Father inspires fundraising challenge on sixth anniversary of death

A father-of-two from West Sussex, who died of an aggressive brain tumour, is the inspiration behind an African-themed fundraiser.

Mark Smith, of East Grinstead, was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in February 2014 after suffering from ‘vacant spells’ and seizures.

He underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy but died in a hospice two years later, leaving behind his loving wife, Karen, and their seven-year-old twins, Matthew and Katie. He was 49 years old.

The accountant, who spent many years living and working abroad, had a great love of Africa and one of his greatest achievements was having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, an experience he had hoped to repeat with his children one day.

His sister Sara Wiegand, 53, said: “Mark was a laid-back guy with a real zest for life. He lived abroad for about 15 years, first living and working in Prague, then Kenya, Eritrea and Egypt before coming back to the UK in his late 30s.

“He did amazing things in Africa, including climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and trekking to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.”

To mark the sixth anniversary of Mark’s death – which falls during Brain Tumour Awareness Month – Sara, of Granborough in Buckinghamshire, is preparing to host a fundraiser for Brain Tumour Research at the Leighton Buzzard gym where she works as a communications manager.

‘Kilometres for Kilimanjaro’ will see participating members of Hunt Fitness walk, cycle or run the equivalent Kilimanjaro climb distance choosing either a short, medium or long route.

The challenge will take place in the week leading up to Wear a Hat Day on 25 March, for which the gym has planned a special evening to bring members together and give participants the opportunity to finish their kilometres if they haven’t already done so.

The aim is to raise at least the £2,740 needed to fund a day of research at one of the charity’s Research Centres of Excellence and, to help with fundraising, Hunt Fitness is selling specially designed caps and beanies, available for £15 each.

Sara, who raised around £3,000 for the charity by taking part in a sponsored skydive for her 50th birthday, said: “We’ve got about 100 members and, in fact, one of them is a brain tumour survivor, so that’s really positive. A lot of our members have said it’s a great charity and they’ve lost someone to a brain tumour – you don’t realise how many people it affects.

“I’m excited about the event, which we’ve been planning for about three months. Mark would be a bit embarrassed because he was very stoic and didn’t like a lot of fuss but his wife and children have asked for caps and hats and will be doing their challenge where they live between the three of them.”

 Now in its 13th year, Wear A Hat Day has raised more than £2 million for Brain Tumour Research to help fund the fight against the disease. It is one of the UK’s biggest and best-loved brain tumour research awareness and fundraising days. This year, the charity’s Wear A Hat Day pin badges have a regal theme in celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and several of the charity’s celebrity ambassadors are fronting the campaign, including TV personalities Danny Clarke and Sarah Beeny, actor and long-time supporter Dame Sheila Hancock DBE, and brain tumour survivor Caprice Bourret. Danny lost his sister to a brain tumour; Sheila's grandson was treated for the disease when he was just four years old; Sarah was in her 20s when she lost her mum to a brain tumour; Caprice had surgery for a brain tumour six years ago. They are encouraging everyone to take part and help fund the fight against this devastating disease.

Charlie Allsebrook, community development manager for Brain Tumour Research, said: “This is an exciting fundraiser organised in memory of a much-loved father-of-two. Sadly, Mark’s family are not alone in their grief. Too many families are being ripped apart by this devastating disease. We are determined to change this and are grateful for all the support we get through fundraisers such as this which allow us to continue to fund vital research into brain tumours. We wish members of Hunt Fitness the best of luck with their challenge and would encourage other businesses, schools, friends and families to get involved in Wear a Hat Day too.”

Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer yet historically just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Brain Tumour Research funds sustainable research at dedicated centres in the UK. It also campaigns for the Government and the larger cancer charities to invest more in research into brain tumours in order to speed up new treatments for patients and, ultimately, to find a cure. The charity is the driving force behind the call for a national annual spend of £35 million in order to improve survival rates and patient outcomes in line with other cancers such as breast cancer and leukaemia and is also campaigning for greater repurposing of drugs.

To support the ‘Kilometres for Kilimanjaro’ challenge, visit www.justgiving.com/Hunt-Fitness.


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