A cancer research and clinical trial volunteer from the East is rallying people to give cancer a knock-out blow by supporting Stand Up To Cancer.
Tony Richards, 70, who lives near Peterborough with his wife Philippa, has been landing blows on cancer since being diagnosed with cancer of the food pipe (oesophageal cancer) in 2011.
After being treated at Addenbrooke’s and getting the all clear from cancer, Tony started helping with research that was taking place in Cambridge.
First, he volunteered to try an experimental treatment that could prevent his type of cancer returning and he helped on other trials that aim to improve the early detection of cancer. The trials have all had funding from Cancer Research UK.
Tony’s first trial was the Halo trial, which is testing an experimental treatment where heat from radio waves is used to destroy abnormal cells in the food pipe. Tony then volunteered to test a new device – called the ‘pill on a string’ or Cytosponge – which detects early changes to cells in the food pipe that could become cancerous over time. And he recently volunteered to be an adviser on a new trial that’s taking place in Cambridge, which is funded by Stand Up To Cancer.
Tony has become a research superstar, speaking at events, advising on research projects and working to raise awareness about the importance of fundraising for research.
Now the father of four and granddad to three, is throwing his weight behind Stand Up To Cancer to give the disease a knockout blow.
Tony said: “When I was diagnosed it made me realise the value of the gift of life and it made me realise how fortunate I was to be diagnosed early. Other people are deprived of that gift because of a late diagnosis and I thought if I can help improve early detection then that’s something.
“I enjoy helping with research, I had a stimulating job as a finance director and this keeps my mind active now that I am retired. On top of that, it’s giving something back.”
Tony was fortunate to be diagnosed early with oesophageal cancer as it meant he avoided major surgery.
He’d long had a history of indigestion and gastritis. By 2009 he had developed a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, where abnormal cells form in the food pipe which can turn cancerous over time. Two years later, a tumour was found.
After an operation to cut out the cancer from his oesophagus, Tony was able to make a full recovery. However, traces of Barrett’s remained. It was at that point that Tony was told about the Halo clinical trial and asked if he would like to take part.
The retired Finance Director then volunteered for a second trial called ‘BEST2’ – where the Cytosponge ‘pill on a string’ was being tested.
The sponge collects cells from the food pipe, these cells are put through a specially-developed molecular test which highlights any abnormalities.
Tony said: “The test involved swallowing a capsule on a string. You coil the string up, put it in your mouth and wash the capsule down with a glass of water. You can feel it when the nurse pulls it out but it's not unpleasant. It is quick and much easier than an endoscopy.
“I wanted to help with the Cytosponge trial because ultimately it could help to diagnose oesophageal cancer earlier, if you can do that then people might be able to avoid major surgery as you can remove the cancer from the oesophagus before it does more damage.”
Tony then started talking at Cancer Research UK events to raise awareness. He talked about his diagnosis and the trials he had helped with. Recently he volunteered to help on a research project about patient outcomes. On the horizon, he hopes to assist on a trial which is developing a new type of endoscope, which can uses coloured light to spot abnormal cells that would otherwise not be visible to the human eye. This work is supported by Stand Up To Cancer.
Tony has appeared in countless leaflets, publications and on TV, all to raise awareness.
Despite his efforts as a research superstar, he remains very modest about his contribution.
Tony said: “I enjoy doing it and I count myself as being very lucky. I have my check-ups now but I feel healthy and well. When all of the family gets together it feels all the more precious. I know I am only here to spend time with them because of research, that is a good motivation to keep helping others.”
Every hour, around four people are diagnosed with cancer in the East. Tony is urging everyone to join him and Stand Up To Cancer, to support life-saving research.
Stand Up To Cancer unites scientists, celebrities and communities. It’s supported by a host of stars including Davina McCall, Edith Bowman, Alan Carr, Joel Dommett and Kirsty Allsopp.
Money raised for Stand Up To Cancer helps take developments from the lab and transform them, quickly, into brand new tests and treatments for cancer patients.
Tony said: “Research is cancer’s number one enemy. Stand Up To Cancer helps fund clinical trials and research projects which pack a punch in the fight against the disease.
“This research is crucial, but also very expensive. That’s why we need to get fundraising to help doctors and scientists speed up breakthroughs for the benefit of cancer patients.”
Since it was launched in the UK in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer has raised over £38 million to support life-saving research.
Danielle Glavin, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the East, said: “It’s time to make a stand and get payback on cancer for all the people whose lives have been cut short by this devastating disease.
“There are lots of fun ways to join the fight. You can get creative in the kitchen, get sponsored to stand out in orange at work or school or take part in a sponsored wax or head shave. A free fundraising pack is available, full of fun and creative ways to conjure up crucial cash.
“We are in a ‘golden age’ for cancer research and every pound raised by Stand Up To Cancer takes us a step closer to beating the disease. We will never throw in the towel. We believe this is a fight that we can win.”
People can also show their support for the campaign in style as a fun range of clothing and accessories for men, women and children is available now online and at Cancer Research UK shops.
Stand Up To Cancer will culminate with an unforgettable night of live television on Friday 26 October.
To get involved visit www.standuptocancer.org.uk