Why did you first start the 3500toendit challenge?
My wife died of cervical cancer in September 2015 and I wanted to do something to honour her. We liked walking and I thought it would be consistent with what we did as a family and so I decided to do 3,500 miles, raising awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of regular smear tests.
Who is involved?
All the funds raised go to Cancer Research UK, but with a very specific purpose. Through CRUK, the funds go to Professor Jo Waller at UCL, who is researching techniques that will encourage women to go and get their smear test done. For example, instead of getting a letter from the doctor, or in addition to getting a letter, you get a text. You just click on it and your appointment is booked, so you don’t have to mess around with calling the doctors to make an appointment. That’s one technique they are piloting and I think it’s been successful.
What is the aim of the walk?
Above all, the aim of the walk is to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and that it’s a disease that no woman needs to die from or families be destroyed by. My dream would be if the government, or the Health Secretary, announced a target to eliminate cervical cancer, because it is the only cancer we could actually eradicate through vaccines and smear tests.
So yeah, raising awareness, including in men. When I turned 50, my wife asked me if I’d had my prostate checked and bugged me until I did, but it never crossed my mind to remind her to do the same. I’m just a typical guy and women are much more switched on about health than men are I find, but we’re all human beings and could benefit from a reminder. My wife just didn’t get round to it in time. She was a few months late, but that was the difference between life and death.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced?
There haven’t been any real physical challenges – I had blisters for a couple of days but I’m reasonably fit so it’s been absolutely fine. There’s been a bit of stuff with logistics and planning but the real challenge that I’m still grappling with is online. For every hour spent walking, I’ve learnt you need to spend the same amount of time online, raising awareness. I hired someone to help me with the website and social media. I’m just not able to keep up with it myself but of course it really is important. So that’s been my big challenge, the online outreach.
You’re about halfway through the walk, what have been some of the highlights of your experience so far?
Definitely the people I’ve stayed with along the way. I’ve loved meeting new people and hearing their stories, some of which have been about cervical cancer and how it’s affected them. One couple had a niece who died from it and another couple – it was their daughter, who was under the age of 25 so wasn’t eligible for the smear test. They eventually went private and she’s now fine, a healthy 37 year old. The funny thing about walking is it tends to lead to deeper conversations. You just find out different things about people’s lives when you’re walking rather than when you’re just chatting in a coffee shop.
It’s also been nice being in the clean air and seeing some fantastic views, like the Gower Peninsula in South Wales, but it’s been wonderful pretty much everywhere. The best thing is waking up in the morning and wondering where I’m going to walk today.
What’s been your favourite bit to walk so far?
Like I said, the Gower Peninsula was lovely. Hadrian’s Wall was also fantastic, there’s a path all the way along offering a nice mix of countryside and history. There were some beautiful bits in Devon and Cornwall and the Jurassic Coast in Dorset too, so lots and lots of different places.
When do you expect to complete it the walk?
Around 26th–27th June.
How can our readers help?
They can go on the website www.3500toendit.com however, I think my main request would be they talk to one person about cervical cancer. If they want to donate that would be welcome but donations aren’t the focus. Of course, if anyone lives near the coast and would like to join me for a leg then send me an email – it’s always nice to walk with people – but the main thing is, especially if you’re a guy, to talk to the women in your life and ask if they are up to date with their smear test.