CANCER – a truly destructive illness that rips families apart and ruins the lives of the hundreds of thousands of victims it cruelly claims every year.
But a philanthropic pensioner in Lee-on-the-Solent has dedicated his life to raising thousands of pounds to support charity Macmillan after tragically losing his wife to the disease back in 2001.
Dot Herman was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and doctors told her and husband Brian the cancer was incurable.
The 52-year-old died just 18 months later.
But his wife’s death left Brian determined to make a difference and give others affected by the illness a chance at survival.
The 71-year-old, originally from Greenwich, said: ‘I became involved with Macmillan after my wife’s death and wanted to raise as much money as I could.
‘They are of immense importance. The nurse who was present at the diagnosis was so helpful.
‘She was always there when we needed her, would always help us out with advice and made sure my wife understood her treatments.’
The recent great-grandfather first began fundraising for Macmillan shortly after the funeral, and signed up to an abseiling event run by the charity at a cheese and wine function held in the oncology centre in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Greenwich.
He said: ‘The fundraiser was organised by the hospital, but representatives from Macmillan were there.
‘They were asking people to sign up to abseil down the side of the hospital, and by that point I’d probably had too much wine so I agreed to do it.
‘We ended up raising £2,500 and I signed on to do it again the next year. I just got the bug for fundraising.
‘I just kept thinking well I’ve done this now. What else can I do.’
Coffee mornings, sponsored walks, and various bucket collections all around the south coast have meant Brian has raised more than £40,000 in the last 18 years.
This year Brian held his first ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ at his home for Macmillan and raised a total of £250.
‘I’m really happy with the figure we raised considering I live on a quiet road with not much passing traffic,’ he said. ‘There was a really good response from the local people. I went around putting flyers through letterboxes and we had a good turnout. I’m definitely going to hold one next year.’
Brian and Dot both worked together at Boxgrove Primary School in Greenwich and were married for 25 years. The pair had two children, five grandchildren and a great granddaughter.
Using his grandson as inspiration for his next fundraising idea, Brian invented a Macminion – a knitted mascot toy based on the ‘minion’ character from the Despicable Me film franchise. By changing the colour of the trousers and adding the letter ‘M’on the bib to make a ‘Macminion,’ he sold hundreds of mascots and gave the proceeds to Macmillan.
The fundraising work has helped Brian to deal with the tragedy of losing his wife, who he described as a larger than life character who would do ‘anything and everything’ to protect her family, but he confessed that her death was ‘particularly tough’ as they never left each other’s side. He explained: ‘Unlike other couples who would go off to work in the morning and not see each other until the evening, we never had to say goodbye, as we could be with each other all day.
‘It was just far too soon. We were only together 25 years, which sounds like a long time but it really was no time at all. Her mother also died at around the same age. At the time we were told it was stomach cancer, but it was later revealed it was ovarian – the same as my wife.
‘It’s a hereditary disease and it’s so hard to cure once it’s been detected.’
But Brian is not slowing down anytime soon and his exceptional fundraising efforts have been recognised on multiple occasions, such as twice being named ‘Macmillan Volunteer of the Year,’ and twice winning the Hugh Dundas Regional Volunteer of the Year, becoming the only person to do so. He added: ‘To be honest I think the £40,000 figure may be a little inaccurate as I’ve done bucket collections at various events and in train stations which aren’t counted on my fundraising record, so I’d think at least another couple of thousand can be added on to the figure.
‘I’m collecting at the Winchester half-marathon on Sunday, I’m a lead buddy in the Coastal West Sussex Buddy Service who partner volunteers with lonely cancer patients, and will continue with my sponsored walks and coffee mornings.
‘I love what I do. Life as a full-time fundraiser can get pretty hectic, but it’s so rewarding knowing I’m making a difference.’