What's this all about?

A new adventure beckons, and this is once again about my personal journey to make it happen.

It might make you laugh; it might make you cry, but by 'eck lads and lasses, it will be worth a quick skeg every now and then, tha's for sure.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Another dose of reality (3) - From Buy Yorkshire to hell; from smiles to tears

'Hell' is a word used in many ways, to describe many things, but it should only really be used to describe the reality some people have to face.

I've used the word myself on the odd occasion, to try to reflect some sympathy for a situation others face; perhaps a 27 hour journey home from a foreign land that involved a hot sweaty smelly airport, with poor sanitary conditions and no water, when travelling with an elderly relative, or a 6-hour traffic jam with a poorly toddler in the back seat being sick, but the use of the word in this blog entry is perhaps one only a handful of people I know can truly associate with.

It involves my very great friend of over 40 years, John Leppard (affectionately known as Jay); someone I spent my summers growing up with, and clearly shared a very dodgy taste in clothes with too.

Hey, it was the early 1970's!

And yet the last 14 days all started so well.

1. Buy Yorkshire

Geoff Shepherd, Becky Black and the Buy Yorkshire team did it again, an even bigger and better event than last year. Yes, it was the annual Buy Yorkshire Conference (& Exhibition), with over 5000 registered to attend and once again, I was there with another unique and brilliant distinctive design by Rushfirth Creative.

I was ably supported on the two-day event by my friend, ex-colleague and ex-Sahara trek buddy; Sue Beckingham. Helping Sue and I on Tuesday was Michelle Ford, and on Wednesday it was Helen Butters of the @YorkshireRows. The main events we were advertising were The Longest Day trial, on the 9th October, and my Everest basecamp trek in November.

So many visitors, old friends and new; too many to mention but here's a sample of the people who popped by to say hello.

Chris, from Swivel Secure, remembering going #ontheflag to the North Pole

Richard and Nikki from #minitour participants @virtualDCS

My ex-Sahara trek mate Mark Evans, re-living his blisters

Deepali is thrilled to see serial supporter @aqldotcom are #ontheflag3

Keith (from the Addingham TdF organising committee) and Michelle (from Yorkshire Cancer) are pleased to see my mini-event being advertised in time for the 4th-6th July.

The ladies from the @RentHereLtd team trying out the goggles for use on The Longest Day trial

Repeat supporter Jonathon Booth of Journey People, pleased to inform us he's got a new logo to go #ontheflag3

Johnny from Bigfoot Digital offers some great contacts in support of the Everest basecamp trek

The lovely Gabrielle from Melbourne Hosting, interested in supporting both #ontheflag3 as well as The Longest Day

Samantha and Natalie, Buy Yorkshire newbies, with The Longest Day goggles on

Steve and Michelle; partners in life a well as on the Sahara Trek

Fahad from Leeds MENCAP is excited and encouraging about the Everest basecamp trek

Part of the planned activity on the Wednesday was also to present Helen of the @YorkshireRows with a cheque for £250, in support of their awe-inspiring cross-Atlantic rowing challenge in December 2015. The donation goes towards the cost of building their boat and gets the Involve logo on the cabin they'll sleep in.

The news today, of the British yachtsman lost at sea, really brings home the scale of the challenge and the bravery of these 4 women, who will be at sea in a rowing boat probably not much bigger than a long wheel-based Ford Transit, for between 30-60 days ..... unsupported. Such bravery and commitment deserves my £250 donation and my utmost respect. If you're interested in following suit, why not drop them a line via Twitter or on their Facebook page (Yorkshire Rows on Facebook)

And so, after a wonderful two days at the event, it was time to pack up and head back to Manchester; ready for work the following day.

2. Jon Taylor, you might want to stop reading this blog now.

(Please note: I have Jay's consent to write about this in this blog entry, and to use the photos).

The remainder of the week was a blur, as Michelle and I finalised the proposition for The Longest Day trial, ready for me to discuss the finer details with Henshaws. With that, a part-week at work, and me ordering the mascot for the Everest basecamp trek, it was a feelgood end to a very varied week.

Until Friday night.

Lucia and I were tidying up the kitchen, ready for sleep and a lazy Saturday morning, before we were intending to head out to enjoy the promised sunshine, and shop for furniture for the house. It was just before 22:15 when my phone buzzed - a text from Jay.

Surprised and looking forward to reading what he'd sent, Lucia said my face soon fell into a thoughtful gaze and then it just fell. My lips parted and began moving slowly, as I mouthed the content of the text back to myself, in case I'd mis-read it.

I hadn't.

I first met Jay in the mid-70's and we took turns holidaying at each others homes for several years and found we had a similar sense of humour, similar values and enjoyed taking the mickey out of each others accents (given he's a southern softie who can't say 'Seagulls', but pronounces it 'Seaguwz' in his Sussex accent).

As we grew up, we lost touch as life and work led us down different paths, but the girls and I attended his wedding to Kerry way back in 2003 (I think it was 2003; was it Jay?).

The happy couple, just before Auntie June explained about the safety-pin incident. Don't ask!
Jay and his wife Kerry now have 3 beautiful girls; the one mentioned in the text - Florence - will be 3 years old in December. The text explained that they'd had to rush her into hospital and the doctors had said it might be very very serious. My mind raced to when my youngest daughter had to be blue-lighted into hospital 5 years ago, with chronic stomach pains and no obvious reasons for her doubling-up every 2 minutes and crying out in pain. What could be wrong with poor Florence?

Jay wrote that both he and Kerry felt broken and scared; tests would be made that night and they were praying it was not as bad as they thought it might be. I replied to Jay telling him "We're with you in thought and hoping it's all just a scare. I'll leave the phone on all night if you want me. When it's all okay let's talk x".

Just after 1am the phone rang; it was Jay.

It's hard to hear a friend in tears and difficult to know what to say when he tells you the doctor has dropped the bombshell that their 2-year old probably needed a biopsy. That could only mean one thing, couldn't it, but it just didn't feel the right time to interrupt and ask a series of what could be perceived as insensitive and intrusive questions. Right now, I thought, he'd just need to get the emotions out and talk.

We finished the call and, next day, I said if he wanted me to head down to Brighton, I'd dedicate the upcoming bank holiday weekend to them, if it would help - to do anything at all. We agreed to stay in touch whenever he needed to, and I lay awake for a while wondering what on earth  I could do to help.

Saturday: I sent Jay an evening text, to see how he was doing. It was at that point he told me they'd found a malignant tumour in his little girl (I can feel the tears welling-up in my eyes even now, as I type this). We all know of people who suffer or suffered from cancer, but when it's this close to home, it strikes home. The prognosis wasn't good given the size of the tumour and her age, and Jay said they were praying for a miracle.

Sunday nights text brought a glimmer of hope, as the doctors diagnosed a rare form of liver cancer but there are treatments that could treat it. It would be months and months of chemo and the start of a horrible journey but, it seemed, a journey with light at the end of it.

Lucia and I had met Michelle earlier in the day and mentioned what was happening. Her youngest is just two years old and the emotion was clear to see in her eyes.

The text on Monday was a little better, with Jay and Kerry feeling a bit more positive, even though they knew there'd be ups and downs. In fact it was such an 'up' day, Jay posted this photo with the quote "Hula Hoops make me smile".

Tuesday was a down day, with tests to confirm what type of cancer it is, not showing the expected results. I fleetingly hoped that meant it was actually something else, but it put her parents back into the turmoil of not knowing what they were facing ... but they were sure it was still cancer.

I was hoping to see them on Wednesday but they were being transferred to the 3rd hospital in 6 days, so I missed them and didn't hear from Jay at all on Thursday.

Friday: Sat at work, a message came through just before lunchtime ...... and it was devastating. The news was not positive and whilst Jay and Kerry had decided to try chemo once, they fully expected to take her home next week. What could that mean? Tears welled in my eyes, my gut felt sickened and, for a moment, I felt I understood a little of the trauma and emotion of this roller-coaster, but how could I - how can anyone who hasn't been through this nightmare of an experience even remotely understand how it must feel??

I had to know more so, as delicately as I could, I asked what they had been told. The reply made me stand up and go for a walk outside, before I wept in the clients' office; the rare form of liver cancer had been confirmed, but it was complicated further as the cancer had spread to her little lungs. FFS she's only 2 !!!

Jay concluded with "... if the chemo does not work, we do not believe she will suffer for long. Life is so so cruel x". I crumbled, and I'm crumbling now; words on the screen are blurred from tears in my eyes, and my breath is stuttered with sadness, but that can't be anything like the concept of facing the probability of losing your child.

Saturday: As Michelle said this morning, we're just not 'wired' to cope with such an event. Both Kerry and Jay have posted photos of themselves with their beautiful Florence on Facebook today, with hosts of messages of love and encouragement and people looking forward to seeing them back home next week. I will be one of those people.

The photo he sent me today shows a little girl, fast asleep, peaceful and blissfully unaware. The message says "Sleeping. Don't worry about the orange mark on her forehead; it's felt tip pen. We had lots of fun colouring today". I replied immediately, but haven't heard from Jay again today.

3. Eight days can be an eternity.

I'm breathing more calmly now, looking outside the window at the rain hammering down and my mind remains on what can I do. I'll be there for my friend, I'll pray that there is a miracle and I'll talk to him again about being my best man next September, when the future is a little more ..... normal, but every week this IS normality for probably scores of parents, so sitting here having knoble thoughts seems a little pathetic.

This year I already have a deep-sea dive, a 10-mile row on Lake Windermere, the 3-day event in Addingham as part of the Le Grand Depart, a fiancee heading to Toulouse for 9 months, the trial of The Longest Day, and a basecamp trek on Everest. And the need to work.

Most of the adventures are already committed to specific charities, but there's nothing that drives a person forward with purpose more than a personal experience and so I pledge to my friend Jay, his wife Kerry, his other children, my family and friends, that in 2015 I will focus on raising money to kick cancers' arse!

And so life goes on for me. The mascot arrived (and I've tweeted and Facebook'd asking people to help me name 'it') and Henshaws are extremely happy with The Longest Day proposals. I've got to email them an agreement this weekend, and contact all those who left me their business cards at the Buy Yorkshire Conference.

In 2011, it was the Skoda Yeti
In 2012 it was Pete the Polar Bear
In 2014 it's ..... err ..... hmm need a name for 'it'. So far we've had 'Burt', SherPa (with the need for a SherMa), Dave, Base, Yorkie, Edmund, Super Sherpa, and Everett. What would your suggestion be?

I also need to get back into regular visits to the gym, so I can complete all these adventures and help raise money for the many MANY worthy causes out there. I only wish I could raise money for them all, but most of all I wish I could raise a cure for Florence and all those others going through hell. The kind of hell my Dad went through.

It's the anniversary of his death tomorrow; taken slowly and brutally by cancer. Sleep easy Dad and I'm sorry but I sincerely hope there isn't a little angel joining you any time soon.

And if you, dear reader, have children; maybe you'll want to give them an extra long hug tonight.


  1. Geoff, such a moving blog. If I can help you or the family in any way, please let me know - and I don't mean for the benefit of the charity I work with. If I can help advise of good, worthwhile charities fighting cancer and childhood cancer, let me know.

    Also, a suggestion for the mascot. How about Florence?

    Jamie (@JD_Strachan)

    1. Cheers Jamie and yes, if a tribute is needed that sounds like a good idea ... but let's pray for the miracle first and then maybe I'll just give 'it' to Florence when I get back

  2. Geoff, just big, big hugs from us. Life can be so cruel. Losing a Dad and various family members to cancer hurts us, can only imagine if it was a child, no, in fact we can't or don't even want to.

    PS on a trivial note, I still think the major looks a little camp so my suggestion of Base (camp) still stands!

    Love, love and love to you all and Jay and his family.

    1. I know you support the Laura Crane Trust so well Mark (and Sara); I am proud to call you friends (as well as Sahara trekkers).

      With your help, my help, and the help of millions of others, one day this wretched disease will be conquered

  3. Thoughts with you and of course Kerry and Jay and their beautiful little girl x

    1. And just under two years later, the news is soooooo much better. Phew Sue.