Sailor Olle Nash is circumnavigating Britain to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support – while undergoing chemotherapy himself for bowel cancer.
Olle, 63, left Fox’s Marina in his hometown of Ipswich to make the trip of a lifetime around England, Wales and Scotland. He is on active chemotherapy treatment for bowel cancer and permanently dependent on a colostomy, which his family have named Boris.
His itinerary is unlikely to mirror that of any sailor who has come before him, as the reality of living with cancer means he will have to return to Ipswich just three weeks into his journey to undergo a five-week cycle of intensive radiotherapy treatment.
A four-month adventure on the choppy waters lapping Britain’s shores may not be an obvious pastime for someone living with cancer, but Olle – whose boat is called ‘Renegade’ – has always been one to push against the tide.
He said: “When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t ask those awkward questions like ‘what does this mean for my life?’ I just wanted to get on with it, but I did think that perhaps I wouldn’t always be as fit as I am now, so if there were things I wanted to do, I should do them. I’d been hoping to spend my retirement sailing all over the place, so I combined this ambition with my fundraising.”
While many people emerging from a year of shielding will feel apprehensive about resuming their day-to-day activities, Olle is raring to swap his year of isolation and hospital trips for a challenge that he hopes will raise £10,000 to fund more medical, practical and emotional support for people living with cancer.
The former IT security manager had long dreamed of taking to the seas come retirement, having begun a lifelong love affair with sailing as a child learning to sail on Suffolk’s River Deben. When his working life was brought to a premature halt by his ailing health, however, his later-life adventures appeared, for a brief moment, to hang in the balance.
He had enjoyed a relatively clean bill of health until 2018, when he was diagnosed and treated for a rare condition called Extra-Mammary Paget’s Disease, which ultimately required an operation to remove part of his large intestine.
It was only during this 10-hour procedure at a London hospital that a suspect growth on the inside of his anus was discovered and sent for testing. Olle remained in the dark however, until an appointment with an oncologist at the same hospital in October 2019.
He said: “She [the oncologist] explained that the tumour they’d found had been cancerous, that it had metastasised into my lymph nodes in the pelvic area but couldn’t be removed and cured. Instead, I would have to have chemotherapy treatment every two weeks for the rest of my life to keep it at bay.
“It was very difficult to take in and I didn’t tell my wife until I got home, which by this point, was only about 12 weeks after the initial operation. The whole day was made more stressful by all the travelling I had to do on my own. There was a sense of denial at first, because I hardly ever get ill – it’s not me – but I wasn’t upset, because there wasn’t much point. It was just another obstacle in life and I had no choice but to get on with it.”
The news was made harder to bear by the recent loss of his daughter Toni, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2017, but he felt safe in the knowledge that the same Macmillan professionals who had supported her through taxing courses of chemotherapy and the final months of her life would also be there for him.
He adds: “We were at a total loss when Toni was first told about her cancer, we were like headless chickens and didn’t know where to turn. The Macmillan Information Manager at Ipswich Hospital was just so lovely, every time myself or my other daughters walked in she was there with open arms and a big cuddle.
“I can’t praise the people there highly enough – we got to know them very well, to the point they became like an extended family, so I was already aware of the services available once I was diagnosed.
“It also means a lot that some of the nurses who’ve treated and cared for me are the same as those who treated Toni. How can I ever thank Macmillan for what they’ve done for my daughter and what they’ve done for me and my family?”
Going into the pandemic Olle was worried about rising infection rates and how Covid-19 might threaten his health and care, but the ongoing support of his Macmillan nurses meant he always had someone to turn to with his queries, and never feared that his chemotherapy treatment would be discontinued.
The Gulf War veteran recently received approval from his oncologist to substitute intravenous chemotherapy treatment for tablet-based medication during his trip, which he can administer himself to save him numerous trips back to Ipswich. This, plus confirmation of his radiotherapy treatment, has meant he can finally firm up key parts of his schedule, but even once he has departed these shores, changing tides, a capricious weather system and the availability of crew will continue to govern his course and timings.
The only days that have been set in stone for months are Saturday 22nd May, when a small launch party will see him off at Fox’s Marina, and Sunday 23rd May, when Renegade will leave the River Orwell at Harwich for the North Sea.
He’ll be joined on this first stretch by son-in-law John, who married Toni whilst she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Alan, a friend from his Army days and Nick, a longstanding crew member. Friends and family will then take it in turns to join the crew of the 37.6ft, 1979 Moody sailing yacht, which Olle will skipper. If all goes to plan, he hopes to land back in Ipswich in September.
His anticlockwise route – which he admits will feature two cheeky shortcuts through Loch Ness and down the Caledonian Canal – will at points bring him within miles of specialist Macmillan services, like the Macmillan Horizon Centre in Brighton, that have supported people with cancer through the daily hardships of the pandemic.
And just days into his outbound journey will be a stark reminder of the critical value of fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support, when he passes the Cromer coastline that is home to the new North Norfolk Macmillan Centre.
Due to open its doors later this year, the Centre will make vital cancer care and support more accessible for a population that has historically had to make long and exhausting trips to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for tests, treatment and follow-up appointments.
Olle has already shored up a lot of support from friends, family and former colleagues from around the globe, and even received an unexpected video message from record-breaking sailor Tracy Edwards MBE.
Melanie Humphreys, a Relationship Fundraising Manager for Macmillan in the East of England said:
“Olle’s fundraising will not only help people diagnosed with cancer in the short-term, but also the many more people who will receive the lifechanging news they have cancer in the future.
“With Macmillan research suggesting that tens of thousands of people in the UK are currently living with an undiagnosed cancer as a result of the Covid-19 pandemici, the harsh reality is that more people could receive their diagnosis at a later stage, pushing up the likelihood that they’ll have more cancer-related health issues and support needs as a result.ii
“Regardless of how early or advanced their cancer is, or whether it’s financial, emotional or medical support they need, Macmillan services and professionals will always do whatever it takes to make everyday life that bit easier for them. But that wouldn’t be possible without supporters like Olle, as 98% of our income comes from public donations.”
Help Olle reach his £10,000 target for Macmillan Cancer Support by donating at:
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