual thing.’’
This year, Mark is doing it with his wife, his sister and Hamish’s godparents.
“It’s something I look forward to now.’’
Children’s Medical Research Institute cancer researcher, Dr Sam Rogers, understands the importance of finding cures, from a very personal perspective.
“My dad survived cancer, my granddad unfortunately died of cancer, for me that’s a real motivation to impact some sort of change on the world and potentially provide a cure in the future,’’ Dr Rogers said.
“I personally find it really heartbreaking that any child has to spend any time in hospital wondering if chemo is going to hurt. And equally as heartbreaking is the parents who have to sit there and wonder, are they going to outlive their child?
“That gives me drive to do what I do. My hope is that in a number of years a doctor who had previously said to a patient, ‘we don’t know how this works or there is no cure for this’ suddenly is saying, ‘we know how this works, we have a treatment for it and yes, it’s absolutely manageable’.’’
To donate visit greatcyclechallenge.com.au