In memory of his late wife, Georgie, Chris Gatenby has funded a £75,000 PhD scholarship at the University of York in lung cancer research, by running two miles every day for one year. In early October Chris came to campus for his final ‘Jog for Georgie’ and to hear the findings from the PhD lung cancer research he funded. Chris explains his motivations to us and what the future holds for lung cancer research.
“Georgie and I met the modern way: online in 2010. We were both in London and only lived half a mile apart from each other but our paths had never crossed. Georgie’s onset of lung cancer was very sudden – in the sense that it went from shortness of breath when walking upstairs in November and December 2016 to being told she needed to attend the hospital in the first week of January. The next day we were told there was no other explanation than cancer.
By that point, unfortunately, the cancer had reached stage 4 and it was too late. Georgie’s medication could only be life preserving and whilst we were hopeful that we would have more time, we knew life-saving treatment was highly unlikely for her. She was diagnosed in January 2017 and by August she had died.”
When Georgie was diagnosed with lung cancer, Chris made a promise to her that he would run two miles every single day come rain or shine, to raise money for lung cancer research.
“It was my pledge to her and I never broke my word. I just told her that I wanted to do this for her. When she was dying, I told her I’d be okay – I didn’t know how I would be okay, so this was one of my things I grasped onto to try and make me be okay. This is what I did.”Chris Gatenby
Chris knew he could do a one-off event that would spike interest but this challenge lasted over a year and as he posted about it on social media every day it had a cumulative effect, gaining interest from regional news sources.
“People see that you are persistent, you keep going, that you’re not giving in. I just knew it had to be something with longevity. Prior to ‘Jog for Georgie’, I barely ran so it’s become a bit of a way of life for me, primarily around the commitment that I gave to Georgie, but on the back of that it became a really good thing for me, mentally. Every run is different: a run to forget, a run to remember, a run to think or just a run to enjoy running fast – it’s been a great way to connect with people and form friendships.
The motivation was – Georgie had Lung Cancer and she never gave up. I only had to run two miles a day so why would I? It was my pledge to her and I never broke my word. I just told her that I wanted to do this for her. When she was dying, I told her I’d be okay – I didn’t know how I would be okay, so this was one of my things I grasped onto to try and make me be okay. This is what I did.
Runs are really good for the soul and good for the mind. Sometimes I just need to go out and remember what life has been, what life can be and how hard it can be. Just by going out and thinking about those things, a run gives you context. It gave me a purpose at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure what my purpose was, so it really helped give me a sense of fulfilment and redirection that helped keep me on the train tracks of my life when I needed it most.”
“It gave me a purpose at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure what my purpose was, so it really helped give me a sense of fulfilment and redirection that helped keep me on the train tracks of my life when I needed it most.“Chris Gatenby
When Chris was deciding what to fundraise for, transparency was a priority for him. He wanted to be able to see how the money had been used directly rather than just going into a pot so he could see that direct correlation to what had been achieved.
“I think that would have been harder with a bigger charity because, while your money is gratefully received and vitally used, you don’t have that directness and the openness. People were giving up a lot of money, that was hard earned and hard to come by at times because we’ve all been living through hard times, so for people to see how their £75,000 was being used, transparency was a big thing for me.”
Chris had no doubt that he would raise the money to fund the project for one year. What surprised him was that in 366 days, he had raised enough to secure the full four years of funding for a PhD.
Chris kept his promise and did his final ‘Jog for Georgie’ in October this year, on campus surrounded by his friends, family, members of the university and PhD scholarship recipient, Gaby Turvey.
“It’s good to be back and doing a run around the university – it’s a lovely campus – and to be able to be joined by members of the university, just helps resonate why we’re running and what the PhD has helped achieve and by running with people from the university, it brings that connection together.
Georgie really wanted other people with lung cancer to have better options than she had. Right now survival rates are not too dissimilar to what they were in the seventies. Not enough has changed. I want it to be a bigger topic on the cancer agenda and I really want people to debunk the myth that it’s a smoker’s problem – it’s not – you only need lungs to be diagnosed with lung cancer.
Early detection is paramount with lung cancer. If her cancer had been caught earlier then we would have been looking at a different prognosis. I will never know that for sure, but I genuinely feel that if it had been detected earlier she would have had more options, where the cancer could have been caught before it spread through her body.”
“‘It’s hard to talk about but it’s too important not to. Lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease. All you need to get lung cancer is lungs – you don’t have to smoke.“Chris Gatenby
“It’s hard to talk about but it’s too important not to. Lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease. All you need to get lung cancer is lungs – you don’t have to smoke. One of the first questions I’d get asked was, ‘Did anyone in her family smoke?’ We need to break this narrative that it’s a smoker’s illness. It has one of the highest deaths from cancer, more people die from lung cancer than they do from prostate, breast or ovarian.”
The majority of cancer research goes into the extension of people’s lives, however ongoing research at the university is taking a step back to try to detect the disease before it can spread. This early detection would allow interventions to be made before it’s too late.
This is what Georgina Gatenby Scholarship PhD student, Gaby Turvey, has spent the past four years investigating.
“The whole goal of this research is to understand the early changes so that you can intervene – the problem with lung cancer is that about 50% of lung cancer patients aren’t diagnosed until stage four and at that point it’s far too late, so we need to get better early intervention and early diagnosis. That’s what I really want going forward; to have better early steps that can go on and massively reduce the amount of lung cancer deaths because that’s the only way we’re going to turn it around, by getting in at those early stages. Going forward, you could have a very simple blood test, paired with a CT scan; they’re non-invasive procedures that when paired together are a reliable means of diagnosis. The patient outcomes are so much better if we can get in early.”
“Going forward, you could have a very simple blood test, paired with a CT scan; they’re non-invasive procedures that when paired together are a reliable means of diagnosis. The patient outcomes are so much better if we can get in early.”Gaby Turvey – Georgina Gatenby Scholarship PhD student
Professor Dawn Coverley, Georgina Gatenby PhD Supervisor, emphasises that Chris has funded more than just the research; he has also supported the careers of future scientists.
“Chris’s efforts have been astounding. It’s more than just the results; Gaby will come out of this as a trained scientist so Chris’s efforts are funding the next generation of researchers.”
Dawn also agrees with Gaby’s emphasis of early detection being of the utmost importance.
“There is so much funding, resources and such a burden on the NHS that we have to shift back in time, we have to find ways to do that. I hope that lung cancer is something that can be detected early through a screening programme and people who have potential tumours can be seen by surgeons early.”
Chris concludes, “I think what Gaby has achieved is a phenomenal starting point. She’s done a great amount of work and I’m really intrigued to see where it goes. I think her research supersedes anything I thought was possible in this timeframe and I can only wish her nothing but success for the future in what she goes on to do. Georgie was renowned for saying, ‘amazing’. I think she would say, what we all achieved in her name, for her, is ‘amazing’.”
“Georgie was renowned for saying, ‘amazing’. I think she would say, what we all achieved in her name, for her, is ‘amazing’.”Chris Gatenby