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Getting Through : Dealing

RIP, Jane Tomlinson

from vix - Friday, September 14, 2007
accessed 596 times

Another heroine of mine. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

The “inspirational” Jane Tomlinson, who raised £1.75 million for charity despite suffering from multiple terminal cancers for the past seven years, has died at the age of 43.

Gordon Brown was among those rushing to praise the Leeds mother of three, who ignored the pain and exhaustion of cancer treatment to take part in a series of fundraising marathons and endurance races.

Her "heartbroken" family announced this morning that she died at St Gemma’s Hospice, in Leeds, at 9pm last night.

Mrs Tomlinson recovered from her first encounter with cancer after undergoing a mastectomy in 1990. Her response to the disease was to enter the medical profession herself and she began to re-train as a radiographer just two months after the surgery.

Ten years later she was informed that the cancer had returned and spread and doctors predicted that she had only six months to live.

From that point on she dedicated her life to raising money for charity, undertaking a series of events including the London and New York marathons.

She was the first terminal cancer sufferer to complete a full Ironman triathlon, comprising a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full marathon to be done inside 17 hours.

Her last challenge was also her toughest - a 4,200-mile bike ride across the United States, from San Francisco to New York, enduring temperatures of more than 37C and altitudes of more than 3,000ft along the way.

The Prime Minister said she was “a daily inspiration to our generation”.

“The whole country will be greatly saddened by the death of Jane Tomlinson,” Mr Brown added. “Jane’s mission in life was a simple one: to make the most of every day and to help others, and she not only achieved that several times over, but inspired millions of others along the way.”

The Rt Rev Arthur Roche, the Bishop of Leeds, paid tribute to her determination to use her cancer setback as a launching pad for her charitable work, which earned her a CBE in June this year.

“She was a bright beam of light in the midst of a darkness that can so often accompany terminal illness,” he said.

“She fought a very brave fight, of Olympian proportions, right to the end of her earthly life and has left us a legacy of courage when faced with difficulty, of striving for others despite one’s own important needs.”

After being told she had six months to live, Jane Tomlinson began a course of chemotherapy, which finished in 2001, that year she took part in her first fundraising event - a 5km Race For Life.

After completing the New York marathon in November 2005 she was forced to take a break from fundraising. Four courses of chemotherapy in six years had left her suffering chronic heart disease.

Her family believed her epic run of sporting events was finally at an end but last year she announced her greatest challenge yet – the bike ride across America.

Mike Tomlinson, her husband, admitted that he had begged her not to continue as she made her agonising progress across the country.

"She ignored me like a good wife should, and she's been proved right. I'm very, very astonished that she's here,” he said as she cycled into New York.

Throughout her fundraising career Mrs Tomlinson admitted that she was “constantly surprised” she had lived so long, but said had an “unfinished job to do as a mum” to Suzanne, 21, Rebecca, 19, and 10-year-old Steven.

Today, her husband and children also paid tribute to her. In a statement they said: “We are, as a family, heartbroken at this loss but we know this extends to all her family and friends. Jane has always said her family has been the greatest joy in life and we feel honoured to have been blessed with such a wonderful person.”

They added: “The weight of this burden has been immense on all of us but, primarily, Jane. We hope that she is now at peace from the pain that has accompanied her for so long.”

Had Jane Tomlinson been granted a long and healthy life, it is unlikely that she would have become known beyond her home town of Rothwell, near Leeds. But she became extraordinary – and famous – when, in 2002, she ran the London Marathon while suffering from terminal cancer.

Despite numerous operations and hospital stays she went on to complete a succession of increasingly gruelling physical challenges, including, in August 2003, the Ironman, a triathlon comprising a 2.4mile swim, an 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon. She wanted, she said, to “send a message to people that there are lots of things that happen in life that you have no control over, and things you can do to keep control”.

Her last expedition, followed closely by thousands in the media and via the blog written by her husband, Mike, was a 4,200-mile journey in July and August last year from the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, through the Nevada and Utah deserts and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to New York.

It was an immense challenge, and she was already in pain from her illness. Many feared she would not complete it. But she did, and in doing so she added more than £100,000 to the funds she had already raised for charity, and was praised as a source of inspiration to other cancer sufferers worldwide.

She was born Jane Goward in Wakefield in 1964. Her family lived in Liverpool before emigrating to Australia. She met her husband in Leeds in her early twenties and settled there. She was a 26-year-old mother of two when she was found to have breast cancer. After undergoing a mastectomy she began a diploma in radiography. “I had a sense that I could do that job because I knew what it meant to be a patient,” she said.

When the cancer returned three years later it was successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and an anticancer drug, but in 2000, after the birth of her third child, it was found to have returned and spread to her bones. She was told that it was likely that she would die within 12 months.

“Everyone wants to wrap you in cotton wool,” she said later, “and the running was a way of showing I could still do something positive . . . . It also helped to relieve all the anger, the sense that this was so unfair and why was it happening to me?” Her first race was the 5km Race for Life in May 2001. In December that year she doubled that distance in the Leeds Abbey Dash.

At 5ft 2in and seven stone, and with no previous athletic pedigree, Tomlinson perhaps seemed poorly equipped to take on great physical challenges, even without having had years of cancer therapy; and her brief remission ended in January 2002. Yet the pace of her achievements began to outstrip the progress of the disease. She ran her first half marathon in York, and in April 2002 completed the London Marathon in a respectable 4 hours, 53 minutes. In July she presented the Jubilee baton to the Queen at Temple Newsham, Leeds, and in August became the first terminally ill athlete to compete in the London Triathlon, finishing in the first half of the field. In October that year she completed the Great North Run.

In 2003, after once again completing the York Half Marathon, she undertook a trip by tandem from John O’Groats to Land’s End with her brother, Luke. She managed to complete the journey in 21 days, averaging 50 miles a day despite two enforced stops for chemotherapy. The ride raised £96,000.

The following year she and her brother went on another, 2,500-mile, cycling trip, riding from St Peter’s Square in Rome to Leeds, via the Mont Ventoux in France and the Alps. Tomlinson endured exhaustion and considerable pain, and when she returned she was greeted by the mayor and a thousand-strong crowd. In 2005 she ran the New York Marathon, in five hours 15 minutes.

After announcing this year that she had completed her last challege, Tomlinson organised a 10km event, “Run for All”, for about 10,000 runners, which took place in Leeds in June.

Tomlinson talked about her illness straightforwardly and with humour. In 2005 she and her husband published The Luxury of Time, in which they contributed alternate chapters and showed a complete lack of self-pity. Tomlinson received numerous awards, including the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason award in 2002, and a Pride of Britain Award in 2005.

Tomlinson’s fundraising challenges were undertaken, she said, in the hope that “research will lead to more than just a few years being added to people’s lives – so that people are able to live without death always looking over their shoulder”. The money she raised – now £1.75 million – went to, among many other charities, Macmillan Cancer Relief, Sparks (Sport Aiding Medical Research for Kids) and Damon Runyon Cancer Research.

Tomlinson was appointed MBE in 2003 and CBE in June this year.

She is survived by her husband and children.

Jane Tomlinson, CBE, radiographer and charity fundraiser, was born on February 21, 1964. She died on September 3, 2007, aged 43

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