“I trekked 26-miles across the South Downs while living with myeloma”

Royal Marsden patient Jason and his wife Donna took part in the South Downs Challenge in 2023 and raised nearly £4,000 for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

“I’ve always had a bad back because of a slipped disc, so was initially dismissive of the new pain, but it was getting worse and worse." says Jason. "When I went to see my physiotherapist and acupuncturist, she knew this was different to what she had treated me for previously. She was the one who phoned the GP surgery for me.” 

Two people smiling with their heads touching, on a walk in a wooded area
Royal Marsden patient Jason with his wife, Donna

“The GP basically told me about the myeloma diagnosis in that appointment. I was sent to our local hospital for the proper diagnosis and treatment, which included chemotherapy. I was in a right mess – I had extensive bone damage, including nine cracked ribs, seven cracked vertebrae and lesions in my skull. But as the chemo started to work, my bones were able to repair themselves to a certain extent.” 

Stem cell transplant at The Royal Marsden 

“When I was transferred to The Royal Marsden I had reached the point of a stem cell transplant, and have stayed under the care of Dr Kaiser the whole way through."

A selection of controls on top of a machine with tubes of blood entering and leaving
An apheresis machine

"I had the transplant in 2017 using an apheresis machine, it was a very strange experience but the care was amazing.”

A stem cell transplant is where damaged blood cells are replaced with healthy stem cells. An apheresis machine – funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity – harvests stem cells before a transplant by taking the patient's blood via a needle in their arm and separating the different components. This allows the stem cells to be collected and then infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. 

“Fast forward to now, I receive regular immunotherapy infusions and ongoing medication. I have my consultant appointments in the new Oak Cancer Centre – it's amazing and the comfort of it all being joined up is great too. I’m treated two weeks on, two weeks off with immunotherapy. Those first two weeks, I get quite a lot of fatigue and soreness.”

Donna says: “It’s not plain sailing, half of the month he feels pretty rubbish. But, the other half of the month, he can hike a marathon, he can go on a 10-mile bike ride. To maximise what we can get out of our life, we look at the diary based on Jason's drug cycle and treatment. We make sure that plans like the theatre, or going for a weekend away, time well with when Jason's feeling okay. This is the approach we took when practicing for the South Downs trek!” 

Training for the South Downs Challenge 

“In 2023 we decided to do the South Downs Challenge together – a 26-mile trek from Falmer to Eastbourne. Donna and I really enjoy getting out, we’re fortunate in that we live next door to Swinley Forest, so we try and spend as much time in there as we can with our dog. The South Downs Challenge came up and we just thought, let’s go for it.” 

“We did a lot of walks in the forest and built that up over time following a hiking training plan. Over the period between January and Easter in 2023 we got up to five-hour walks. We tried to push the pace a bit to increase our fitness. It was really enjoyable!” 

Two people in Royal Marsden Cancer Charity t-shirts smiling and walking in a wooded area
Jason and Donna training in their local forest

How it felt on the day 

“It was a lovely day – we were very lucky with the weather. There was a big group of people taking part, some with really inspiring stories. One couple was walking for their daughter who has leukaemia and another lady recovering from treatment herself, so it was special to speak as we walked.” 

“Donna and I are quite experienced walkers, we were walking in the fastest group and I was a bit worried about whether we would be able to sustain that. But we sustained it to the end! Although, it was a hard walk. There's a bit two thirds of the way through where you have to walk up some stairs – that hurt quite a bit!” 

Two people in hiking gear standing in front of a beach on a sunny day in the South Downs
Jason and Donna on the trek

“It was such a sunny day, but because of that I had to wear sunblock. I have skin issues so I can't use sun cream. Of course, going up the Seven Sisters chalk sea cliffs, I'm sweating a lot and it's just washing off the sunblock. So I had to keep putting it on again and again!” 

“The atmosphere, though, was very special and everyone is walking for a reason, it was something Donna and I both really loved taking part in – it took us around nine hours. I would absolutely recommend taking part in the South Downs Challenge. It is hard, but as long as you train properly, it’s challenging but enjoyable.” 

“Taking part in the South Downs Challenge was a way to say thank you to The Royal Marsden for all the care and support I receive on an ongoing basis.” 

A couple hiking on the South Downs. The Seven sisters cliffs are in the background

Join Team Marsden for the South Downs Challenge 2024! 

Are you interested in taking on the South Downs Challenge for The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity this May? 

Find out more and sign up for your place today.

If a trek isn’t your thing, find a fundraising event to suit you today.