A teacher from South Wales is in training for an epic cycling challenge, to raise money for Brain Tumour Research and pay tribute to the brother he lost to the deadly disease. Dad-of-three Geraint Davies, from Carmarthenshire, has turned to a fitness fundraiser to try to deal with his grief.
Later this month, the 36-year-old head of PE and Sport at Leicester Grammar School in England will take on a gruelling 450-mile bikepacking journey over five days. It’s after his older brother Mark died aged 44, following a 13-year battle with a brain tumour.
Geraint, who grew up in Ammanford but lives wife his wife and their three children in Fleckney, near Leicester, said:
“Mark was 30 when, in October 2005, he suffered a knock to the head during a rugby match and had a seizure on the pitch. He was rushed to hospital and had a scan, which revealed a brain tumour. It was a complete shock. Up until that day, he hadn’t had any of the symptoms you’d associate with a brain tumour.”
Mark’s tumour was identified as a grade 2 glioma. He was treated with a course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy and was left severely epileptic – a condition which took many years to get under control.
Geraint said: “He couldn’t drive for 18 months and lived at home with our parents, Sheila and Dennis. In spite of the challenges, Mark was determined to get back to his job as a welder fabricator at Shufflebottom Ltd in Cross Hands, near to where I grew up and where my family still live.”
Mark continued to be monitored with regular MRI scans. All the scans came back with positive results and he was managing well until one day in March 2013, when he came home from work complaining of blurred vision.
Geraint said: “He was admitted to University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff for a biopsy. The impact of that procedure was massive. Mark lost all of his eyesight and suffered from serious psychosis. His behaviour became very aggressive. Worse still, the results confirmed the tumour was incurable and unlikely to respond to further chemotherapy.
“Determined not to give up, Mark went through another six rounds of chemo anyway, in the hope it would prevent further progression of the tumour. He managed OK for a couple of years but then, in October 2015, he slipped coming down the stairs and broke his leg. He spent seven months in hospital before, eventually, going to a care home in Gorseinon, Swansea, in May 2016.”
Mark’s family visited him in the residential home every day; his parents, sister Ffion, Geraint and three younger brothers Owain, Sion and Ian, as well as his nieces and nephews. By April 2019, after a long and slow decline, which saw him lose a lot of weight and the ability to speak, Geraint realised that his beloved brother didn’t have long left.
He said: “Eventually, he couldn’t eat and had stopped taking his medication. He slipped away several times but kept pulling back. In the end, I held his hand and told him not to be scared and that he was going to a better place, where he could see again, where he could walk, swim and listen to his favourite band – Iron Maiden – all day long.”
Mark died peacefully in the early hours of 23 April 2019, surrounded by his loving family.
Geraint said: “Seeing my brave and beautiful brother take his last breath is not something that I have or ever will come to terms with.
“In the two years since Mark passed, things haven’t got any easier. During the COVID-19 lockdown, I struggled with my grief more and more. I was out for a run over Christmas, thinking about Mark, when I decided I needed something positive to focus on. I wanted to do something to remember him and to support other families to try and prevent them from going through what my family has gone through.”
Motivated by his tragic loss, Geraint is taking on a huge physical challenge, with the aim of raising at least £5,000 for two causes close to his heart: My Name’5 Doddie Foundation and Brain Tumour Research.
He said: “On 28 May 2021, I’ll be setting off from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk on a 450-mile bikepacking journey, that will take me from coast to coast, arriving in Aberystwyth in Ceredigion by day three. I’ll then set off along the west Wales coast, arriving at Mumbles Pier in Swansea by the end of day five. I’ll spend all day riding and I’ll visit rugby clubs along the route, delivering training sessions in the evenings for minis, juniors, colts and seniors. My brother was a massive Neath, Ospreys, and Wales rugby supporter and held a season ticket for both Neath and the Ospreys. I wanted to come up with something fitting to remember him by.”
An additional motivation for his fundraising is the loss of one of his students, Tom Ellis, to a brain tumour a year ago. A member of Geraint’s rugby team, 15-year-old Tom’s diagnosis came completely out-of-the-blue and followed a CT scan investigating a suspected concussion after a rugby match in November 2018.
Geraint said: “Tom was bright, cheerful, amazingly tenacious and incredibly well-loved. He completed five surgeries in total – four on his brain and one on a secondary tumour in his spine. He endured seven rounds of chemotherapy and three debilitating sets of radiotherapy, the only thing that had any effect on his tumour. Tom’s focus throughout all of this was his education; attending school as often as he could and seeing his friends. Unfortunately, the tumour was too aggressive and he finally lost his fight in June 2020, at Rainbows Hospice in Loughborough.”
Matthew Price, community development manager at Brain Tumour Research, said: “We were so very sorry to learn about devastation this awful disease has caused Geraint’s and Tom’s families. Our thoughts are with them, as they continue to try to come to terms with their terrible losses.
“Geraint’s fundraising is really inspirational and we will be cheering him on throughout the course of his challenge. By sharing his story, he is also helping to raise awareness of the disease, reminding us brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age. We are determined to continue in our mission to find a cure, to help prevent other families from suffering such a tragic loss.”
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 calling 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 Brain Tumour Research via Geraint’s fundraising page, please visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/GeraintDavies28