A Tamworth man who has survived a rare form of cancer is backing a major fund-raising event at Ankerside Shopping Centre.
Doctors held out little hope for former miner Paul Darby after his cancer spread from his thyroid to his liver – but almost 20 years on he’s still going strong.
Now he’s joined forces with bosses at Ankerside to back the centre’s Big Coffee Morning events on September 25-27, to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.
“It’s a miracle really, I’m very lucky”
said Paul from Glascote, who still faces an uphill struggle against the rare form of thyroid cancer, which has affected his entire family.
Since his own diagnosis his daughter Michelle, 32, and his two sisters have had to have preventative surgery to protect them against the same potentially fatal condition.
The busy shopping mall’s efforts for Macmillan kicks off on Thursday September 25, with events at the monthly Mummy Morning. Plus geeks from Ankerside’s O2 store will on hand to tackle IT issues and help raise funds for the charity at the same time.
Then on Saturday September 27 Druckers hosts day-long activities, with a bid to get 500 shoppers in a spin for Macmillan.
The popular coffee shop will have a bike-powered smoothie-maker, where shoppers can donate £1 and take to the pedals to create their own drink.
There will also be a tombola and raffle with prizes donated by local stores plus face painting, along with plenty of coffee and cakes.
Ankerside Shopping Centre Manager Pete Barber said: “Cancer affects everybody and we wanted to do what we can to help Macmillan in the important work it carries out with those who have been diagnosed with the disease, and supporting their families through what is a very difficult time.
“We feel that here at Ankerside we are at the heart of Tamworth’s community, and so we are a natural focal point for this fund-raising event. Last year our shoppers were extremely generous, and this time we’d like to raise even more. Plus, everybody gets to enjoy a coffee or a healthy smoothie, along with some tasty cake!”
Macmillan’s Big Coffee Morning sees people across the UK to hold a coffee morning to raise money for people living with cancer. Last year 154,000 people signed up for the event, raising a record total of £20m.
The organisation was a rock throughout his ordeal, said 60-year-old Paul, and he praised one nurse in particular for being by his side in the early years after his diagnosis.
“Wendy Rockett was her name. Even if I get to a stage where I forget my own name, I will never forget the name of Wendy Rockett. She was such a help and an inspiration in the most difficult times, she kept me sane,” said Paul, whose cancer was first detected when he was aged 43.
He said: “That was in the 1990s, though I had been to the doctors much earlier, when I was aged 28 and found a lump in my neck. But at the time I was told it was nothing to worry about. By my 40s it had started to get bigger and change shape, so I decided to go back and get checked out.”
Paul was told the prognosis was not good. Only five per cent of all thyroid cancers are the type from which he suffers and it is genetic, which meant other members of his family were also at risk.
Following his diagnosis, his daughter, his two sisters and a cousin had their thyroids removed as a preventative measure on the advice of doctors.
“I suppose you could say I was the sacrificial lamb. If I hadn’t been diagnosed we might never have known this was in the family and it might have been too late by the time my daughter found out, “ said Paul.
At the time of his original diagnosis he had surgery to remove his thyroid, followed by 33 days of radiotherapy, which it was hoped would eradicate the tumour, but the cancer is of an aggressive type, which is prone to spread and subsequent check ups revealed it had moved to his liver.
Paul said: “That was the really bad news. I had an operation to take away part of my liver, but doctors held out little hope for me. They still tell me I am defying the odds, but somehow I am managing to keep going. I have to have regular check ups at Queen Elizabeth hospital, Birmingham, and blood tests to see how I am faring, but I’m determined not to give up on this thing yet.”
Paul worked with British Coal for 20 years, 15 of them as a miner and five on the surface. Before that he also had spells working as a police officer, a bank clerk and a taxi driver.
“I like variety!” he laughed. “But I loved my years as a miner. I met some truly nice people.”
Married to Tamworth Borough Council sheltered housing warden Annette, who he first met at school, Paul now spends as much of his time as he can helping out for charity. He is a collector for Macmillan Cancer Support and also supports the Birmingham-based Get A Head independent charity for people with head and neck diseases and cancers.
He says he has been heartened by the generosity of the public towards Macmillan Cancer Support.
“I have collected at the local garden centre, and outside a supermarket, among other places, and the response to the Macmillan’s from the public has been unstinting. People have come up to me especially to tell me how wonderful they are and what a tremendous support they have been for their families.
“Of course, I know this from my own personal experience. They have been there for me any time of the day or night, a constant source of support. I cannot thank them enough.”
Claire Morden, co-ordinator of Macmillan Cancer Support volunteers in Tamworth, said Paul is not the only one to have reported such good feedback.
She said: “Not many households nowadays have been unaffected by cancer. The Macmillan nurses are there to help patients and their families, not just physically but emotionally, and people are so appreciative of that support. That’s why, like Paul, I am urging people from Tamworth and the surrounding area to come along and do their bit to support the coffee morning events next week. Whatever is raised in the area stays in the area; therefore the generosity of the people if Tamworth helps Macmillan to support those affected by Cancer in the Tamworth area.
“Ankerside shopping centre has always been a big supporter of ours in the past and once again people can help them to help us raise vital funds. Buying just one cup of coffee can make all the difference. Plus it’s a chance to chat and relax with friends.”