I'll never forget what mum said the day she found out she had terminal pancreatic cancer. The doctor outright told us that nobody usually lived longer than 2 years with the disease and as we left the Royal London Hospital in July 2013 mum hugged me and said "Oh, I thought I would have had longer". Almost an ambiguity of her optimistic Yorkshire strength but with a shade of shock & disbelief in one sentence.
In a strange way Mum was one of the lucky ones, the cancer was caught early, and in most circumstances with other cancers it's treatable and sometimes completely curable. Only difference was that this tumor had attached itself to blood vessels attached to her spine, it was inoperable, but it was treatable.
Fast forward a few months and mum was undergoing chemotherapy. She had around 6 months worth of treatment, which held the cancer at bay, even reducing it slightly, but the reality was it wasn't doing much to save her, merely prolonging life. Typical again of her Yorkshire born strength she actually took the chemotherapy very well, she didn't lose her hair, she kept popping to the shops for her morning papers plus she and I even went shopping - in the grand scheme of things sometimes you wouldn't realize she was even ill at all.
Dad didn't take it so well; despite the normality of everything around us it was tough for him to accept that eventually Audrey, his wife wouldn't be around someday. A sentence my mum said to us both around September resonated with me since that day, she said "Well, it is what it is, there's no use sitting around being miserable about it". Again, optimistic yet realistic words from my northern born mother, for her to take everything as well as she did. She was right though. So I decided to do something about it - there was no point sitting around waiting for an end, I wanted to make a change I wanted to help others and help potentially prevent another family from facing what we were.
So, I started rattling my brain. I wanted to raise money and awareness but I wanted to do something unique enough for people to take notice. If I was going to raise awareness I needed to do something big, something countrywide, something that would pull in people to make donations from all over the UK, not just immediate friends and family. Then one day it came to me. I remembered seeing a local bus several years before on the outskirts of Brentwood, Essex, one Saturday morning and thinking to myself 'I wonder how far that goes. It's not a London bus, but a London bus must come here too'. A few weeks later I was in Brighton when I saw a bus going into Kent. This was the first time I wondered about just how far you could manage to go just using local buses. Fast forward to October 2013, and the fundraising idea was born. We were going to try and travel from Brighton in the South of England and attempt to get all the way up to Berwick-upon-Tweed, using only local bus services.
The planning took forever. Initially the trip was supposed to take place in April but, those who remember just how wet April was, I didn't fancy risking any potential hold ups in areas affected by floods at the time. So we moved it to the summer instead. The first thing I did was grab a notepad and my popular 'fruit-based' tablet, I started by looking at a map and pondering what locations were far away yet close enough to likely have a bus service that ran between them. It took me days to finalise the route. More often than not I'd find a route mid-county and then get stuck, not able to go up any further; so I'd start again. It took around seven or eight attempts to get the final route, and even then I wasn't confident. So, I contacted the bus companies. I put together a document of my route, including bus times taken from the internet, and approached the companies asking for their help. Stagecoach, Arriva, Go North East - they were all fantastic, going the extra mile to help me figure everything out, even sending bus tickets so we could use their services for free - the uniqueness of the trip was having it's intended effect and generating a lot of interest. This is when I decided to contact different media outlets too.
The first news piece that started generating country-wide interest was the Daily Express Online team. They'd caught wind of the story and decided to conduct a phone interview with me, in view of running an article. On the 1st July 2014 the article went online and from there it generated a whirlwind of interest. The Express eventually put the piece in their national newspaper; the BBC then contacted me to appear on BBC Radio Sussex. This was the first time I'd publically spoken about Mum, the bus trip and the cause. Unfortunately, we'll never truly know how many people caught wind of the articles or the tweets, but it's nice to think that aside from the fundraising potentially millions of people would have at least heard about pancreatic cancer.
Prior to setting off we had a banner printed and a photo op by Brighton Pier, another way of stirring up interest and great for any more photo opportunities along the way. Fortunately for me I wouldn't be alone, 5 of my closest friends Dan, Martin, Nick & Ricky decided to support me too, just as passionate as I was to raise awareness too.
After a lovely overnight stay in the Russell Hotel in Tunbridge Wells, we were up at 5am to catch our second bus of the trip, this one to Bromley. We were all so fascinated with the fact you could actually get two buses into Greater London from Brighton, pretty impressive. Tickets in hand, we made our way to Lewisham and up the center of London, a nice gesture came from a driver of the bus on route to Marble Arch. The driver had a changeover in New Cross Gate and before she got off the bus she wished us good luck and handed £10 to us for our charity pot. That wasn't the only kind moment going through London; on our way to Marble Arch another lady, Gurvinder came and sat with us and took note of our personalised charity shirts. It turned out she was the Events Co-ordinator for another charity and was really overwhelmed by our imaginative idea of raising money. She subsequently donated and started following our progress on Twitter. Throughout day 2 of our trip we saw the start of a theme, people were seeing us and then following us on social media to see just how we were doing.
When we arrived in Watford a young gentleman came running over to us, almost expecting our arrival and emptied his entire wallet into our charity pot. It was really touching to see somebody we didn't know make the effort to follow us and find us on route to do his bit - he explained that his grandmother had died of Pancreatic Cancer, so it meant a lot to him. Although we didn't catch his name my clip-on camera caught a nice photo of him donating, so thank you!
From Watford we had some fairly smooth connections, even in Milton Keynes where we were facing a 2 and a half hour journey up to Leicester we were still perky and happy enough to sit on a bus for a little longer in what was a very hot day. We ended up deciding that sitting at the back of the bus was best, not only for visual purposes for those getting onto the same bus as us but also to catch a good amount of outside breeze from the buses tiny windows.
By the time we reached Leicester we were almost an hour ahead of schedule but due to this we ended up having our first real panic of the trip. As our bus pulled into the bus station we saw our connecting bus pulling out, an agonizing thing to watch given we were doing so well for time. As we raced around the bus station trying to find an alternative route a couple approached us asking where we needed to be, we explained and they kindly pointed us in the direction of a bus going to Loughborough, it was either we take that and stay ahead of time or wait at the bus station for an hour and a half waiting for our originally scheduled bus. Despite our detour we did eventually end up in Nottingham at around 8.30pm, taking our bus riding quota to 14 hours for that day alone, add the 2 from Brighton and we're talking around 16 hours bus riding in the space of 24 hours, our backs and bums were starting to feel the effects.
We stayed in a hostel that night, beautiful place called Igloo, very highly rated and very cheap for what we were looking for. In the morning we had no trouble setting off, the bus station was in fact 100 yards away from where we were staying, perfect. Unfortunately Day 3 didn't start off so wonderfully, we had trouble with the tickets we had been supplied for travel and our bus driver wasn't too sympathetic to the cause, so we paid for our travel between Nottingham and Chesterfield later to be reimbursed by Stagecoach a huge £50 (as a donation) which was a very generous apology for something that in all honesty wasn't really their fault - again, a credit to the bus companies for being so happy to help the cause.
Panic number 2 came once we arrived in Barnsley. We were scheduled to hop on an Arriva 444 bus to Leeds, but one problem - It didn't exist anymore! Again, faced by a mad panic to work out how to get to Leeds we figured out an ad hoc route to get to Wakefield and then onto Leeds. Rather hilariously, my clip on camera captured the moment I was told the bus didn't even exist whilst desperately holding the now none-existent timetable in my hand. Funny looking back, terrifying at the time.
Once we arrived in Leeds we had no choice but the wait an hour and a half for the Yorkshire Coastliner bus to Whitby, the longest we had to wait all trip. For the first time we were able to relax a little and explore the town where my Mum had spent much of her youth.
Jumping on the Yorkshire Coastliner we thought the journey would be tough, the longest bus ride of them all, taking 3 and a half hours to go across almost half of Yorkshire to get from Leeds to Whitby. I knew the bus would pass thorough the Yorkshire Moors but I had forgotten just how beautiful that part of the country was. The whole thing accentuated by the fact we were riding the top deck of a double decker bus made it even more spectacular, catching a steam train roaring through the moors in the distance, rather than a bus trip it felt more like a sightseeing trip of Yorkshire. In a strange sort of way I didn't want that route to end, I could have easily done a return trip just to explore it all over again, further complimented by the fact that this was the county of my mum's childhood.
Once in Whitby we took heed of several recommendations and picked up the local Fish & Chips; and rightly so, they were delicious treat at the end of a long journey. The next route through Middlesbrough and up to Newcastle went in no time at all, as we stepped off in the Toon we felt compelled to try and celebrate. Later that evening we got ourselves dressed up and ready to have a few celebratory drinks on the town, but the travels soon caught up with us after a couple, opting instead to head to bed early and prepare for our final trip.
Day 4 was the final leg, one last bus up to Berwick and we had completed our epic journey. It was surreal to think that we came so far up England using such a simple mode of transport, and it was quite sad to think it was almost over. As we pulled into Berwick i felt quite emotional, it was the first time in about a year where i could reflect and think about just how well we'd done as a team and how much awareness and money we had raised doing such a unique fundraiser. For once i didn't have to worry about planning or asking for donations or making sure our social media was up to date, I stood outside Berwick station looking up at the sign feeling humbled that so many people followed us on what was almost a pilgrimage in the end. When the idea was a seed yet to flourish all i had hoped to raise would be one thousand pound, but by the time we'd reached Berwick it was FIVE thousand. It made the whole trip worth it, and it gave me so much faith in people and their affections towards helping a cause that was so close to my heart.
Now mum is in hospital, and has been for over a week or so with her progressively ill health, she hasn't got long now but hearing her tell me a day after our trip ended that she was proud of me and the guys ment more to me than anything in the world. As she continues fighting all I can say to others following this whole event is that there is hope, change will happen one day if we continue fighting for it. If we continue to strive and stay upbeat when faced with the darkest times then together we can hope to save the lives of others in the future. Continue raising awareness, shout as loud as you can until you get heard & things will happen.
I want to take this opportunity again to thank those who followed our journey and especially to those who donated so generously. Although it was us who took the trip, it would have been worthless if it wasn't for all YOUR support. I also want to thank Pancreatic Cancer UK for being so fantastically supportive too; these guys deserve a multitude of credit for their advice, support and professionalism. I hope this trip inspires others to do outlandish things to raise money, the more unique the more eyebrows you raise and coverage you attain. To those of you reading this who have been affected or currently going through pancreatic cancer I'll remind you of my mothers blunt yet inspiring words - "There's no point sitting around being miserable about it, go out and make a change for someone else's future"
Craig (& friends!)