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North Wales man fundraising after best man’s shock terminal brain diagnosis

Andy as best man

A keen cyclist is taking on an overseas cycle ride and fundraising for Brain Tumour Research to support his friend who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.

Andy Griffiths, 55, from Leamington Spa, had originally planned to travel to Belgium in his campervan with his wife Sandra (‘Sandy’), 62, to ride the Tour of Flanders cycle, also known as De Ronde, on 31 March 2020, with best friend Rob Baldwin. The event didn’t go ahead, due to COVID-19, but Andy had already had to withdraw from taking part, after being diagnosed with a brain tumour the previous month.

Andy and Sandy together

Whilst swimming at Pure Health Club in Leamington Spa in February 2020, Andy suffered a terrifying tonic-clonic seizure, and was rushed to A&E at Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital, where an emergency MRI scan showed a tumour growing on his brain.

Andy recalls the terrifying moment he lost control in the water: “When I was swimming, my head jerked from side to side and I really couldn’t make out where I was going. I desperately tried to get to the other end. Sandy was swimming in the other direction and she soon noticed something was wrong. By that time, I had made it to the end of the pool. Within a minute I had lost consciousness still in the pool. Sandy shouted for help, which came shortly afterwards.”

On 19 February, Andy had a craniotomy, during which most of the mass was removed. However, a biopsy revealed the tumour was a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which carries with it a stark prognosis of just 12 to 18 months.

Six weeks of gruelling radiotherapy and chemotherapy followed alongside three-monthly scans to monitor the tumour.

Andy continued to suffer with debilitating seizures for 15 months after surgery, which led to him taking medical retirement from his career as a consultant at Accenture in Warwick. He was also forced to give up his passion for cycling, for fear he would have a serious accident.

Andy said: “Being diagnosed with a brain tumour was a massive shock, to then have to deal with seizures for months after surgery was horrible. I dreaded them happening as I couldn’t breathe and would always worry about losing consciousness or even worse, not waking up.”

His latest scan showed the tumour was growing again and since December 2021, Andy has been receiving chemotherapy for the second time.

Andy said: “It’s been 24 months since I received my diagnosis, so I already feel like I have surpassed the average life expectancy of someone with a GBM. Things have gone a bit downhill recently, as I have paralysis in my right arm and leg, which I’m told could have been caused by the radiotherapy.”

Two years after they were originally due to take part in the Tour of Flanders cycle, on 31 March, Andy’s best friend Rob will take on the 256km cobbled challenge in just one day, to raise funds and awareness to help find a cure for brain tumours.

Rob and Andy smiling on bikes

Andy added: “Rob and I did it together a few years ago and it was extremely tough. We signed up again with a view to riding it together in 2020 but my illness and then the pandemic meant that that never happened. My limited mobility means I will be at the finish line waiting for Rob, rather than taking part, and our friend Mark will be joining Rob and riding in my honour.”

Mark Thompson, 59, from Deal in Kent, will be riding alongside Rob after they bonded through their love of cycling. Mark joined Rob and Andy at the Welsh Velothon cycle ride and will be part of the team fundraising for Brain Tumour Research aiming to raise a total of £2740 which could fund a day of research at one of the charity’s Centres of Excellence.

Regulars on the cycling sportive scene, Andy and Rob first met as neighbours in Leamington Spa and Andy as best man at Rob’s wedding in 30 June 2016. Despite Rob now living in St Asaph in Denbighshire, north Wales, he is determined to support his friend.

Rob said: “We have been going to Belgium together with our wives for the last 10 years or so, not only to follow this event but also to celebrate our birthdays which fall around the same time. I remember the phone call from Andy. It was almost two years to the day from now, we were in the process of organising our almost annual pilgrimage to Bruges to go to the Ronde over our birthday week, mine is 5th and Andy on 9th  April. I was devastated and in disbelief at Andy’s diagnosis, but life goes on and you have to set goals to help you get through, so that’s what we did and one of these was the ride this year.”

Mel Tiley, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We’re so sorry to hear about Andy’s diagnosis and wish him well with his chemotherapy. We’re grateful to Andy, for sharing his story, and to Rob for taking on this challenge alongside Mark. It’s only with the support of people like them that we’re able to progress our research into brain tumours and improve the outcome for patients like Andy, who are forced to fight this awful 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 donate to Rob’s fundraiser, please visit: www.facebook.com/donate/1293516797806314