‘Sis, I’ve got prostate cancer, it’s everywhere, what do I do?’
Those are the words Nicky Wright heard when she answered the phone to her brother Peter Sowerby on New Year’s Eve, 2015.
Nicky’s admits, ‘Peter was my annoying older brother. And I expected him to be annoying me until we were both old. He shouldn’t have died then.’
Nicky, a dentist from Bishop’s Waltham, comes from a small close RAF family, with a sense of adventure and sporting prowess.
Despite being a champion lacrosse player in her youth, as a young mum she didn’t think she’d be taking on endurance challenges that would prove tough for a 20-year-old, aged 49.
She wouldn’t be, had it not been for the premature death of her big brother, aged 51, earlier this year.
Even though Peter knew he was dying, he wanted to feel alive.
The siblings embarked on a series of challenges – swimming the Serpentine, in London, marathons, and gruelling bike rides.
Together they raised money for a number of charities, but Nicky, a mother-of-three, is now determined to raise the profile of prostate cancer – the third biggest cancer killer in the UK.
The story begins at Christmas 2015. Nicky says: ‘My brother had been in excruciating back pain and was awaiting the results of an MRI scan.
‘He phoned me on December 29 to say he’d had the results and they were doing blood tests and he was to go back in two days time.
‘At 9am on December 31, 2015 I had the phone call I’d been dreading. I had a very emotional chat with my then 48 year big brother, telling him he had to fight and get treated and we were always there for him.’
Nicky says she felt the need to do something positive and signed up to Ride the Night for women’s cancers – a 100k cycle ride through the night around the streets of London. Then it was the Great North Run for Prostate Cancer UK and then the inaugural Serpentine mile for Teenage Cancer Trust .
‘I completed my triathlon against cancer with the Great North Run in September 2017, and my brother surprised me by turning up at the eight-mile marker,’ says Nicky.
‘He was really proud of me but wanted to raise the awareness of prostate cancer more, and his competitive spirit had been whetted!
‘He signed up to run the London Marathon, organised a group cycle ride from London to Paris, and aimed to swim 2.5 miles in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Madeira, where we have visited as a family for the past 15 years.
‘My brother raised a huge amount of money for Prostate Cancer UK and also helped to raise awareness. Peter was still fighting hard, despite having tumours throughout his body, now affecting his speech.’
The challenges didn’t stop, though, Nicky signed up for the 75th anniversary Dambusters Cycle Ride from RAF Scampton to the Mohne Dam in Germany for the RAF Benevolent Fund.
They also swam Lake Coniston and the Serpentine 2 Miles.
Not long after, Nicky won a ballot place for the 2018 London Marathon for Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT). She says: ‘It has been horrible watching my big brother as an adult suffer from cancer but as the mum of teenagers, I feel anything we can do to help kids with cancer has got to be a good idea, and TCT are fantastic.’
On April 5, three weeks before the marathon, Nicky had a phone call to say Peter was unwell.
She says: ‘I decided to take the children and one of the dogs up to see him.
‘I realised this was their last trip to see Uncle P, and after having got the children home I drove back up to Milton Keynes to be with my brother when he passed away at the age of 51.
‘Three days before the marathon we held my brother’s Celebration of Life at the Bedford School Chapel – a huge send-off with many old boys including old boy Alistair Cook, the former England cricket captain.
‘The London Marathon was an amazing, emotional experience. I spotted a sign with eight miles to go which said “Peter, 8 miles til the beers”.
‘It felt like he was just trying to keep me going – he’d been there for me at eight miles at the Great North Run.’
The 300-mile Dambusters cycle was also an emotional experience, but thoughts of Peter kept Nicky going. She crossed the finish line, at Mohne Dam, Germany, in tears.
Her final challenge is the Prudential Ride 100 cycle ride in July. She has raise more than £3,000 for charity.
Nicky says: ‘I thought Peter would be there with me, he just went quicker than we thought. I thought he was going to be my annoying older brother, and we’d be arguing until we were old.
‘The challenges have been a way of doing something positive.’
PROSTATE CANCER – NOT JUST AN OLD MAN’S DISEASE
Nicky Wright’s brother Peter Sowerby died of prostate cancer aged 51.
Nicky is now making it her mission to prove ‘it’s not just an old man’s disease.’
Nicky adds: ‘If you’re in your 40s, go along to your GP and ask for a PSA test. It’s a simple blood test to check for prostate cancer – my brother’s was 3000, most people start worrying when it gets to the tens and twenties.
‘But like all these things if it’s caught early it’s treatable.
‘I only wish I’d realised and I would have nagged him to go when he turned 40, rather than thinking I needed to nag him at 60.
‘Our grandfather died of prostate cancer at the age of 70. And our mother had breast cancer which also puts men at greater risk of prostate cancer.
‘But Peter was a very fit and healthy chap. He was a wicket keeper and spent a lot of time down on his haunches, which he thought explained his excruciating back ache.
‘At first he was given painkillers, then sent to a chiropractor, who then suggested a scan.
‘He had cancer everywhere – ribs, hips, spine, shoulder. He then ran the London Marathon. It was so positive for our children for us all to be doing something. He didn’t want to just sit down and do nothing.’
To find out more about prostate cancer, visit prostatecanceruk.org.