A student, inspired to pursue a career in healthcare following the death of his father and grandad to brain tumours, is starring in a campaign to help find a cure for the disease.
Swansea undergraduate Christopher Grey, 19, is taking centre stage and sharing his story during Brain Tumour Awareness Month. Christopher was just 11 years old when his dad Jeffrey Grey, of Swansea, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Despite enduring chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Jeffrey died just eight months later, aged 54.
Tragically, Christopher’s granddad, Wyndham Grey, also died of a brain tumour ten years ago.
Christopher, from Swansea, said: “It’s hard for me to remember my dad’s diagnosis because it was so traumatic and I was so young. It all started when his speech became slurred and the doctors suspected he had suffered a small stroke. Sadly, an MRI scan at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, revealed the dreadful news that he was living with an aggressive brain tumour.
“It’s still upsetting to think back to when Mum told me about Dad’s brain tumour. My heart was completely broken. The tumour was too deep to be operated on and I often stayed off school to be at home with Dad. I knew he was dying and I helped to look after him with my mum.”
Alongside his mum Catherine and grandmother Christine, Christopher is among families across the UK whose images are being seen across the country as a high-profile marketing campaign is launched for Brain Tumour Awareness Month in March. The month culminates in Wear A Hat Day on Friday 27 March. Now in its 11th year, Wear A Hat Day has raised more than £1.25 million to help fund the fight against the disease.
Christopher has been a tireless fundraiser for Brain Tumour Research over the years and has raised more than £5,000 by hosting events such as a fancy-dress evening and a sponsored climb of Pen y Fan. He has also campaigned to raise awareness and inspired Swansea University to take part in last year’s Wear A Hat Day.
He added: “Taking part in this campaign is incredibly important to me, as someone who lost two close relatives to brain tumours. Raising awareness and funding is vital in our quest to help find a cure for this terrible disease. I want to turn my negative experience into something positive.
“I was inspired to study applied medical sciences at university because of my experience with brain tumours. I’m really interested in learning about cancer and the mechanisms behind the disease and, as I particularly enjoy being in the lab, I’m considering a career in medical research.”
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 is the only national charity in the UK singularly focused on finding a cure for brain tumours through campaigning for an increase in the national investment into research to £35 million per year. It is also fundraising to create a sustainable network of brain tumour research centres in the UK.
This year the focus is on the devastation the disease causes to families. All those taking part in the Wear A Hat Day 2020 campaign have either been bereaved by a brain tumour, are living with a brain tumour or have a close family member who has been diagnosed. Some families have three generations involved and all are donning their best headwear from beanies to cowboy hats, trilbies to Panamas, baseball caps to novelty headpieces, and are asking others to join them for this year’s event.
Among corporate supporters already signed up for the fundraiser include Hobbycraft and Venture Studios, the latter worked with the families to create the stunning portraits used in the campaign.
Sue Farrington Smith MBE, Chief Executive of Brain Tumour Research, said: “When my sister’s little girl, Alison Phelan, was diagnosed with a brain tumour in August 2000, we were shocked and horrified to learn that there was no cure. We lost her just 10 months later, three weeks before her eighth birthday. Some 5,500 families in the UK are given the same awful news each year, yet there is still a paucity of treatments for brain tumour patients; 20 years on, lives continue to be devastated.
“Less than 20% of patients survive beyond five years of their diagnosis whereas for cancers such as breast and leukaemia the figures are 86% and 51% respectively because of greater investment for research in those areas.
“Unlike many other cancers, brain tumours are indiscriminate. They can affect anyone at any time, regardless of age, gender, race or lifestyle. Too little is known about the causes and that is why increased investment in research is vital if we are to improve outcomes for patients and, ultimately, find a cure.”
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.